Today my arabic teacher didn’t show up to class. So that means that I have a free 1.5 hours to do something before my 3:30 class. So I’m writing this blog post instead of working on research for my final paper in North African Government and Politics (NAGP). Haha. But I guess to be semi-productive, I’ll write about how interesting my paper topic is!
My professor gave us a list of questions that we could pick from, one pertaining to each week of our class reading. So I knew which one I wanted to pick right away: Islamist parties. I don’t know why they intrigue me so much. That, along with terrorism and national security really pique my interest (although, not when it deals with the United States). Last summer, my final arabic presentation was on Moroccan National Security, and I researched the Casablanca bombings of 2003 and the Café Argana (Marrakech) bombing in 2011. The latter was the work of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which I had never even heard of before; and now they are all over the news with all that’s going on in Mali and Algeria. I’ll be writing another article for the Princeton Progressive Nation on AQIM and the events in Algeria.
Anyways, back to my final paper for NAGP. The question I’m exploring is, “Why did the Islamists fail to take power in Algeria?” An important thing to note is that there was not just one Islamist party in Algeria, and that their failure to take power is just the idea that the FLN kept control of the government after the Algerian civil war (1991-2002). Right now, I am combing through my sources for quotes that I can use in my paper. The article I am looking at now is written by Mohammed Hafez, “From Marginalization to Massacres: A Political Process Explanation of GIA Violence in Algeria.” As the title explains, it focuses mainly on the Islamist party al-Jama’ah al-Islamiyah al-Musallaha, or the Armed Islamic Group, GIA. The GIA is the most radical Islamist group that arose in Algeria, as they are (most probably) responsible for the horrendous massacres from 1996-9 that killed thousands of Algerian civilians.
As I read more and more about not only Islamist parties, but also the Algerian civil war, I begin to wonder, why have I never learned about this before? Why did I never read about this in my world history class? No one has ever mentioned this to me before, even in my “Issues in Contemporary North Africa” class last summer. Come to think of it, the American educational system is extremely lacking in African/Middle Eastern history. We are taught in such a euro- and ameri-centric way that it’s actually quite abhorrent how much I know about other regions of the world. Maybe that’s why I like college so much: because I get to learn about things that I had never even heard of in high school. I mean, as a high schooler, I would have never thought that I would be studying abroad in Morocco (of all places!)! I would have never thought that I would learn Russian and Arabic in college and discover a passion for philosophy.
Well, I think I’ve gotten sufficiently off-topic. I would just like to close by saying that my final paper for NAGP will be very interesting, and I am so glad that I have the opportunity to learn about these fascinating events that I have never been exposed to.
I absolutely cannot believe that there are only two full weeks left of classes. It seems like just yesterday I was going to my first class, collecting syllabi, and stressing over my schedule. I’ve come a long way from that, and it is absolutely surreal. Now I’m beginning to work on my final papers, finishing up my last assignments for Berber and Arabic, and even planning my last weekends here in Morocco. Where on earth has the time gone?!
Anyways, these past few days, I have been collecting information on the dates of my finals–and luckily none of them are scheduled for finals week! That means that I will have a “free” weekend in Morocco before I go home! Those of you who know me definitely know where I’ll be… (; But not having finals in the third week of May does come with a price… that means that all of my finals are due the week BEFORE, which includes a presentation and paper for Field Methods (Wednesday), oral finals for both Arabic and Berber (Thursday), and my final paper for North African Government and Politics (Friday).
So how am I supposed to get all this work done, you ask? Well, I am going to have to impose on myself a personal Dean’s Date. And that, my friends, will have to be next Thursday because I want to travel next weekend. But I think that it’s do-able. If I outline my NAGP paper tonight and start writing tomorrow, I should be able to get it done by next Tuesday (I’ll be busy collecting data in Erfoud this weekend), which gives me next Wednesday to work on my Field Methods presentation and paper. And I will, of course, practice my Arabic and Berber over the weekend I travel and when I come back.
Sounds like a plan, right? Well, someone is going to help me stick to my Dean’s Date. (Look, Princeton, I can’t shake you, can I?) But thankfully it’s not a ridiculous amount of work, so I think that I can get it done. We’ll see. Wish me luck!
Observation, 10 April, 17:00-18:30
I am situated facing a busy main road. I can hear cars passing by and can tell their size based on the rumbling they make: small motorcycles have a high-pitched rumble to them, while large buses sound like a scary monster who is very hungry. In addition to the rumbling, honking is frequent, and every so often I will hear a brake squeak, indicating its need of repair.
