Chantilly, VA | Economics, Medicine, Health and Society | 2018
Lauryn is from Chantilly, Virginia. A member of the class of 2018, Lauryn is double majoring in Economics and Medicine, Health, and Society. In the summer of 2017, Lauryn will be living in Rabat, Morocco as a part of the OACS Global Service Program. While there, Lauryn will be volunteering with an NGO that focuses on human rights and economic development.
To read more about Lauryn’s experiences in Morocco, please click visit her page on the Morocco 2017 Cohort blog.
Blog Post One:
It is only my fourth day here in Rabat, and already I’m getting lost less in the Medina, learning more Darija (and completely mispronounce it), and getting to know my cohort and host family more! However, all of this has come from LOTS of trial and error. One of the best examples of this is with REMESS, the NGO I work for as part of my program.
Three days into this internship and it has already been a tremendous learning opportunity all around, beginning with our journey to and from our office.
As an NGO focusing on supporting human rights and economic solidarity, REMESS has many locations all around Morocco. The one we have been assigned to is technically in Salé, a town right outside of Rabat. Though it’s just across the Bou Regreg river, our trip usually takes us about an hour; this has very little to do with geography and everything to do with taxis.
The taxi system in Rabat, although hectic to an outsider, is remarkably efficient. There is a single parking lot where all the taxi drivers start/use as their “home base,” this is where we start each morning to ask for a taxi that goes to the general area that our office is in. If there is not a taxi already there that goes to that area (each is designated a specific area), then we must wait until (1) a taxi arrives and (2) there are a total of 7 people (including the driver).
Now, sometimes we are blessed with one of the new, Mercedes van taxis which, by law, are restricted to drive only as many people as there are seats in the car. However, many times the petit taxi comes first (insert image of a clown car, literally). This tiny car “fits” four in the back, and three upfront, including the driver. As uncomfortable as part of the ride is when squished with six of your closest friends who probably have also not taken a shower (let’s not talk about that), the ride gets better as people are dropped off along our trip usually.
Despite any discomfort and the madness that is the road (very few lines, or complete disregard for them), our taxi’s have always driven us safely to/from work and always get us to work on time.
REMESS in Salé is located right in front of the ocean, allotting our specific office room with a pretty sweet view, though only from one window. The other view from the opposite window is the reason why our protective house-moms gave us worried looks when we told them where we were working.
As much of the country and area of Rabat is still developing, this part of Salé is objectively rough. On an average day at work we see the same gentleman building a fire (though we can’t figure out why, considering it’s hot out and Ramadan so he cannot eat during the day), three to four stray dogs (plenty more cats, but that’s typical for Rabat too), and a view of a mix housing structures that would not pass any inspection and ruble from what I assume used to be the houses that didn’t make it.
Nevertheless, the office we work in is truly beautiful, not only in architecture but in the kind nature of the people that have made REMESS home already. Although on our first day the office was filled with workers from the president of REMESS to the ladies that clean the building, recently it has been just a handful of us (all women) who work there.
From the first day, they have welcomed us with the traditional Moroccan greeting (kiss on each cheek, which I’ve since been acclimated), and continue to be patient with us as we struggle to communicate between English, French, and Darija.
In addition to working on REMESS-related content (which will pick up soon), we have spent some time having them teach us Darija and in return, help them practice English. Although I’m sure work will be a great learning opportunity for the specific projects we will be doing, so far being able to speak with these women has been so enlightening and thought provoking. We all have lived such different lives (and still do to some extent), come from varying cultural backgrounds, and speak a mix of languages (usually all in one sentence) and yet there’s so much to be learned from each other.
After reflecting on my day yesterday while a group of us went downtown to get ice cream (yes, we may be in Morocco but the Americans will find an ice cream shop and McDonalds anywhere), I was thinking about the day at REMESS and my experiences with my host family and realized that one of the most valuable (and challenging) aspects of this experience is that we have been taken out of our familiar culture completely. It is then that we realize what truly binds us to others, and, as it turns out, it’s not necessarily where we live, what clothes we wear, or whether or not we take showers every day (shocking, I know), but something much more real, authentic, and greater than ourselves as individuals.
As will be the theme with these posts, here are couple new takeways:
- “Ana fhana heit ana mohjooda mahakoom” – I’m happy to be here with you. (side note, that gibberish is obviously not Arabic, but if you pronounce it correctly – easier written than said- then it is Darija!). I have yet to say this to my house family, though only because I need to practice a lot to make sure I don’t mispronounce words that could potentially make this sweet sentence into an insult (yike).
- History of the hijab: in our seminar today, our instructor gave an incredible recount of the history behind women choosing to wear hijabs, the role of the Qur’an, the intersection of Islam and politics, and how the Iranian revolution influenced it all
Final Blog Post:
As I was landing in Casablanca, early in the morning back in June, the word “perspective” was etched into my mind. Plane rides are often times of processing and thought for me, especially eight hour plane rides without movies, but this word kept coming back to me throughout the six weeks in Morocco.
The first week when I was flooded with change, I took a morning to sit on the terrace of the CCCL (our “home base” in Morocco) and reflect on my experience thus far. From the terrace, where our cohort spent many hours, you could see all of Rabat’s medina, over the Bou Regreg river to Salé, the beach filled with people, and out into the ocean. During this time, I was grappling with accepting a few of the differences between Morocco and my home in the US. Between an extremely unusual schedule for me due to the ways in which Ramadan alters not only eating times but sleep and work schedules, and the pungent smell of the medina (filled with fish, vegetables, chickens, and loads of people), everyday required energy that I could barely muster up, resulting in a strained view of the medina. However, sitting atop the terrace, it looked beautiful in its complexity. From above I could not see the chickens being killed, could not smell the fish rotting, and could clearly see the path from my house to the CCCL, a trip that, at that point, seemed insurmountably complicated. On this morning, my perspective change brought about a fresh, and much needed, appreciation and admiration for the city that I would call home for six weeks.
Throughout the rest of the trip my perspectives would continue to be challenged and changed. Without context of our own culture and lifestyle, it is easy to view our way of doing life as the best way to do them, especially as Americans. However, spending an extended amount of time living in another country has allowed me to take a critical lens to certain aspects of American culture and appreciate other aspects more.
Of the features of Moroccan culture that I hope to bring back with me to the U.S. is their value on friends and family. Whether it was the generosity shown to mere strangers during Ramadan or their daily visits with loved ones, Moroccans’ dedication to personal relationships is admirable and often taken for granted in the U.S. Whereas when I meet with a friend for coffee at school I tend to have a segmented time for them and limit our meeting to only that time allotted, my host-mom would regularly meet with her friends and family for as long as it took to catch up, which could just as easily be five minutes as a couple of hours. Although I have a high value on efficiency, I believe too often I prioritize efficiency over people in my life.
This is just one of many examples of the ways in which Morocco enabled perspective changes for me. Others include (but are not limited to) a better understanding of why women may choose to wear a hijab, checking my privilege as a native English speaker, and my role as a foreign volunteer.
Now sitting in a coffee shop at home (a consistent activity for me whether in Morocco or the United States), I approach my own culture, political system, and economy with a new, critical eye. Just like that morning early on in my trip, viewing the medina from above, I now view our culture from a different perspective that allows me to appreciate the beautiful complexities and work to change some of the unpleasant truths simultaneously.