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.