I’ve oft made references to how Horrible my Moroccan experience was, and stumble across a presentation I gave on my experience and decided to post it with some addendums/reflections.
Its amazing to see how much I have developed since then, the pain is no longer as raw as it once was…. Cheers to that J
I think I will always repeat it and remind myself of it, because it was a watershed moment for me, one of those turning points whoe significance is only fully realized after all is said and done.
When I think of my life and how different it would be if I had not gone to Morrocco the distinctions are far reaching: from many of the friends I have to where I go for vacation to what I study, heck even this blog.
At any rate, here is a detailed look at one black woman’s experience aborad, I don’t claim to speak for everyone, even those who have been to el-Maghreb. Heck, I returned to Morocco a year after the experience described below, partly because I did not want my most recent encounter to be such a sour one. And I almost went again when I was England.
I wouldn’t say there are no hard feelings, but I don’t walk around swearing down every Moroccan I meet, far from it. Now, I actually remember a lot of the little idiosyncracies and have found that the Maghrebiyuun that I meet here in the States are usually exicted to meet someone that knows about their geography, foods and culture broadly speaking.
Funnily enough I work just two blocks away from the Moroccan consulate/embassy and so I am always hearing the Moroccan dialect and smiling to myself as it takes me back to the happy/decent memories of the place. Life as it should be.
Morocco’s geographical location is symbolic of its historical and cultural reality. It’s an African nation, but it’s culturally and politically Arab with Aspirations of strengthening its connections to Europe.
It’s an Islamic state, a relatively liberal one guaranteeing freedom of practice to individual Muslims and religious freedom to other faiths.
This means that Moroccans at any given time have several identities to chose from:
I noticed however, that the one facet of the culture and society that was not as stressed or acknowledged as others and that was the African identity.
What I mean by this is that most people I came in contact with would acknowledge Morocco’s ties to Africa, as opposed to Morocco being African. We were shown a survey of university students about how they identify themselves and among the list of choices, African was next to last on the list.
There is a general idea that Sub-Saharan Africans in Morocco fall into two categories: 1. illegal immigrants that are going through (or stuck in) Morocco trying to get into Europe. And 2. Africans studying abroad in Morocco.
For both groups, Morocco is a land of opportunity. Their home countries are obviously lacking economically and educationally. Morocco by nature of its geography, relatively safe socio-political situations is a place that can give them something, tools opportunities, etc. that their host countries are lacking.
This is in contrast to the prevailing idea among Moroccan youth, and Moroccan economic reality that the real vehicles for socio-economic mobility and education are Europe and America.
Very specific ideas about what was an American or European and what was not.
Americans were white, or black urban people. As I am representative of neither of these categories, as far many people were concerned, I was African. This was a hard adjustment for me because although I am African, No one has ever questioned me when I refer to the Washington, D.C. area as my home town, or when I spoke English with an American accent.
for example. I met two women, one a Peace Core volunteer and the other a Canadian citizen working in Morocco. When they first approached me, they thought that I was either not going to understand them or speak with an accent. They were surprised that I spoke English with an American accent, but they never questioned me after that. It was understood that I was American and that was that.
The OLD Medina
Moroccan cities are set up with the Medina ( old city) and then the new cit develops outside the walls of the old city. For me, walking from one to the other was always like walking to another world. The old Medina came to symbolize suppression, racism, hurt, frustration, and anger both with myself, and with Moroccans as a whole. I am happy that I did not end my semester living there. The new Medina was freedom, acceptance, peace, solace and most importantly, anonymity.
The people that lived in the Old Medina were mostly lower middle class, more traditional, many of the shop owners and workers were less educated. ( note: I am speaking in very general terms). Living in the Medina meant being called names like Azia” which I was told was Moroccan Arabic for nigger. Basically, people would do whatever they felt necessary to let me know that they were referring to me: from little ape dances, to yelling out names of random African countries, to derogatory words like Azia, in English and Arabic, to cat calls lik I like black girls, black woman, black potion, black magic. Dealing with this literally, from the moment I walked on the street, for 3 month definitely took a tole on me.
I tried to drown out the noise with sunglasses and headphones. I wore a scarf to give myself a little more anonymity. I never spoke to the Africans that I saw on the streets of the old Medina ( who were obviously illegal) These things helped, but they numbed me and honestly made me feel dead inside. They couldn’t change the fact that life in the Medina was such a stressful experience.
For example, there was a pregnant woman that begged on the street in not far from my host family’s house and ( I am ashamed to say it) but I made a concerted effort to ignore her every day. Because I thought that association in public with her would only make the stares and the racism against me even worse. I hated the Medina, because whenever I entered the walls of that part of the city, I had to undergo a transformation: I felt like I couldn’t laugh or smile, I and I felt guilty for ignoring or feeling like it was imperative that I especially ignore other black faces. I thought about the woman that begged outside my street and wondered about her story, if she was eating right, under what conditions she would deliver her child. It made me sick and angry that she was forced to beg Moroccans for help because they were the same people that scoffed at her, and called her the same names that they called me or worse.
