We have reached the end of our journey in Morocco. It’s been almost six weeks since I left Germany, but it feels like I know this country much more than my short time here would let you expect. Our last stop is Essaouira, a small town at the coast of Morocco. At first I thought it would be nice to relax here for a few days, but this town has claimed my heart by storm- and I decided to spent my whole last week here. I am staying at a hostel inside the Medina (the old town), and I got to meet a lot of people from all over the world there. At night after dinner, we usually go to the rooftop and spend the evening there with music and long talks. During one of these nights, I met a young woman from Rabat; she was travelling across the country for her summer holidays. We sat together and had a very interesting talk about relationships in Morocco.
ME: Hey Walaa, thank you a lot for having a talk with me! Could you introduce yourself?
WALAA: Yes, sure! I am Walaa, 24 years old, and I just recently started to work as a French teacher for highschool children. I was born and raised in a small town close to Rabat, but I have studied and now work in Rabat. And I am happy about it. For someone with my mindset, it is much easier to live in a big city.
ME: For someone with your mindset?
WALAA: Yeah, compared to many Moroccans, I have a very open mindset. That can be quite difficult here in Morocco. The society is very judgy, especially the old people. And in small villages it’s like, everybody knows everybody. And that makes people even more judgy about each other; they keep talking about any possible mistake you would make. And, their bad talking reflects back to your family as well. So in short, it is difficult to live an open-minded life in a small town. That’s one of the reasons why I chose to be in Rabat.
ME: Have you experienced these differences between big and small cities yourself?
WALAA: Oh yes, for sure! Just two weeks ago for example, me and some of my friends went to Agadir, a beach city in the southwest of Morocco. We didn’t have a place to stay, but there was a family in the village that was friendly enough to let us stay with them for some time. We had a really great time there; their family consisted of the mother and two adult daughters. They lived the village life; the girls were living at home, learning the household tasks, etc. I was there with my male friends, and one day we saw how a few people from the village were standing by the door and looking at my friends and at the two girls in a really judgy manner – because the girls were not supposed to be around boys if they were not married! That was one thing that really hurt me to see. And then, after we left for home again, one of my male friends told me that one of the daughters had sent him a pornographic video via their chat – I was shocked. But then I thought about it and I realized, that this is all the result of unreleased sexual tension. The girls and boys that live in villages, they at some point get in touch sexual information, but no one can ever talk about it; it’s a taboo topic. So it’s no surprise to see that if there IS an opportunity, people from villages will try to express this topic. And that is a difference to the big cities in Morocco: There, people are more and more openly expressing themselves about the topic of sex. You see a lot of people with boyfriends and girlfriends, and in general the two sexes can hang out with each other and it’s no big deal.
ME: And how does that work in an islamic country, having a relationship before marriage? There are always these stereotypes about Arab countries that these kind of things are NOT possible, so could you describe the situation a bit more for us?
WALAA: So in big cities, there is a huge influence from Europe. I feel like in Europe it is so easy to have a boyfriend or girlfriend before marriage, and a lot of other Moroccans are seeing that as well. And especially the younger generations in bigger cities are developing a new mindset: more open to western norms and values. In my personal friend circle, almost everyone has or has had a boyfriend or girlfriend. It’s relatively common I’d say. BUT, these relationships do have their own issues. You see, we are still Moroccans. Even if we try to adapt western norms, we are still Moroccans at heart. So one problem that I have experienced, is that Moroccan boyfriends are super macho. They might be open enough to have a girlfriend, but this girlfriend gets super restricted on so many things. For example, I was in a relationship with a Moroccan guy, and at first it was cool. But at some point, he started to get angry at me when I talked to other guys. This is something that happens so often in Moroccan relationships. Even people that claim to be ‘open-minded’, do have traditional values in actuality that they can’t leave behind. And these traditional values often entail that the woman – in this case the girlfriend – is treated like an opbject, like a possession of the man. I despise that idea, I don’t know why people are so stupid.
Walaa has introduced me to another woman who is staying at our hostel – Aiko from the US. She has recently had a relationship with a Moroccan man, and adds to our interview with her experience.
AIKO: My ex-boyfriend thinks he is very very open-minded. But just a few weeks into our relationship, he got super jealous when I would talk to any male person. Even if it was one of HIS friends, that HE introduced me to! He also started to tell me what to wear and what not. It was really strange for me. I’m from the US, I don’t know or like to be commanded in anything. I mean, my ex was a really really nice person, super friendly and helpful. I got to know him when I was travelling around Morocco and at some point didn’t have a place to stay. He offered me to stay with his family then. Everybody was so friendly, but I definitely saw the problems that can be present in a relationship with a Moroccan who only pretends to be ‘open-minded’.
ME TO WALAA: And what do you think is the root of this problem?
WALAA: I think it’s the fact that so many people think they HAVE to be religious here. From the older generations, and in small cities, almost everybody is supposed to be Muslim, but people don’t actually practice the Islam in the right way. That’s why I always say there are two types of people practicing the religion: there are real muslims, and there are the hypocrites. The real muslims who have actually studied the Islam, don’t believe in these stupid traditions that degrade women. But the hypocrites who just pretend to be good muslims, but actually have no idea about the Islam, they participate in these disrespectful actions. For example, there is the wide-spread thought among ‘open-minded’ guys, that a Moroccan woman can only have sex if it is with her boyfriend. But a guy, he can have as many one-night stands as he wants. Ridiculous right? It’s really sad. As far as I know, most people here are hypocrites.
There are real muslims, and there are the hypocrites. And as far as I know, most people here are hypocrites.
Something else that is very hypocritical, is how women are treated on the streets. Among all nationalities, Moroccan women experience the most sexual harrassment on the streets. This is because Moroccan men expect all Moroccan women to be ‘good muslims’, so any woman that is walking around on the streets or maybe even showing off some skin, has ‘deserved’ to be harrassed. ‘She is asking for it‘, is what many Moroccan men think.
But, not everybody is in Morocco is Muslim. Especially among the younger generation, there are many atheists as well. In my own community, my friend circle, most people are not really into religion. And that is becoming something super normal nowadays, especially if you look at the big cities in Morocco. All my friends think just like I do, and that makes life much easier.
ME: With your experiences, what would your message to fellow Moroccan girls be?
WALAA: As an open-minded Moroccan girl, go to the bigger cities. Life will be much easier for you there. And, something that I strongly believe: Every Moroccan woman can be free! You just have to express your freedom with the means you have. Be it a small cooking business next to your household tasks, or be it a teacher like me. Every woman can be free.
A beautiful message from a beautiful young woman. I thank both Walaa and Aiko for sharing their very personal stories with me, take my notebook and go to bed. Tonight I can sleep well – and feeling empowered.