The past two weeks I have been on two continents (Africa and Europe) and three different countries (Spain, Morocco and London)! I feel so thankful and grateful for everyone who helped me get here to experience the beauty of study abroad. A lot happened in Morocco so there will be multiple posts this week. This cultural excursion was included in my program and a huge reason why I wanted to study abroad here. Throughout the four days we visited the cities of Tangier, Rabat, Sale, Chefchauoen, and Asilah. We were divided into 2 groups by our program director who intended to put us with people we did not already know. I was a little hesitant at first because I became attached to certain people who were in the opposite group and even considered switching (we had that option), but ultimately I loved it. You learn a lot about yourself when you are placed with people you don't know and this experience is all about being uncomfortable, so I went with it and loved the people I traveled with. We definitely became closer.
Each group had a team leader from Wales, but has been living in Morocco for 8 years and another assistant leader who is from Sevilla but is in the process of moving to Tangier. Our team name was Team Shmsh (which is Team Sun/Sunshine) and just like us the sun was shining each day we were there. Our first stop was in Tangier at Darna, a center that supports women in the community and holds both traditional and modern-day sewing classes for the women who attend. They can then to sell their products in the restaurant and store below the work stations. Here, we talked to some female Moroccan students about women's issues, including the dispelling of the stereotype that all women are forced to wear a hijab, which is actually untrue.
I learned so much from these women! I didn't realize how many assumptions I had about Muslim culture, especially the level of oppression women face. I thought it was very extreme and it's not at all what I imagined. While the laws are stricter in countries like Saudi Arabia, women have the choice to wear the hijab and many women in northern Morocco do not. It is more of a way to honor Allah than an oppressive demand by men or their culture or religion. Some women choose to wear it while others believe that if they pray and know they are doing what needs to be done to honor Islam, they don't need to cover their hair and body.
We also discussed education and marriage as it pertains to women's rights. In Morocco, women are not forced to get married and can actually have an education. Many of Moroccans go to Quran School at an early age and continue onto a university. While arranged marriages do happen occasionally, it is not necessarily the norm either, and most women want to be married around 26-28 years old, which is very similar to the States. Men also can't have more than one wife without the signature of the first wife. However, up until recently women who were raped had to marry their rapist, as the law states. But the current King now outlaws it.
Speaking of the King, I should point out the biggest culture shock for me throughout the trip: the power and devotion to him. In Morocco, religion and politics are almost one-in-the-same. The Moroccans believe that their King is a descendant of Mohammed and therefore that justifies him to rule over them. The line between religion and politics seems to be very blurred coming from an outsider like myself. Unlike the freedom of speech we have as a democracy, not many people speak out against the King of Morocco due to fear of being punished. While the current King is nicer than his father, whom the Moroccans were in constant fear of during his reign and even thought that "the walls have ears." The current King listens to the people's needs and he is more of an advocate for women's rights compared to past kings.
However, I still have some reservations about the idea of one man ruling a country. The King has the power to take anyone's rights away and has the final say in everything. Morocco itself is a developing country and while some people are educated, many are not, therefore they are more inclined to believe every single word the King says and sees what he does as true. It is also interesting to me that the King is a ruler of a developing country…yet he is the 5th richest man in the world.
Nevertheless, I never realized the number of assumptions I inadvertently made about Islam based on skeptical sources like the media and even history books. I feel like the States paint a very negative view of Muslim culture, mostly based on the belief that all Muslims are terrorists. I did not think that extreme, but still my view was flawed with ancient, oppressive stereotypes. I definitely learned to have more of an open-mind and not to generalize the beliefs of one for the beliefs of all.
I'd rather splurge on a good meal than a nice hotel, wine than water and plane tickets than club covers. Traveling and eating are my two favorite things, so follow my journey to see where I go and eat next! I'm just living my best life.