“I Don’t Give a Damn ‘Bout My Reputation”

Edit: Bear in mind that I’m a complete worrywart. A trait inherited from my Dad. Love you Pa.

Well actually I do. Thanks for the reminder Joan Jett.

In recent years, post-high school I’ve fancied myself something of a free spirit. A tree hugging, laying down in the middle of the street, Mexican poncho wearing, at times completely raucous, free spirit.

But moving to a large, conservative Amazigh village in the middle of Islamic Morocco meant that I had to adapt certain facets of my behavior and mannerisms.

I don’t talk to men I don’t know, I generally don’t even pause for a polite ‘hello.’ I always wear long skirts or pants, scarves, and sweaters or long ‘derriere covering’ shirts. Physical contact is limited to the shaking of hands or kissing of cheeks. I try not to draw attention to myself when I’m in public, which means limited dancing, skipping, or singing. I’m only out after dark if I have to teach at the high school. When I go to the one coffee shop deemed acceptable for me to go to have meetings I always bring my computer or paperwork with me to make it look like I’m doing something.

And yet, I find myself worrying what other people think about me all the time.

Are my neighbors judging me for being walked home by male students and counterparts at the Dar Chebab? Do they spy on me when I leave early in the morning to go for runs with my male friend?

Why didn’t I hear from Siham today when we made plans earlier in the week? Is she mad at me? What’s with Yassine, my neighbor boy, glaring at me when I said ‘hello’ to him today?

Do they look down upon me for spending time with the one female counterpart I’ve met in town, who for whatever reason, nobody else likes?

The answer is that I don’t really know.

Small towns in Morocco I suppose are like small towns all over the world. People can be incredibly nosy and incredibly judgmental without context or rhyme and reason. And if I’m being honest, protecting and enhancing my reputation in town gives me a bit of anxiety.

I’d like to think that it’s not just me though. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, if your community doesn’t respect you or want to associate with you- good luck getting anything done. It’ll mean no counterparts, participation in your activities, and a general distrust of you. I’ll never forget the story told to us in CBT by a staff member about a PCV who was essentially asked to leave her community BY the community.

It can be tough sometimes.

There’s also the fact that I’ll never truly be able to express myself or feel completely 100% like me here in Morocco. There’s too many risks associated with sharing a part of yourself that Moroccans might find offensive or shameful. I could never for example, share the fact that I love a good IPA and that recently I’ve had all kinds of doubts about religion. This being said I have the utmost respect for gay and lesbian volunteers who must hide the fact that they like the same sex not just for reputation reasons but for safety ones as well.

I hate this feeling of always having to ‘be on’ or be watchful of my actions. It’s exhausting and probably the number one reason why volunteers go bat shit crazy when they gather together in the cities. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that sometimes life here can feel a bit oppressive.

I wish there was some kind of positive spin I could throw on the end of this. But all I can say is that someday I’ll be back in America and I fully intend on skipping down the street, wearing my poncho, singing “American Pie,” with an IPA in hand while passerby’s glance at me briefly and get on with their lives.

Amen to that.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to ““I Don’t Give a Damn ‘Bout My Reputation”

  1. Shauna Steadman

    Mel,
    before I went to Morocco, I had little concern about what life was like in the Middle East (I consider Morocco to be partly Middle East). Now i watch the news on Al Jaseera USA. I care. I understand the people who have this life. You also care and will care more when you return, because part of your heart will be left in Morocco with the people you know are watching you. Believe me, 10 years later, they will remember Mel and take her into their homes if she returns as if she never left. Underneath the taboos of their society beats the hearts of other human beings. People that you have lived with in their dirt floor homes. People who you have cried with at the death of a loved one, and yes, even those who have starred you down as you walked the streets. The irony of your blog today is that you care deeply, it comes through your words.
    And trust me, you will still be a free spirit when you get back to the good ole USA. I am still a free spirit and I am more understanding of why I am because of Morocco!

  2. Uncle Denny

    Praying for Your safety and your sanity! We love you Mel Bell!!!

  3. Tina

    Hi Mel…take care, it will all come out in the wash

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