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On Being a Woman in North Africa, Part II

Before reading this, I hope that you have read the first part to this post, On Being a Woman in North Africa, Part I. On the whole, this first edition was very negative, focusing on the harassment that my friends and I have received. I would now like to balance out this last post with some positive aspects to being a woman (expand to: young western woman) in Morocco.
It is true that just walking though the streets of a souq or industrial city, the majority of interactions that one will have will be with males. Most merchants and waiters are male, and as handicrafts and food power the tourist industry, it makes sense that a tourist will mostly encounter Moroccan men. Indeed, my own interactions with Moroccan women in public are few and far between. However, I will say that they are, on a whole, much more enjoyable. 
For instance, on my way to El Jadida this time, I had the pleasure of sitting next to a woman on the bus. Not because she had purchase the ticket in the seat next to mine, but because she didn’t want to sit next to the man who had purchased the seat next to hers. She made light conversation with me, asking if I thought the seats were small, and I replied that they were, and then she said lots of unintelligible things and laughed, so I laughed too. She then asked me something that I didn’t understand, and I told her that I didn’t. She was bewildered. “Ma fahimteesh al-aaribiya?” and I had to admit that I only understood a little (“shwiya”). She then tried, “parlez-vous français?”, which I shook my head at. Finally she asked, “do you speak English?” and I nodded my head, in shock. This woman was probably older than my mother, and she knew English! Well, the extent of her English seemed to be that sentence, as she repeated, “you speak English!” and smiled widely. As we figured out that we had no real language in common, we sat in silence for the rest of the time. But that did not stop her from kissing me on both cheeks as I left the bus. 
And just today, I had another female-bonding encounter. I explored El Jadida on my own for a bit: half looking for food, half just enjoying the warm weather and trying not to get lost. I eventually settled on entering a café where I saw there was a waitress, rather than a waiter. I sat down, and she came over to me, speaking in darija. I had absolutely no idea what she had said, so I just asked for the menu. She asked if I spoke English, I said yes, and she explained that they didn’t have any food, as the kitchen was being renovated. So I ordered tea. When she came back with it, she asked me some questions in English, to which I responded in Arabic. Eventually my functional Arabic ran out, as she started asking me more complex questions, and I just decided to switch to English, as she probably wanted to practice listening to English as well. She left me alone for a few minutes, but before I knew it, she was back with a book in English, saying that she was starting to read it. She showed it to me, and it was the book version of the Disney movie “Atlantis”. She left me again to browse through the pages. She came back a little while later, pulled up a chair and started talking to me. Not just about the book, but about her life. How she had to stay in El Jadida because of her mother, even though she had a diploma in commerce, and how she was secretly seeing a man who worked upstairs from the café. She sounded like a school girl with an exciting story to tell her friends. And although I was completely confused as to why this stranger would be telling me all about her love life, I was kind of honored. I think that she chose to share this information with me because I am a western woman about her own age, which would make me much more receptive and/or less judgemental of her. Sometimes being a foreigner has its perks?
Those are just two of many stories that I have of the camaraderie that women have here in Morocco. It might not seem like much, and it might not outweigh the negative aspect of harassment; but in the moment it is a beautiful thing, and I’m glad that there is this positive side of being a woman in North Africa.
Katrina is a philosophy major at Princeton University with minors in Arabic and Near Eastern Studies. She recently studied abroad at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco, but is back and ready to rock her senior year! Apart from academic advising, she's really into foreign relations, so check out her writing over at International Relations Online and the Princeton Progressive Nation.
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