Why We Do Not Want to Stay in Morocco

When I first came to Morocco nearly four years ago, it was love at first sight.  The weather was perfect, the people were friendly, the food was delicious, and every day was an adventure.

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Beautiful rock formations in Oualidia

I thought my husband and I might stay long-term, to keep taking advantage of Morocco’s beautiful diversity of cultures.  I was so much more in love with Morocco than any of my colleagues, most of which I thought would leave after a year or two.  But as it turns out, my close friends from my first year will probably stay significantly longer than I will.  Here’s why:

  • There are not many job options outside teaching, which is not my career.  I have also worked part-time in two NGOs, but both were pretty shockingly disorganized.  I don’t think I ever attended a meeting that didn’t start at least an hour late.
  • Getting a visa is a yearly challenge, especially for Africans.  My first year, my employer did everything for me, so I never even knew how difficult it was.  These past two years, I’ve had quite a bit of trouble renewing my visa due to unhelpfulness both from my new employer and from the staff at the prefecture.  And my husband has been working for almost three years on a student visa because his employer doesn’t want to pay the fees for a foreigner’s contract.
  • It’s just really hard to walk down the street.  I’m lucky enough to be able to walk to work, but feel so much less lucky when men comment on my clothes or appearance, or especially when they try to follow me.  It’s better when I walk with my husband, except on the occasions when people (men) yell racial slurs at us.  And then there are the broken sidewalks….
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A surprisingly well-organized slum

  • The rising culture of materialism is exhausting.  Like any fast-developing country, Morocco has become more and more focused on material wealth.  The thing to do on the weekends is to go shopping, and having a car has become a status symbol.  I struggle to explain to my students that I don’t have a car because I like to walk, not because I can’t afford one, that I don’t eat at the most expensive restaurants because I actually like to cook, and that I want to become a social worker because I genuinely find that profession fascinating, not because I got rejected from programs in technology or finance.  My idea of a good career is one that I find rewarding, not necessarily one that pays a lot of money.
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This guy probably gets his hair done in a salon every week.

There are things I love about Morocco too; the community I’ve found here, the opportunities I’ve had to meet new people and learn new languages, and the chance to experience another way of life.  The ocean in Casablanca is beautiful, the vegetables are always fresh, and my husband and I have wonderful friends.  But there’s a time for everything, and I really feel like it’s time to find a place to live with more trees than cars, even if it is somewhere with cold winters and no pomegranates.

 

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It’s not my Party

On my way to the bathroom after the Sunday church service, the woman who had agreed to take care of decorating the church for my wedding day stopped me to talk.

“Do you have a minute? I just want to discuss your preferences for the table decoration for the wedding party.”

I told her yes, I did have time to talk, but that my fiancé wasn’t there. I had already discussed the decoration with the woman once, so I figured I should confirm what we had said with my future husband before making any big decisions.

“But it’s not his party,” she said. “You’re the bride; it’s your decoration for your party. Just tell me your ideas; it will only take five minutes.”

She wasn’t the first person to tell me that it was my party, my wedding, and my big day. I didn’t quite understand why people kept saying that; the wedding day is a time for my fiancé and I, our families, and our closest friends to celebrate our decision to build a life together. Yes, I would like to look like a princess, and yes, my veil does attach to my head by a crown, but I don’t think the day is for me any more than it is for anyone else.

If I were to imagine my ideal wedding, I would change a few things. I would like my dress to be a little fluffier in the skirt, to not have bridesmaids because I don’t like telling people what to wear, to have fewer guests, and to be able to give my vows in English, my native language. But I’m wearing the dress my mother made for me, which is the greatest gift she could give me. And I know that the three pre-teen girls I asked to be my bridesmaids danced around with joy when their parents told them that I wanted them to take part in the wedding. And even though speaking French in front of over a hundred people gives me butterflies in my stomach, it’s the native language of 90% of my guests, and I want them to understand clearly why I love my fiancé so much.

It would be nice if the decoration for my wedding looked nice and matched the colors and themes I picked out. But even if the decoration team decides to overturn all of my ideas and cover the whole church in orange streamers, I hope to remember my wedding day not as the best, worst, biggest, or most important day of my life, but as the day I shared what matters most to me with the people I love the most.

My English Class is like Casablanca at Rush Hour

Last night when I was being driven home from my church, our car got stuck in the middle of a traffic jam caused by five cars driving the wrong way through an intersection.  Everybody was honking and making wild gestures.  At one point a man got out of his car to yell at the driver in front of him, which only slowed everyone down because no one behind him could move.  Everybody was honking, swerving, and yelling all at the same time.  The stop light nearby changed to red and back to green again, totally irrelevant to what was actually happening on the street.

Everybody's going somewhere.

Everybody’s going somewhere.

This morning I taught my English class for young adults.  Since it was the last class of the week, I thought it would be fun to play a game.  I introduced a guessing game where one person would think of a food and the other students would ask a yes/no question to figure out what the food was.  My students’ desks were arranged in a circle, so I told them to ask the questions one by one in a circle.  It worked fine for the first round, but once all of the students understood the game, they stopped waiting their turns.  I would ask one student for a yes/no question, and three people across the room would be shouting out,

“Is it eggs?!”

“Rice!”

“It’s a fruit? A vegetable!”

