Don’t You Dare Say Hi to Me!

Sexual harassment recently became illegal in Morocco (finally!), but I’d actually like to write about a related problem.  Often when I walk down the street, men will call out to me just with greetings.  They’ll say “bonjour” or “ça va,” as if they know me.  Generally I just ignore them and keep going, assuming that they are up to no good.  This certainly is not sexual harassment, and I am not going to report to the police that a man I do not know had the nerve to ask me how I’m doing, but it is pretty irritating just to feel so many eyes watching me as I walk down the street.  And it has been getting me into some awkward situations lately….
The method of the language center where I work involves switching teachers around each week, and we usually give classes with no more than four students who may come in as little as twice a month following an online portion of the course.  This means that there are some people who I meet only once or twice, and overall I’ve worked with probably more than one hundred students.  I also have a big church community, and many people know who I am since I got married there and am one of only two Americans, whereas I don’t remember some of the people who I haven’t talked with much.  The combination of my work and my church communities means that there are a lot of people in Casablanca who I have met but probably could not pick out of a crowd.
A couple times in the past few months, a man has greeted me on the street, but in a way that makes me think I might know him.  One man asked me if I was done teaching, making me think he was a student of mine.  Really he had just seen me come out of the library at the French institute, where I had been reading during my break.  Another referred to me as “my sister,” so I thought I might know him from church.  I don’t like to be rude, so I stopped to talk to these people.  In both cases, it became painfully clear that I did not know them when they asked me to meet them the next day “to share.”  Share what?  I don’t want to know.
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A couple of men said hi to me as I walked down this street in Laayoune, all of whom I ignored.

The reverse of this situation is an even more embarrassing problem.  I sometimes see someone I DO know and ignore them or don’t even look at them, assuming that it is just one of many men who do not like to respect boundaries.  And then the next time I see the person at church or work, they ask me why I did not want to talk to them.  I of course feel bad about acting impolite.
So which do you think is better?  Having unwanted conversations, or being rude to my acquaintances?  I am sure it is ever going to be illegal for men to start conversations with random women, so I better figure out what to do.  Let me know what you think!

When I Grow up I Want to be a Polyglot

As I mentioned in a previous post, next year we are going to be living in the U.S.  I’m doing a masters in clinical social work with a specialization in trauma counseling and refugee issues.  If you’ve been reading my blog, you’ll know how important these issues are to me. I have already chosen my classes, and I am in the process of finding a field placement to start in September.  Sometimes when I wake up in the morning, I think, if it were next year already, I’d be on my way to learn about human behavior or to meet trauma patients!  I’m excited about it.
During these last few months, I am trying to enjoy the things I’ll miss about Morocco (like pomegranates), and to prepare for next year.  One thing I’ve been doing is studying Spanish at the local Instituto Cervantes.  I studied Spanish in school, but I want to be at a level where I’m comfortable having a conversation or giving information, as I think that will be really useful as a social worker in the U.S.  I’m also enjoying the opportunity to study another language now that I have more language learning tools under my belt.  Here are some things I’ve learned from studying French (more info on that process here) and from teaching English.
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I hope I am going in the right direction.

  • There is no reason to be embarrassed about making mistakes.  When I was learning French, I felt like it was like riding a roller coaster because I would get so emotional about successes and failures.  It might be easy to worry whether my fellow students like me or think I’m smart, but it is more important for me to practice speaking Spanish than to not say something stupid in front of a group of people I don’t know that well.
  • Motivation is perhaps the most important factor in language learning.  Learning a new language takes time, so it is crucial to be dedicated and to put in time studying, listening to music, reading, and reviewing.  Three hours a week of class isn’t enough for anyone to learn a language, so it is really up to the student to learn or not.
  • Personally, I study best alone.  I think everyone needs to find how they learn best, and I make the most progress reading and doing exercises by myself.  I love to read, so finding books I like makes a huge difference for me.
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I would like to study on this lovely rooftop in Rabat.

