Author Archive

The Return

October 5, 2015

“Drifting away..slowly drifting. Drifting away, and it feels like I’m drowning, pulling against the stream. Slowly drifting.”

The song playing in the Seattle café as I sit with Gemma so perfectly describes how I am feeling right now, not being in Morocco. I sit here in this nearly empty café sipping on a café o laite messaging all of my Moroccan friends, Soaud, Yahya, Anas, Oussama, and our group message with everyone in Morocco and our whole group feeling like I’m drifting away from all of them. Drifting away from the life changing and fulfilling experience. Drifting away from Morocco.

Being back in Seattle feels like I’m drowning. Yesterday I was browsing in a shop when my alarm went off on my phone telling me that my time on the parking meter had run out and I immediately started feeling so stressed out and in a panic that I would get a ticket. I felt like I was drowning in the American culture that I left for just long enough to become un-used to these day-to-day experiences. Something that would normally be no big deal instead crippled me with stress. I’m drowning.

I run into a girl I lived with last year while walking across campus. She stops me and hugs me and says, “How was Spain?!” I wonder, once again, why do people only care about Spain? “Spain was great but morocco was way better and I was there for longer.” I reply with just a hint of attitude that she doesn’t know me well enough to pick up. She looks confused and says, “Oh was it just like…more beautiful?” Irrational anger has overtaken me at this point and I want to explain to her that it’s the people, the culture, the religion, the things that challenged me, the things I learned, the things that were hard, and the things that were so so rewarding. That’s why it was better. I don’t travel for the beauty of the place! I have no reply. “Sure, I guess.” I reply and walk away. I’m drowning.

In a dinner conversation in Gwinn with my floor and my brother floor, we sit taking up a whole row of tables discussing in one section, the original fairytales and where they came from. The Little Mermaid and Sleeping Beauty are discussed in completion when someone asks, “What about Aladdin?” I start to feel so excited because I know this one! “It actually comes from Ali Baba and the forty thieves, it’s one of Scherezade’s 1001 stories.” “Oh cool,” a few people respond. Taking this as encouragement I continue, “Yeah Scherezade is actually a really amazing historical figure in the Middle East. She was a strong female political figure and an extremely intelligent woman who saved her kingdo….” I drift off because people are no longer listening. My words have moved away from the connection to the familiar that they have and into the realm of ‘Danielle’s trip” or the teasing hashtag that has been thrown around “#doingitlikedanielle”. It’s meant to be in fun but nonetheless makes me feel even more removed, even more liminal. I’m drowning.

Sitting in a café listening to this song that is so fitting in this moment. I am trying to grab hold of anything that reminds me of this experience that seems a world away, desperately trying to make it feel tangible again. Desperately trying to keep it from becoming dream-like and removed from where I am right now.

I ping from my phone draws my attention away from my writing. “Oussama sent a photo to the group Moroccanspu:” it reads on the screen. I open it to find a group photo of all of us at Riad Hiba where we all got henna and tea together. One of the most memorable days of community, friendship, and crossing that took place with these friends in Morocco. Upon seeing it, tears start to flow. Why is this so hard? I’m drowning.

Visual Reminders

October 5, 2015

We live in a visual world. There is visual stimulation coming at us all the time. Billboards on the street, monitors in the workplace, decorations in the home, and photos shared from travels abroad. I thought a lot about what I would and would not post on social media, how much, and how often. Where is the balance between honoring the experiences and holding them as my own and sharing with my friends and family what I am learning and experiencing. What can they understand? What is better left kept to myself. These are some of the photos that were more deeply personal and decidedly, social media was not the most fitting platform for them to be shared.

IMG_3369We sit in the hospitality of the Imam’s home. Here is where we were challenged and our stereotypes of the “other” were broken down, replaced with an understanding of our brothers and sisters as “people of the book.”

IMG_3350Walking through the souk without our Moroccan friends, I am forced to barter using only my broken Darija. “Bashal Hadi?” I ask. “Hamseen.” The man replies. I know that one, fifty. Fifty dirhams. “Tleteen.” I reply. He looks surprised. He says something that I understand to mean, “did you forget your numbers?!” I giggle. No I didn’t forget my numbers. I did mean thirty. He motions around the rest of the souk and tells me to find any other shop that will offer me a ring this beautiful for less than seventy dirhams. “Moroccan price. For you, for Darija.” Thats when I realize that he has truly given me a fair price for speaking Darija, a task not often overtaken by tourists who have the expectation for Moroccans to speak their language and make things easier for them. “Wakha. Hamseen.” I say. He puts the ring on my finger, and takes my money. “Pslama! Shukran.”

