Things I Wish More Americans Knew about Morocco

When I was in the U.S. over the summer, I got a lot of questions about my life in Morocco.  Here are some things I wish more people knew about where I live.

1.  Morocco is not just desert; it also has ocean, forest, and mountains.

Beautiful snowy Ifrane

Beautiful snowy Ifrane

2.  Casablanca the city is nothing like Casablanca the movie.  Rick’s café was actually filmed in Hollywood.  I’ve showed the Casablanca trailer in several of my English classes, and every one of my students has been surprised that there is a movie about their city.

3.  Morocco is a developing country, but you can still find outrageous displays of wealth.

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Morocco Mall: one stop shopping for all the designer brands

4.  Morocco is very peaceful.  When there are protests, they mostly consist of men sitting on old cardboard boxes in front of parliament.

5.  Morocco has a more generous maternity leave than the U.S. (which isn’t hard, since the U.S. has no paid maternity leave).  Of course, jobs are harder to find in Morocco, and more women work at home.

6.  There is a Christian minority in Morocco, and a large network of churches.  Most of the churches were started by French people during colonization, but now most of the members are African.

 

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Rabat’s Catholic Church

7.  Moroccans are extremely welcoming and hospitable – but that doesn’t mean that racism doesn’t exist here.  Finding work and getting documentation can be close to impossible for a lot of African migrants, despite recent government reforms.  I myself am having trouble getting the basic documents from my employer to apply for my residency card, so imagine how difficult it can be for someone who doesn’t hold an American passport or have the special status of being a native English speaker.

8.  The fruits and vegetables (and eggs and olive oil) taste quite a bit better here.  Everything is organic, and food comes more directly from the farm.  I swear, even the carrots are slightly sweeter in Morocco.

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Fruits and vegetables will always be my favorite thing about Morocco.
I hope my readers will something new from this post.  Anyway, I’m going to go eat a fresh pomegranate.
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The Land of Opportunities

When I was about to land in Chicago, the TV screens on the airplane showed a video welcoming passengers to the U.S.  It showed green lawns, kids chasing golden retrievers, and people of every skin color.  Despite having lived the majority of my life in America and already knowing exactly what it looks like, the video made me pretty excited about arriving in the land of opportunity.

The photos in this post are of bread I've made.  This is yogurt bread and date-sesame bread.

The photos in this post are of bread I’ve made. This is yogurt bread and date-sesame bread.

America isn’t really as perfect as it looks on that video, although that’s not much of a surprise.  However, after being away for a year, there are several things that have surprised me.  First would be the no guns allowed sign all over Chicago (thanks to the conceal and carry law being passed), which is on a lot of public buildings; it’s odd to think that people need to be told that weapons do not belong in public buildings.  Not that I wanted to take a gun into the library, anyway.  Men wearing their pants so low that their butts hang out is not new, but it is still kind of surprising to see after not seeing it for so long (maybe some of them could use a djellaba).  Occasionally getting catcalls when I’m walking to my internship on the South Side is also not new, but is pretty disappointing – I thought I was going to have a break from that!  It is much easier to go for runs or walks here without worrying about what I’m wearing, but it’s not as different from Morocco as I was imagining it to be all of last year.

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Oatmeal bread

Another surprise came to me at Walmart.  I made my first ever trip to the all-American store last weekend, and only now do I really understand the purpose of giving up sugar.  Walmart is full of packaged foods, nearly all of which have sugar or High Fructose Corn Syrup.  It’s in cereals, peanut butter, bread, yogurt, and pre-prepared meals.  Someone shopping only at Walmart would truly be challenged to totally give up sugar.  And what’s more, the food doesn’t taste the same here, even if bought at fancier stores than Walmart.  The carrots aren’t as sweet, the eggs aren’t as rich, the olive oil doesn’t taste like olives, and the Philadelphia cream cheese has ten ingredients instead of the four in Morocco’s (or Spain’s) version of the exact same brand.  These were difficult discoveries for me when I arrived; I love cooking and baking so much, so I want the ingredients to taste good!

Challah (egg bread)

Challah (egg bread)

I know from working with refugees that new immigrants (and even those who have been abroad for quite a while) have trouble adjusting, unfavorably comparing everything to equivalents in their home country.  It takes a long time to get used to little differences and to both appreciate what is better in the new country and to stop comparing it to the old.  It’s oddly not that much easier when the new country is also where you are from.  I guess I’ve got six more weeks to work on it.  Well, at least my bread loaves are pretty!

