Saturday, March 1, 2014

What I wish you knew about Morocco

In honor of Peace Corps week, volunteers worldwide are sharing "what I wish Americans knew about my host country." Inspired by other volunteers and compelled by misrepresentation and misunderstanding about the region, I want to add my two Dirhams and tell you what Morocco means to me.

1. Morocco is a diverse country geographically, culturally, and linguistically with a long and rich history. It is at its origin an Amazigh country with Arab, Andalusian, Jewish, Mediterranean, French and Spanish influence. It was the first country to give official support to a fledgling America and has the longest held unbroken friendship treaty with the United States, a fact many Moroccans are quick to share! I wish you knew how beautiful it is, from winding old cities, to vast deserts, rolling hills, huge mountains and miles of coastline.

2. It is not a religiously diverse country. It is an Islamic state with 99.99 percent of the population identifying as Muslim. I wish that this didn't need to be said, but messages and comments continue to amaze and disappoint me. This makes us no less safe. This makes us no less secure. Islam is a beautiful, peaceful religion with the same capacity as all other religions to be a force for good, for people changing their lives, striving for light, for making and keeping commitments that benefit self, family, and community. Its name is derived from the phrase I use to greet others every day, meaning peace and safety. It also has the capacity of religion to be used as a justification for immoral actions and ideologies. New members are converting every day; others are questioning and leaving every day; Its practice around the world is influenced by culture, politics, region, and tradition. It breaks my heart every time I have to try to answer the sincere question, "why do Americans hate Muslims?" or confirm with all that I can when friends say "do you know I'm not a terrorist?" It is a shame on us that islamophobia exists based on actions and beliefs of the very small minority, and in a religion with members comprising a fourth of the world's population, it is embarrassing that this message of fear and ignorance is being disseminated to the world.

3. On a similar note, besides frequent invitations to convert for our own salvation, people are aware and accepting if not tolerant that we hold different beliefs. In fact, most people constantly remind us a tenant of Islam that there is no force in religion.

4. I wish you knew my landlord. She makes an extra helping of couscous for us every single Friday. If we don't go upstairs, she brings it down. If we accidentally payed the equivalent of an extra 10 cents on our utilities bill, she will bring down her calculator and crumpled bills to return it to us. If we are sick or alone in the house, she will bring food.

5. I wish you knew this isn't isolated. Moroccans have an almost religious commitment to hospitality, and are in fact the most hospitable, open, and giving people I've ever met. We were invited to someones house for dinner for every day during the month of Ramadan. While Zach was out of town this week, I didn't cook once. We even have to be careful to keep compliments to ourselves lest a shirt is given to us off someones back. "You are like family," and "This is your house." are more than just niceties.

6. I wish you knew the people we work with. Any successes we have had or will have are thanks to Moroccan counterparts that make it possible. These are people, leaders that are actively working for change without the sexiness of being in a new country or hope of future opportunities. They are also volunteers, 100% more capable and important than us.

7. I wish you knew these youth. When 14 year olds make you emotional on the regular with their experiences, dreams, thoughts, and opinions far bigger than Bieber and..whatever else 14 yr olds talk about. The ones that ride their bikes 45 minutes from surrounding villages to attend a class or activity that might increase their skill set. (I don't want to misrepresent, there is also a fair share of Bieber.)

8.  I wish you knew the women fighting for change on small and large scales to make their homes, the streets, the law, the religion, and the country safer and more inclusive for themselves and their children. These muslim feminists don't need liberation, only our support. I wish you knew the men that are doing the same, heeding to instruction from the Qu'ran to treat women respectfully.

Lastly, I want you to know that our life is here, and it is a good one. We almost daily run a gamut of emotions from frustration, to confusion, satisfaction, and elation surrounding the struggles and successes of navigating intercultural relationships, programs, and projects. However, the most frequent feeling is a gratitude and inability to reciprocate all that this experience, these people, and this country gives to us.


Matty said...

This post has made me so ridiculously jealous that it's unreal. I'm so impressed, proud, thrilled and excited. I need to make Jess look at this, and maybe it's time we re-apply.

Love you two and so proud of you - that picture of your hands, and Zach's pictures of his beard just make me so happy.

Tiff said...

Wonderful post! I want to go to Morocco now!!!

kylie said...

love reading your experiences, jules. so great.

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