IMG_3218Never have I ever experienced such hospitality as I experienced on the farm. Not knowing ahead of time that we were coming, the family on the farm welcomed us to stay for nearly the entire day. They fed us this breakfast of Milliwi, honey, butter, and olives, everything on the table made from their farm. How can we replicate this hospitality at home?

letusliveThis is my favorite photo taken on the entire trip. It is so simple and yet says so much.  In the United States, we treat Muslims as our most hated minority. Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson made recent comments about how a muslim should never be president. We hold “suspected terrorists” at Guantanamo Bay completely skirting their rights given to them by our legal system, and there are countless stories of discrimination, hatred, and even killings of Muslims after 9/11, an event that forever changed how we see Islamic countries and the Middle East. Yet, when we, christians, go to Morocco, we are welcomed with open arms. We are told by strangers on the street that everyone is welcome in Morocco, “Jews and Christians are our brothers.” Why can’t we life together happy as they do?

These photos are powerful to me. But not on their own without their story. They are representations of my experiences, visual reminders.

I will treasure them forever.

Love me?

October 5, 2015

A stark contrast from the wealth and abundance that we experienced at the farm, we transitioned to a place where children do not have parents in the Meknès orphanage.

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From left to right: Tofaq, myself, Zouir, Samid

It’s nicer than I expect. We walk into a courtyard with trees growing inside and benches placed under their shade. I look above and see the open hallway that leads to the dormitories, which we don’t get the chance to tour through because we are swept up into the mass of children looking for attention.

From the moment I walk in, younger boys ages 9-15 are leading me by the arm, by the hand. Their hands are warm, some hands are covered in cracker crumbs from the snack they just had, and others are clammy and squeeze me tightly. They shake both my hands in introduction and tell me their names with big excited eyes earnestly hoping that I will remember for more than the three seconds after I repeat it back to them and then forget in the chaos of learning twenty names all at once.

“To play?” “Tennis?” “Facebook?” “Photo?” Their words unattached to sentences and yet conveying so much: a need for attention, for love, wanting to do everything possible in the short time we have together. Most importantly, needing confirmation, in the form of my name written on a piece of
paper or a photo of us that they pantomime is intended for keeping in their pocket always with them. Confirmation that they can find me on Facebook. Confirmation that they mean something to me. Confirmation that our time, fleeting as it was, carries memories and the prospect of seeing one another again.

In an unexpected twist, the children at the orphanage made me feel more needed and loved than i have ever felt. A reality that was disorienting when I arrived expecting and hoping that I could give the gift of love to them. The constant touching, hand holding, hugs, even kisses on my cheeks communicated a deep love for me, likely one of the few women older than them, even if only by a little, that they have known in a loving context.

“I love you, I love you, I love you!” Tofaq holds my hands and face in an emotional goodbye that says, “this is so hard for me I will miss you so much.” But a tear-less goodbye that says, “this is not the first time I’ve had to do this.” This realization broke my heart and left pieces of it with those boys at the orphanage, who long for recognition, for attention, for love.

Slurpies and Stereotypes

October 5, 2015

1“A boy threw a slurpie on me when I was in Texas.”

My mouth drops open in shock, “Why?!”

“Because I am from Morocco and I’m Muslim and he told me I was a bad person and he started talking about terrorism.”

“What did you say!”

“I told him I forgave him, and also the slurpie tasted delicious! But the hard part was, I was wearing a white t-shirt and I had to go to class so everyone asked me what happened and people found out what he did and why.”

My friend Souad tells me this story, a significant example of racism and discrimination that she experienced while attending Texas A&E for two years, just one instance that made her feel like she didn’t belong. Her tone of voice is very matter of fact. Her voice doesn’t carry hurt or anger, she just tells the story the way it happened. I wonder how many interactions like this she has had.

