goodbye Morocco

December 9, 2013

in Africa, Fall 2013, Morocco, Sierra Buehlman Barbeau

Today, I’m beginning my last week in Morocco.  Four months was a long time to be away from home, but I’ve learned a lot and changed for the better.  I’ve seen sights I’ve only dreamed of: from the Castle in Montreux, the flamingos in the Camaruge, the fort in St. Malo, the Mediterranean, the Alps, Barcelona, and most recently, the ruins of Rome over Thanksgiving break. And, of course, Morocco.  I’ve seen the entirely blue city of Chefchouen, the markets in my home of Fez, the Sahara desert, and camels.  I’ve also seen a country of poverty, experienced and seen more sexism than I’ve ever imagined was possible, and completely been immerged in this different culture.

We wonder how we will adjust when we get back:  what will the days be like without the call to prayer?  How will we readjust to having no fresh oranges and pomegranates at the end of every meal?  What about the Moroccan pastries?  Will they just become a figment of our imagination?  Will we crave Moroccan food, like we so terribly crave macaroni and cheese here?

Will we remember to use crosswalks and wait for the green “walk” symbol to show up on cross lights, or will we just run between traffic, like we do here? When we drive in America, will we lay on our horns the second the light turns green, like we’ve become Moroccan cab drivers, or will we remember to be patient?  American drivers have a beautiful amount of patience.  I’m looking forward to stress- free driving in America.  I have a completely different outlook on rush-hour traffic in America:  sure, you’re running late, you have places to be and everyone seems to be driving so slowly, but next time, be grateful that everyone is staying in the lines, instead of crowding and trying to get around each other.  Be grateful that everyone isn’t laying on their horns, since they have patience and understand that rush hour happens.   One or two people honk occasionally, but imagine how it would add to the stress if every person in every car were holding down their horn.  I’m sure that the ride back from Chicago will be fascinating.  I can’t wait to see my dad drive normally and safely!

What will it be like to see women again?  Here in Morocco, women are either not present in the streets or cover their hair.  I remember when we arrived in Barcelona and Rome, what a shock, fascination, and a comfort it was to see women and their hair.  Here, without the presence of my gender in the streets, I feel outnumbered and threatened.  I’m a minority.  I’m grateful to have experienced this phenomenon, of being a minority, because it’s something I’ve never known in America.  It’s very interesting: sometimes, I feel defensive towards everyone and try to go about life unnoticed.  Other times, I’m still trying to be invisible, but at the same time, I’m proud to be one of the women who has the privilege to be out and show my hair.  I’m excited to be an equal again.  I’m excited to get away from the harassment in the streets.  I can’t wait for the day when I can walk and smile at the people I pass again, instead of avoiding eye contact.  The men here will yell, “Hi, hello, bonjour, hola!” at us as we pass, and if we make any sort of hint of response, they will continue yelling at us and follow us.  They’ll tell us things like, “Where do you want to go? I am your slave,” and ask if they can marry us.  They’ll get uncomfortably close: one man even tried for a kiss, and another tried to grab me.  I can’t wait to be able to walk and feel safe again.

I will miss my host family.  My host mom was always very nice to me.  She comforted me when I was feeling homesick or stressed out or frustrated at the men in the streets who would harass me.  I remember that time in the beginning, when I was sick and she made me spaghetti because she wanted to make me American comfort food and make me feel better like my mama in America would.  I’m going to miss laughing with my host siblings: enjoying watching Harry Potter with my host brother while my sister complained about it, and watching Sponge Bob in Arabic with my host sister while my brother complained about it.  I’m going to miss my host father coming home late from work, and on the coldest nights, asking me if I wanted to go to the pool.  He has a weird sense of humor.  I’m going to miss playing with the little girl and giving her stickers whenever I see her.  I’m going to miss my host mom’s cooking: it took a while for her to get the hang of my vegetarian habits, but these days, I eat well.  I love her soup, her rice, her Panini (grilled cheese!) and her omelets with different veggies in them each time.

I know, though, that I’m excited to get back to American food.  I’m also excited to get back to heated houses . . . I tell everyone in America that it’s so cold here, and my Wisconsin family and friends tell me that it’s even colder there, and that I should be grateful for the sixty-degree highs we have here.  But the houses aren’t heated.  At night, the temperatures get in the thirties, and there is no escape from it.  I wear almost all the clothes I have every day, sometimes wear two pairs of sweatpants, my jacket and gloves to bed.  So yes, I don’t have to suffer 30 degree temperatures when I go outside, but I never get to come inside to the heat, and I almost always have to wear my coat.  What’s worse?  Constant sixty-degree weather, or running to the car and back in 30-degree weather? I’m pretty excited to get back to Wisconsin weather, especially Wisconsin inside weather.

These next few weeks will be weird for me, I’m sure.  There will be new food, real showers, sane drivers, heat, and rights for women.  I can only imagine what the adjustment will be like.  But a week from now, I will be flying over the Atlantic, on my way home, and my life will carry on.

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