say something, I’m giving up on you.

Yesterday was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. I wanted to write up a post and rant about it last night, but I convinced myself to cool off before going crazy. After a long night of tears and contemplation, I am ready to share a familiar story. You’ve heard it before and I hope you won’t continuously hear it again from me, but shit, harassment is a real problem here.

I have been enjoying being back at work with my preschoolers. They really are a lot of fun, and while I am freaking exhausted after three hours with them, it is so worth it. However, I must walk 25 minutes to and from my place of work and that is not enjoyable. From the very start of me living here in Azrou in May of 2012, harassment has been the bane of my existence. Imagine this: every single time you step foot out of your home you are accosted, both verbally AND physically, by young boys and old men alike. Every.Single.Time. Oh, you need milk at the corner store? Prepare to get an “I want to fuck you” on the way. So you want to go to work? Don’t mind the ass grab on your way. Do you need to go to the taxi stand? First you’ll need to get past all the hissing coming from strange men. 

It took its toll. I mean, it really took its toll. I seriously considered ending my service early and returning home for the sake of my mental health. However, I am so stubborn and hate giving up, so I very reluctantly reached out to Peace Corps and asked for help. I was given a few counseling sessions from a fellow MSW at Peace Corps Headquarters in DC who then recommended I be placed on anti-anxiety medication. I have never been medicated for mental health issues before, so I was bummed to be put on them. The first couple of weeks were really intense and heartbreaking for me; I had a hard time adjusting to the medication and felt worse before I eventually felt better. It turns out that the medication has ended up being a God-send and allowing me to function in this very difficult environment. 

Alright so back to the current situation: yesterday on my way to work I dodged glares, hisses, bonjours, cavas, sexys, beautifuls, and the like. I finally got close to my place of work when I heard a voice say, “Do you want to have sex with me?” I walked over to the group of three young men that this voice came from and I said (in Arabic,) “What did you just say to me?” “It wasn’t me, it was him,” said the man I directed my question too. So I whacked the man. I whacked him as hard as I could right across his face. He almost whacked me back, but instead screamed, “WHY DID YOU JUST HIT ME?” I responded, “because you are a fucking animal. Never speak to me again. Shame on you.” Then I walked away with tears in my eyes. 

There were at least 20 other people in our general vicinity that witnessed what occured. However, nobody did or said a single thing to the men who degraded me. Nobody asked me if I was okay. Nobody asked me if I needed help. Nobody cared. That time when a man grabbed my breast at the bus station and I hit him and then told the passersby what he did: nobody helped. That time at the market when the man grabbed my butt and the store owners dismissed him as “crazy”: nobody helped. That time, yesterday, when I told my landlord what had happened to me and he responded with “Well you are a pretty girl. Boys see pretty girls and they like them”: nobody helped. Then there was that time when a so called friend was in my home for a small get together and he grabbed my breast: nobody helped, but that’s because I was too afraid to ask.

I have a constant internal battle with trying to decide what hurts and affects me more: the actual harassment and assault, or the fact that nobody fucking cares. Other females dismiss it as “normal” and tell me “we can’t change it” and to just “ignore them.” Men tell me that “boys will be boys” and they are “just naughty.” I have plead my case to my supervisor, my landlord and family, my female neighbors, and friends. The most common reaction? Laughter. The general attitude is defeatism. It is what it is and we just have to deal with it.

It is sad. It is really sad that I am surrounded by otherwise wonderful humans who unfortunately think there is nothing they can do to protect their women from predators. 

I get a lot of backlash from my Moroccan community members for standing up for myself. Ignore it, I’m told. Put headphones on, they say. Pretend you don’t hear them. Never answer them. Don’t worry. Don’t be sad. Don’t be angry. Everything is okay.

Everything is not okay. What is okay about the fact that females cannot leave their homes without being degraded? What is okay about enduring physical assault and having no justice? What is okay about “boys being boys” when it harms other people? 