We are all familiar with the stereotypes held against Muslims and Islamic countries, especially those in the Middle East. These stereotypes are not only unfair, incomplete, narrow minded and unjust in their mere existence; but they are placed wrongly on the North African country of Morocco as well just because of the appearances of the people and their faith. I have never felt unsafe in Morocco, I have never seen or heard whisperings of terrorism; I have only been welcomed into homes with open arms and kisses on my cheeks, loved, served, cherished and celebrated solely because of my presence in a space.

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From Left to Right: Souad, myself, Molly

The first question I ask is, why? Why would someone do this? I know this girl fairly well after spending six days with her when she shares this story. She has given her time to show us around her city, she has given us the gift of henna- generously paying for ten of us to have our hands ornately decorated with the orange-brown henna mix done by a woman Souad hired herself, and she has invited us into her home on several different occasions. Now, we sit in my hotel room as she tells this story. She is about to take us to the hammam. She is giving her time, yet again, to help us experience Moroccan culture and helping us along the way. How could anyone throw a slurpie on this person?

“The first step toward reconciliation is sitting down, drinking coffee with someone and hearing their story because as soon as you listen to them and know them, you cannot objectify or judge them anymore.” I am struck by the applicability of this quote by my classmate, Hannah, in class. This is how we break down stereotypes.

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Saying Goodbye.

Because I have done this already with Souad, I can’t imagine how someone could judge her so harshly and be so cruel to her. I have to remind myself that they have not had the experience I have had. Like Hannah said, it is impossible to stereotype a person once you have taken the time to get to know them. The boy who threw the slurpie on her did not know her.

My biggest question moving forward is how do I help others, friends at home and family members understand what I have learned in my two weeks in Morocco? How do we break through these stereotypes to find the truth and bring understanding to others who haven’t made this crossing and found the understanding that we have?

She is Gold

September 27, 2015

“If you had gold would you keep it out in the open? No, you would keep it in a safe.”

“God gives a woman a special beauty that she should only share with her family and her husband…Women are very precious and highly respected. Her beauty should be protected like gold.” The Imam, dressed in a long white jellaba and a long grey beard explains to us through our translator, Imane a figure of a strong independent Muslim woman translating the words of the Imam. She also takes the liberty of adding her own answers, claiming the truth of her religion.stock-footage-portrait-of-happy-muslim-girl

He speaks seated on the side of the room, relaxed and leaning against the window. We are seated in the Imam’s house on cream cushions with blue embroidery that wraps around the perimeter of the room creating an open space where everyone faces each other and tables fit in the center of the room, perfect for the tea and cookies that they serve us in abundance. We sit in near silence, taking turns asking questions. I first listen to the Imam, trying to pick out bits of Darija, and then to Imane’s translation, which I write quickly down in my notebook, not wanting to miss a word that this man says. He is like a window into a religion that our American culture is content to keep curtains drawn over. We slap labels on Muslims without thinking twice, questioning where they come from, or examining their validity.

One of these labels is the one of the oppressed woman. Why is she forced to cover herself? Why is her body bad to show? Why is she ashamed? But these are questions asked about Islam through the lens of our own culture; there is a gap here. So I try to listen again.

When we start to understand why a woman chooses to dress modestly and wear a headscarf, we start to see that it is not because of shame, but lovefeminism-muslim-women-oppression-and-feminism-2 for her body. She is beautiful and her beauty is respected and protected from objectification and cheapening we often experience in the west as we undress our women.
As Christians we often hear the message of “cover up,” the reason given is so the boys don’t experience temptation and lust. Girls are taught to be ashamed of their bodies, vessels designed to lead others astray. I think we have it wrong.

What if the west, too, believed that women are to be respected, cherished, and their beauty preserved like precious gold, not like a corrupt object that must be hidden to protect the eyes of others. No, not for others, but for yourself.

Our western minds can nearly not comprehend why a woman would dress a certain way for her own sake. “She’s doing it for attention.” “You’re going out with him? Show a little cleavage, he’ll love it.” “You look nice, who’s coming over?” How a woman looks is assumed to be a result of others. How women dress is Islam is a reclaiming of their bodies, their beauty, and their gold. Not for others, for themselves.