To my right, a café a few yards away is playing faint Arab music. I can’t make out the words, but I can tell by the beat (at 18:10, the music is definitely Khaled, as C’est La Vie and Hiya Hiya play). Also to my right, I can hear many conversations going on, mostly by men sitting at the tables outside. Since only a black metal fence separates the café I am at from the next, I can also hear what is going on in their kitchens—the rattle of silverware and the clanking of plates as they are being handled. At first, I think that the jangling metal I hear is that of coins in a waiter’s pocket, however after further observation, I realize that it is actually the sound of keys that people walk around with for apartments on rent for the night.
To my left, the noise is very loud coming from a construction site—I can hear a woodcutter that runs every ten seconds or so. There are not many cafés to my left, and so most of the noise is indeed construction.
In front of me come two teenage boys who have come to pester me for money. They try to get my attention by repeatedly calling me “my sister” in Arabic, but I don’t even look up and eventually the nice waitress comes to shoo them away after a few minutes. Also right in front of me is a pay phone. I am immediately behind it, so I can’t hear what anyone is saying very well, but there have been about five people so far (time: 17:30) coming to use it for 2-5 minutes at a time, mostly women.
I pick up on a few conversation as people walk in front of me, but very few. Most conversations are calm in nature; however, a pair of men recently walked by who were definitely arguing. Also, a small gang of boys has formed close by and I can hear their little voices chatting and joking with each other.
I am sitting in a male-dominated area, and I am the only single, stationary female as far as I can see. There are three men at my café, sitting at tables by themselves; in the café to my right, there is a group of three men, slightly older than me, sitting and eating. Actually, one is eating soup and a sandwich, while another is talking on the phone and the last is simply staring out into the street. There is a group of three women sitting by the payphone in front of me, one of them having already used it and now seem to be waiting for someone. The one who used the payphone has a little boy around the age of twelve.
Although I am not in an extremely visible spot, I have been thing of amazement in my short time here. So far, four little boys, a beggar woman, and now a man who looks to be homeless have approached me. The man did not want money from me (as he did not hold out his hand), but seemed to want to talk to me. By the tone of his voice, I feel as though he was reprimanding me for something (being by myself, not having my head covered, etc.).
And apart from those who have physically come up to me, there have been a lot of stares from men passing on the sidewalk, standing around with their friends, and even from those in the café I’m in and next to mine. It really must throw them off to see a woman sitting by herself in a café with a tea, busy writing something. I wonder what kind of reactions I would get it I weren’t busy writing this and instead were just observing them normally, enjoying my tea like all the men here seem to do. (And as I wrote that last sentence, another little boy came up to beg for money.) Perhaps I will try that someday.
Before reading this, I hope that you have read the first part to this post, On Being a Woman in North Africa, Part I. On the whole, this first edition was very negative, focusing on the harassment that my friends and I have received. I would now like to balance out this last post with some positive aspects to being a woman (expand to: young western woman) in Morocco.
It is true that just walking though the streets of a souq or industrial city, the majority of interactions that one will have will be with males. Most merchants and waiters are male, and as handicrafts and food power the tourist industry, it makes sense that a tourist will mostly encounter Moroccan men. Indeed, my own interactions with Moroccan women in public are few and far between. However, I will say that they are, on a whole, much more enjoyable.
For instance, on my way to El Jadida this time, I had the pleasure of sitting next to a woman on the bus. Not because she had purchase the ticket in the seat next to mine, but because she didn’t want to sit next to the man who had purchased the seat next to hers. She made light conversation with me, asking if I thought the seats were small, and I replied that they were, and then she said lots of unintelligible things and laughed, so I laughed too. She then asked me something that I didn’t understand, and I told her that I didn’t. She was bewildered. “Ma fahimteesh al-aaribiya?” and I had to admit that I only understood a little (“shwiya”). She then tried, “parlez-vous français?”, which I shook my head at. Finally she asked, “do you speak English?” and I nodded my head, in shock. This woman was probably older than my mother, and she knew English! Well, the extent of her English seemed to be that sentence, as she repeated, “you speak English!” and smiled widely. As we figured out that we had no real language in common, we sat in silence for the rest of the time. But that did not stop her from kissing me on both cheeks as I left the bus.
