Archive for September, 2012

Crossing Oceans and Boundaries

September 30, 2012

Within Morocco there exist extremities of poverty, political unrest, and societal uncertainty, but there is also the unseen oppression of stereotyping. The Western world has been lulled into a false sense of supremacy, perceiving the cultural ambiguities of Muslim culture with near condescention. Transnationally, it is difficult to navigate these uncharted waters as a Westerner because of a preexisting assumptions concerning Islam. Stereotypes such as the oppression of women, the lack of democracy, and terrorism among others can cause cultural gaps to widen when they go unexplored. As an American student in Morocco, studying literature refuting Islamic stereotypes has been the compass that has allowed me to find my way around the negativity widely published in the West.

Mernissi has opened my eyes to the issue of the “male gaze” while my experience among Moroccan students has tested my Western bias. Our Western harem, though not entirely apparent to us, is our enslavement to body image and attempting to fit in. Many fail to conceptualize the shift in reality when it comes to public image, but how is it that the Muslim tradition of the hamam, or public bath, becomes difficult to embrace? Mernissi argues that our full potential is inhibited by our self-conscious nature, a common-place occurrence in the Western world. On the other hand, Lalami challenges our stereotypes of Muslim culture by cultivating characters that possess the depth that many in Western society lack. As a part of a selfish culture, the West places itself on a pedestal above all others. Through my experiences in Morocco, I have been able to see that the West endows itself with the ability to subjugate an entire culture, creating assumptions based on falsely relayed information.

Likewise, injustice is present in each and every society. Just because the actions of few extremists are the focus of international news reports does not give the West the right to encompass the entire Muslim community as offenders. Discussions with a group of students concerning stereotyping lead me to probe further the crime of stereotyping. If the Muslim world is one of terrorism and oppression, than isn’t America a nation of 500 pound citizens who lazily wonder about with lose morals? To discount the essence of Muslim culture that was founded in community, equality, and dignity for all, is to defame it’s people and the goodness that they have cultivated. Similarly, we believe that the issues that develop between our cultures is solely based in the conflict between religion. Never has a stereotype been demolished so violently as when an Imam treated our group with utmost respect and reverence. There is redemption in the leap of faith that accompanies serving the people who are apart of a society that partakes in the injustice of wrongful accusations.

My transnational journey isn’t only a physical expedition into a foreign land, but also one into discovery that has allowed me to question the workings of the society that I am apart of. The Atlantic ocean seems like an extremely large distance between two countries, but the gap that exists between two cultures is much more vast. Reflecting upon my experience, I am confident that I can claim myself as a success story of this transnational journey. I have crossed the oceans and boundaries, returning with an understanding that I will carry both emotionally and spiritually for the rest of my life. I only hope that now, I am challenged within this Western society to separate myself from the stereotyping majority and apply my life-changing journey into a transformative personal narrative.

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The Men and Women in the Market: Flexible Versus Stern

September 30, 2012

No market experience can compare to the one that took place in Marrakech. At night, the market place filled me with a mix of excitement, fear, and curiosity. Within the first few minutes of being there, I saw snake charmers, heard men calling my group of friends “the Spice Girls,” and smelled scents that I hope to never encounter again. I started to psych myself out, wondering if I would be able to get past the anxiety that was keeping me from bartering. After seeing the most beautiful ceramic plates and jewelry I had ever seen, I realized that my fear of the chaos could not overpower my love for turquoise and silver.

While participating in my first bartering experience, I learned what my key was to the “game”: walking away. Men would much rather make a smaller profit than nothing at all, so after being denied of my final offer, I’d start to leave. Almost immediately, they’d agree to my price. With every man that I purchased from, I got my way. I admit- I got a little bit cocky with my newfound talent. I even started offering a third of the asking price, which made me feel like I was ripping off the business owners. But at the same time, when would I ever be able to do this again?

I only encountered one woman while in this market. She approached my group with an album of henna designs and a voice that oozed of confidence. She spoke better English than any man that I bartered with and she knew exactly how to get her way through her words. She refused to do my selected design for less than 150 dirhams, even after physically seeing that I only had 100 Dh left for that night. I thought we had made an agreement on the price when she grabbed my right arm and quickly started painting flowers on my skin with thick, black ink. When she was finished, she demanded 150 Dh and nothing less. I was surprised only due to the fact that I hadn’t gotten my way on this sale. I borrowed 50 Dh from my roommate and handed the woman the money that she had asked for. Instead of being upset, I saw that she was a feisty businesswoman who knew that her work was worth more than my offer. She was a determined, outspoken Muslim woman, and I respected that.

My pictures

September 30, 2012

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The Splinter in Our Neighbor’s Eye and the Log in Our Own

September 30, 2012

Journal Entry 5: September 8th.