Our Women

September 12, 2015

“Talk to the hand!” Exclaims our Moroccan guide Mouhsin, he jokes with us, his little sisters, holding up his hand in mock annoyance.

hamsa-hand-of-fatimaMirroring his, a solid gold hand covered in intricate henna-like designs, a meaningful symbol for the family living inside. Bearing the evil eye, this symbol protects the home from jealousy and greed of others, warding off the devil as if to say, “talk to the hand.”

The hand of Fatima is a powerful symbol in Muslim and Moroccan culture. It is a symbol worn around the neck or as earrings, also used as a doorknocker or on a plaque in a doorway of a home. necklace hamsaThe hand of Fatima is symbolic of the formidable woman that it belongs to. Fatima was the youngest of the prophet Mohammed’s daughters—one of his only surviving children. Anyone wearing her hand can be assured protection from the devil be it a house or a person. It’s meaning is rooted in protection.We also noticed this symbol in Catholic Spain, as well as in the Jewish quarters of cities in both Spain and Morocco coming to learn that this symbol has transnational significance and means something to the three major religions: Islam, Jew, and Christian.

In Jewish belief, it is the hand of Miriam, Moses’ sister and the leader of Hebrew women during the exodus, who protected him and watched over him as he floated down a river to a new destiny; she is responsible for keeping her brother alive and watching over him as a servant in the palace as he grew up to become one of the most influential leaders in Jewish history. Miriam’s hand—a symbol of protection.

In Catholic belief, it is the hand of Mary, mother of Jesus, a maternal guardian and nurturing figure, also IMG_3062a symbol of protection. Mary is the epitome of a mother who looks after her children, and as the closest human to Jesus, she is revered and seen as holy. All three religions possess a symbol that transcends cultures and religions to have similar significance. It is a symbol that unifies the three religions and is a testament to their shared roots and common values. The hand of Fatima, Miriam, Mary, also shows the true beauty and strength of our religion’s historical, valuable, and influential women. It is a symbol of women’s strength and feminine protection.  We are all pople of the book, Abrahamic religions, with so much shared history that, of course, it makes sense that there is an image that holds significance for each religion. Fatima, Miriam, and Mary: our protectors. No matter what nationality or belief, we can all claim ‘the hand’ as a meaningful emblem of our powerful women.

Western and Eastern Harems

September 1, 2015

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“In both miniatures and literature, Muslim men represent women as active participants, while Westerners such as Matisse, Ingres, and Picasso show them as nude and passive.” This is one of Fatema Mernissi’s earliest discoveries as she travels through Europe and America looking for the answers to her questions about men’s fantasies of what a women should be. As a woman who grew up in a harem and experiencing firsthand its restrictive nature, it seems the most obvious metaphor to describe the enslavement that women face in conforming to the standards set for them by men.

In the Muslim world, men control women by limiting the space they inhabit. 07_10_2006_1842 Forced veiling in public places and the restriction of many professions are some ways that women are kept ‘in their place.’ In the “western harem” however, Mernissi discovers that the restrictions put on women are constraints of time and light. Youth is framed as beauty and maturity is condemned which pressures women to look younger and almost childlike. The metaphor of the harem, though, is not only used to describe the suppressing standards for women, but also the sexual fantasies of men.

As Mernissi was traveling on a book tour, she was bewildered to see men’s eyes light up when she mentioned growing up in a harem. To western men, a harem represents the ideal sexual environment. To Merissi, it represents a reality of imprisonment in an establishment where a multitude of women are prevented from leaving. As she dug deeper into men’s sparked interest in harem life she made discoveries about the fantasies of men, which have nothing in common with the reality of the haram she knows.

Through observing art and culture, Mernissi made a startling discovery, which clarified the reason for western men’s fascination with the eastern harem. It is a place that, to them, represents the epitome of erotic pleasure, a place where women are readily available without the obligation of intellectual or emotional communication first. She explains that what attracts western men to women, at least on the level of fantasy, is the absence of intellectual exchange, which is seen as an obstacle to erotic pleasure. Conversely, eastern men fantasized about women, such as the legendary storyteller Scherezade, who are talented and intelligent. Intellectual exchange with a woman is crucial for an eastern man and according to Mernissi, this is true for both real and imagined Muslim harems.

