Thoughts, Questions, Concerns, Stinging Rebuttals

My closing remarks. My reflections on the past 3 and a half months away from home. I have learned so much about Morocco, its people and customs, human rights, and the Arabic language. But I think more importantly than all that,  I have learned more about myself and my place the world. This past January, I wrote that my greatest excitement was the knowledge that I had no idea the person I would be when I returned. But now I’ve met her, and I like her. She’s kind of smelly.

I could never hope to articulate all that I have learned and discovered throughout this experience. And furthermore, the discoveries I’ve made here I believe are just for me. But I’m still the same person who sat by a dying bonfire the last night of camp in a kind of quiet sacredness, and I believe in ceremonial finales. And as Ramadan nears, I’ve been thinking about the importance of reflecting on the kinds of people we want to be. So I’ve decided to make a type of New Year’s resolution, in May. Here goes.

  1. Remember to be conscious of people’s humanity before writing them off. I don’t want to put anyone in a filing cabinet. Natasha, you taught me that to categorize is to dehumanize. I want to remember that everyone has insecurities, fears, and stories that make them smaller and more vulnerable than I realize.
  2. Make more of an effort to prioritize my family, because their love has made me realize how lucky I am to have such wonderful parents and sisters.
  3. Be grateful for the present moment. In the passing moments of laughter with my roommates, sitting quietly on the beach, or singing to musicals alone in my apartment, I want to practice gratitude for small moments of bliss.
  4. Write more poetry.
  5. Know that every sun does rise.

It’s been a hell of a ride, but we did the damn thing. It’s been a wonderful experience and one that I will treasure always. If anyone would like to read my final research project it’s titled, “Understanding the Moroccan Family Code through the Lens of Pluralist Feminism.” It analyzes the 2004 family code through the ideologies of secular and Islamic feminism. I will gladly send the link to anyone who is interested. (Just email me at anna-rouw@utulsa.edu.)

I’ve been jamming to the Legally Blonde musical soundtrack recently. And seeing as it’s a time of finality, as I leave Morocco, watch my friends graduate, and begin planning for my own post-grad future, I’ll leave you with some closing remarks from everyone’s favorite fictional law student, Ms. Elle Woods.

 

A Lot of Big Questions – And Some Jazzy Tunes

The part of human rights advocacy that interests me the most is the healing that follows intense moments of suffering, pain, tragedy, and atrocity. How on earth do communities heal following unimaginably devastating experiences of genocide, terrorism, and oppression? How do we heal from intense pain? How do we rationalize the irrational?

 

Initially it might be tempting to say that to repress a painful memory is to erase it. I think about the movie Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a brilliant movie about the erasing of painful memories in order to provide a sense of peace. But I think this temptation is problematic, especially for collective memory. After egregiously traumatic events such as the Rwandan genocide, 9/11 terrorist attack, or a decades-long repressive regime, with so many people involved, we cannot forget.

 

In the Islamic tradition, justice cannot be achieved without truth. In a passage from the Islamic scholar Imam ‘Ali writes:

 

“Justice is also based on four disciplines:

immersion in understanding,

penetration of knowledge,

brightness in judgment,

and firm establishment of thoughtfulness.”

 

Justice cannot be properly established without truth. One cannot proceed justly without full understanding. I think about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. One of the most heralded accomplishments of the TRC is its adherence to truth-telling. The TRC sought to publicize the injustices committed under the apartheid regime by bringing together both victims and perpetrators to share their stories. The idea was that perpetrators could find amnesty if they admitted to their wrongdoings, while victims could find healing through the uncovering of truth.

 

In this podcast from On Being (https://onbeing.org/programs/charles-villa-vicencio-and-pumla-gobodo-madikizela-truth-and-reconciliation/), one journalist recounts the story of a man who admits to the kidnapping, torture, and murder of dozens of men. She interviewed the widows of these men at the hearing and heard surprising reactions. She recounts how one woman found solace in his testimony. She talks about how knowing exactly what had happened to her husband (however brutal) gave her a sense of peace, because at least it was honest. I am reading East of Eden right now and it reminds of a quotation from the book, “There is more beauty in truth, even if it is dreadful beauty.” I wonder if this woman would agree.