This isn't bread!  It's South African Bobotie, a dish made with lentils (or meat), bread crumbs, and egg/milk/banana topping.

This isn’t bread! It’s South African Bobotie, a dish made with lentils (or meat), bread crumbs, and egg/milk/banana topping.

Sister Vacation in London

Although it was hard to leave Morocco, even just for two months, my summer started with the best kind of vacation.  I spent a week in London with my favorite sister (don’t worry, she’s also my only sister).  The week started with a couple rainy days, but once it cleared up we were able to fully enjoy London’s beautiful parks, canal, and numerous free and clean public bathrooms, which most certainly could not be found in Casablanca.

Our toes enjoy the fresh air too.

Our toes enjoy the fresh air too.

There is such a great difference between where life is conducted between London and Casa; in London, one could spend the entire day out of the home, and be able to find easy meals, bathrooms, water fountains, and entertainment.  If you do decide to return home for a meal, you could buy your vegetables pre-chopped so that you wouldn’t spend much time in the kitchen.  In Casablanca, it would be hard to find such accommodations, especially for a female.  Spending time in the home is probably more common, and homes are perhaps more spacious.

Best sisters in the V&A Museum park

Best sisters in the V&A Museum park

My sister and I made good use of the parks, often walking for hours.  We concurrently made good use of the water fountains, public bathrooms, and several coffee shops.  We ate some wonderful Thai food, enjoyed some museums, and went for daily morning runs by the canal.  And of course we took lots and lots of pictures of ourselves, mostly in matching outfits, in celebration of being best sisters.

We are able to match in any length of skirt.

We are able to match in any length of skirt.

Not Just a Port in the Storm

 

 

 

Last Saturday, my boyfriend and I had a party for International Women’s Day, although it was a week after the holiday.  But little did our guests know, it was actually just an excuse for another kind of party…

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“I like Eleanor, so I’m going to give her this pink box.”

 

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“See, our shirts are even the same color.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…an engagement!

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Being engaged means you never have to cut a piece of cake by yourself.

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If it weren’t for my fiancé, I wouldn’t have any matching jewelry (among other things).

The wedding is not going to be very soon (more than a year from now), but I am enjoying the status of being engaged.  It’s more serious than just having a boyfriend, but holds the promise of a party in the future!

Just Do It

The number one thing I feel homesick for when I’m in Casablanca is exercise.  I miss how easily I could exercise in Chicago; there were two gyms right near my home, a beautiful running path, and just a mile away was the lakefront path, which I biked down many weekend afternoons on my way downtown.  Here in Casa, the running is a little more challenging.  Cars block the way, motorbikes speed by, the sidewalks have holes, traffic lights and actual traffic patterns don’t quite match up, and men in cafés stare.  I only rarely see other runners, and I think I’ve only once seen a female running by herself…and she was clearly also a foreigner.

Dodging cars is good for increasing your heart rate.

Dodging cars is good for increasing your heart rate.

Moroccan society certainly has more divisions between private and public life than American society does.  It is perhaps a little strange for a woman to go out in exercise clothing and run in the streets.  Unemployed men have the bad habit of staring, particularly at foreigners.  And perhaps the idea that exercise is important and is not just something for unskilled laborers is new to Morocco, as the wealthiest of society live in such a way that they rarely have to interact with the outside world.  However, I think it is generally accepted that exercise is a good thing for everyone.

There are deceptively few cars in this photo.

There are deceptively few cars in this photo.

Tomorrow I plan to get up and go for a run in the morning.  It will probably be hard to get myself to go out knowing that I will have to dodge cars and bumps in the pavement, and that all eyes will be on me as I pass each café.  But I’m going to do it anyway, because I love the feeling I get from running, and the way that exercise allows me to think clearly and positively.  I’m going to continue doing what I love even if it can be uncomfortable; but I really hope that it starts to catch on!

An Ordinary American

“The thought of becoming an ordinary American again scares me. We expatriates don’t like to admit it, but being foreign makes us feel special.”

Pamela Druckerman, An American Neurotic in Paris: The New York Times, 27 Nov. 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/28/opinion/druckerman-an-american-neurotic-in-paris.html?_r=1&

One of the things I really like about living in Morocco is that I feel that I like myself better when I’m here.  I like that I am more thoughtful about my surroundings, my relationships, and my place in society.  I like having frequent opportunities to speak other languages, and I like meeting people who have backgrounds different from my own.  I like hearing about other peoples’ experiences and explaining my own path to where I am now.  I like that I can meet other Americans and realize that we have things in common, but also that we have a lot of differences.
America.

