Summer is coming to an end; the days of staying up late eating watermelon and sitting out under the stars are dwindling. It’s time to get ready for the next year. This month I will have been in Morocco for a year. A year! Even when I say it out loud I can’t believe it. And what a year it has been!
Morocco is a strange place to serve in. There’s a reason some people call it “Posh” Corps here. I have electricity, drinkable water, and abundant food, including fresh produce; damn, I even have internet and a cell phone. When first adjusting to my site I struggled with why Peace Corps was even here. Yes, things aren’t perfect here, but what country is? I don’t see poverty everyday. At least not in the way I would see it in America. I don’t see people living out of tents and lean-to shacks like in urban America, digging through garbage for a meal. Most people live in comfortably sized houses here with the basic necessities met. Though many Americans would think otherwise, craving heating and AC, more privacy, favorite foods and the ability to have a car.
As I approach my one year mark, and I’ve integrated into my community, the problems have slowly started becoming more visible to me. Of course, the problems have always been there, but in the beginning I was naive with little language skills while trying to just figure out what the heck was going on. Now that my language has developed it has given me the opportunity to have more conversations with my community.
During summer everything slows way down so this has given me the time to deepen my relationship with my Moroccan family, mainly my sisters. We chit chat about life as I help out with washing the dishes and other random odds and end. These conversations vary from laughing about the time I messed up making tea for the family, to the struggles of life here as a woman in Morocco. Lately I’ve been starting to have more of these conversations with my sisters. I ask them questions about their life, like why they dropped out of school, why they have to do all the domestic work, and did they even want to get married.
Before arriving to Morocco I knew that strong gender roles exist here, I knew that women keep their bodies and hair covered here, and I knew women here have way fewer opportunities than me, but it didn’t really hit me just how deep this difference goes. This difference of gender inequality. I started asking one of my Moroccan sisters about her life when she was young. Listening to her story, the inequality really impacted me. Hearing her struggles. How she feels trapped in this life, as a single mom, a divorcee with three children. Both of us holding back tears, as she turned over the rocks of what life is like for women like her in Morocco. She just shrugged her shoulders and said “That’s life.” In that moment all I wanted to do was scream “This isn’t fair!!! This isn’t fair!!! This isn’t fair!!! It doesn’t have to be this way!!!,” but I didn’t. I just sat next to her holding her hands, kissing her forehead, telling her that I loved her.
In America I was taught to stand up for myself as a woman. If you see something wrong you do something about it. You stand up! You take charge! Women marching down Pennsylvania Ave holding your sign high and proud. Here in Morocco that is not the case for most women. These problems are so deeply rooted in the culture, and the culture is very, very hard to change. So for the women who want change, they are scared. As one person explained to me, “People are afraid to speak out.” Don’t get me wrong, things are slowly changing. Women can get a divorce now. You have to be 18 years or older in order to get married. But the suppression of women is still very much everywhere. Most women find themselves having to get married quite young to have a means of financial stability, and then much of their life is spent inside cooking from scratch, (imagine plucking a chicken, and making several loaves of bread from scratch multiple times a week), cleaning and looking after the children, and hardly getting out of their house. For example, one of my sisters woke up and made 6 loaves of bread, mopped the floors, prepared breakfast and lunch for 10 people, and then left for several hours in the hot sun to get a week’s worth of food for all those people at the suq (weekly market).
I have found myself becoming emotionally drained and guilty after listening to their stories. I have built such deep loving relationships with my Moroccan sisters that when I hear their struggles, when I see them holding back tears, I can’t help but burst out crying myself. I can’t help but think about how lucky I am as I sit next to my Moroccan sister who feels trapped and lost. Here I am, 25 with a University degree, no family to look after. I can pick up and leave whenever I want. I can live a carefree lifestyle.
As I’m going into the next year of my service, I just pray that I can show these women just how smart they are! Show them they are beautiful! I pray that this sewing co-op will build the confidence of the women around me. As I approach my second year, I want so show these women, my sisters, my nieces, the girls in my community, what they truly are capable of and so much more. More than just making bread and cleaning the house.