The One Where I Felt Out of My Element

Much of my time in Morocco has been spent in a state I like to refer to as ‘out of my element.’ Whether it’s watching a sheep slaughter or riding the souk bus, most of the time I have no idea what the hell is going on. Often I wake up thinking I’m going to do one thing and end up doing something completely different, and for the most part I like it.

My life hasn’t been this unpredictable since…ever.

Imagine my surprise then when sitting in the back of a non-taxi, Mercedes Benz at 2:00 a.m. speeding down Rabat’s high end streets after a party.

Again, I felt out of my element. But allow me to explain.

In a series of events following the Special Olympics, I found myself with another Peace Corps volunteer at the beach home of a classmate of one of the Moroccan volunteer’s we’d met. Hoping to take advantage of the opportunity to shop and eat in Rabat we had elected to stay one extra night in the city before heading home.

I’m working on trying to say ‘Yes!’ more often and more enthusiastically, so when our friend called to see if we wanted to hang out I agreed to tag along.

The party had all the makings of a good one. Booze. Opposite sexes. Solid jams. A pool table. There was even toilet paper in the bathroom.

I did my fair share of partying in undergrad, so I like to think I’m well versed in the party sphere. Despite my familiarity with the atmosphere, I felt so incredibly out of my element.

I have never drank with Moroccans before. Have never even known Moroccans who openly admit to drinking. I have never seen Moroccan girls chain smoking cigarettes and sitting on the laps of boys. I even got into a conversation with a boy who told me he doesn’t practice Islam.

“Did you ever think Moroccans could be like this?” one of the boys asked.

“Well…no. I guess not,” I replied.

“That’s because we’re the minority,” he replied smugly.

And he’s right. All the people in the room represented a very minute minority in Morocco. They are the children of ministers and moguls. They’ve got more money to spend in a week then a poor family in my town has in a year. They’ve got vacation homes in Ifrane, Marrakech, Agadir and frequent places like Spain and France bi-monthly.

They’re educated at the best schools. Have wardrobes fit to make one green with envy. Speak several languages fluently. Drive really nice cars.

The girls have no qualms about drinking, smoking, or adhering to conservative standards of dress. None wear the hijab.

In short, they live without abandon.

In theory, I should have a lot in common with these kids. I like to party. I like to travel. I haven’t completely defined my beliefs about religion yet. I like to dance to good music (albeit poorly). I like being young. I like expressing opinions. Etc.

But I couldn’t relate to them. My volunteer status which allows me to live at the level of my community and the fact that I don’t have much money in the States saved up, means that I’m kind of poor. These days I’m just as content to fall asleep at 9:30 p.m. after a successful day of teaching and lunching at my students’ houses as I am staying out late. There aren’t many places to go and I don’t have anyone of the male persuasion to see in town, so I’m okay with biking through the olive groves or meandering through souk by myself. I don’t wear much makeup and try to keep my lust after nice clothing to a minimum. (Pinterest makes this difficult)

Life is pretty simple. Unpredictable at times, but simple.

Truth is I love my bl3d people. (i.e. people from the countryside) I love the image of the Amazigh man squatting next to an olive tree. The smell of msmn cooking on the stove top. The awkwardness of the town kids when I greet them on my way to Dar Chebab.

I thought of all these things as I rode the innumerably long souk bus home the next morning trying to decipher what I had experienced the night before. I sat next to an Amazign woman. As I spoke with her and pointed out my town in the distance, she invited me to her home and lifted up her breast, gestured to it, and said “You are the same as my daughter.”

And despite the seemingly strangeness of her action, I got it. I was in my element. These are my people.

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2 Comments

Filed under Life, Morocco, Musings

2 responses to “The One Where I Felt Out of My Element

  1. Shauna Steadman

    Mel,
    because of the nature of PC’s position in Morocco, volunteers live on the economy as you stated. The depiction of ‘my experience’ Moroccans was changed in 2011 when I met Rawiya at the University of Charleston. She was the age of my granddaughter, so I took her in. I grew to love her. She was from Casa and was in the USA getting a degree. She was an enigma to what I knew about young Moroccan girls. She was fashionable, forward and a spendthrift. She told me about a Morocco that I had no idea about. BUT she was still naive and later her life changed because of a Moroccan boy in Brooklin NYC who easily lured her into the American scene and then left her. She has since returned to Casa, owing the U and shunned because she . . . . The bled and the big cities in Morocco are quite different, I have found out.

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