Archive for the ‘Gender/Market’ Category

A New Understanding

October 1, 2013

The way that I was treated in Morocco was much different from the way I am treated at home. My home and morocco have two very different mind sets. Not to say one is correct and one is not. Not to say I particularly liked one more than the other. But when able to understand that cultures effect everything up to how you treat the person next to you, you start to understand and lean into trying to watch for certain differences. The way that a man treated me in Morocco was much different than the way a man treated me in Washington, even up to the point of having a presence next to me, I could feel the difference very strongly. For me, while in Morocco there was a sense of automatic respect. I felt very welcomed and loved throughout the whole trip but especially when I was around the twenty year old hip hop dancers, who had an intent desire to guide and protect us. We had people that were looking out for us and it was one of the greatest blessings we could have had. But what was even better about this is that we were given an opportunity to learn more. To be able to dive into the culture more fully and let ourselves fall a bit more in love with Morocco than we already were. And in doing this I experienced some differences that I did not know even existed. Every time a man would approach me and actually talk to me, they were intentional, and present. There were no hesitations in complimenting on beauty or admiring ones laugh. It was quite refreshing to see a different approach, and I have to say it was one I enjoyed. Although it may have been harder to communicate, a different connection was forced to be created and it was somehow deeper. There was an understanding that was in-between every relationship, no matter the sex. I felt wanted while I was in Morocco, felt like I had a purpose, and a purpose with power. This is something that cannot be experienced until one visits this magical place, and I advise you to do so, because it will change you and your perspectives forever.

Advertisements

Markets

October 1, 2013

As the blazing African sun begins to set and a whole new world comes alive within the market place. Merchants are popping up all over the street, snake charmers are luring in the tourists, and monkeys climb amongst their owners waiting to be held for a few dirhams. Approaching into the medina the smell of spices overwhelms your nose and the colors capture your eyes as you accidently run into the other interested buyers. The yelling of the merchants and the catcalls from the foolish young men enlighten you. Everyone around you is a different page in this novel you are living in. The woman covered by the hijab versus the woman in the tank top captures your gaze. My understanding of the people around me was such a mystery but the only non-mystery was the one woman who looked the most mysterious of them all; the woman that sold me my dried apricots.

Entering into your first store is the beginning of a new relationship, the man or woman depending on the store greets you with a warm smile accompanied with broken English ready to serve you in order to potentially make a sale and make you “happy”. The woman that sold me the dates was different. She was completely covered; hands and everything selling dried fruits, seeds, and nuts. She seemed to be an older woman by the slouch of her shoulders and graceful leisurely walk. I gestured to what I wanted and she wrote down the price for me to pay. This specific page was no mystery I needed to unfold because of her attire I knew the exact woman she was. This elderly woman was a religiously dedicated woman that showed her love for God through her clothing she wore. She was a kind normal woman that was gracefully selling her goods in the market in exchange for dirhams.

The next chapter I opened was with a carpet merchant. Walking into his cave of colors and lights my eyes glistened. The merchant was a middle age man ready to make a sale. We looked at carpet after carpet and I personally loved them all but I had no intention to buy. He finally pulled a carpet my wallet could not resist and I began to barter while seeming uninterested when really it was as if I had ants in my pants and I wanted to jump around. This carpet was perfect but I had to keep my cool. I told the man I saw one just like it for cheaper at another place, I didn’t have enough money, and that it had multiple tears and rips in it. It became a game. This was a page I could not turn. Debating price after price we came to an agreement. This relationship became an agreement and I promised to bring him back more customers. As this relationship came to an end the friendship began as two of my friends purchased carpets from him. Before we left I made sure to say good-bye to my new friend. Walking back into the carpet shop I let him know I am leaving, leaving town and wanted to say good-bye. Being from the states I assumed he would just say good-bye and thank me for my purchase but instead he did the unexpected; he invited me to stay at his house when I return to Morocco. At this moment I felt the love from Morocco, the Moroccan people truly do care about one another in a deeper more loving way. The markets left my hands full, my eyes exhausted, and heart heavy for the people of Morocco I was in love with the culture around me.