America.

It’s true, though, that when we are abroad we are in many ways extraordinary, which definitely does lend a feeling of being a little bit special.  Here are some things that make the life of an expat feel remarkable.
  • Nearly every day, at least one man tells me that I am beautiful/a princess/the love of his life/a spice girl.
  • Going shopping is much more exciting.  The foods are slightly different, and it’s fun to use new brands or even just to have packaging of American brands that are written partly in Arabic.  When I find something that I have missed, even if it’s something small (like decaf black tea) it’s really exciting.
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  • Nobody forgets who I am.  A neighbor of mine whom I had never seen before helped me replace my gas, and he knew exactly which apartment I live in.  I’m easy to remember when I’m the only foreigner.
  • If you don’t fit in, you can just chalk it up to culture.  If you don’t fit in to your neighborhood, it’s because you’re the only foreigners.  Unlike in America, where we would rarely claim to not fit in based on where we are from since everyone is from a different place anyway.
  • Most people back in the US think of Morocco as an exotic and mystical land.  I don’t think there is much awareness of Morocco among Americans, so whenever I said I was going to live in Casablanca, I could tell people were imagining me having cocktails with Humphrey Bogart every Saturday night.

    The Rick's Café in Casablanca is actually just a restaurant for tourists - the movie was filmed in a studio in the US!

    The Rick’s Café in Casablanca is actually just a restaurant for tourists – the movie was filmed in a studio in the US!

  • You have to think more about what it means to be you.  For example, being American means eating turkey on Thanksgiving.  But I’ve only ever eaten Thanksgiving turkey twice, both times in Morocco and so now associate that tradition with Morocco.  So I am like other Americans in celebrating Thanksgiving, but that doesn’t mean that I have had exactly the same experience as everyone else.
My first American thanksgiving

My first American thanksgiving

I’m not sure when I’ll be okay with being an ordinary American again.  There are a lot of things I’d miss about Morocco, but I’ll admit that I would also miss that feeling of being a little bit special!

My Own Report Card

I just gave out report cards to my students to track their progress in their first semester of school.  I don’t think anyone is going to give me a grade on what I’ve learned this fall and on my adjustment to post-college life, but I wrote notes for a final essay anyway.  Here is what I have learned in the first semester of my freshman year of life.

  • Everything costs money (except walking).  This is a lot less of a problem if you are getting a regular paycheck.
  • Working 40+ hours a week is really tiring – but it makes you truly appreciate the weekends.
  • Staying healthy takes time (time to exercise, rest, form positive social groups, and buy, chop, wash, and cook vegetables)
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    These flowers are healthy.

  • I looooove to cook.  I like using seasonal vegetables, I like making up recipes, and I like baking bread.  I don’t, however, like following recipes or instructions.
  • I am Christian.  I was a bit confused about what I believed throughout college, so it’s nice to have figured this out.
  • It is really nice to have Christian coworkers because you never have to defend your beliefs.  However, I think it is also nice to have friends of other religions.
  • I love learning languages.  I think Standard Arabic is one of the most beautiful languages, and I also really like speaking French.
  • My sister is really cool.  I also knew that already, but in this past year we’ve had really good trips to visit each other abroad.
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We also take super cool pictures of ourselves.

    • I’m really thankful to have a roommate.  I like being alone sometimes, but I much prefer to be alone together.
    • I really like to run, and feel a lot better about everything after running.  I already knew this, but the fact that I’ve been able to continue to run regularly has been wonderful.
    • I need to complain more.  My roommate complained to anyone who would listen about how cold our apartment is, and someone anonymously gave her a huge comforter.  I, however, continued to suffer silently.
    • I’m never going to be an amazing singer, even though I do enjoy singing.  That’s okay, I guess.
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    Who wouldn’t want to be able to sing like these guys? They’re certainly enjoying it.

  • I like listening to stories from my students, whether they are adults or kindergarteners.  I don’t really like disciplining them though, so I think I am best suited to working with small groups.
  • I really like Morocco.  I like my friends here, I like the tram, I like my church, I like the ocean, I like the stores on my street, I like the architecture, and I like avocado juice.  I am very happy living here and do not want to leave, at least for a while.
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    Waiting for the tram isn’t so bad when it’s this sunny.

In three more days I’ll be on winter break, and in only one my mom will arrive!  I’ve got to rest up so that I’m ready for the second semester of my freshman year of life.