Morocco is full of challenges. Where ever I turn, there is a sight, sound or sensual experience that causes my mind to flood with curiosity and discovery. Thus far, the call to prayer that is heard five times daily has been the most existential moment of my visit. What is it like to live in a place where your faith is so engrained in your culture that the streets echo with proclamations that “Allah is God”. It is such a surreal moment realizing that here I am, an American Christian from Seattle, Washington, becoming the one that is perceived as out of place. Strangely, I feel as if my cultural boundaries and stereotypes are not only falling, but being destroyed. As we walk through the city of Meknes, we are greeted with “hello”, “welcome”, and the occasional “howdy”. It is so different when you can smile at a passerby and receive a response in a country that many think of as hostel. When I told some family members that I would be traveling to Morocco they claimed that they were concerned for my safety. “Isn’t that a dangerous place?” they would ask me. Within the few days that I have been in this Muslim country, no stereotype that I have been fed has been confirmed. It is true that men dominate the public scene yet there is no stretch of street that the most diverse collection of women cannot be seen. Either in Western style or full jellaba and scarves, the women who are stereotypically absent are no less than powerfully present.

I would say that I am out of place  in this Islamic culture, but when I share in a greeting and see the relationships between the Moroccan people, new perceptions are developing in my mind. The moving moments come when you can look into the eyes of a veiled woman and realize that there is so much complexity hidden under her physical appearance. Witnessing people walking with a hand on the other’s arm as if to say, “I am invested in your company” is such a refreshing sight. This is a new frontier in both my educational and emotional journey. I see how the realm of relationship is extended beyond what I have ever seen in the West. Essentially, theres is so much more to a human being than understanding on a communicative level. I feel as if in these few days, I have connected deeply with this culture by simply witnessing and becoming immersed within it.

It is a difficult task to attempt to explain the feelings that are constantly evoked when I witness the realities of this beautiful culture. As I have written in the front of my journal, “Half the fun of travel is the esthetic of lostness”. At this point, I would add to this thought by saying that discovery comes only when you lose not only yourself, but your presumptions and attempt to rediscover your mental, emotional, and spiritual equilibrium. Exploring a foreign culture is also about exploring yourself through personal and comparative analysis. Mernissi makes the point within Scheherazade Goes West that the challenge of crossing boundaries allows one to discover more about yourself through others. This ultimate goal is what we must strive for. When I return to America, how am I to aptly describe my challenging experience to those who have not experienced the conflict between stereotype and reality? I am still learning how to process everything that is happening around me, but I  have observed the reality of Islamic culture that opposes much of what I have been fed in the Western world.  I have realized that we have become blind to our own lives, enslaved by our own culture in viewing the Islamic world as beneath us. It the the splinter in our neighbor’s eye versus the log in our own.

My Journey in Pictures

September 30, 2012

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Journal Entry 2: The dance

September 30, 2012

As soon as I heard the words “gypsy cave”, I was sold. As we walked along the edge of Albazyin, next to the moat outside the Alhambra, and up the hill toward the restaurant built into an old cave where we would watch flamenco dancers, I became even more excited. The night was cool, and just as my legs began to give out from walking uphill, we arrived.

Three women walked out to dance, each clearly from a different generation. They were soon followed by a man who would sing vocals, and another man who would play cajon and occasionally dance. When they started, all the pictures in the cave stopped. Their dance was an elegant blend of structure and spontaneity, of a clear form and a clear passion. I was transfixed.

The three dancers were all part of the same family; one was the grandma, the other the mother, and the last the daughter. Each clearly danced flamenco, but each had clearly applied the dance in a new way that fit the time in which they grew up in, and the age they were when dancing. I can barely explain this variety within structure. It was beautiful.

Near the end of their dance, they began to pick people from the audience to dance with them. The oldest dancer caught eye contact with me, and instantly I knew I was doomed. She motioned me forward, and me knees locked.

As I walked up, I became scared to take part in something so intricate and so foreign to me. I was worried I would somehow offend their honor for the dance that had been preserved through generations of their family. But soon I realized that the invitation was sincere. The woman showed me the dance moves, and laughed at me when I couldn’t quite get them right the first time. There was a desire for me to learn in this interaction, and there was grace for all that I clearly didn’t know.

This became true of my time in Spain and Morocco. It’s terrifying to encounter something so foundationally different from your own culture. But it also can bring tons of life. As I began encountering these cultures with more openness and respect, I found that there were people all around me willing to help me along in my journey, and willing to laugh with me when I didn’t know what to do next. All I needed was the guts to step onto the stage.

Amrani

September 30, 2012

Passion

Your dreams once burned

At the tip of your fingers

Like the end of the tobacco and wrapping

that waits between your fingers.