  • You don’t need to find a special method or spend a lot of money to learn a language.  I find that one of the best ways to practice is just to try to describe a situation in my head in Spanish while I’m walking to work.  For example, I’ll imagine that my teacher might ask me what I did last weekend, and I’ll go through my answer in my head.  Once I get a chance, I’ll look up whichever words I wanted to use but didn’t know.  This is a good way to expand useful vocabulary.
  • Finally, language learning is a lot of fun.  Once I got to the point in French where I was no longer translating in my head but instead was just coming up with what I wanted to say, it started to be so much fun to speak in French.  Once I realized that I could read novels or watch movies in French and enjoy them, a new world of culture, literature, film, and friendships opened up to me.  I can’t wait to have the same experience with Spanish!

Sisters in Marrakech

As you know if you have been following my blog, my big sister is the best.  Not just among all of my sisters, but probably among all sisters everywhere.  Just a few weeks ago, my husband and I got to spend a long weekend with my her in Marrakech.  Not only did we go swimming every day, do yoga on our balcony, and spend some quality sister time together, we also took hundreds of photos documenting our sisterhood.

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We’ve gotten better at matching over the years.

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My sister is now really good at yoga, so we were more creative with our sister photos this time than usual.

Not all photos were a success, but we came out with some great ones in the end!

My Best Sister now lives in the U.S., and is quite happy being there.  My husband and I are planning to move to Boston next fall, where I’ll do my masters.  Thanks to my sister we are excited about things like seeing my family regularly, living somewhere with more trees than cars, and eating yams and black beans.  And of course, having much more regular Best Sister time.

 

The Hidden Treasures of Casablanca

Most Casaouwis are not particularly excited about their own city.  I am not about to tell you that it’s a wonderful, or beautiful, or clean place to live, but Casablanca does have its own charms.  Here are some spots I like in the city:
The Lighthouse
For some reason, this has not at all been exploited as a tourist destination, though it’s my favorite place to visit.  To get to the top of the lighthouse, you have to climb up the winding staircase, guided by a man who lives next door (he does ask for money, but it’s negotiable.)  At the top, you can look out over the entire city, and across the vast ocean.  You also get an up-close look at the light at the top, which I found interesting.  What could be better than a beautiful view AND a workout?
Sky 28
This is a restaurant/bar that is on the 28th floor of the Twin Center.  It offers a beautiful view from the other side of the city from the lighthouse.  You can take the elevator up (no workout for this one) and have drinks while you watch the sunset. The best views can be found in the handicap bathroom, so make sure you take your camera when you have to use the toilet.

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Derb Omar
This is a market where goods are sold in bulk.  They sell to restaurants and shops, but you can also walk around and buy from the market.  It’s in a particularly car-filled and polluted area, but once you go into the covered market areas, it is a sea of treasures.  I like to shop for little household items and beauty products.  Once, I found a french-fry cutting machine, and now I can slice perfect fries in just a few minutes.
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A few of Derb Omar’s treasures: nail polish, lotion, peanuts, spoons, and wall decorations

My favorite part of the market is the dried fruit and nut section.  I always stock up on peanuts, crystallized ginger, dried pineapple, and dates.  And the best part is that you can sample each on before you buy them!
Maarif
This is the city’s main shopping neighborhood, and is primarily known for wide avenues lined with upscale stores like Zara, Mango, and Massimo Dutti.  But if you venture into the residential neighborhood, you’ll find a plethora of smaller hole-in-the-wall stores selling last season’s fashions (mixed in with some imitations).  And if you’re not into clothes, you might want to stop by one of many vegetable stands, bakeries, bookstores, or underwear shops.  I walk through the busiest area of Maarif on my way home from work, which is perfect for picking up fresh groceries on the way.  And yes, I have made a purchase from the Underwear Man.
The Ocean
Casablanca’s corniche is one of the best known tourist destinations, along with the mosque Hassan II and Morocco Mall.  I think it’s worth mentioning anyway because it is such a nice part of the city.  The path stretches more that 4km, and is perfect for running or walking.
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All Pastry Shops
Casablanca certainly is not lacking in bakeries.  There are some nice ones with outdoor seating where you can enjoy your pain au chocolat in the sun, though the coffee and tea is always very expensive in these cafés.  My favorite thing to do is to buy a pastry at one of the four shops just on my street, and then bring it home to warm up in the oven and enjoy with a cup of coffee on the balcony.  In other words, the very best spot in Casablanca might just be my balcony.
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Imagine that there is a chocolate fondant on the table.  What could be better?!

