What If….

The other day, a man walked by me and my husband on a street in Casablanca and called out “Cote d’Ivoire!”  I think he found it clever because ivory is white and the Ivory Coast is a country of dark-skinned people.  Unfortunately I didn’t think of my comeback quite fast enough, because the man was already out of hearing range when I called back at him, “la mongolie!”  I too can play the calling-out-random-countries-at-strangers game.

This got me thinking, what would happen if things that are common on the streets of Morocco were to happen in the U.S.?  If this exact episode happened in America, I’m pretty sure that any onlookers would think that the man must have a mental illness; why else would he call out something either completely random, or potentially very offensive?

Similarly, people (men) often tell me that I am welcome in Morocco, even after more than three years of living here.  What if a white American told an Asian-American that he/she were welcome in the United States?  I don’t think that comment would go over well.

What people wear on the streets in Morocco is not the same as what they wear at work or indoors.  Today I wore a knee-length skirt to work, and plenty of men along my walk had something to say about it.  That same skirt would be considered pretty modest in the U.S., and probably would not turn any heads.

Occasionally young boys call Africans the word “azzi,” a shortened version of the Arabic word for black.  Sometimes they say “abid,” meaning slave.  If that came to the U.S., the Black Lives Matter movement would have plenty to say about it.

Morocco is not the U.S., so those things will probably keep happening for years to come.  Maybe when I get to Boston I’ll bring yelling things at random people on the street into fashion.  Or not….

 

Random things I’ve learned from teaching

A fun thing about being an ESL teacher is that you get to learn a lot of little details and facts from other people.  I get the opportunity to talk about politics, religion, culture, and also just daily routines and opinions about life in Morocco with my more advanced students.  Here are some completely random but interesting facts I’ve picked up.

On visas:

If someone who is not French marries a French citizen abroad, that person can acquire French nationality after four or five years through a local embassy, without ever stepping foot in France (if only Americans could do the same!)

Moroccans do not need visas to visit Turkey, so the combination of that and the popularity of Turkish soap operas make it one of the most popular countries for Moroccan tourists

On religion:

One reason why eating pork is forbidden in Islam and Judaism may be that pig meat spoils easily in the heat, since both religions have origins in hot climates.

In Islam, the day that each person will pass away is predetermined and cannot be changed (which is not the case in Christianity)

Completely random:

Drinking hot coffee actually makes your body colder, but drinking hot chocolate warms it up (as if I needed another reason to consume chocolate)

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But what if you eat chocolate with coffee?

There is no wage gap between men and women in Morocco – but that’s not to say that there aren’t more men in leadership positions.

Morocco was the first country to recognize the United States as a country, just after independence.

Thanks, Morocco!

Earlier this week, my husband told me that he was calculating the outcome of his time in Morocco.  He said he had spent money on his studies and on living here, probably more than he had earned in three years of working.  But, he said, he still thought he had received far more than he had given.  He learned how to do his career, even if the studies and unpaid internships were expensive.  He learned how to live on his own and how to support himself.  He gained a community and served the same church for ten years.  He became a better singer.  He met his (lovely) wife and began married life.  Overall, he gained more than he lost.
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Awwwwwww!

I’ve also learned a lot since first coming here four years ago.  How to find an apartment and pay my taxes, how to keep myself healthy, how to teach and how to lead a group, how to speak other languages, and how to work on a team.  I gained the experience necessary to choose and apply for a masters, I saved some money, and I made new friends.  I got baptized and I got married to my (amazing) husband.  But the biggest thing I think I have learned is pretty simple.
The most important thing I’ve taken away is that nowhere and nobody is really so different from what I know. Even here in Casablanca, I can make friends, find people with similar interests, and enjoy when my neighbor blasts my favorite Taylor Swift song (Love Story).  Of course, not everyone has the same opinions, traditions, or beliefs, but I know now that I could live in many different places in the world and feel at home.  I know that I can become friends with someone from any culture or from any religion or any upbringing.
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Fishermen in Oualidia

But along with that, I also feel more empathy for those in need in many situations.  Before, when I read news stories about the Middle East, war-torn countries, or plane crashes, I brushed them off as things that could never happen to me.  But now I can imagine myself or someone I know being in a city that was attacked or being on a plane that was lost.  Those places, and the people in them, now seem closer to home.
I hope I will soon become a social worker who works with refugees, and I hope this will help me do a better job.  But I guess I’ll have more to say on that later!