I’m afraid that Morocco needs a much larger intervention than what I, or Peace Corps, can provide. Morocco needs a full shift in attitudes in order to create behavior change. Morocco needs stricter laws and penalties for harassment and assault. Morocco needs to start practicing what they preach: for an Islamic nation, her people do not seem to practice peace. The Qur’an requires that men “lower their gaze” and not to look at women in lust. Have the Muslims of this Muslim nation forgotten about that part of their Holy book? 

Morocco is a beautiful country and I am truly thankful for being given the opportunity to live and work here. I am thankful for my host family, lovely friends, and super spunky students. However, in 4 months I will leave here. I will gladly leave here and return to the newly appreciated United States of America where I am free to walk down the street without fear. 

Be well. 

4 comments

  1. Nicole : Powerful entry. Thanks for the honest report. I hope we can meet after your return stateside . I’d like you to meet a Rutgers PhD student who is doing her dissertation on gendered violence among the Taliban in Afghanistan. May I read this in my class when we discuss Gender ? Best, Dr. Voss.

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    1. nicolecronin · · Reply

      Dr. Voss– I’m so sorry for all the naughty language! eek! Anyways, yes, please do share. I really would love to come and speak with some undergraduate students about my experiences here. Definitely in Intro to Social Work and Race Relations…..
      :)

  2. Did you meet Adam Eldehan? He may have left right before you guys came. At any rate, Adam was on a bus one day when a handicapped, elderly man started beating his much younger wife. Everyone kept watching the man beat the woman but no one did anything. Finally, Adam gets up and tells the bus driver he won’t tolerate this happening and that he’s calling the police, so then – and only then – does the driver pull the bus over and kick the man off the bus. Then everyone sort of nods their heads recognizing that they think Adam did the right thing.

    In a much different story of fatalism in the Al-Maghreb, I was in a taxi going to Outat, and my driver only had one good idea. Middle of the taxi ride, this really bad sandstorm kicks up with black-out conditions. I mean, literally, you could not see the front of the car. Already, this is a dangerous road that’s the size of one lane but is used as a two-lane road with cars going both directions. Driver with one eye is going 140 km/h. I speak up from the back seat and say something, like, “Sir, this is dangerous. Please go much slower.” Everyone turns around and looks at me and nods their heads as if to thank me for saying what they couldn’t. The driver responds with some God phrase, like, “Oh, God will take care.” And I give him a somewhat forceful, “God gave you a brain so use it, and that’s how we’ll take care.” Or something like that. But he never slowed down. Luckily, we didn’t die that day.

    In both cases, there was a kind of mutual understanding from the other Moroccans that Adam and me taking action was something they didn’t feel they could do but they very much appreciated. So, when I read your story, I’m not sure that it’s a matter of apathy so much as it is a matter of some combination of fear and shame. That can, in turn, lead to a certain degree of apathy.

    At any rate, I wish I knew what it was about the culture that stopped so many people from taking actions they wanted to take. Because I suspect in that crowd, there was at least one or two people who watched those boys say those things and thought of those boys and what they were doing as shameful.

    1. nicolecronin · · Reply

      Never met him! I agree with you about fear and shame turning into apathy. I also think women are not necessarily encouraged to speak up for themselves here as much as we are in the states. It really is a huge shame.

      Today this group of guys who harasses Brenna and I every day when we walk past them (they hang around the beer store,) bothered me. I stopped and said, I think I am going to stand here with you guys until my boyfriend gets here. They all started to walk away. So I said, hey, my friend and I walk by you every day because we want to go from our home to our work. Every day you say something bad to us. We don’t want a problem, we just want to go home and to work. Please stop saying bad things to us. They all apologized. Not sure if it was the threat of the boyfriend or that I asked them nicely to fucking stop. We’ll see if it happens again tomorrow.

      In that case I will get someone to come and speak to them because they do this shit every single day and I refuse to keep letting them get away with it.

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