Glenn and I were asked to help Kris settle into her apartment the day that she arrived. We left our apartment in Al Alhouyine street and walked down the “Medina,” around the cemetery, along the coastline and finally arrived at the Oudaya. We probably took the longest possible route just so that we could avoid having to cross through the “Medina” and its chaotic and narrow streets. Unbeknownst to us, Anas has picked up Kris and her family at the airport and taken them straight to their apartment. This mean that our help was no longer needed…
Given that we had some free time now, we decided to tour the streets of the “Medina” on our way back to the apartment. We entered the frenzy of people dodging motorcycles, carts, cats and children who ran up and down without looking where they were going. The area with the fish stalls was filled with cats and had a very repulsive, fishy smell. As we made our way down we reached a more touristy area with stalls selling rugs and all sort of artifacts.
We definitely stood out. I was wearing shorts and a t –shirt, which made my white skin stand out even more. Glenn might have blended a bit more because of his long pants, but his face revealed an unmistakable Asian, American heritage. Thus, the store owners raised their sight as we passed and eagerly tried to get us to enter their shops.
La, la, la, shukran. – we kept saying.
I think that I had grown too used to walking around Morocco and had dropped my guard. We left the Medina without any issues, but upon exiting we decided to go back in through another gate (one that we hadn’t explored yet) in order to find some Moroccan pancakes.
This gate was almost empty. It seemed like it fed into a more residential part of the “Medina” as no vendors were around. A group of teenagers sat atop of a car towards our right and ignoring them we started walking towards a street that seemed to go in the direction that we knew we could find a pancake store. Before we could even enter this alley a Moroccan woman who was walking in our direction looked at us and perplexed she screamed:
Hey! You two. Where are you going?
I looked at her confused.
Do you speak English? Where are you going? – she repeated.
We are headed towards the stalls near the other door. – I said, still confused.
You can’t go that way. It is dangerous. It is dangerous for you. Go around the wall and just enter through the other door.
We made the walk of shame out the door, around the wall and into the medina through the other gate.
It was not until this happened that I realized how comfortable I had grown. The first two weeks I was always cautious: I always took the tram, I avoided sketchy streets and always made sure that I knew the route to the place where I was going. Now I found myself wandering around, looking incredibly foreign, and without an idea of how to get where I wanted to go.
What bothered me the most was realizing how out of place I was. Before arriving to Morocco, our advisers asked us to make sure to dress conservatively: Wear long pants even if it is hot. When we visit the villages, wear long sleeves as well. The advertised purpose was to respect the traditions of the Muslim society, but I’m sure they also wanted us to stand out less.
As we walked around the “Medina” I noticed that no one wore shorts and no one was even close to being as white as I was. I wondered when I got back home: “Is being white a curse or a privilege? Should it be either?” (Here follows a discussion about race and skin color. Let me be clear that I respect everyone regardless of skin color or race).
For the first question, everything has to do with the country in which you find yourself. For someone as white as me, it is hard to blend even when walking around Argentina as people are a little tanner. I am often mistaken for a European or an American until I open my mouth and the unmistakable Argentinian accent rushes out. In Peru, for example, I used to go to the center of the city to buy electronic components with my dad. The place where we went was the sort of place where a tourist should not go without a local. The difference was that we dressed to hide as much of the Europeanness and any signs of wealth – but I still felt the stares and the surprise when I spoke in perfect Spanish.
In the Dominican Republic, I simply did not walk around the streets. I stood out too much for my comfort. Even when you know that the place where you are walking is not dangerous, it is not the best idea. There white people like me are most likely rich – not the best thing to be associated with when everyone else is poor.
Here in Morocco I feel the same way. But I don’t feel the same way in the United States. There it seems like a privilege because those with darker skin are still discriminated and no one bats an eye at a white person.
I wonder, why does this still happen?
With globalization and people from every race living everywhere, how can it be that race makes a difference? You might think that I am out place complaining about this given that I am associated with wealth and money and people might look up to me just because I am white and bla bla bla… I don’t want to be associated with any of those things just because I am white. I want to be able to travel around the world and have people not bat an eye when they see me and I want to be able to do exactly the same thing. Why do we have to feel superior? This got me thinking about the situation here in Morocco.
Why is it that the Amazigh are discriminated in this country by the Arabs? Don’t those of Arab heritage realize that 60% of the population of this country is descendant from Amazigh? They share the land, the language, the blood and the culture.
Perhaps it is just a sign of just how weak we are. Like the bully that feels insecure and thus picks on another kid, one race picks on the other. Or maybe it just reveals how much in need of recognition we are. Feeling superior, the Arabs came to Morocco and suppressed the Amazigh culture to show how much more powerful they were. The French then did the same thing with their policy of assimilation. When they got to Morocco, they imposed French on the locals and attempted to Francophonize everyone. They went around the world colonizing countries and telling the locals: “See how much better we are? Come on, adopt our language and our culture and you can be part of us.” It could also be a lack of understanding that leads to fear and contempt towards the “rest.”
I don’t think that there is a single reason why it happens. There are probably many more than I can think of, but I am sure that the feelings of superiority and misunderstanding are among them. From what I saw in Morocco, the only thing that this seemed to accomplish was creating more disputes and in the process destroying cultural heritage. Part of the Amazigh traditions were lost to the Arabs, and part of the original Moroccan Arabic traditions were lost to the French. Now part of the traditions will be lost to globalization, but that is a topic for another post.