Denville, NJ | Sociology, Computer Science | 2019
Originally from Denville, New Jersey, Zoe is a sophomore studying Sociology and Computer Science. She is also studying Arabic and hopes to further develop her knowledge of the language while she lives with a host family in Rabat, Morocco this summer. While living in Rabat, Zoe will partner with a local NGO to aid in women’s rights initiatives in the region alongside a small cohort of other Vanderbilt students. Once she has returned, Zoe hopes to utilize her experience in foreign aid to support service projects in the Nashville community.
To read more about Zoe’s experiences in Morocco, please visit her page on the Morocco 2017 Cohort blog.
Blog Post One:
Rabat, Morocco smells. It stinks like sweat, sewage, and hot fish. There is an intangible pungency that I cannot get over and I am consistently whining about it. I hate the smell with every fiber of my being. It’s inescapable. Yet, for every time I complain about a horrible stench there is an equally delicious one waiting to surprise me- the scent of warm bread in souk stalls, or freshly squeezed orange juice, or even the recently cleaned bathroom in the McDonald’s we indulged in last night. I’ll inhale these wonderful odors like I’ll never get the chance to smell again. And then all of the sudden, it smells like feet again. But that’s okay, because that seems to be the theme of this journey so far. For everything there is to complain about, there is something even more memorable to marvel at.
The rest of my new life here is fascinating. The medina, the Kasbah, and the beach are all so lovely to look at, and so different than anything I’ve seen before (even though they smell). I love the way my host family is constantly welcoming people into their home, everyday someone is in our house who I’ve never seen before, and how incredibly friendly they have been to us. I love the food!! It’s so good!! And I love how it’s always a game of charades to communicate with my family (I love it right now while I’m thinking about how funny it is but in the moment it’s incredibly frustrating). And finally, I love the work that I’m doing at AMDH. The company is an internationally renowned human rights organization, and the office feels like more of a news room than a service site. We’ve gotten to go to press conferences and have been welcomed into the office culture like old friends; the organization and the people within it are so kind and powerful in their quest for equality and democracy. So far, I have been challenged, surprised, and enthralled by my experiences in Morocco. “In sha allah” (God-willing, as they say) I will get used to the smell.
Final Blog Post:
As we come to the end of our time in Morocco, it’s easy to reflect on all that I’ve learned through the immersive experience our cohort shared. I’ve gained insight into so much: the moroccan government, history, culture, food, clothing, language, media, etc. But I wonder what the Moroccans I interacted with learned about us.
Upon my return to the US, I’m sure I will hear myself saying things like, “Moroccans love ___ “, “Moroccan cab drivers ___”, or “Morocco is totally ___”. It’s only natural to expand upon my personal experience to make generalizations in order to help me understand what I witnessed. However, if I think about it, I only really know things about the small piece of Morocco that composed my world while I was there. I lived with one family. I ate at ten restaurants. I shopped in three or four stores and markets. As diverse and informative and deep as my experience was, there is so much breadth that I am still missing. And I want to be aware of that when I speak about Moroccan culture as a whole.
I have come to this realization because the Moroccans I met do the same things to Americans. Through watching American TV and meeting Americans who come to stay for a couple of months at a time, they form conceptions about everyone who lives in the USA.
The biggest example of this that I saw was when we dealt with street harassment. I do not normally have the urge to talk to strange men who objectify me and make me uncomfortable while walking around in the medina, so my method of choice was to avoid, ignore, and roll my eyes when called for. Then I would hear, “geez you Americans are so rude I’m only trying to be nice,” or “girls from America suck,” or something of that sort. I know that they are coming from a place of hurt and embarrassment so I was never offended by the statements, but it made me realize that I was somehow representing all American women in that moment. How I react would taint their attitude towards any woman visiting from America, regardless of how they would perceive and deal with street harassment. I can only hope I set a good precedent, but that’s a different discussion.
I want to share how easy it is to meet one person who’s different than you and assume that all people close to them will be similar based on what you know from that person. I want to share that I’ve caught myself making these generalizations several times on this trip. I want to share that it’s so important to observe and make insights with the knowledge you do have, but to always be open to something or someone surprising you. Not all American women roll their eyes, and not all Moroccan cab drivers dreadfully overcharge you.