 

I think about the United States, how President Obama (finally) in 2009 gave a formal apology to the Native American population, and why that was so monumental after centuries of pretending as if the genocide of Native populations never took place. Again, another On Being podcast, about the need for apologies from the poet Layli Long Soldier (https://onbeing.org/programs/layli-long-soldier-the-freedom-of-real-apologies/). She says,

 

“for Native people, talking about these things — it’s important to a process of healing. And for me, I think it’s not just healing. I would add to that a sense of justice, being heard. And then on the other hand, she said for non-Native people, hearing and listening to these narratives, these histories, and engaging in a conversation, it is not about guilt, and it’s not about shame. It is about, in her words, I think she said “freedom from denial.” It allows a liberation.”

 

There is this idea along the lines of ‘The truth will set you free.’ One of the greatest downfalls of the ERC (Morocco’s TRC to deal with the Years of Lead marked by severe political and social repression) is its lack of transparency. The Commission held hearings, but did not name the crimes nor the criminals found guilty in the process. And while most victims (nearly 99% by current numbers) have been monetarily compensated, it begs the question, is truth-telling a necessary part of healing? Do we have to understand “Why?” in order to heal? But then how do you “understand” something like the Holocaust? How can that ever make sense?

 

There is a second component to the Islamic principle of truth. Truth not only refers to an understanding of external realities, but of oneself. Islamic thought promotes the idea that to know Allah, one must know oneself. We must acknowledge the divinity that lies within through an understanding of our values, our perceptions, our own truths. And when I think about human rights abuses and healing, I don’t think I fully believe that a full, clear, and objective understanding of the atrocity is the answer. Or at least, it’s not the full answer.

 

In the realm of restorative justice, emphasis is placed on the healing of victims above all else, in order to heal the community as a whole. (As well as transforming perpetrators’ shame into accountability.) And I think that’s what I believe, too. I think when injustice occurs, it’s more important to care for the person most in need. It’s important to make the experience livable for those who have been most devastated. One quotation that has really resonated with me is from the same podcast on the South African TRC, “You reach out to people in pain.”

 

I listened to another podcast about complicated grief recently (http://onbeing.org/programs/pauline-boss-the-myth-of-closure/). And I loved the idea of allowing grief to become an incredibly personal experience. The process of healing doesn’t have to be prescriptive. Dr. Boss talks about allowing for non-traditional ideas of grief. One thing she talks about that I really like is the importance of paradoxical thoughts. That things can be both okay and not okay, and that we should normalize grief and sadness. Because sadness is a part of the human experience. Because there isn’t always a “quick fix”. Because how could we possibly reconcile such tragic events as the death of a child or a devastating divorce?

 

So then how do you construct a community with this knowledge? Does tragedy remain forever a part of societies with dark histories? And maybe it does and maybe it has to. There are steps that should be taken in the wake of incredible atrocity: monetary reparations, public hearings, communal dialogue between victims and perpetrators, prosecutions if necessary, and a reforming of the political and social institutions most at fault. And there’s something to be said for the proper passage of time. But if the goal is absolute and complete healing, thinking of healing as an erasing of the past, I don’t know if it’s possible. I don’t know if communities (and individuals) can ever return to a place prior to the tragedy. But that makes me deeply uncomfortable. And I think it’s an idea that makes a lot of people deeply uncomfortable.

 

Another podcast (http://www.onbeing.org/programs/michael-mccullough-getting-revenge-and-forgiveness/) talks about the violence in Northern Uganda and the infamous warlord Joseph Kony. Dr. McCullough talks about the desire of some Ugandan villages for the Ugandan government to offer amnesty to members of the Lord Resistance Army, in order to promote communal healing. We can look at these pleas and the ability to forgive horrific transgressions as highly merciful and altruistic acts. And while I don’t doubt the immense mercy and strength required to want to forgive injustice, I also wonder if this desire comes from the same desire that draws me to human rights law. I wonder if there is something about people, and especially about Western culture, that feels compelled to fix. I think about Brené Brown and her “measuring stick” in relation to shame. I think about my mom and her love of the ending of The Giving Tree. There is something extremely disturbing about…well, for lack of an eloquent term, bad. Shame. Grief. Conflict. Atrocity. It makes many, myself included, deeply, deeply, deeply uncomfortable. And so we react by researching, by retaliating, by reconciling. Because maybe if we could just understand, or kick and scream, or forgive selflessly, it wouldn’t be so, well, bad.

