Meryam and Meryam

by

At the university of Moulay Ismail Humanities Branch four Americans and two Moroccans sit at a small cafe table sipping mint tea. Both Moroccans are girls, one eighteen years of age and the other sixteen. They share three things in common: they grew up in Morocco, they want to live in America, and both their names are Meryam. Besides those three things they couldn’t be more different. Eighteen-year-old Meryam is dressed like an H&M model, with a tan fashion sweater, black skinny jeans, and heels. Her hair is done up in a trendy bun, there is metal on her ears, and black mascara covers her lashes. Her bangles jingle when she flips out her phone and begins texting, and after leaving the table for a few moments returns with a puff of smoke on her breath. “I party a lot,” she says smiling, going on to explain how the techno music in Istanbul clubs was so good even when she was really drunk. She doesn’t live with her parents anymore, supports herself, travels, doesn’t care for the Hijab or the call to prayer, and hates school. She does love swimming though, and big cities like Casablanca for the shopping and clubs. Two men come over to the table nearest ours and she leaves to go talk to them (I think one may have been her boyfriend). Meryam, the sixteen-year-old, is already studying economics at the university. She hopes to continue her studies later on in America, and is very driven towards her goals. She lives at home with her parents and brother. She chose to wear the Hijab when she was ten as a sign of her own personal religious faith. Her Hijab is black and white and blue floral pattern. Her face is clean of makeup, but she has a bright smile and kind eyes that show her inner beauty. She participates in religious activities (such as Ramadan and call to prayer), she does archery, and she only brought her phone out at the end when we swapped facebook and numbers. Eighteen-year-old Meryam invited us to a party. Sixteen-year-old Meryam invited us to her house for a traditional Moroccan dinner.

This experience gave me a broader view of women in Islamic cultures, to see that they aren’t like the fixed stereotype the West has placed on Muslim women: they are passive and oppressed by the veil. Neither girl I met was passive or oppressed.

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