And just today, I had another female-bonding encounter. I explored El Jadida on my own for a bit: half looking for food, half just enjoying the warm weather and trying not to get lost. I eventually settled on entering a café where I saw there was a waitress, rather than a waiter. I sat down, and she came over to me, speaking in darija. I had absolutely no idea what she had said, so I just asked for the menu. She asked if I spoke English, I said yes, and she explained that they didn’t have any food, as the kitchen was being renovated. So I ordered tea. When she came back with it, she asked me some questions in English, to which I responded in Arabic. Eventually my functional Arabic ran out, as she started asking me more complex questions, and I just decided to switch to English, as she probably wanted to practice listening to English as well. She left me alone for a few minutes, but before I knew it, she was back with a book in English, saying that she was starting to read it. She showed it to me, and it was the book version of the Disney movie “Atlantis”. She left me again to browse through the pages. She came back a little while later, pulled up a chair and started talking to me. Not just about the book, but about her life. How she had to stay in El Jadida because of her mother, even though she had a diploma in commerce, and how she was secretly seeing a man who worked upstairs from the café. She sounded like a school girl with an exciting story to tell her friends. And although I was completely confused as to why this stranger would be telling me all about her love life, I was kind of honored. I think that she chose to share this information with me because I am a western woman about her own age, which would make me much more receptive and/or less judgemental of her. Sometimes being a foreigner has its perks?
Those are just two of many stories that I have of the camaraderie that women have here in Morocco. It might not seem like much, and it might not outweigh the negative aspect of harassment; but in the moment it is a beautiful thing, and I’m glad that there is this positive side of being a woman in North Africa.
I haven’t been homesick often. With not living at home for nine months of the year, it’s become easier for me to simply “wait” to go home. And with the extensive traveling I’ve done every summer, I’ve accustomed myself to being content with hearing my mom’s voice on the phone or seeing my sisters on Skype.
But there are times when I do feel a strong pang of homesickness. It’s usually brought about by something my mom will say to me over Facebook chat, or just seeing a picture of my family that I absolutely love. And those times are hard. I’m reminded of how little I actually see my family, and it saddens me. To think, I’m 20 years old, and I have seen my family for probably less than six months total for the past three years. What all have I missed? Many birthdays and concerts and games; smiles and hugs and kisses. And my little sister Rebecca is graduating high school and will be going to Johns Hopkins in the fall.
To combat this homesickness, I have to tell myself that I will be there for the really important things: I am going home in time to see Rebecca graduate and I’ll stay the whole summer at home with my mom, dad, and sisters. Like it used to be before mom and I started going to Brasil and before I became insane and took summer classes abroad. This summer will be great. I plan on doing lots of fun things with my sisters… perhaps a road trip (that is, if I have made enough money by then) or something memorable that we can share together. I get through the low points of being homesick with planning for the future.
Overall, I am so lucky to have such a supportive family. If I were even slightly religious, I would say that I am blessed. And I can’t wait to spend my summer at home. And that is what keeps the homesickness away.
Not in a million years did I think that I would come study abroad and get into a relationship! Not having a boyfriend for my entire Princeton career, I had no expectations for coming to Morocco. But life has a funny way of handing you surprises, and this has definitely been one of them.
It’s been about two months now, so I think that now I’m able to write a little more objectively and logically about this new experience that I’m having. Although I will say, being a child of a multi-cultural marriage (for those of you who don’t know, my mother is from Brasil, and my father is American) has definitely prepared me better to be more culturally sensitive and to know what to expect when it comes to the language barrier and differing values–of course that has only gotten me so far.
I have a great appreciation for Moroccan people: they remind me so much of Brasilians when it comes to hospitality and genuineness (excluding the blood-sucking merchants, of course), and since I absolutely adore Brasilians, then it logically follows that I adore Moroccans, broadly speaking. So I guess that put me one step closer to being involved with a Moroccan.
However, what really intrigued me about my boyfriend is the fact that he is so respectful of me and other women. On any given day, I could walk through the souq in Fez or in the streets of El Jadida and be stared at, called to, and generally harassed (see: On Being a Woman in North Africa, Part I). I had written off most Moroccan men as being in either one of two categories: they either want to get in your pants, or they want to sell you something. But, I luckily found one who doesn’t belong in either. This gives me hope that there in fact is a third category of genuinely good Moroccan men (and indeed, at least one of my friends has snagged a guy that also fits this description). So that is definitely a pro of dating this “third category” Moroccan: respect.
On the other hand, a con of dating a Moroccan is the language barrier. As I’ve said before, the people here speak Darija and French and/or Spanish. English is a bonus, and although it is common to find English speakers at AUI (it is, after all, an English-speaking university), it is somewhat rare to find Moroccans more than proficient at English outside the university. In the French school system, it is mandatory to take both English and French, so most kids from upper-class families do know some English. However, even so, their English is relatively weak: pretty much equivalent to the amount of Spanish one can say to have studied at an American high school. My boyfriend does speak English quite well–he would have been able to attend AUI without any problems. I seem to always forget that English is his third language and sometimes use some slang that doesn’t always make sense to him. That being said, he also sometimes says things in English that directly translates from Arabic or French, but doesn’t always sound right in my native language. There have been several instances of miscommunication, which although end up being funny, do pose some problems when having a serious discussion.