I literally think of my time in the Medina as some of the darkest hours of my life, because it turned me into a monolithic thinker: I hated all Moroccans, I hated Morocco, I hated myself, I hated everything. (note: that there were a lot of other things going on, at the same time that I was in this old Medina slump: including problems with my host family, the academic advisors, my Arabic class, and family issues. I was suffering from lack of nutrition, both physical and intellectual. I wouldn’t be giving a fair representation of my study abroad experience in Morocco without mentioning these things. However, I will say that being black and female in that place at that time only added fire to my anger and frustration and hot pepper to my wounds. ), I hated everything Moroccan and to demonstrate just how serious I am about this, I will read a poem that I wrote one night, (March 19, 2005)
Reflections on El-Maghreb
I hate you. Your rugged terrain,
Your lack of advancement.
I hate to see my people line you streets,
Begging for your inflated currency.
Your surly mannerisms. Your food.
All of it, all of you, Disgusts me.
The unsaid rules of propriety.
Yet I am violated by one of your own
while he is protected.
I am cut off from those I hold dear,
Frozen at night by your thick walls.
Locked in by your dreary architecture.
I hate you el Maghreb, I hate you.
My life would not be this bitter, had I not
From your cup of experience, and
I hate you el Maghreb, I hate you.
Had you not pulled me apart., I
Would not be scrambling to mend myself.
Privacy, Diversity, understanding…
My hurt, my pain, my fear: Your Neglect.
The day I leave, I will never come back.
I hate you el Maghreb. You robbed me.
You raped me.
Unfortunately, my feelings about life in Morocco worsened. I went into the New medina as often as possible, but the fact that every night I had to return ( La madina laldeema, the old city in the Morooccan Arabic) made me feel stifled and suffocated.
My home stay ended and the next phase of the semester, the three week independent research and study project began. We could spend the three weeks doing whatever we liked and going weherever we wanted. Since my project was Christianity in Morocco and a large part of the Christian population was in Rabat, I decided to stay in that city.
( But in the New Medina of course)
I know that God used the independent study project saved me. Knowing that my hotel was not in the old Medina, and that I didn’t have to enter those gates if I didn’t want to, was literally pure ecstasy.
During this time I reclaimed my life, my identity. I walked with confidence, I smiled. I met a group of friends that added the sugar to make my Moroccan experience bittersweet
I met African students studying abroad in Morocco. Being with them was the first time that I felt as if someone else fully understood my pain. They knew what it was like to be called names in the Medina, they knew what it was like seethe with anger. But more important, they knew how to cope.
Visiting and interacting with the Anglophones, as I affectionately termed them was like being lifted out of Morocco and into another world. With them I was in Kenya, Sierra Leone, the Gambia, Sudan, and Dubai. They cooked for me, they danced with me, they cried with me. Being with them, gave me the one thing that I had been without for the first 4/5 of the semester: a niche. They made me realize just how beautiful Africa and Africans really are. Hearing about their experiences, clubs, and organizations affected me deeply.
I went back to the old Medina, and I talked to the woman that I had seen begging so many times before. By this time she had had her baby. I thought about her, other illegal Africans that were in Morocco and elsewhere, and my friends. I wondered about How Morocco became the land of opportunity.
Morocco left me a changed woman.
Senior year at College
I became an officer in the African Students Association, organization that I had never seriously considered being playing an active role in previous years. As a matter of fact, I became so Africa hard core that those who had been in the org all four years forgot about my MIA status. It felt good.
Academically, while I decided that I while I would finish out my Middle Easter studies major the focus was totally different. I now am interested in sub-Saharan Africa immigration.
With each passing year, I realize just how deeply my Moroccan experience has shaped who I am today. There are still so many emotions and attachments that I need to sort out, but the further removed I am from the ORDEAL the more I see the good things that came out of that experience.
This post is actually an outline from a presentation that I did on Morocco, and while writing it originally, just four months removed from the experience, I cried. And that just made me think about all the nights I cried myself to sleep while I was in Morocco. It took a while to to accept that Morocco is not something that I will be able to put behind me, or put into one box experience: good or bad.
While I was there and when I first came back, I would ask myself and God many times why I needed this study abroad experience. Couldn’t some other epiphany under less dire circumstances have lead me to the same destination?
But I think that I at least partly already know the answer. I needed this experience. Just as one can not know what it means to be hungry unless you have gone without food, and just as the Caucasian students and Moroccan directors in my program could not understand just how radically different my Moroccan experience was from everyone else’s (because they were not both black and female) so I too could not have understood what it means to be black in a brown world, without my semester in Rabat, Morocco.
I’d like to believe that this experience was preparation for some future calling or interaction. But, that is something that only time will tell.