 

And this reflection is not to say that human rights atrocities shouldn’t be addressed seriously. I believe that we are compelled to improve the lives of others, both from a place of spirituality and a place of common humanity and empathy. Omid Safi from Duke University talks about the intermingling of the political and religious that I love. (And it’s not a podcast, it’s an article – http://onbeing.org/blog/the-spiritual-is-political/) The human rights lawyers and advocates I have met in Morocco have inspired me tremendously. And it’s further complicated by the fact that everything is contextual. Different societies and cultures may not require one, universal form of what counts in the international human rights realm as “communal healing.” I don’t doubt the importance of communal healing, especially for victims, but I have begun to question my ideas about what communal healing should look like. I have begun to question where the interest in questions surrounding justice, deterrence, and healing comes from.

 

Things can be both okay, and not okay. I don’t know how communities ought to heal following human rights atrocities. So, instead, I’m just going to post another song that I’ve been jamming to lately.

 

Patria

When I was a high school senior, we read My Antonia by the Nebraskan author Willa Cather. It’s sort of a rite of passage for all Nebraskan students to encounter either this or O Pioneers! at some point in their literary education. In the book, Antonia discusses the idea of her patria, her home, how she longs for it. Literally patria translates to one’s home country, though we discussed how our home is not necessarily our nationality. It’s where we feel safe, comforted, supported, loved, and worthy of belonging.

I vividly remember sitting in the backstage area of Duchesne Academy’s theatre with my two best friends Meg and Colleen as I grappled with what to write for my college application essay. They told me to write well, that I would get admitted to colleges regardless. I replied passionately that I wanted to be understood, I wanted to be seen. As I sat there, I thought about my patria. I thought about my home. In that moment of my life, that was home for me. That back corner of the stage behind the curtain, listening as my actor friends fought over food in another performance of The Diary of Anne Frank, sitting with my two closest friends, knowing my dad was in the audience for the third night in a row with a bouquet of roses for just a stagehand, was my patria. This was where I felt understood. This, and my grandparents’ farm in Oskaloosa, Iowa.

I have been thinking about the need to belong. When I worked with Inclusive Communities, an educational organization that aims to talk and teach high school students about diversity, privilege, and inclusion, I realized how many students and volunteers talked about home. So many felt they were not understood within their families, and they found this sense of belonging within IncluCity. I also thought about camp, the place I have called my patria for the past two years. And I haven’t been alone. Numerous campers and counselors identify Camp Foster as their true home, too. We all need safe places to call our own, to feel safe and supported and belonging.

I also think back to another literature class, my creative writing class from last semester. An Egyptian author visited us to discuss his latest book with our class. He talked about the beauty of Egypt, his home. He told us no matter how much time he spends in the U.S. it will never be home. Being in Morocco for only a little over a month, I have begun to understand this longing for patria. I think about how I miss the simplest of comforts, my piano, my bed, the knowledge that when I’m awake so are my friends and family. I think about immigrants and refugees forced from their patrias, their most sacred of spaces. I can’t imagine fleeing my home out of necessity or violence, with the knowledge that I might never return. I can’t imagine forever existing in a country that is hostile to my existence, simply because of the place I call home.

Having a home is essential to the human experience. But I’ve begun to wonder if patria can be more than a physical place, if it can be something else. This weekend, I was in Portugal with my oldest friend as we snuggled in bed, as she held me, and gently stroked my back. And I felt home. We make our homes in other people. We trust them to be there, to be safe havens in times of crisis and despair. We reach out when we feel alone. They become our patria, our home.

We also make our homes in religion. We look to God, or Allah, or our some Why somewhere, to shelter and protect us. I remember sitting in Mass as a young girl and crying a little as we read from Matthew, “Come to me all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Side note: patria can also refer to Heaven, our “one true home”, which is kind of cool.) I thought it beautiful that God could care and love me so unconditionally, despite my flaws, failings, and mistakes. And it brought me immense comfort. And I think in times of sorrow and disappointment, lots of people look to the sky for reassurance, relief, and answers. We can’t make sense of pain without it. We couldn’t fathom it without a perfectly intentioned reason.

