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First Impressions

This is from an e-mail I wrote to a friend in September 2003, after living for one month in Morocco.

In Tangier I stayed with a young man from a well-off family. His
brother-in-law is a judge. Hurtling through the night streets with a bunch of crazy Arabs in a broken down car, I went places that would have seemed scary if I’d been alone. Much of our time was spent harassing women they found attractive. We kept drifting into sketchy parts of the city, but I had confidence in my guides and opened myself to the shock of new impressions.

In Larache I was introduced to a group of friends who are talented artists, musicians, poets and theatre people. Some of us went to the nearby Roman ruins of Lixus after midnight and stayed until dawn, singing, drinking bootleg whisky and discussing the world of jinns in the ancient, broken-down arena.

Near Merzouga in the desert, a festival of traditional music was taking place. I listened to hypnotic variations on the theme of love and sadness while reclining on floodlit dunes. Whenever the Bedouin boys in their flowing turquoise robes started to dance in earnest, the police would push them back onto the sand and make them chill out.

Here in Fez I’ve stood on a rooftop at night in the heart of the ancient medina, and seen the Kairaouine mosque tower under the moon.

Another night was spent in the home of a poor family. My young friend’s parents place their hopes in him because he is intelligent and eager to learn, but he says that Morocco is a cruel country. His family of nine live in a two-room apartment, in a rough district known for its Islamists and petty thugs. Besides the crowding, there are the thin walls, the barking dogs, the vagabond children, the dusty or muddy streets, the smell of burning trash.

Yesterday at the festival of Moulay Idriss, I just missed seeing a camel being slaughtered. There was blood everywhere, on the robes of the acolytes, on the hands and feet of the neighborhood children, on the floor of the mosque. Later in a brief scuffle, the police pushed back the crowd so that a young woman could be carried away unconscious, having apparently fainted in the midst of thousands of revelers.

That’s a summary of the high points of my life here so far.


Comment from Liosliath
Time: November 24, 2006, 20:54

And what did the harassment entail, exactly?

Comment from eatbees
Time: November 24, 2006, 21:08

You mean in Merzouga? Or if not, what are you referring to?

Comment from eatbees
Time: November 24, 2006, 21:11

If you’re talking about Merzouga, it was actually fairly “gentle” harassment. It’s just that the festival was set up mainly to impress foreigners, flown in from France and given a free buffet, free wine and so on, and there was a space for dancing. But they didn’t really want locals dancing in it or getting a bit wild, because it was being filmed for later broadcast. So whenever the kids got in the way of the cameras or started spinning around, the security officials, of whom there were many, would grab them firmly and drag them over to the side, sitting them down in the sand.

Comment from Kenza
Time: November 24, 2006, 21:59

:)) I think that Lioliath was talking about that sentence: Much of our time was spent harassing women they found attractive.

That was the first thing that came to my mind too.

Comment from eatbees
Time: November 24, 2006, 22:03

Sorry! It does say “harass” right there, doesn’t it? Basically yelling out the window, slowing down, saying “You’re cute, do you want to come with me?” Whatever they say. It was the first time I’d encountered this kind of aggressive cruising, which seems to be particularly common in Tangier. I’ve never been comfortable with it. In fact, I am very uncomfortable with it!

Comment from Kenza
Time: November 24, 2006, 22:01

Ce que j’aime beaucoup dans ta façon d’écrire c’est que tu décris mais tu ne juge pas… tu es ouvert à connaître et à accepter la différence… je salue ça chez toi :)

Comment from eatbees
Time: November 24, 2006, 22:06

Merci Kenza, c’est gentille! C’est ce que je cherche à faire ici—c’est à vous de juger. Par contre tu n’as pas vu mon côté obstiné. :)

Comment from Kenza
Time: November 24, 2006, 22:14

Well I know quiet well that kind of harrassement (which seems to be the national sport in morocco).
As much as I can try to understand some kind of behaviors this one I just can’t…

Côté obstiné !!! j’attend de voir alors :)

Comment from TIZA
Time: November 25, 2006, 16:07

It would not surprise me that kind of ‘weired’ stuff you were doing you and your bunch of friends in Tangiers…that’s pretty common in Morooco but.. anyways this is not what my ‘comment’ is about..actually i’d like to know if you’re “Moroccan’ and if you’re so why are you talking about US like if it was your native country, in some of your posts (couldn’t read them all)u usually start your sentences by : in US we have …, we are …, our president (btw ‘the presdient of US’ sounds better-> personal opinion)? well..have got many other remarks and a lot to say but would keep it all for later ;) cya

Comment from eatbees
Time: November 25, 2006, 17:19

Hello Tiza, and thanks for the visit. Yes, the U.S. is my native country. I have a short bio on the “About” page which, though it doesn’t say “I was born in the U.S.” does make it clear, I think, that this is where I’ve lived for most of my life.