You inhaled democracy,

Freedom,

Family,

Speech.

And exhaled injustice,

Favoritism,

Elitism,

And restriction.

 

But the fire is getting closer to your fingers,

And the burn may begin to cost you something.

You chose to inhale too long,

And the buzz made you lose your mind’s clarity.

Affairs,

Wealth,

Prestige.

But where was that original spark?

 

You turn away your son back into the lonely night,

And you wonder what is next.

Will you pick up your pack

And light another,

Or will you merely leave this to

Smolder in the gutter?

Gender

September 30, 2012

I couldn’t read the Arabic signs that protesters held outside the old-town market in Marrakech, but the protest still said something powerful to me. About 9 people gathered around a sign outside the market, standing up or standing against something. The leader was clear: a woman wearing a traditional outfit with a headscarf, passionately pleading with the people passing by through her megaphone.

Two images intersected that I don’t usually associate with each other: the veil and the megaphone. It’s easy to assume that the two are contradictory, that to wear a headscarf is a sign of female repression. It becomes the symbol that a woman has relinquished all her rights to stand up and be heard.

From what we’ve learned in Morocco, however, it seems that this sometimes the opposite. When worn by choice, the head scarf becomes a symbol of faith, of the choice to attach oneself to something greater. It’s choosing to have more regard for the eyes of God than the eyes of people. It’s choosing to stand up for something.

This is by no means always how the head scarf is worn. But it is a way that it can be worn. This woman clearly had strongly held values tied to her faith and upbringing. Rather than abandoning those in favor of freedom, she finds freedom through attaching herself to her culture so she can critique it. For her, the head scarf is empowering.

Globalization

September 30, 2012

After getting off the ferry that took us from Ceuta, Spain to Tangier, Morocco, my legs felt like rubber. I hoped on land I’d be able to find some grounding, but that was more difficult than I expected. I found it difficult to know exactly where I was in Tangier.

At dinner I had a Middle Eastern meat sandwich called Schawarma and a Spanish soda called Poms, while my friend next to me had a Moroccan tangine and an American coke. The market sellers on the sides of the road urged me to by a traditional North African jellaba, Dolce and Gabanna knock-offs, headscarves, and Coach pursues. Our tour guide spoke fluent Arabic, French, and English. He wore a traditional Fez hat, a jellaba, flip flops, and Luis Vuitton sunglasses. The architecture surrounding us was Portugese, Spanish, French, and traditional Moroccan. Just when I got a grip on the cultures represented, a remnant from another end of the world seemed to present itself.

Globalization often gets a bad reputation in America, and many times this is because of problems it causes. As I looked specifically at the architecture surrounding me from several countries and several centuries, I began to see that globalization is by no means a 21st-century invention. Cultures have been intersecting and sharing for years. As a traveler, my question became how to deal with this globalization.

I could stay completely immersed in my culture, eating only at Mcdonalds and taking advantage of the opportunity to buy cheap knock-offs of expensive brands. Or I could use these objects from my culture to give me a sense of grounding in my identity, which would act as a base from which I could plunge into the new way of life around me, exploring, eating, and asking questions to learn. Globalization can separate us, but it can also become a beautiful conversation.

 

Reconciliation

September 30, 2012

Something my professor has said several times on this trip resonates with me: “How can you love your neighbor if you don’t take time to her their story?” This question echoed in my mind as I walked through the Granada Cathedral.

When I look back at my pictures of the Cathedral, I sit in awe of its epic arches, intricate paintings, and vast sanctuary, but when I remember walking through the cathedral, I tense up and wonder what I could’ve eaten that that would upset my stomach. Looking at the pictures, I focus primarily on the cathedral’s beauty. Walking through the cathedral, I focus primarily on its history.

After Queen Isabella led the Christian empire in overtaking Moorish control of Southern Spain, she ordered the mosque in the center of Granada torn down and replaced with a cathedral. The walls are full of paintings of Christian saints whose ghosts supposedly joined the Spanish army in defeating the Moors. The Spanish had no regard for the Moorish story. All they thought of was slaughter and gaining land.

Outside the Cathedral, however, there is one part of the old mosque that remains: a well. I don’t know why the Spanish allowed this well to remain, but I do know why the well is significant to me. The well is a central place of reconciliation in Jesus’ life. It’s there that he sits down with a woman from a different culture, a different gender, and a  different moral code(John writes about it in the 4th chapter of His gospel). Jesus values the woman enough to know her story, and He uses that knowledge to point her toward a water that satisfies. He acknowledges their differences, but also acknowledges that each of their identity is tied to being a loved child of God, and because of this, He is able to point her to truth.

Today, as we engage with a changing world, we have to decide which way to walk down: the conquest or the well.