But then I think of Brene Brown and her book. I think of her quote, “Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.” It makes me wonder if we can find home within ourselves. If we must first find home and love and belonging inwardly. If maybe this is the only place where we are the most truly and deeply understood. And if it is only after we have cultivated this home within ourselves that we can explore the world, meet new people, and give the love and support and belonging which we all universally crave. And that’s what I want. I want to be a better home for myself, and a better home for others.

I’ve been listening to this song by Hozier a lot, which talks (sings?) about finding home. Sad, but very beautiful.

الاتصالات

Communication. At least that’s what Google translate tells me that’s how it’s spelled, and I can’t confirm now with the man I met in the street who taught me this word. Being here, I’ve realized how amazing communication is. My Arabic and French are pretty rough, so I can’t often have full-blown conversations with anyone but I have gotten really good at charades. I’m so comforted by even Spanish, which I can very minimally understand, and words on buildings that use the same alphabet as English. (Thank you French colonialism.)

I’ve also learned how to say “I’m happy to meet you” in Tamazight, the language of the indigenous population, which a fascinating facet of communication all on its own. The language of Tamazight (which has 3 dialects in Morocco) has only recently been recognized as an official language by the 2011 constitution. And Tamazight has been historically an oral language, with no written form. But now that Tamazight is an official language of Morocco, it’s had to be transcribed and taught in schools. But how do you write down an oral language? How do you teach a standard form of a language that has three dialects? It’s interesting to learn about, because Tamazight uses its own alphabet, and furthermore, most native speakers can’t even understand the “standard” and “official” version.

Being here has given me a greater appreciation for people and connection and communication. These things are wonderful back home, but it is in moments of deep loneliness, feelings of being different, and disappointment that I am renewed by the people here. Whether that be miming to my host mom that I love her cooking, or meeting students and talking to them about Islam, I know I couldn’t go through this experience without the kindness of new Moroccan people and my classmates. I’ve also realized that there is a commonality and communion that can exist between people despite language barriers and cultural differences. I can’t communicate verbally with the Amazigh musicians or tourists from Italy, but that doesn’t mean we can’t dance to Berber music together.

I’ve also begun to think about miscommunication. My classmates and I discussed how strange it is that we have formed a community so quickly, yet we don’t feel this same sense of comfort and safety with loved ones from back home, that we aren’t that homesick. And maybe it’s partially because digital communication is always flawed. But why is it that there are people I have known for years who have never shared with me their honest and vulnerable ideas about religion, yet I can have hours long conversations about God with complete strangers? I really believe that connections can form between any two persons. I just don’t always know how to bridge the gap.

Sometimes miscommunication is deeper than language barriers and cultural differences. If I can feel community with the local women at the hammam through only the sharing of soap and water and taking turns scrubbing, connection should always be possible, because it’s so simple. But maybe not everyone wants to bare it all, physically or emotionally, myself included. And instead we clothe ourselves with anger, retreat, or indifference. Communication and connection is easy and wonderful, but also requires a kind of naked vulnerability, and that is terrifying. I will try to be better at communicating, both by perfecting my French, Arabic, and miming, but also by trying to share my thoughts and feelings with compassion, patience, and honesty.

Fear of the Unknown

It’s easy to empathize with those who are similar to us. In fact, it’s easy to just exist in a world that is familiar. Whether that be in terms of religion, political institutions, language, clothing, plumbing, food, etc., it’s been hard to leave the things I have for so long taken for granted. I went to a grocery store today and have never been so comforted by the sight of a Snickers bar.

There is good reason to fear that which we do not understand. Last month, I saw a book entitled Against Empathy and it sparked my interest. Why would anyone be against empathy? The author, in one video lecture, begins his discussion of empathy with a simple anthropology lesson. Humans are naturally inclined to fear that which is different because we are, at least historically, tribal beings. And in tribal times, it made sense for individuals to fear those who were different because they may come from a different tribe and may subsequently threaten one’s own safety. But that mentality of fearing difference remains.

