“I want to go to Morocco, but I don’t know if I’d go alone,” said the Australian woman. I sat behind the reception desk of the hostel I worked at, observing the conversation between the two Australian guests. “As a woman?” the other guest asked. “No, definitely don’t go alone.”
I looked at the date on the computer screen—less than two weeks until I would board my one-way flight to Morocco, where I had accepted a job as an English teacher. Although I would meet fellow teachers and my director upon my arrival, I would, in a sense, be going alone.
Once I began to share the news about my job with people in the States, the reactions came abruptly. “Morocco is one of the safer places you could go,” they told me, in Africa the unspoken words at the end of their sentence. Or, “Africa is dangerous,” they said, with the air only someone who has never stepped foot in Africa can have. They asked if I would have access to water, if I would find somewhere safe to live. Although often spoken with curiosity, these reactions differed greatly from those I received when leaving the country on other occasions—studying abroad in France, hiking in Peru, working in Poland. Before those trips, people simply congratulated me on the adventure I would have and told me to send pictures.
Fear of the unknown often arises, yet we can combat it by learning, interacting, and engaging with that which we do not know. Here are my attempts to do so through my position as an American living in Morocco.
Morocco exists in a unique position in the world, both geographically and culturally. It sits at the tip of northern Africa, the port of Tangier only a short ferry ride away from Spain. Yet despite its location as a bridge between Africa and Europe, Morocco tends to identify as Arab rather than African. The Middle East and North Africa are often grouped together as the MENA region, separate from sub-saharan and southern Africa. Morocco’s spoken languages include Moroccan Arabic (darija), Tamazight, Tashelhiyt, Tarifit, Classical Arabic, French, English, and Spanish. These various cultural influences, extensive history, and linguistic diversity create a country unlike any other.
Breaking Down Assumptions
The assumptions many Westerners have about both Morocco and Africa stem from the singular narrative that groups in power tend to apply to marginalized groups, such as using a conflict in one African country to generalize all fifty-four. These assumptions placed on many black and brown countries are not recent; instead, they originate from centuries-old stories of white conquerers who described African countries as “savage” and “barbaric”. The modern-day continuation of those narratives plays out in the form of labeling Arab and African countries as being underdeveloped and/or dangerous, a generalization that especially affects Morocco due to its position within those worlds.
While talking about my job in Morocco, my explanation that I signed a year-long contract, complete with a salary and insurance, often leads to reactions of surprise. The assumption seems to be that I cannot make a living in a country situated in the MENA region, and the prevalence of voluntourism in black and brown countries only furthers this idea.
Yet in reality, where I live in Meknes, I have all the basic necessities I would in the States. I inhabit a sixth-floor apartment with access to drinkable running water that overlooks the mountains. It takes about five minutes to walk to the nearest Target-size supermarket, and cars drive on paved roads. I teach in a recently-refurbished language center with TVs and air conditioning in every classroom. These are not the conditions of all cities, homes, or schools in Morocco, yet many Westerners’ images of Morocco are not accurate, either.
Fear, or Lack Thereof
Put in the simplest of terms, every place has its share of the “bad”. Crimes of violence occur all around the world, yet warnings about countries such as England, France, or Germany do not exist to the same extent as warnings for non-predominantly white or non-Christian countries. The label of a country as “dangerous” simply because of the race and ethnicity of its people is a harmful assumption that continues to further misunderstandings. And statistically speaking, I am at less risk of measurable “danger” in Morocco than I am in my home country. The Institute for Economics and Peace’s 2019 Global Peace Index report ranked the U.S. as the 36th most dangerous country in the world, with Morocco falling much further down the list at number 74.
Daily, I remind myself to check my own assumptions, especially those that lend themselves to a single narrative. Instead, my cumulative experiences of teaching, living, and traveling in Morocco work toward a comprehensive, authentic narrative of the country.
“Are you scared?” people asked before my departure. I am learning to be unscared of the unknown, of what I formerly feared. At the train station, men take my bags out of my hands so that I can board the train unburdened. A resident in my building invites me into his apartment for tea, and I enter without hesitation. Taxi drivers and I converse in a mix of three languages, and they tell me I am welcome in Morocco. So far, Morocco has taught me to embrace the kindness and generosity of strangers, who never stay strangers for long. The trust, compassion, and hospitality I have encountered here provide a true picture of Morocco: one that invites people to learn and engage with the country’s rich culture—including those who do so alone.