The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

Salam Alaikum!

Peace be upon you!

On this week’s episode of The Never-Ending Struggle (AKA my life), I’ll try to recall exactly what I’ve been up to since the last time I posted, but to be quite honest, my brain is pretty fried from all the language-learning. Also, for some inexplicable reason I like to work while listening to the  “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” soundtrack, so I’ve titled the post to reflect as much. This title also describes my life pretty well, so I’ll roll with it.

The Good:

For our cultural excursion last week we all went to the Kasbah Museum, which is a 600-year-old palace that currently houses artifacts from Tangier’s storied past. As far as museums go, it wasn’t half bad. The exhibits chronicle Tangier’s development from humble, prehistoric beginnings until early modern times. I was especially impressed by the Kasbah’s courtyard and garden, but I was utterly floored by the fact that the garden held not one, but TWO turtles. Furthermore, the garden at my school is home to YET ANOTHER TURTLE. Miracles are everywhere.

On another high note, I spent last weekend in the seaside town of Asilah which provided the respite from education that my mental-well being desperately required. Several other students and I rented out a traditional Moroccan riad, which is pretty much just a big house with a courtyard or garden in the center. Asilah is truly stunning, with massive, gorgeous murals painted throughout the old city. We happened to be in town while a major art festival was taking place, and even though I actually know nothing about art, it was cool to see the different exhibits.

We also had a wedding. That is, we acted out a traditional Moroccan wedding, using two students from our program as the bride and groom. I don’t care for weddings in general, but I think I would be down to go to a real Moroccan wedding. They seem very lively and there’s a lot of dancing, which is most definitely a plus.

Additionally, I’m very grateful for my host family. For the most part the only adults I’ve interacted with in the family have been women, which has been a unique experience for me because I wanted to learn more about women’s social roles in Morocco. For instance, one of my host sisters is single and works as graphic designer, but the other is married and raising three children and has a husband working overseas. My host mom is fairly religious and traditional, and she visits her mother and unmarried sister a lot. They all provide a more varied example of Moroccan women than I’ve witnessed before, which has been incredibly interesting for me. Plus, they’re really kind and hilarious, so I feel lucky to have them.

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The Bad and The Ugly:

I learn a lot even when I’m not in class. For instance, I’m learning that Moroccan conceptions of beauty and “ideal” womanhood aren’t that different from the ones we have in America. Based on my observations, it seems quite clear that there’s a high demand for light skin and effortlessly-silken, wavy hair. I noticed this for the first time when I joined my host family for a trip to the salon before Eid al-Fitr. I spent nearly two hours watching as women with an assortment of hair textures willingly submitted their locks to the scorching breath of a hair dryer; all of them desiring the same gently-waved looked. On other occasions, a host sister marveled at pictures of me from when I used to wear my hair straight, and she struggled to understand why I don’t straighten it these days. (To be fair, if I can barely carry on a conversation about shopping in Moroccan Arabic, there’s no way I could have explained the politics of Black hair to her.) Another time, a relative of our host family expressed her fascination with my hair by actually clasping a handful of it. If this happened to me in America, I would have had some choice words for her, but in my Moroccan reality I coped by relying upon ample amounts internal screaming.

There’s also a very real preference for light skin here. Example: In Asilah, I happened upon a painting of a Moroccan public bath, or hammam. In a hammam you can pay a tiny, ancient woman who possesses the strength of a thousand body-builders, to scrub your skin until you are so clean that even a lifetime of sin has been washed away. This is only a slight exaggeration. I was initially intrigued by the canvas because I’ve been to a hammam, and I find them absurdly fascinating, but further inspection of the painting made me realize that all the dozens of bathing women were white, while a single, black-skinned woman had been painted dead-center in the painting, washing them. I realize this was in agreement with my own hammam experience, but it was somewhat shocking to see this juxtaposition depicted so clearly in a single painting. However, racial prejudice isn’t a strictly-Moroccan phenomenon, and life in America has prepared me for this very thing. So yes, I’ve glimpsed a facet of Moroccan culture that doesn’t sit right with me, but unfortunately it’s something I’m quite used to already.

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