Monday, September 10, 2012

Study Abroad: Part 3

I'm unusual, not simply because I live in the United States, or because I am a woman attending a college institution.  I am unusual, because I am Chinese and in Morocco.

Prior to arriving, I was worried.  I had been advised, warned, and generally frightened with anecdotes, that as a woman visiting an Arabic country, I would have to be careful about my safety.  I was warned that showing an inch of skin would be seen as an invitation to be harassed, that leaving my thick hair uncovered would draw attention.  I came to the conclusion that I would carry the words "Canadian-American" stamped across my forehead, a visible sign to anyone that I was not a local, and a sign that I was one of those "easy" girls.

I sat on a plane, next to a Caucasian girl, and an African-American guy.  I landed on the tarmac of Rabat-Sale.  I arrived in Morocco. While other people walked through customs, I was forced to wait, while the guards asked "Jackie Chan" repeatedly, and had my belongings checked.

From the first day, I drew looks, heard catcalls and was followed.  I could not understand why, until my program coordinator explained that there is an extreme fascination with the Asian culture.  Television broadcasts Hollywood films and videos, there are plenty of Caucasians in the medina (the vacationing French, an occasional German), but there is little interaction with Asians.

A friend mentioned, "Walking with you is another experience!"  And it's true.  Despite being with two All-American blonde and beautiful girls, I was, and am, repeatedly singled out.  Usually, it's benign: a guy saying that I'm beautiful and charming.  Once, it even resulted in a marriage proposal.

To be honest though, this outpouring of verbal taunts or admiration is highly cultural.  In Morocco, most couples will not interact: girls tend to stay with girls and guys with guys.  Additionally, there is still a highly traditional view that a woman's place is in the home (harkening back to kinder, kirchen, kurchen, or children, kitchen, church), while the man's world is everywhere else. As a result, when a woman enters the man's world, there is a cultural view that the woman is disrupting the man's order.

But before you freak out and start thinking that you need to mail me pepper spray, or send a stun gun by express, let me say something: the verbal never becomes physical.  In the United States, I am probably more likely to be in danger.  A man can just attack me after verbally harassing me, or even without that warning.  In Morocco, though, it's different.  If the man follows me, but I continue to ignore him, he'll stop.  He will NEVER cross that physical line.  And in the worst case scenario, I'll find an old woman, or a group of women, who will come together to scream Schouma at him (think of it as getting scolded by your grandmother, but far worse, since your honor is being called into question).

I won't say that getting harassed is fantastic, but there is something comforting about this.  I KNOW that a man CANNOT cross that physical line, and since the verbal wooing isn't crass, it isn't something that I take to heart.  It is, after all, cultural.


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