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

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.

 

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.

The Confused Expat

A friend of mine recently wrote a blog post on liminality, or the state of one’s identity being suspended due to a certain situation, such as during war or when one gets married. When someone’s surrounding so drastically change, it becomes unclear what is truly part of that person’s identity and what just based on the situation becomes unclear. When I read this, it reminded me of some of the changes that occur when one moves to another country, or even after moving back home again. Expats frequently go through that liminal state.

This is still me, just upside down.

This is still me, just upside down.

When I first arrived in Morocco, I went to an orientation meeting where we discussed how our identities will stay the same or change in a new environment, and how we can accept that in order to adapt to life in Casablanca. I remember telling my partner during group time that part of the reason why I like living abroad is that it helps me think more carefully about who I actually am. Now that I’m at the end of a full year in Casa, I definitely have thought a lot about my identity, but I’m not entirely sure that it’s become clearer!

Using chopsticks for the first time might make you think that you don't really know how to eat, after a lifetime of thinking that you do.

Using chopsticks for the first time might make you think that you don’t really know how to eat, after a lifetime of thinking that you do.

There are some things about a person that will always be true. For me, I know that I am quiet, that I like to read and to run, and that I prefer having one very close friend to having many friends.

Some things, though, change just slightly depending on my situation. In the U.S., I went to a top university, I didn’t wear extremely revealing clothing, and I spoke English with every one of my friends. In Morocco, no one has heard of my university, the knee-length skirts that I consider to be modest draw a lot of looks, and I speak another language on a daily basis.

And then there are the details that totally change when you enter a new situation. I was once a vegetarian, but now eat meat nearly every day. I never studied education or worked with children, and now am a teacher. I once had never been out of my country, and now live outside of it.

I like hiking anywhere in the world.

I like hiking anywhere in the world.

As time goes on, identity starts to take on aspects that depend on your environment. Who I’ve become this year is slightly different than who I was when I left, but at the base I am still the same person. My coworkers and I will be returning to the U.S. for the summer in the coming days and weeks, and we’re bound to feel that loss of identity all over again when we realize that we may no longer quite fit into what we consider to be our homes. But no matter what, I’m going to take a good book with me and go for a lot of runs.

The Heart Grows Fonder

Up until a few months ago, I wasn’t sure if I would be visiting the U.S. this summer.  I was fine with staying here, and didn’t feel at all homesick.  But then I found out that I would have a vacation in August, and began to plan a trip to Chicago for a month.  Once that was on the horizon, I suddenly started thinking of all the things I was excited to do at home.  Go biking, eat real peanut butter, read the New York Times in print….  Then a few weeks ago, I decided to spend two whole months in Chicago instead of just one this summer so that I could do an internship, which seems to be the best option in terms of my career and of how my schedule works out.  Just two days ago, I bought my plane ticket to leave on June 27th.  Now that I have the ticket in my hands, I keep thinking of things I want to do not in Chicago, but in Casablanca.  Can you believe, there’s even an Indian restaurant here I haven’t been to yet?  I’d better start a list!
At least I made it to the top of the Twin Center before going home for the summer!  Casa's skyline rivals that of Chicago.

At least I made it to the top of the Twin Center before going home for the summer! Casa’s skyline rivals that of Chicago.

I think it will be helpful to spend time at home, to do an internship that I’m excited about, and to have time to reflect on my freshman year of life before going back to the next year.  I’m not worried that I’ve made any poor decisions, but I am confused at how little sense my emotions seem to make in this situation.  I guess absence really does make the heart grow fonder…even if it’s just the thought of an absence that’s doing it for me!