I arrived in Rabat, Morocco just over a week ago.
I was, of course, immediately struck by cultural differences: everyone eating out of the same dish at dinner, an immunity to Western cultural influence (which I’ve seldom experienced), and the sheer amount of time many people spend sitting at cafés drinking tea.
Yet the first thing I want to write about in this column is not my cultural observations, but what my host mother told my roommate and me over dinner the other night. A conversation that I ruminated over and concluded must be the mindset with which I approach my semester abroad in Rabat.
Before dinner, my roommate and I were looking at flights for the semester and found an incredibly cheap flight from Rabat to Rome on Ryanair. We contemplated buying this flight, but we were unsure if that would be irresponsible. We are, after all, in Morocco to engage in Moroccan culture and language, both French and Darija, which is rather impossible in a different country.
When we told our host mother about our dilemma over dinner, she practically yelled at us.
“Your culture gives you every resource to be independent, mes belles,” she told us in French. “You have to make the most of every opportunity you’re given, every chance to travel, every chance to learn, to grow.” My roommate and I looked at each other, partly in admiration of her perspective and partly stunned by her uncharacteristically aggressive tone.
“When I was growing up my father traveled constantly for work, he saw the whole world, and I always wanted to be like him. But Moroccan culture doesn’t allow for women to be independent this way.” She told us about how she was surveilled and pressured by her mother, her siblings and the rest of the community. She got married young, which hindered her wanderlust and sense of adventure.
In the U.S., being independent often connotes financial freedom, which most of us strive for by submitting ourselves to self-imposed responsibilities.
Though the tether I am constrained by is that of applications and deadlines, the act of tethering myself is where I derive my strong sense of independence.
This continuous cycle of self-imposition can also stump our growth. It’s a different type of social pressure than what my host mother faced, but it is social pressure nonetheless.
“Go to Rome, and when you’re there throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain for me and pray that I will perform Hajj this year, inshallah,” she told us
Not only will I be going to Rome, but I will be seizing every opportunity to travel, learn and grow in the next four months. Because these are the things from which I want to derive my sense of independence.
I feel grateful to be in Morocco, and to be learning about their culture from evidently wise Moroccans. Even though I’ll be logging my ruminations, I won’t let this column inhibit my experiences.
I’m excited for what’s to come, and I can’t wait to see what else I ruminate on in the next four months.