With mixed feelings, I’m beginning to contemplate the end of my year abroad. In only a month and a half I will bid Morocco بسلامة, and as much as I’m pining for quality burritos, easy access to swimming pools and unabashedly showing off my knees again in public, there’s a lot that will be hard to say goodbye to. Despite the chaos that has descended over our studies, I’ve taken the time to create…
AN INDEFINITE LIST OF ZWEEN THINGS IN MOROCCO (as well as some not-so zween things):
While I’ve bargained in other countries, the souq in Rabat feels familiar now. As a bit of an introvert, I tend to have to mentally prepare for the chaotic activity of the old medina, but between being able to find anything (except maybe mothballs), and find it on a tight, student budget, it’s practically Mecca.
I’ve also grown accustomed to the long string of greetings you give to your concierge/hanoot man/neighbors/teachers on the daily that goes along the lines of, “HELLO/GOOD MORNING/HOW ARE YOU DOING?/EXCELLENT/NO PROBLEMS?/THANKS BE TO GOD/MAY THE BLESSINGS OF GOD BE UPON YOU/GOOD-BYE/SEE YOU LATER/GOD WILLING!” spoken in the space of around three, breathless seconds. With no time to respond, the answerer basically shouts their response back, just as rapidly before carrying on their way. I loathe small-talk and this is the perfect solution.
I know I’m going to miss the hammam. There’s no feeling quite like stripping with your friends, coating yourself in olive oil, until you feel like a majestic seal and scrubbing off your first few layers of epidermis in a steam room. I haven’t allowed any of the ladies to massage me or scrub me down yet, because I’ve seen the pressure they apply and the places their hands go. Thanks, but no thanks. I don’t want to walk out looking Patrick Star-pink. That first step into the open air of the medina though, always feels like a glorious rebirth and for ten dirhams no less (1 dollar).
I’m not ready to leave my wonderfully insane study abroad friends behind. In such a short amount of time, I’ve grown as comfortable with these people as if I’d known them most of my life. Once you overcome the monotony of a days-long bus-ride into the interior together – without wanting to stab each other by the end – I feel that you reach new levels of kinship. I’m going to miss sitting on balconies with them, drinking tea and wine (haram, I know) after a long week, sharing songs in different languages, playing cards, eating copious amounts of shawarma, crashing karaoke night at the local bar, taking spontaneous trips around Morocco and generally giving foreigners a reputation for instability in the streets. My Gollum impressions have become quite common place.
Anticipating departure, I’ve been stuffing my face with harissa (an acidic, spicy red sauce), meat and prune tajine, loubia (a flavorful dish of white beans in tomato sauce), couscous and anything else I know will be hard to find in NM. Haven’t decided if I enjoy the traditional couscous we get by the train station (Hassan is the owner and calls us on Fridays, demanding to know where we are if we haven’t called by 2 pm), or the decadent, Senegalese-style one you can get at Les Epices in Agdal. It’s a toss-up. I’ve also been relishing in the affordability of groceries while I still can. I spent ten dollars on an ungodly amount of vegetables the other day, subsequently indebting myself to the grocer. I had to pay him back $2 the next time I visited and felt quite guilty.
I’m going to miss the bands of friendly stray cats that are always looking for a scratch behind the ear and some spare chicken. Although, they can sometimes scare the living shit out of you. There are the cats that decide to yowl like their being flayed alive at 3 am. There are the ones that perch in trees at eye-level, waiting until they are just inches away from your face before singing the songs of their people. There are the garbage-watchers that leap – quite spectacularly I might add – out of dumpsters when you disturb their slumber. There are also the teeny kittens that hide in pails of beans outside of the souq, pretending to be rats and terrorizing customers.
The proximity of the beach will be sorely missed. Rabat beach…well it’s not great. It’s trashed, which hurts my soul, unique-smelling and if you show up at peak times it can be quite the sausage-fest of young men sure they are going to show you a good time in Morocco. On the other hand, it’s still the ocean and going in the mornings is lovely. Also, a fifteen-minute train ride will also take you away from the bustle of the city, to some very quiet beaches and surfing destinations. Taghazout was the most pristine beach I’ve visited yet, but located quite far south near Agadir.
Switching to a far more serious topic: there are things about Morocco that are maddeningly frustrating, aspects that are heartbreaking and that I need a respite from.
The cat-calling. I’ve discussed it already, and I don’t wish to get into it again. This is just a reminder: IT HASN’T GONE AWAY, SURPRISE!
I have also heard more stories from friends and classmates that’ve left me chilled; many involving an extreme by-stander effect that seems to be present in the society. As the recipient of cat-calling, you are often the one considered responsible and many women that’ve asked those around for help have been rebuked instead. Why are you walking outside after dark? You talked back? Why were your forearms and collarbone showing? You were asking for it. This emphasizes the nature of cat-calling as the precursor to more physical and intense violence. It’s become harder for me to be at ease anywhere in public by myself. There is a manageable, but underlying anxiety now that hits me almost the second I leave my apartment. I hate it and it feels melodramatic. I know I need to get past it, because for the most part I am safe. I live in an extraordinarily safe part of town and I’m normally around other people. Yet, I’ve been catcalled in front of my building. I’ve been catcalled even when I’m a member of a group. I know there is a reason I feel the way that I do.
Rampant and aggressive cat-calling is a sign that there is a deeper, societal problem.
I realized only a few days ago that the Moroccan penal code is still woefully inadequate when it comes to stipulating punishments in cases of rape and assault. Following the widely-covered suicide of sixteen-year old Amina al-Filali in 2012, after she was forced to marry her rapist by her family and a judge, the former law stipulating that rapists could avoid prosecution by marrying their victims was repealed. However, the penal code is still pretty, damn useless. Article 475 assigns convicted rapists of minors one to five years in prison. One to five years. Additionally – and this makes zero sense to me – the sentence is longer for victims older than 18 years, between five to ten years imprisonment. The highest penalty possible is for if the victim was mentally ill, already pregnant or elderly. There are no stipulations for male victims of rape, because only women are specified in the law. According to the law, male rape doesn’t happen in Morocco.
Don’t get me wrong, we have our own problems with rape-culture in the United States. The last thing I want to do is paint a picture of Morocco that builds on anyone’s negative stereotypes of the Middle-East. Women here do have a lot of freedoms, but they also face a lot of deeply-ingrained, patriarchal elements in their every-day lives that makes life a little harder. This is definitely a universal issue, but to have that misogyny so blatantly protected in codified law does leave a bad taste in the mouth.
I’ll leave it there for now.