Breaking down barriers

September 1, 2013

After finishing the book Scheherazade Goes West by Fatema Mernissi, I was left perplexed. Not only had my outlook on Western Culture changed, but my thoughts about the gender roles in society were skewed as well. By reading this book I realized that I have been kept hidden from reality and have been blinded by superficial materialism ever since I can remember. Fatema tells stories that have been passed down from her grandmother and displays a different world, one that we seem to have been concealed from, and by doing this breaks down barriers which separate the West from the East.

(more…)

henna

October 1, 2012

As I walked through the medina in Marrakech, I wondered if I would still have time to get henna while in Morocco. It was our third hour in the medina and we were all feeling tired and ready to head back to the hotel. As we made the our way down the windy alleys, a woman was sitting on a step holding a photo album. She immediately spotted us and starting saying Henna! You girls want henna? Come! Only 5 dirham! Come! We hesitated for only a moment, causing her to jump up and grab our arms. Henna, yes! Come! And before we knew it, we were being dragged through entirely new alleyways out into an open square. We followed the woman to a little setup where there were two other women sitting under an umbrella, both with stained hands and furrowed brows. The henna campsite was right in the middle of other vendors trying to sell us Fes hats or jewelry. We sat down among the women and began bargaining for our henna. The woman who picked us out in the alley before was a ruthless bargain queen. She was lively and animated, waving her hands around and scrunching her face whenever I offered a price much lower than she had hoped for. The other women near us simply watched and laughed whenever I got an Arabic word wrong. There was a group of men sitting by a pile of bikes a few yards away that I had failed to notice earlier. When I made my final offer of 200 dirham-turns out she had lied about the 5 dirham henna-something happened that was unexpected. The fierce woman in the market had to consult with one of the men sitting by the bikes. He gave her the ok with the price and told her she could proceed with the henna. After we had settled on a price, one of the quiet women started on my henna design, which was stunning.

As I sat there I looked around more carefully at the scene. The woman in the market; the independent, vocal, passionate woman I had been excited to see suddenly stomped on my daydream. While she was still impressive and respectable, she was present in a different way than the men. She was the face of the henna sales, but ultimately not the final say. I can’t help but see the parallelism between my interaction with the woman in the market and a “traditional” Christian home. In so many homes that I have known in the Christian community, the face of the family, the one person who holds it all together, is the woman. Without her, life as the household knows it would crumble. What would the family eat for dinner? Who would drive the kids to soccer practice? But in reality the man has the final say in the house and is the head of authority.

Why is it that  women are in fewer authoritative roles throughout the world? But more importantly, why is this fact hidden? Seeing this woman in the market and watching her interact with the head of their group made me think about this larger question.

“Welcome to My Shop”

October 1, 2012

Ah the market… When I imagined going to Morocco, I envisioned a labyrinth of small alleyways and countless stalls filled to the brim with souvenirs of all shapes and sizes. Yes, of course, Morocco was full of all this and more, but little was I anticipating the actual conversation and interactions between myself and the shop-keepers. Quickly following my first experience in the medina of Meknes, the market experience became my favorite destination.

There is something both terrifying and magical about getting lost in the market, navigating shops lined with silken scarves and tables lined with leather shoes. Walking amongst the locals who barter for their daily provisions and listening to cryptic conversations in Arabic is unlike any sense-filled experience. Thousands of smells accost your nostrils as you sidestep cow heads and hanging intestines with their consequential puddles. Then through the fragrant spice market where red and yellow powdered mounds tower over the walkway, you would transverse the complex grid system. “Theres a cat” soon became the phrase of choice for my peers and I as mangy felines both timid and bold meandered through the alleyways with a better sense of direction than us bunch of Americans. Once I set my sights upon that golden trinket of my dreams, the game was on and the experience richened. My first buying experience was entirely in French, or broken French on my part, as I attempted to purchase a pair of grey slippers. For the most part, I was thankful to discover that many shop-keepers spoke some english. Yet, none the less I would inquire, “combien?…combien?” to each sales person and with a quick “shukran”, I would depart again.