I went to Morocco in 2003 because I wanted to get out of America and see how things looked in the rest of the world. Originally I was hoping to visit several Muslim countries, such as Egypt, Turkey, and maybe Yemen. Instead I ended up making friends in Morocco and staying for three years. Now I’m back in the U.S. to see my family. I don’t know yet what I’ll do next!

What I’m hoping to do with this blog is not just talk about Morocco, but also talk about the U.S. and build communication between our two cultures. I want to do my best to explain each culture to the other. It’s certain that most Americans have only a “postcard view” of Morocco, and it’s also clear that many Moroccans know the U.S. only from our worst movies and videos, and our wars!

I don’t want this blog to be just my opinion, although of course it has to start there. I’m happy to invite my Moroccan friends to speak for themselves on this blog if they have something to say. So far one of my friends “Doga” has accepted this challenge. You can find his articles under “Guest Posts.”

Don’t forget, Tiza, you promised that you have a lot more to say later! I’m looking forward to hearing from you again.

Comment from Liosliath
Time: November 26, 2006, 02:09

I wonder if Moroccan men are EVER successful with this technique? They must be, or they wouldn’t keep doing it, I guess.

Comment from Kenza
Time: November 26, 2006, 13:03

I dont think that success with women is what they arer seeking, as I see it, it is rather to proove to themselves their menhood or something like that…

Eatbees maybe can explain :) as he’s been practicing some :)

Comment from Liosliath
Time: November 26, 2006, 13:58

Kenza- Can you tell me how Moroccan women handle this kind of harassment? When I was with my older women friends, the men would leave me alone, almost like they were afraid of them – but if I was alone, whew!

Comment from eatbees
Time: November 26, 2006, 14:00

All I can say is, I don’t envy the position of young Moroccan women, not one bit. Just before leaving last August, I saw in a magazine that 98% of Moroccans, men and women, think that a woman’s life isn’t complete unless she’s married. In most Moroccan families, especially the poorer and less Europeanized, the daughters are seen as little more than marriage material. There is enormous pressure on them to marry and get out of the house, to stop being a burden. I know this because I have a young friend in Marrakech who finds herself caught between tradition (her parents) and the realities of her situation (no marketable skills; no desirable young men to marry; no money or interest in the family to send her to school). At least young men can dream of escape by running away, but Moroccan society doesn’t permit its women this existential freedom.

Meanwhile men pursue their double standard, demanding that women remain “clean” while showing off their sexual prowess to their friends. I think this was handled quite well by “wonder” in a discussion I translated here. Basically the men feel that if a woman responds to this kind of advance, she is not “clean” and therefore fair game. Indeed those young men who can afford it will go to discos or fancy cafes to pick up a “working girl.” They aren’t looking for a meaningful relationship—Western-style romance is hard to find in Morocco—but just a way to siphon off their frustrations and longings. I do, however, know some Moroccan men who either try to preserve their own virginity, or try to have a relationship with a woman that shows respect for her and protects her reputation. All I can say is, it isn’t easy. Something has to give!

It looks like I set off a small firestorm with my original remark….

Comment from Liosliath
Time: November 26, 2006, 18:52

Not a firestorm, but great discussion – thanks!

Comment from Kenza
Time: November 26, 2006, 23:03

A great discussion indeed
@Lioliath: women don’t handle it, they live with it, they try to ignore it, they endure it…

It’s been a while since I left Morocco I don’t know if the way women face it had changed (I don’t think so)

@Eatbees: It is a very complexe subject, and it differs depending on the social class of the person…

Comment from eatbees
Time: November 27, 2006, 00:50

Kenza, I agree that social class comes into play somehow. I just can’t put my finger on it. Clearly, the liberties are greater for both men and women as you go up the social scale.

Rich young men like my Tangier friend are showing off their privilege, while the poor ones are acting out of desperation and resentment. Their “targets of opportunity” are different too.

I think the Western ethos of “sex sells” bears some of the blame. This is what happens when sexual freedoms get dumped on a culture that is ill prepared for them, as a marketing tool.

Morocco is a spiritual culture, and these are materialist values — cars, villas, freedom to travel, and of course the gangsta’s ho’….

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