I was a student when I first went abroad, and my school gave me a little handout describing the ailment commonly referred to as culture shock. First, it explained, you arrive in a new place and everything is perfect. The people are wonderful, the food is delicious, the water tastes slightly better in this country than in your own, and you are making plans for how to relocate here permanently. This is called the Honeymoon Period. But next, and this is often drawn in a graph showing a line curving up and then plunging down, comes the Crash. This is where the sparkles wear off and you realize that you are homesick, dissatisfied, and hate the weather in your new country. The final period is where everything evens out and you discover that there are pros and cons to every situation, so you just have to make the most of your experience. This is the stage where you settle in, see things critically, and start to feel at home again.
When I first went to Morocco, I had a pretty long and intense honeymoon. I’m still pretty in to North Africa, so I think our relationship will last long term. However, there are some things that I have totally changed my mind about. First would probably be the idea of “taking things slow,” or living on “Moroccan Time,” which is fine if you’re on vacation, but pretty frustrating if you’re depending on someone to help you meet basic needs. The second would be the role of women. Before going to a Muslim country, I had read plenty about repression of Arab women but was hesitant to believe them, wanting to see for myself. It is undeniably true that the Western stereotypes are exaggerations; Moroccan and Tunisian women work in highly skilled jobs, own businesses, and have freedom of movement and opportunities for education along with men. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any problems. When I went to Morocco, I was so in love that I didn’t want to believe that it had any faults, but I do think that there is still a lot to be done in terms of women’s rights. As I learned from my coworkers, many of them have had semi-arranged marriages and can’t get divorced even if they don’t work out. Instead, they must just adapt to a new life with a new family on their husband’s terms.
Morocco does have a very progressive family code, but women often do not get quite enough voice once they are married. There is no such thing as marital rape because it is assumed that if a women marries a man, she is willing to have sex with him. My coworker got pregnant three months ago even though she doesn’t want another child; she is working and building a house for her family and does not have the time or resources to fully support another child. Birth control is totally legal here, but that doesn’t mean that everyone will use it. My coworker was using the counting method to prevent pregnancy, but as another coworker explained, “her husband wanted it during her dangerous time.” Unplanned pregnancies irreversibly alter the course of your life in only a moment. I do not know what the solution to this issue is; maybe education about birth control, maybe changes in family codes, or maybe changes in the expectations of gender roles. All of these seem challenging to bring about, but it’s certainly important to do something to have positive marriages even past the honeymoon.