The game quickly became chaos because before one student could answer the questions, someone else would have already shouted out the answer.  I stopped the game after a few rounds because it was just too much of everyone talking all at once to continue to manage.  I tried to slow them down and get them to go one by one, but even when I achieved calm moments, they didn’t last.  I felt like the stop light that no one was following.  Which makes me wonder; if we changed the way teachers and Moroccan schools manage their classes, would Moroccans be better drivers?

The Residency Battle

A few weeks ago, Obama made a huge step in immigration policy in the U.S.  He allowed some of those who have been “living in the shadows” to gain proper documentation, and plans to do so for 5 million immigrants.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I don’t think that the U.S. is necessarily the land of opportunity.  But for those who are trying to make a life there, proper documentation is the first step to moving toward their dreams.

After having worked with refugees in the U.S., I am so thankful to to have certain privileges.  I have a strong passport that allows me to travel easily, I am a native English speaker and can find work teaching English despite not necessarily having all of the qualifications, and I come from a supportive and loving family who is there for me if I am in need.  I am lucky enough not to understand how challenging it is to not have these privileges.

This month, I’ve been struggling to apply for my Moroccan work visa.  First, my employers didn’t give me my work attestation, then when they gave it to me it was in the wrong language and took longer to legalize.  I spent weeks reminding my employers that I need those forms, that my old visa was about to expire, and that if I got any closer to the deadline, I’d have to leave the country.  When I finally did get all the forms I needed, it took me hours to turn them in because I needed an extra form from the police station to pardon how late I was.  They did not care at all that it was not my fault!  I finally managed to leave my documents and am now waiting three weeks to pick up the receipt that allows me to travel in and out of Morocco.  Thankfully, I had no immediate plans to leave the country, because I can’t until I get that paper.

Despite all the worry this caused me, I had the option of leaving the country to renew my visa, and I have a fiancé and a family ready to help me when I’m in need.  Despite how negligent Amideast was, I always had a safety net.  So even though Thanksgiving is over, I’m thankful for everything I have that allows me to remain safe, both physically and emotionally.  I’m also (sort of) thankful to have a better understanding of what it is like to be a migrant in Morocco (meaning, a migrant who is not taken care of by an American school), because I hope to make some difference in the lives of those who struggle the most in this country.  But really Amideast, get it together!

At least the weather here is beautiful!

At least the weather here is beautiful!

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.

Weekend in El Jadida

This weekend was my last weekend in Morocco before I leave for the summer.  To fully enjoy the Moroccan sun, my boyfriend and I went to the coastal city of El Jadida.  Only about an hour from Casablanca by train, El Jadida is an easy escape from the big city.  We arrived on Friday night, and set out first thing on Saturday to explore the city and check out our beach options.

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No motorcycles here!

The major site of El Jadida is the Cité Portugaise.  There are walls built around the tiny city, and some old canons warding off pirates.

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Don’t worry; they don’t work.

My boyfriend proved that he is really to attack those pirates, should they come.  I’m ready to flip my hair at them.

IMG_4421 copyIMG_4423 copyOn Saturday afternoon, we made our way to the beach.  It was pretty busy, but the water was perfect.

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Perhaps London would be this colorful if it could borrow El Jadida’s sunshine.

The highlight of the weekend came as a surprise.  Back in November, the circus had been in Casablanca, and I had really wanted to go.  My students had obviously all seen it in the fall, because for a couple of months all they wanted to do in class was “faire un spectacle.”  My friends saw it and discussed their favorite acts, and I could only imagine the things they described.  And then when we showed up in El Jadida, one of the first things we saw was the big red circus tent.  J’ai de la bonne chance!

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Next weekend I’ll be in London with my very best sister.  We plan on taking lots of photos, rain or shine.

How Long is Long Enough?

My workplace in Morocco primarily offers two year contracts, which for some is a dauntingly long amount of time, for some is just the right length to spend in one place before moving on to the next, and for a few people, two years becomes twenty.  I’ve been in this country now a total of a year and two months, but when I say that amount of time to those who ask, it doesn’t seem quite right to me.  I keep thinking, haven’t I been here longer?  When will I be able to cite an impressive number of years, and to be accepted as a seasoned inhabitant of Morocco?

We had to have two parties just to figure out which kind of cake is best.

We had to have two parties just to figure out which kind of cake is best (it’s the strawberry).

It seems to be very popular to teach for two years in one country and then move to another, experiencing new cultures with every move, but always having the same type of teaching job.  I sort of understand this from having moved between schools, programs, and locations several times during college, but am also confused by the idea of moving around so much.  One year feels to me like just enough time to find out what I want to be able to do here, but not enough time to actually do those things…especially when many of them run on “Moroccan time.”  This is technically my second time in Morocco, and my two experiences here (Ifrane and Casablanca) have been totally different, which makes me think that there are yet more experiences to had.

I went to the Hassan II mosque at least three times before realizing that the brochure is incorrect - it is not built on the water, it is built next to the water.  I had been imagining some hidden room with a glass floor!

I went to the Hassan II mosque at least three times before realizing that the brochure is incorrect – it is not built on the water, it is built next to the water. I had been imagining some hidden room with a glass floor!

In the past month, a lot of things have changed (for the better!) in my personal life and my career.  If changes keep happening at this rate, I’ll have to keep adding on to those two years just to fit it all in.