Today we talked about fear of the unknown in our class discussion. It’s something I have begun to think a lot about in the past two weeks, both in a cultural context and more personally. We talked about how information can dispel fear, how simply going outside one’s comfort zone in an effort to understand can liberate oneself from fear. Today we talked about Islam in the Moroccan context. Morocco is a Muslim country, but not often associated with Islamism or extremism. As I read more about the different schools of Islam and the intersection of Islam and Moroccan politics, I began to think about how helpful and positive it would be if more people had the motivation to further understand the content and history of Islam. Just in my rudimentary reading I felt motivated to learn more about the different schools of thought and modes of interpretation, as most schools and individuals reject the association of Islam with violence. But more than that, I began to realize how incredibly rich and diverse Islam is though it has become, at least in the U.S., incredibly political and stigmatized.

And personally, I have begun to think about the connection between fear and information. While I do think that in certain cases more information can reduce fear and encourage empathy of those who are different, I don’t know if more information is always the answer. At least for me, I tend to justify feelings and personal conflicts with the experiences of others or scientific findings. For example, if I’m feeling homesick, it’s usually only valid if it is a shared experience or if a psychological study claims it is so. Recently I have begun to wonder if feelings and ideas can be valid on their own, if they can possess their own intrinsic, objective truth without the aid of external justification.

My friend this summer discussed leaning into discomfort during his TAPs talk. In terms of external experiences, that means, at least for me, going outside my comfort zone. So far that has included trying to communicate with minimal language skills, walking home alone at night, traveling within Morocco, moving in with a Moroccan family, and knowing I will be living somewhat independently, far from friends and family for several months. It has also included learning about ways of life that I don’t necessarily agree with and giving these divergent ideas credit and non-judgment.

In terms of internal experiences, I think the opposite is true. I know I gravitate to external forms of affirmation instead of leaning into the discomfort of negative emotions. Information does dispel fear, but not always for the best. By citing studies and others, I firstly do not allow myself to feel anything that is not positive, which as a human being, is an impossible standard to maintain. And secondly, it discredits my own internal truth, it belittles the idea that my feelings may be valid simply because I feel them.

“My value is courage.” Morocco has made me consider what it means to be courageous and what the value of these challenging, yet rewarding moments is. I’ve only been here two weeks and I’m excited to see what else will make me very uncomfortable, because I know these are the moments I grow the most.

 

The Women

I have officially spent over a week in Morocco. And so far, my experience has been wonderful. Rabat is beautiful and very exciting to explore, my classmates and I have all become very close, and the subject material makes me excited to do my required readings. The only real downside is that we were warned not to pet stray dogs because they may have rabies.

Our first week of class centers around Moroccan women, and it’s one of the topics I hoped to really focus on while here. And since being here, I’ve realized that Moroccan women are wonderful and incredibly diverse. Most Western ideas surrounding Moroccan Muslim women, my own included, include images of modesty, domesticity, and subordination.

Since being here, I have noticed that gender relations and the role of women is different from the norms I am accustomed to in the U.S. Women definitely dress more conservatively, but the range of modesty varies from woman to woman. Women wear what they want, in align with personal preference, which was surprising to me. I see just as many headscarves as I do blue jeans. Moroccan women all dress differently, have varying levels of educational attainment, watch soap operas, cook excessively, love to feed houseguests, pray, hug, kiss, and all possess vastly unique personalities. And I realized that my desire to “study” the lives of women was somewhat silly, because they’re just people, and they can’t be generalized and compartmentalized into just one “thing.”

As far as gender relations go, female-male interactions are very interesting to me. Women are definitely not as likely as men to occupy the public sphere. Men are more likely to be more highly educated and work outside the home. Furthermore, Moroccan men possess a certain level of confidence and self-assuredness that I haven’t seen in Moroccan women. Men walk around very carefree, loudly talking to friends and walking around sometimes unaware of other people nearby. But Moroccan women are quite aware. They often move out of men’s way and do not meander, talking to friends with the same laid-back attitude. And as a white woman, I have realized that this level of humility in the streets that Moroccan women seem to demonstrate is especially important for me. Men are more likely to call out to my female classmates and me because we are obviously foreigners. I have experienced more following, catcalling, and staring in the past week than I think I have ever in my life.

