Rabat – A few months ago, I received an email from an old friend asking how I am and where in the world I am these days. When I replied that I live in Morocco, he said: “Holy crap, I can’t believe you live alone in Muslim-land; you’re much braver than I would be.”
I did not reply to that email. I was too upset.
I am okay with anyone telling me that I am brave to live in another country alone. I can appreciate that. But I had a problem with somebody telling me that I am “brave” to live in “Muslim-land.”
This week is Peace Corps Week, and in celebration of it Peace Corps asked us to do a classroom challenge or to record a video on the theme of “What I wish Americans knew about my country of service.” I am currently not in Morocco and I do not like recording videos of myself, so this is my chance to explain, all at once,
What I wish Americans knew about Morocco:
I wish Americans knew that Morocco is a safe place to live, that yes, Morocco is a Muslim country, and that no, it is not a terrorist country. I wish they knew that Islam is a peaceful religion. In fact, the word “Islam” is derived from the root word “salam,” meaning peace and safety, the same word Moroccans use to greet each other.
I wish Americans knew that Morocco was the first country to recognize American independence and has signed the longest unbroken peace treaty with the US in American history.
I wish they knew that many Moroccan women are and want to be feminists. They are both Muslim and feminists, and the two can go together as long as we do not impose our Western version of feminism.
I wish Americans knew that, despite high rates of sexual harassment and assault, many Moroccan men are respectful to me and to women. They treat women with dignity like the Qur’an tells them to.
I wish Americans knew that Moroccans are the most hospitable people I have ever met, that Morocco is a place where phrases like “you are like family” are not taken lightly. Sometimes, you will befriend a random couple on a train and converse with them. Once you arrive at the train station, they will cut lines for you to help you buy a ticket to your next train that leaves in 60 seconds, carry your bag and suitcase for you while running through the platforms alongside you, watch you board your train and watch you through the window making sure you’ve taken a seat, and wave at you as your train takes off. They were just strangers. (You will then be force-fed lunch by a family sitting in the same train compartment as you.)
I wish Americans knew that Morocco is not all desert, that there are the Atlas Mountains, the Rif Mountains, hundreds of miles of beaches, and I wish they could see how winter rains bring beautiful green rolling hills that look like this:
I wish they knew that couscous doesn’t taste good when it come? from a box, but instead tastes better when a Moroccan mama takes three hours of every Friday morning to make it so that it looks like this:
I wish Americans could realize that living in Morocco is not easy, and that I do not always enjoy Morocco. It is more than camel treks and tagines, snake charmers and cheap spices. But I hope they know that if they insult Morocco, I will defend it–because it is my home.
Jaclyn Dean is a current Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco who works in youth development, teaching English, exercise, drawing, and life skills to youth. She graduated from Rice University in Houston, Texas with a degree in Sociology and Political Science and worked briefly in Texas politics. Jaclyn was born and raised in Plano, Texas.