Beyond the observations from interactions with men, Mernissi also spent time looking into Muslim and Western art and how they portray women. One interesting discovery was a painting called Odalisque with Red Trousers by Matisse. Henri Matisse - Odalisque with Red TrousersWhat Mernissi noticed about this painting was that the date, 1921. The painting portrayed a Turkish Odalisque (haram slave girl) but the painting was finished in a time when Turkish women were entering politics and professions. Mernissi was dumbfounded that an image created by Matisse could keep Turkish women in slavery instead of displaying the reality. She wondered, “Could it really be that an image has more power than reality?…Is reality that fragile? This idea of the image as a weapon that condenses time and devalues reality made me very uncomfortable.”

Time, space, and art are all ways that men exercise control over women and enforce their dominion over them. Western women are pressured to manipulate time to appear younger, reminiscent of a child with child-like intellect and naiveté. Eastern women are manipulated through the restriction of space, both literal public spaces and professional spaces. And artists like Matisse demonstrate the power of an image to demote women to an object of fantasy removed from the existence of her increasingly politically involved reality. Though real harems have been obsolete for years, they are very much alive and well in their metaphorical understanding of men’s controlling fantasies of the ideal, well behaved, sexy woman in both the East and the West.

The Stubborn Voice

August 10, 2015

{The stubborn voice – the one that blogs.  –Riverbend, Baghdad Burning, 2005}content

“A newsflash shows a woman, beaten by police during mass protests, then the image fades out, leaving us with scenes of violence, gender, and democratic transition. But are we missing pieces?” Yes.

Performing Democracy explores the way mainstream media leaves out important pieces of the story and digs into alternative storytelling methods to find a diversity of stubborn voices. What we are missing from this newsflash is the woman’s story.  Why is she there?  What injustices have personally impacted her and driven her to join protests?  To me, she is the stubborn voice brought to life in a desperate attempt to make that voice heard.

Performing Democracy claims that any form of protest whether blogging, participating in mass street protests, or posting a photo online wrapped in your country’s flag, is automatically a political voicing of past injustice…the stub201132711325731738_20born voice brought to life.  The way I see it, blogger Riverbend and the beaten woman participating in protests are not so different.  They both use forms of protest to communicate their hope or demand for something better than what they’ve experienced. Better than what they know.

What I find so valuable about this book and the case studies presenting new stories and perspectives is that we are slowly reshaping our view of the world, of the Middle East, and of politics and protest.

Listening to more voices allows us to break down the single story presented in the media and to truly understand the trauma, loss, and resistance of people who desperately want more. Not violent, hate-filled people but desperate hope-filled people using their stubborn voice and saying “enough.”

Changing the Conversation: Veiling

May 28, 2015

“It makes me sad that they feel like they have to cover up like that…”

my mom says to me as we take a cdbc970ba3351aad8c2c98a1bd1c1345stroll around an outdoor mall near my house. We had encountered two veiled, Muslim women who were having ice cream together on a bench. After getting over my initial annoyance at her false impressions, I was excited by my mother’s comment and the opportunity to have a conversation about the many misconceptions we western women hold of veiled women from Islamic backgrounds. The truth is, many of us have had this thought.

Most important to understand is, veiling is a choice. It is not sad because they feel like they have to. Quite the opposite. For many women, veiling is a way in which they can express their feminism and independence. This is a stark contrast from our stereotypes of women in Middle Eastern countries being forced by their husbands or their male dominant societies to cover themselves up. In a novel I read in preparation for our trip to Morocco, there was a story of a teenage girl from a wealthy home in morocco who made the decision to veil. Her father was furious that she was ‘covering up her beauty’ and held his own stereotype about the types of people who veiled being beneath him in status and wealth. The young woman in the story decided to veil, against her father’s wishes, as an expression of her own independence, feminism, and religion. This choice was not made for her.

Something that I have found very interesting to ponder is: what do these women think of us? What do Islamic women think of American women and their constant striving to be thin, pretty, well dressed…all for the approval of others, especially men. Maybe, in reality, we are the ones that are looked upon with the thought “that’s so sad that they feel like they are never good enough, striving for perfection.”

Something that I have found very interesting to ponder is: what do these women think of us? What do Islamic women think of American women and their constant striving to be thin, pretty, well dressed…all for the approval of others, especially men. Maybe, in reality, we are the ones that are looked upon with the thought “that’s so sad that they feel like they are never good enough, striving for perfection.”