Probably the most rewarding aspect to dating a Moroccan, however, is just how much I’m learning from him in regards to language and culture. Of course, I’ve learned how to say a few key words in Darija that relate to dating, and he always teaches me things that I want to know in general, such as how to say “excuse me” and “just kidding”. But not only am I learning his language, I am being immersed in his culture like never before: it’s one thing to travel the country with a group of your friends as tourists, but it’s something else entirely to walk around the city with a native and have him not only show you things you would have never noticed otherwise, but also protect you from the stares from other men. I’m getting to experience Morocco in a whole new way, and this is how I wanted to see it all along.
Overall, I quite enjoy dating my Moroccan. And when I’m with him, I barely even realize that we come from two completely different cultures (aside from, of course, the occasional emergence of the language barrier). I am, in short, very happy.
One of the most striking differences that I find between American students and Moroccan students is their reasoning behind pursing higher education: Moroccans are very much geared toward gaining skills for a future career, whereas I feel like most Americans who attend liberal arts schools seek to refine their worldview and absorb knowledge that they won’t have a chance to when they do have a career. That is why one of my professors at AUI says that Al Akhawayn University is not a liberal arts college, but rather a trade school that is (half-heartedly) preparing students to enter the business, engineering, and communications fields.
Although I was excited to study in Morocco again, my excitement immediately turned to disappointment as I browsed through the course offerings: there were only two philosophy classes being offered, both of which were introductory courses that would not count for any credit at my home institution. If you don’t know by now, I am a philosophy major at Princeton University. I chose to study philosophy because it was something that I had never been exposed to in high school, and I absolutely loved it. My first philosophy class was phenomenal and opened my eyes to a whole new way of thinking. It wasn’t something that I was good at, but it was something that I wanted to try to be good at.
Anyways, my first encounter with the perception of philosophy in Morocco was on the train to Ifrane (well, to Fez, and then to be picked up and taken to Ifrane). A man sat in our compartment and began talking to us: asking us where we were from, where we were going, and what we study. I was the first to respond, and immediately after the words came out of my mouth, he started laughing. Not a small giggle or snicker, but an actual full-hearted laugh. I was taken aback, and quite frankly, offended. Why on earth was this man laughing at my choice of study? I am, at least, getting a college education! The man didn’t speak enough English to explain to me what was so funny, and I didn’t know enough Darija to understand what he said afterward. So I quickly clammed up and barely said anything else to our rude cabin-mate for the rest of the ride.
It was only in Essaouira that I understood why the man had laughed. As I have written, we met some nice men with whom we had dinner, and one of them explained the situation to me. He said that philosophy is looked upon as a “useless” subject in Morocco because, “what kind of job can you get with a philosophy degree?” I asked what lawyers studied in college before law school, as many who go to law school come from philosophy backgrounds, and he replied with “pre-law.” Seeing as Princeton doesn’t offer a pre-law program, that was never an option for me.
I got an even more in-depth look at how philosophy is perceived by interviewing a philosophy professor and the Vice President for Academic Affairs at AUI. Both of them said basically the same thing: that AUI students had no interest in philosophy because they think that it would not help them to get a job and because it is taught in a completely different manner than what they were exposed to in high school. In the Moroccan school system (and perhaps some of the French system), the emphasis for learning is placed on memorization of material. Obviously, this is not possible in philosophy, for it really teaches you how to critically think and argue, rather than having you memorize useless dates and charts and other information. So when students enter college, they do not like this “new” way of teaching, and thus, the subject itself. I think this is a very unfortunate way of thinking.
Even as I talk to people my age about philosophy, it’s mostly negative. My roommate, for example, has repeatedly told me that philosophy was her least favorite subject in school (she is currently a business major), and that for her next elective she will be taking comparative religion rather than philosophy. Other students have told me the same as well, even praising me for being so “brave” to be studying philosophy, as they don’t like it and don’t see a future in it. I have, thankfully, found a few sane souls who actually do like philosophy and are willing to talk to me about it, including my boyfriend.
In conclusion, I can tell that much of the stigma of philosophy comes from the fact that Morocco is a developing country that places an emphasis on finding jobs in an economy that is mainly supported by agriculture and tourism. I can now see how privledged I am to live in a country that puts the emphasis on education as being a wholesome endeavor, rather than a means to an end. I still haven’t sorted out how I feel about this, exactly, as I can see the logicality of this reasoning in Morocco; however, I must and always will stand by the belief that philosophy is a worthwhile and necessary subject to study, for its benefits are enormous, if not always “practical”.