Like most fine graduate students entering the last semester of their last year, I am wondering and have been planning and trying to figure out where I want/need to be in the coming year. Nothing is official of course, as it is way too early in the game.
But, it looks like I will be in Morocco for the summer! aah Morocco. Perusal of earlier blog posts would let you know that Have been to Morocco before… 3 times before to be exact. But this new trip promises to be quite different. For one thing, I am completely prepared to yell someone down in Arabic, something I couldn’t do before, the language barrier had me learning more French than getting acclimated to Arabic (people tended to assume I was Senegalese or some other Francophone African). Second, I am must much older… late twenties is a world of difference from late teens-early twenties (for me at least).
These two things alone give me confidence that I will be able navigate the intricacies of being a part of Moroccan society for a little bit. Despite being one of the most difficult times of my life, I will never deny that Morocco is a beautiful country. Besides, some of my friends/classmates from Egypt will be there too, so we will be able to enjoy/commisserate together.
Finally I have no expectations for this trip either. I think this strategy served me very well in Egypt. Everything that I had heard made me very cautious about looking forward to being here for an academic year, and yet it made really think about the realities of living in Egypt. It’s one thing to swing by for a week or two to visit some historic sites, it’s another thing to live here in a secluded expat community, and certainly it’s a completely different beast to study, live and interact with Egyptians on a daily basis.
This became very clear on our trip to the south. People did not know what to make of us (especially my clearly Caucasian classmates). We know Arabic! We know when we are getting ripped off! We can’t afford or don’t think we should have to pay the foreigner price!
For example, apparently many of restaurants in Aswan have different prices on their Arabic menus from their English menus. So yes, it pays to know Arabic. This caused quite a bit of confusion when it came time to get he check, and the waiters realized that the foreigner was not willing to pay the خواجة (foreigner) price. Overall it just ended up being a bunch of funny stories. As for me and select few in our program, and as usual we were oftentimes assumed to be Arab but certainly not Egyptian (my terrible accent gave me away every time….oh well), so it was a little different.
At any rate, I am sort of looking forward to the prospect of comparing the Morocco of my memories to Egypt and the Morocco that I will see this summer. I can’t count the number of times I have thought about how the two cultures are so different, despite being in North Africa, despite being “Arab” and majority Muslim. Things go on in Egypt that to the best of my recollection, would never happen in Morocco (or so I think).
Sometimes it’s something major like street harassment (I don’t ever recall it getting physical in Morocco… street harassment there was more like the piropos you might get in Spain, lots of cat-calling but nothing more). In Egypt it’s been really tough for a lot of women, there have been people cornered on streets, touched inappropriately in broad daylight, run after with rocks, women who have had men masturbate to them, and even a potential attempted rape. It doesn’t get violent everyday, but even with this small sampling that is my study abroad group, the incidences are far higher and more serious than they were with my Morocco group.
Sometimes the differences strike me in smaller things like hygiene or cleanliness. The family that I lived with in Morocco was not rich at all, but their home was spotless. Every week the floor was cleaned and the kitchen was never dirty. Here, for many of the people with host families it seems to be the opposite (even though most of them are quite well off by Egyptian standards) and as for those of us living in apartments it is for the most part opposite as well. It might have something to do with “maid culture” i.e. a maid comes in once a month or once every two weeks and no one who actually lives in the home does any cleaning in-be-tween. I have to keep reminding myself that most of the Egyptians I interact with are a certain slice of Egyptian society.
At any rate, this post isn’t about airing people’s dirty laundry literally or figuratively, it’s about preparing myself for the trip. Can’t say I’m ready just yet, but Inshallah I will be when the time comes.