by Djenab Conde
I have lived in Casa (said like a true local) for over three months now, but it’s only now that I am finally getting into the regular rhythms of everyday life. I have moved into my own place, in a cool, conveniently located neighborhood with hip coffee shops and restaurants. I have friends, both Moroccan and non-Moroccan. I’m getting more opportunities to speak in French, mostly because my work with GlobalGirl Media—my main reason for being here—is picking up in a positive, yet frustrating way. I have more responsibility, and I also have a real team to work with now. I finally found a place where I can take Moroccan Arabic lessons. I am beginning to get the hang of things!
I could definitely see myself living here. The U.S. Dollar goes far. Traveling around the country is fairly simple thanks to the train system, and the Casablanca airport serves all major European cities. Cost of living is pretty low for a fairly good life.
I could definitely see myself living here, except that I’m not sure that I can.
I love that fresh fruits and veggies are abundant and inexpensive. I love the cafe culture, spending an entire afternoon reading, talking, or writing in a variety of cafes.
I don’t love the smoke that pervades many cafes, neither do I love the fact that my female Moroccan friends advise me not to walk alone once the sun sets, even if it’s only ten minutes from the restaurant to my apartment.
I don’t love random men inserting themselves into my personal space and my life with intrusive questions and looks. I don’t love seeing the way men swivel their heads while eyeing women wearing jeans and a sweater.
I love the ease with which people here welcome foreigners into their country. I don’t love the way many people only welcome certain foreigners with a certain skin tone.
In Morocco, I have had many wonderful and terrible interactions with people. However, I haven’t yet figured out whether the terrible individual interactions are due to the different culture, or if they are due to the different culture more clearly spotlighting the manifestations of the imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy (thank you, bell hooks). I can’t figure it out yet because this genre of uncomfortable, awkward, fear-inducing interaction happens everywhere, particularly to women of color. Here, I just seem to notice it more nowadays.
I love how many young people here are so active in improving their lives and those of their fellow Moroccans. My first foray in the nonprofit world has been hectic, but the young women I have had the opportunity to interact with, particularly in my own organization, have inspired and strengthened my resolve in the face of innumerous obstacles. All the positive affirmations I have bookmarked on my computer are finally working in a powerful way. Teamwork makes the dream work! Everything happens for a reason. You know the deal.
Traveling to new places and interacting with different people make up an important part of who I am. Before beginning this post-graduate fellowship, a sort of gap year before law school, I was definitely nervous. I didn’t know a single person here, besides the contact I made with my organization via the Internet. My parents were on edge. Not to mention the fragility of our world presently (hostility towards Muslims and other “others,” increase in terrorist attacks and extremism abroad and at home, impending threat of global war with possible triggers in multiple locations, etc.).
But knowing that I can survive and even thrive in a new place, making my own way, has made me realize the privilege I am blessed with to even attempt such an action.
I could see myself living in Casa, except I know that I can’t. If not for the limits placed on my body, movements, and speech, my light brown skin allows me almost equality. But I need to go back to America, where my brother and I (not to mention countless friends and strangers) could be stopped by police for no reason at all (except for being black), where a regular white supremacist can shoot us for no reason (except for being black), where who knows what other horrors can happen and do happen that most people cannot dream of and choose not to think about. I need to go back, because I have work to do, and at least free speech is a highly valued concept, a tool of the imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, which I fully intend to utilize for the sake of humanity and womanhood.
Despite my being three months in, I don’t have a packaged summary of my time in Morocco. I don’t know if after six months or ten months, I will. I have plenty of stories, good and bad. I can give restaurant recommendations, and rank the cafes based on their hot chocolate. I can tell you that guidebooks are very often not a great guide in a country where street names are often hidden or not written or completely different from what you thought and where the suggested sites are great only for some people to visit. I can tell you that Moroccan women do not have the legal right to live with a man unless they are married to him; such is not the case for Moroccan men. I can tell you that people greet each other with “Salaam alaykum,” which means “peace be upon you.” I can tell you to order all the fresh juices and smoothies you can because they are so cheap and fresh and good here.
I can tell you that a lot of things here don’t make much sense to me (when stores open and close, how to get internet in your apartment, why empty taxis refuse to take you to your destination even when it’s on their way already, etc.), but I’m getting used to things now. People can get used to anything.
I can tell you that I’m glad I took the chance to visit this country and get acquainted with its people and its culture, and I highly recommend more people do so.