The interactions I cherished most were those where I could connect with the seller through bartering. The old weathered men like Idriss in the Fes tannery who repeated, “what is your final offer?” and the man in Marrakech who kept slapping the leather bag to somehow prove it’s unique craftsmanship and stability. Within the grandiose market, it is somewhat easy to become upset when you purchase a trinket for 200D only to discover that it’s real worth lies at a lower 100. Whether it was a man or woman who gives you a price above your estimated range, the thrill of the bargain is enough to develop a fun relationship with this “trickster” figure. An affection is kindled in these interactions, which heightened my love for the Moroccan medina with it’s shoulder-to-shoulder passageways and playful atmosphere. While I was primarily only consumed in the acquisition of goods, there was born within me an endearing feeling towards the crowded, smelly, adventure-filled marketplace. I will never forget Morocco for providing the unique market experience that was beyond my wildest imagination in both the vast amount of goods it boasted and the people that I encountered and grew so fond of. Is this not apart of crossing boundaries and bridging the cultural gap?

 

A Quiet Presence

September 29, 2012

Walking through the market in Marrakech can be overwhelming. The smells of fresh leather (much different than when you walk into Wilson’s Leather in the US), cats running around and vendors calling you into their shops and asking if you want bags, shoes or a pretty necklace for a “romantic price”. At one point I am waiting for one of my friends to buy a leather wallet and am looking at the rest of the leather goods on the table. I get to the end of the table and look down, there is an elderly woman sitting on the ground selling beautifully embroidered napkins. I greet her with “salaam” she smiles up at me and replies with a “salaam alaikum”. She gestures at the napkins asking if I am interested in buying them. Unfortunately, I don’t really need napkins so I regretfully shake my head. Our interaction isn’t long and I don’t even know anything about her, but I will remember the smile and welcome she gave me in a crowded, overwhelming atmosphere.

Walking around the markets I didn’t notice the women sellers at first, you almost have to be looking for them. They were not normally the people coming up and trying to sell you their goods or welcoming you to Morocco. The ones I noticed were usually sitting quietly  on the ground waiting to be interacted with rather than ushering you to their goods. It is true that they have come a long way from when not so long ago there weren’t any women selling in the market. They are present, but their presence is different than the men’s.

The Henna Lady

September 24, 2012

I love doing cliché, touristy things (to an extent) while I am abroad. So of course, I had to get henna in Morocco. The suk (market) in Marrakech was packed with women sitting outside with photo albums filled with pictures of their art. They would come right up to us to show us their work, and in some cases they would grab your hand and start henna-ing it without permission.

On our last day in Marrakech, Dominique and I finally gave in and followed a persistent woman to her henna stand. There were two other old women already there waiting. Two of the women were very nosy, peeking into our wallets and asking for more money when they saw extra Dirham. But the woman I was with, Mina, was very kind. She was veiled, head to toe, save for her eyes.  As she prepared her ink, she asked me, “are you Muslim?” I replied, “no,” and a smile creeped onto her face, which I could see under her sheer veil. She asked me if I liked Morocco (thank goodness she spoke English) and if I was a student. As she swirled the design onto my arm, she asked me where I was from and how long I’d be staying in Morocco. Mina didn’t ask me for more money, or call me a “Greedy American.” Our meeting was short, but she made me feel so cared for; a nice change to some other experiences in the market that day. She was also a beautiful contrast of her two pushy colleagues, so in that one instance I was able to see multiple personalities of women in the market.

When it was time to go, I grabbed Mina’s hand, looked her in the eyes and said,  “I’ll see you again, Mina, Enshallah.”

“Enshallah,” she replied, squeezing my hand.

My henna, five days later, in the SPU library. Thanks, Mina!

Meryam and Meryam

September 24, 2012

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.