In class, we have begun studying the lives of women in Morocco from a social-political perspective, specifically the marriage and family code. This law has been heralded as a huge advancement for women’s rights and incredibly progressive by Arab country standards. However, the law is deeply flawed. Let me first explain a bit. The Moroccan Family Code replaced the Personal Status Code in 2004. The reforms included such changes as increasing the minimum age of marriage to 18 in hopes to eradicate child marriage, placing more stringent restrictions on polygamy, allowing women to legally represent themselves in marriage and with their consent, allowing women to file for divorce, reforming child custody laws, and abolishing the provision requiring total submission on the part of the wife. And don’t get me wrong, these laws are vastly superior to the Personal Status Code, or Moudawana. But they’re not perfect.

Firstly, the law does not address multiple groups of people, including widows, single women, and those who identify as members of the LGBTQ community. It furthermore does not necessarily go far enough. For example, polygamy has not been fully abolished due to its ties to Islamic law, the provision that a rapist could evade prosecution if he married his victim remained in effect for another decade, and inheritance laws remain untouched.

But more problematically, the philosophy and ideologies surrounding women and the family have not really changed. Yes, women exercise more autonomy, but in the family. This law, while progressive, does not eradicate the ideas associating women and family life. Women are wives, mothers, home-makers. This law, while arguably progressive, keeps this idea of women in the home. Which begs the question, are reforms advancing the rights of women only able to gain traction within the framework of a previously established patriarchal institution? Do lawmakers only care about women when they have a clear, personal interest to do so? Yes, the reforms are progressive, but they also work within an established system, they do not revolutionize it.

Furthermore, the law maintains an idea of men and women as complementary, not equal. Men are legally obligated to financially support their families, while women are financially free of this responsibility. Men and women are perceived as having different, complementary roles. They are not equal, because men and women are seen as inherently different.

I also had the opportunity to visit the modern art museum this weekend and see an exhibit showcasing modern Moroccan women artists, which was incredible. The artwork was beautiful and powerful, commenting on the violence, discrimination, and beauty expectations facing women. The most moving piece to me was one commenting on the case of Amina Filal. The painting portrayed slabs of meat with Article 475 stamped across them. I highly encourage you all to look at this piece of art and learn more about Amina Filal.

In a lot of ways, being a woman in the U.S. is no different from being a woman in Morocco. And in a lot of ways, it is quite different. I do have to worry more about what I wear and if I can smile at men, but I’m still able to go out, explore the city, and voice my opinions. I hope this post has done justice to the Moroccan women I have met thus far. Other things I have learned that I need to share: Gypsy Kings is a GREAT band, there was a banana epidemic, and Turkish toilets require an incredible amount of aim.

Mapmaking

I am all arrived in Morocco and officially two full days into my study abroad program! The last four days have been very overwhelming but also very incredible.

I left for the airport Saturday morning, and to be honest, I was terrified. I went over my packing list ceaselessly to make sure I didn’t forget anything (mission failed because I accidentally left my sunglasses back home.) Eventually, I stopped telling myself the words of encouragement like “It’ll be so rewarding!” or “What an amazing and once in a lifetime opportunity!” Instead I just told myself, “You have a ticket and you’re getting on a plane.” And I did, and I only cried twice.

Traveling internationally for the first time was not nearly as terrifying as I expected. I didn’t get deported, despite some Delta employees’ concern regarding my lack of visa, and I never got lost in the Paris airport. However, I’m convinced that sleeping on a plane is nearly impossible and people who can sleep on planes are mythical beings. We arrived in Rabat, Morocco on Sunday in the afternoon. Flying over, the view was amazing. Palm trees surrounded the airport and the weather was perfect. That’s where I met the rest of my classmates who all seem extremely intelligent, conscious, and open-minded individuals.

Monday began the first full day of orientation. My teacher seems wonderful. He began by talking about our fears and expectations, and by establishing a certain climate for learning. We talked about respect, engagement, open-mindedness, and inclusion. He stressed the importance of caring for one another, especially during a time such as study abroad when we are nervous and insecure. He said, “Your success is my success.” It got me thinking about safe spaces and inclusive environments, about caring for people; it made me reflect a lot on camp. At camp, we create safe environments for campers. We establish ground rules for cabins, ones everyone can agree upon, and promote a culture of inclusion and acceptance. And I realized that sitting among professors from Morocco and other college students, that that idea of creating inclusive cultures is not just for children or camp. The idea of creating communities of compassion and respect should exist for schools, offices, study abroad groups, and even across countries and cultures.

