I skip down the stairs, not wanting to disturb the 1950′s elevator that creaks and moans whenever it is forced to come out of retirement. After a quick “good morning” to the doorman, I’m out on the city sidewalk under the bright Moroccan sun. Even though it is technically rainy season now, it is still sunny nine days out of 10.
Popping in my earbuds, I begin my two and a half mile walk to Moulay Ismail University. I could just take a Grand Taxi, like the majority of my comrades, but I like the exercise and the uniquely Moroccan sights, sounds, and smells along the way. It is all part of the experience!
As I walk past the cafes, I feel the men’s eyes follow me. Cafes line the streets in my neighborhood, and men fill the cafes. Moroccan women, if there are any in there, will be upstairs away from the bustle of the city streets and the men’s stares. I have grown a little more accustomed to them in the few months that I have been here, but they can still make a girl self-conscious. I turn my music up and try to remember some of the Arabic I was studying last night.
I walk past a middle-aged woman in a burka sitting on the stoop of a doorway. I pass her every morning, but by noon she’ll be gone. I can’t help but wonder about her story. You don’t see many burkas in the cities of Morocco. Women are surprisingly modern and Western. They dress conservatively, but many young women choose to not even cover their hair. In fact, I’ve heard it is difficult for women to get public service jobs if they even wear the hijab-surprising seeing as this is an Islamic state.
I’m torn from my thoughts as a young Moroccan man leans in as I walk by and says “hello” in every language he knows and then “you are beautiful.” I keep my eyes forward.
The streets are fairly calm in the morning, but as I walk, the bustle increases. I still haven’t gotten completely used to all of the different modes of transportation that are used here. A donkey pulling a wagon of melons passes me, his owner sitting atop his produce. The donkey is being somewhat stubborn, not wanting to stay in his lane. On the other side of the road, a farmer is pushing a handcart of Clementine oranges towards town. The cart is thoughtfully equipped with a scale. Small motorcycles, buses, and taxis zip past, leaving clouds of black smoke behind them. Some honk, and occasionally some passengers even lean out the window to yell things. My favorite vehicle is the motorcycle-truck, especially when its small bed is filled with multiple sheep.
A persistent bicyclist rides alongside me for several minutes trying to get my attention. Not that I want to be rude, but I ignore his insistent attempts. When I had done research on Morocco, the most common complaint I had read about was the hassling of foreign women by Moroccan men. The hassling is verbal, and most of the time it is actually very flattering, but it does tend to get a little old. My defense is to just ignore it, and the iPod helps me in that respect-I can pretend I don’t hear them. Other important white lies that I have learned to tell are “I’m married” and “I’m barren.”
My favorite part of the walk is passing the cute farms along the river. A donkey grazes lazily on the fresh green grass, and now that we’ve had some rain, new plants are sprouting up in the small fields.
As I walk towards the ancient wall that partially encloses our school, I take out my earbuds and greet some Moroccan and American friends and prepare for the next great adventure: class.