Morocco, Week Four

I received a request last week to share a little more about work, about religion, and about my sleeping habits.1 For those of you who don’t know, don’t care, or just haven’t had the time to meticulously stalk me on the internet, I’m working at the American School of Tangier as Educational Technology Specialist/Head Librarian. If you think that sounds like a lot of work, you’d be right. There are advantages and disadvantages to being in charge of a library.

ADVANTAGE: I get to decide how to organize the books.

DISADVANTAGE: I have to reorganize them myself.

ADVANTAGE: I can order new furniture and study carrels.

DISADVANTAGE: It’s up to me to explain to the carpenter, who only speaks Arabic, how to make those study carrels.

ADVANTAGE: I’m in charge of ordering new books.

DISADVANTAGE: The library doesn’t have a budget yet for ordering new books.

ADVANTAGE: I’ve been making book recommendations to faculty here over the summer.

DISADVANTAGE: Sometimes they don’t want to return the books.

Nonetheless, some pretty exciting things are in store for the library and AST’s one-woman EdTech department. Hold onto your hats, and stay tuned to my blog for further updates!

Before I moved to Tangier, I obsessively researched daily life and culture here. I scoured the internet for expat blogs, chatted with a few Moroccans, and even made lists of potential challenges. I packed only culturally appropriate clothing, brought extras of hard-to-find items, and did my best to soothe my family’s anxieties.2 Upon arriving, however, I discovered that the things I had been most concerned about, such as harassment, religious intolerance, and independence, weren’t an issue at all. Now I know these are still early days, but I’ve been here exactly a month3 and my experience has been almost entirely positive. I’ve found that if I behave and dress in a culturally sensitive way, nobody really gives me a second glance. Sometimes I get curious looks, but there are enough Europeans and Americans here that I’m not really a novelty. I wear long pants most of the time, usually paired with a t-shirt or blouse since it’s too hot to wear long sleeves. Sometimes I cover my arms with a scarf, but only if I’m worried about sunburn or cold. To be honest, I could probably wear shorts and a tank top if I liked, but I prefer to blend in. I walk like I know where I’m going, even when I don’t.4

The calls to prayer, which are broadcast via loudspeaker from each mosque five times daily, don’t bother me. Because I don’t know much Arabic yet, it just sounds like beautiful songs and chanting. It’s incredibly soothing to listen to, and often puts me in a creative mood. I’ve only had one discussion about religion, regarding whether religion is necessary for psychological well-being. I’ve never been lectured, criticized, chastised, or proselytized to. I’ve been inquisitive about religious and social customs, and the Moroccans I’ve met have been delighted to share these things with me. I learn so more every day here than anywhere else I’ve lived. I’ve had fascinating discussions about the cultural differences between the north and south, and how westernized cities like Casablanca have become. The importance of family in Moroccan life. My friend Adil, whose extended family has been visiting during Ramadan, said this to me last night:5 “When I have my family at home, with me, I feel very happy. Ramadan is a special time because they are here, and I love them very much. When I have my own house, I want to fill it with family all the time, to always have them near me.”

I spent most of my evenings last week working on a secret art project, which I hope to unveil gradually over the coming weeks. When I wasn’t drawing, I was learning to cook Moroccan food, spending time with friends, pressing flowers, and throwing extravagant dinner parties.6 I watered my plants and, one windy day, restored overturned pots to the proper upright position, scooped the dirt back in, and apologized to the plants.7 I marched into a bakery and asked for one of each type of Moroccan pastry.8 On Sunday evening I went to the beach and watched people enjoying the last few hours of the weekend as the sun crept toward the horizon. A man ran back and forth with his two dogs, who bounded through the surf like puppies. A woman watched her children swimming, and two toddlers destroyed a sand castle. I watched the sunset at Cap Spartel. A couple of cats joined me,9 though they were fickle in their attentions, abandoning me for a boisterous Spanish family who dropped chicken scraps as they ate.

After nightfall, I climbed the stairs to the top of a little café, where I sat on the rooftop with friends and had a meandering conversation, half in French, half in English, and sipped mint tea. The call to prayer, echoing from a nearby mosque, interrupted us and we paused to listen. They asked me if I knew about the prayers, and I asked them if they knew the name of the man chanting. I wandered the Kasbah at night, listening to half-mumbled conversations of men in doorways, and running my fingers along crumbling city walls. I ate pastries on a hill and looked at Spain, twinkling away across the ocean. Watched the big dipper rise over the water. Returned home and drew late into the night, with crickets outside my window and the curtains billowing and tickling my feet with each cool breeze.

  1. Gabriel, you’ll regret this. []
  2. My friends were a different story; immediately upon hearing the news that I was moving to Morocco, they demanded to know when they could come visit. Some even wanted to come with me. []
  3. And three weeks of that during Ramadan. []
  4. This is a useful skill for any city. []
  5. I may be paraphrasing, due to my abysmal memory. []
  6. I take my dinner parties very seriously. There were three courses, unless you count wine as a course, in which case there were four. Two vases of freshly picked wildflowers on the table, napkins, parsley garnish on the main dish, place settings, candlelight… []
  7. I heard somewhere that if you talk to plants they’re much healthier. This is the excuse I use when visitors observe me walking around the house mumbling to myself. []
  8. I ordered three of one I’d had before, halwa shebakia, and the man behind the counter gave me an incredulous look. “Just three?” Moroccans usually buy these in bucketloads during Ramadan. “Okay,” I conceded, “Four.” []
  9. I lured them in with the promise of food, then took surprise close-ups from ground-level. They were not amused. []

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