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 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.

Empty or Full

The other day, I was reading a travel blog written by one of my coworkers.  She had visited both Sacre Coeur and the Hassan II Mosque in one day, and was commenting on how grand they both are.

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The blog entry detailed how beautiful the two structures are, although the cathedral is no longer used and is falling apart.  It ended by saying that it is a shame that the mosque is more elaborate and impressive despite being for an “empty religion.”  After many Islamic studies courses in college, I find this statement surprising and ignorant, especially coming from someone who chose to work and live in a Muslim country with students and coworkers of different faiths. Although I doubt she reads my blog, I am going to tell you, my dear readers, some fascinating things about the Islamic tradition.

Poetry and music – You’ve probably heard of Rumi, the Persian poet.  If you haven’t, look him up!  His poems remind me of the book of psalms; a lot of them sound like love songs, but are about God instead of a man or woman.

Language – The Quran is written in classical Arabic, which is a beautiful and complex language. Even native Arabic speakers have to study it for many years to grasp its many rules and structures, but those who can truly speak or write it can produce wonderful songs, stories, and poetry.

Islamic law – Many scholars have worked together to produce Islamic law and the correct sayings of the prophet.  I think it is amazing that one can read exactly what the prophet said, along with who reported what he said, when it happened, and where, and that we can trust that this information was researched for years.

Science and math – The schedule of daily prayers is very complex.  It involves finding the exact times the sun rises, sets, and is at it’s highest every day.  I also find it interesting that there are set periods of time in which to pray. Many Christians set aside a certain time of the day for prayer and reflection so as to make sure to stay on track, which is much the same idea, though less rigid.

Some Islamic art on display in Londo

Some Islamic art on display in London

I firmly believe that one can appreciate the gifts given to us by other religions while still being steadfast in our own beliefs.  And you never know; you might just learn something new about your own traditions and values by learning about those of others!

Insider vs. Outsider

The most important thing I learned the first time I lived in Morocco was that I am not Moroccan. It seems obvious, but it sure took me a long time to learn. I wanted to study at a Moroccan university because I wanted to have lots of Moroccan friends, participate in Moroccan traditions, and speak Moroccan Arabic.  The friends I have made in Morocco are certainly friends I never would have made anywhere else, and I’ve learned a lot about traditions, culture, and language.  However, I haven’t really made any close Moroccan friends.  But I am okay with that; just because I am not having the experience I expected, doesn’t mean I’m not learning a lot.

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One thing I have learned is how to make peanut sauce with cassava.

As I’ve mentioned before, I love living in Morocco. But perhaps not for things directly related to Moroccan culture. I originally came here to study Arabic, but now, after many hours of Standard Arabic I actually prefer to take this opportunity to learn French.  And that’s a great thing to do here, because Moroccans are not judgmental of bad French! I also have really enjoyed being part of Christian communities in Morocco, and I think being part of a minority has strengthened those bonds and made my place in the community more obvious. To give a more mundane example, I also really love tea, and I enjoy that there are many types of tea available, but I don’t really like how sugary Moroccan mint tea is. So in general, I benefit from the situation I am in because of being in Morocco, but not necessarily for the obvious reasons.

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This Moroccan mint tea set is contributing to my apartment’s Christmas decorations.

I think it is important to learn about the culture you are living in, but I also think that it is important not to forget who you are and how you may or may not fit into your host country. I’m not Moroccan…but I am so thankful for what I have learned and experienced in this country, because those things would not be the same anywhere else in the world.