“We are citizens of the world,” my professor went on. We discussed privilege and travel, ideas I’ve never had to grapple with before in the U.S. But it’s true, my ability to get on a plane and go to another part of the world is an incredible privilege. Most people around the world cannot and will not stray far from the place they are from. And yet I have the ability to go to someone else’s home and marvel as if it is a spectacle, and not someone’s everyday reality. We talked about if this privilege ought to invoke guilt, inaction, or immobility. Or, if our privilege can be used for a positive impact. Which maybe it can, or maybe that still is disempowering, the idea of having to save others.

Speaking of privilege: language. I think communication might be my biggest struggle this semester. In Paris, I could not speak with fellow passengers on the plane. (However one man spoke a little English and highly recommended that I read a book on anti-aging medicine and hormonal remedies. I can only assume this means I looked stunning after 18 hours of travel.) But I was so unaccustomed to being misunderstood. I spoke to everyone in English, assuming they would be able to understand me. (Talk about American air-ogance, am I right?) And then I met my host mother today, who only speaks Moroccan Arabic. We could only really smile and nod at one another as I occasionally butchered her language with questions like “Do you go the market?” and “How old are you?” Then we were sent to the market to barter with shopkeepers. I couldn’t understand vendors as they listed their prices, so all I could really do was repeat “20 dirham” hoping they’d accept my incredibly inflexible price, since it was all I knew how to say. Then a man began to follow our group, targeting one girl in particular. His persistence to continue following made me feel vulnerable, but my inability to ask for help from passing locals made me feel especially vulnerable. I thought about people in the U.S. who become frustrated or irritated by immigrants who do not speak English. Being a foreigner with no means of communication is difficult and frightening, and trumps any inconvenience it may cause a native speaker.

I’ve started to really enjoy my conversations with the other girls in the program. Everyone here is so thoughtful, intelligent, and caring. We have all tried to help one another through the difficulties of exchanging money, getting our phones to operate, and navigate the Medina without getting lost. I’m excited about the learning ahead, and the exploring I’m hoping to do. So far my two favorite quotes from my professor are the following. “We are travelers in this world, some of us just have better maps.” I am hoping to start making my map. Also, when referring to the fluidity of our schedule, “It’s very jazzy.”

Pre-Morocco

 

First of all, thank you for taking the time to check out this blog. I hope to continue writing over the course of my study abroad experience and to use this blog as a way to reflect on the inspiring, eye-opening, humorous, and heartfelt moments of my next four months. It will also serve as wide-reaching, effective, and easy way to communicate my experiences with friends, family, and whoever cares to read.

This morning I woke up and I was asked if I had had any nightmares about going abroad to Morocco yet. And the truth is, I haven’t. It really hadn’t registered that I am leaving until very recently. But today especially my stomach churned as I thought about my upcoming semester. Mostly, I just panicked. So, I wrote down the things that scare me, and hoped that by writing them down they would lose some of their power. I wrote down the words culture shock, isolation, communication barriers, academic challenges, and fear of the unknown. Oh, and squat toilets, definitely squat toilets.

Looking at my list didn’t lessen the looming threat of these very real, and in fact, very probable difficulties I could face. (Side note, while making sure I knew how to spell the word “looming” I stumbled upon the visual looming syndrome Wikipedia page which also sounds terrifying.) But I realized that while I could write down my fears with ease, I experienced more difficulty as I thought about the rewards. I realized that I have absolutely no idea the wonders and learning that lie ahead of me. I cannot anticipate the lessons I will learn, the incredible stories I will hear, nor the people I never would have had the opportunity to meet without this experience. And I have no idea the person I will be by the end of it all, which is maybe the most exciting part.

Next week, I will have flown internationally for the first time. I will reside in a country whose primary language is not my own. I will say goodbye to my loved ones for a very long time. And I’m both excited and petrified. But I know that it is a priceless opportunity to be able to face that which is frightening. In the wise words of a fellow Omaha native, I will find my fears and face them. And moreover, I will be better for it. And I can’t wait to see what wonderful moments lie ahead.