Things I Wish more Moroccans Knew about Morocco

A while ago, I wrote a list of things I wish more Americans knew about Morocco.  Here’s the complementary post; what I wish more Moroccans knew about their own country.

  1. There are a lot of foreigners.  There are not just French expats, but Americans, Africans, Asians, and other Europeans.  And not all of them are rich, contrary to popular opinion.
  2. It is incredibly difficult for those foreigners to get visas.  My explanations of what I have to go through to renew my residency are met by surprised looks from Moroccans, and knowing nods from other foreigners.  I heard that the majority of French expats in Morocco just don’t bother getting visas, and leave every few months in order to continue living on a tourist visa.
  3. There is a big Christian presence in Morocco.  There are churches in every major city, and there are several different denominations represented.

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    Seats for the wedding guests at our church

  4. It is much easier and much more useful to learn French than to learn Arabic.  I came to Morocco with the intention of learning more Arabic, but ended up learning French out of necessity.  Speaking French has allowed me to make friends, communicate with others, and be a better English teacher.
  5. It is not dangerous to walk by yourself in Casablanca.  I walk to work every day, and have never felt unsafe (although I do often get annoyed by the traffic and by men).  I am occasionally told that I should not walk, but I think it’s actually safer than putting my life in the hands of an impatient taxi driver.

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    This Meknes taximan was ready to pick us up, but we wanted to walk.

  6. There are a lot of wonderful things that Morocco has that the United States does NOT have.  For example, vacation homes for big companies, maternity leave and generous vacation day policies,  cheap organic produce, and cleaning ladies who will clean your apartment once a week for a small price.  Which explains my first point, that there are a lot of foreigners.

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    Also, beautiful weather

Wedding Bloopers

Thankfully our photographers took hundreds of pictures, because some ended up a little silly.  Here are the highlights.

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How many people does it take to pick up a pair of newlyweds?

When I asked the photographer if he could take a picture of our rings, this classic pose is what he came up with:

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Please notice how the rings are not visible.

After all of those photos, I started to get tired.  My sister helped me out by taking this fish-face photo, which allowed me to stretch my smiling muscles.  But it didn’t give me quite enough energy to jump for the next photo!

My husband must have stronger face muscles than I do, but his feet were really starting to hurt.  Luckily, the fact of taking his shoes off provided new photo opportunities.

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This photo is actually a very accurate representation of our relationship.

After the embassy wedding, we took some photos by the mausoleum in Rabat.  The unfinished pillars seem to be made for wedding photos.

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My sister had clearly been practicing for this.  And on the left is my Mom.  Isn’t she pretty?  She’s smart and funny too.

But the main reason why are photos came out so well is that we practiced a lot beforehand, anywhere we could.

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Are we going to kiss, or are we pigeons?

 

The Wedding Post

After all those posts about my fiancé and about wedding preparations, it looks like I completely abandoned my blog during the actual wedding.  Better late than never!

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“Kiss me on the cheek so you don’t mess up my lipstick!”

We got legally married first, at the Central African Embassy.  This step was very informative because Chancellor read all of the laws concerning marriage in the Central African Republic at the beginning of the ceremony.  We learned that if my husband and I want to move, he must choose the house.  If he is unable choose the house, I may do so.  If neither of us can, our children may choose.  And if even the children are unable to choose a house, the dog may be permitted to do so.  Luckily, the “livret de famille” includes space for the names of ten children, so probably at least one of our ten future kids will be decisive enough to choose where we should live.

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This is a like game of tug-of-war, men vs. women.

The next day, we got married in our church.

Prayer

For this part, we wore traditional wedding clothes.  The pastor who had first introduced us was the one who married us, and she gave a wonderful sermon about how our relationship had grown.  Afterward, we went home to change into our party outfits for the soirée.

We vowed to always match our outfits, among other things.

We then rode our motorcycle off into the night, finding ourselves in sunny Oualidia the next day (just kidding, we took the bus).

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“This photo was supposed to be of me!”

The benefit of writing this post almost a year late is that I can confirm that we still love each other!  And if you could see what I was wearing in the above photo, it did in fact match what my husband was wearing.  We were serious about those vows.