Moroccan men are infiltrating the group to connect with women, Americans try fasting for the first time, and a fundraiser circulates to support refugees in Morocco.
Rabat – A group of US citizens stuck in Morocco after COVID-19 lockdown restrictions prevented them from traveling organized a WhatsApp support group. Originally intended as a space to share information about repatriation flights and resources related to COVID-19 travel restrictions, the group’s content has expanded.
Young Moroccan men have since infiltrated the group and are sending messages both to the group at large and privately to women in the group, members of the group are fasting for the first time as Ramadan begins, and fundraisers are circulating in support of refugees in Morocco.
Young Moroccan men have joined the group, causing a nuisance to women
“I saw you beautiful,” reads one message from a Moroccan man who contacted Carol, a 23-year-old US citizen currently stuck in Taghazout, a coastal village north of Agadir. The message came after an initial attempt to video call her at 8:30 p.m.
Carol did not know the man who introduced himself as Khalid and says he took her phone number from the WhatsApp group, where she believes most people with profile photos that identify them as women are receiving unsolicited messages.
A number of women report unwanted messages from men asking for the opportunity to get to know them. Some men have even requested advice on ways they can immigrate to the US.
“I mostly don’t respond anymore. After the third time, I figured it’s smarter,” Carol explains in an interview with Morocco World News. She says that she joined the WhatsApp group to feel supported and ask for advice from fellow US citizens in the same stranded situation.
“I have talked to many other women and they have encountered a pushy experience from men here,” Carol adds.
TeriAnn Tibbetts, who is currently staying on a beach in the South, has taken shelter in a blanket tent gifted to her by new Amazigh (Berber) friends.
She has received over 20 unwanted messages from unknown men who took her number from the group chat. “I delete them. I do not respond. It is annoying because it’s obvious they are abusing what the group is about.” TerriAnn says the men claim they are trying to be helpful, but based on the messages she has received, she believes they are “fishing” for women.
In an interview with Morocco World News, one Moroccan man who joined the group and was since removed says he joined to learn about traveling to the US. After learning his messages to women were bothersome, he asked to send his apologies. Some other men have called women “rude” for reporting their messages.
Lessons learned during Ramadan
April Hope, who came to Morocco to pursue collaborations in her tourism business, has been unable to return to the US on any repatriation flights due to the $1,500 the US embassy is charging for citizens to return home.
She refers to the WhatsApp group as a “lifeline” that has given her much-needed support during this challenging time. After staying in Morocco for over a month already, she is now finding the support she needs by partaking in fasting during the holy month of Ramadan.
“Instead of being afraid that there will be a food shortage and hoarding, I am learning to share,” April explains in an interview with Morocco World News. “I was excited to take part in Ramadan. I decided I would fast. I proudly announced to everyone in the WhatsApp group that I had succeeded and broke the fast that night when the neighbor sent over a plate for me. I cried.”
The WhatsApp group has also turned into an informative digest. Moroccan-Americans and Muslims in the group have helped inform the others about Ramadan traditions and the purposes for fasting.
“My friends in the group were happy for me, but gently explained that Ramadan had not yet begun. I had made a mistake and fasted a day early!” April has dedicated herself to learning about Ramadan and is committed to using the occasion to become a better person.
Although April says she may not decide to convert, she believes Islam is beautiful and is eager to learn why billions of people have chosen it as their faith. “The changes I am making are more internal, and I hope, long lasting.”
Vinny, another stranded US citizen, sent a message to the group expressing his gratitude to those sharing their knowledge about Ramadan. He commented that the information allows the group to better culturally orient, describing it as “highly appropriate and appreciated.”
The group expresses gratitude for Moroccan kindness and hospitality
Although the lockdown measures have taken a toll, multiple members of the group have expressed that they are impressed with the ways Morocco has responded to the pandemic. Most share that local communities have offered warm welcomes.
Former Vietnamese refugee Laura Duong Larma is one of the 66 US citizens remaining in the group chat. Laura was stranded after traveling to Morocco to advocate for refugees.
Since arriving, she has created a GoFundMe page to raise money for refugees residing in Morocco. She has also promised to donate the profits from her recently published book “Blockchain for Humanity.” Many in the group have expressed support for her efforts.
The WhatsApp group has reported an outpouring of support from local Moroccans and many have suggested seeking ways to repay their generous hosts. Even those who have already taken repatriation flights still have Morocco on their minds.
“Even though I’m back home and relatively comfortable, I’ve stayed in this group because I know I can still help and learn from all of you!!! And we are definitely going back because we only saw half of what we wanted to see and experience [in Morocco],” one member wrote.
According to a tweet by the US Embassy on April 24, the US Consulate General and Embassy have already repatriated a total of 1,600 US citizens from Morocco on 11 flights.