I have had a number of pleasant, and some not-so-pleasant, encounters with Moroccans. My husband and I have lived here for the better part of two years now, so running into Moroccans is going to happen, even though I do spend quite a bit of my time teaching English in an American International School. Because I spend my day speaking English all day, I have actually learned very little French or Arabic while I have been here. This is problematic when out and about, since not every Moroccan speaks English, although many do. AND whenever I meet one who does speak English, they want to converse in English to practice their skills, so I still learn little French or Arabic. A few useful phrases, that’s about all.
But, many encounters don’t actually require speaking. Yesterday, walking home from the Grande Taxi stand in Azrou, I stopped at one of my favorite pastry shops and purchased ten huge, freshly cooked, sugared doughnuts. Might explain some of my body fat. Anyway, while walking, I pulled one warm, fragrant treat from the bag, and was eating it as I walked along the narrow little “streets” between the buildings in the residential section I pass through on my way to my apartment. A group of four boys were playing, and one of them said something that apparently was not very nice, because when I stopped and turned back to them, he panicked and began to run off. Instead, I held out the bag of doughnuts to the boys, and opened it. There was some nervous laughter, that this silly American lady thought they were wanting a doughnut, instead of realizing that I had been insulted. There was some confusion as they dithered about whether or not to accept the offer. I heard someone over my shoulder say something, whose tone was, “Take one, stupid!” So, each boy accepted a still-warm, sugared doughnut. As I walked away, one boy, one of the smallest in the group, called out “Shokran!” I know enough to know that means thank you, and I turned to see him tap his heart with his clenched fist. That means the gift touched his heart, and that he was sincerely thankful. His friends looked a little surprised when I was able to answer in Arabic: “La shokran, a la wejheb.” That means “No thanks necessary, it was what I should have done.”
Another one was not quite so successful. I was again on my way home, on another day, and was passing down the long commercial street that is before I get to the residential section. a lovely woman in traditional Arab dress was ahead of me, accompanied by her European-dressed friend? husband? brother? Traditional Arab dress for women is different from that is usually seen in Morocco. Generally, women in Morocco cover their hair with a scarf that is wrapped around their neck, too, so that the face is clear, and they wear a d’jellaba. This is a long, hooded outer-wear robe, often in lovely colors coordinated with the head scarf. Arab dress, however, is much more restricted. This lady wore a facial veil, so that only her pretty dark eyes showed, and she was also wearing gloves to mask her hands, not because the weather was cold. In fact, the only skin showing was the few square inches around her eyes. This mis-matched couple were some distance ahead of me, and stopped at my pastry shop, too. The lady chose a chocolate ball – a sugared confection with almond and coconut, dipped into chocolate – about the size of a medium apple. They are delicious, from previous experience. I also stopped, and waited, what I thought was politely, for the merchant to conclude her transaction, so I could purchase my doughnuts (again) when she threw up her hands, said something in Arabic, and marched off up the street, leaving her obviously embarrassed companion to finish the purchase of her treat. I don’t know what she said (which is often a bonus), but even the pastry shop owner looked at me sympathetically. I do try not to stare, but obviously this lady thought that I was very rude, even though I had not spoken a word to her. Her companion sheepishly bought her treat, and left, still casting me embarrassed looks. I quietly bought my doughnuts and left, as usual, being careful not to jostle people as I walked, since many very orthodox Muslims consider my touch unacceptable, especially men. That one bothered me for some time.
Not all encounters are negative. Many Moroccans will go out of their way to be helpful, and we have met far more of that sort than the other sort. One student at University in the capital city of Rabat personally escorted me to my destination when I asked him for directions on the street, to be sure I would not be lost. He was a delightful young man, who had learned his English by himself, online and by watching captioned American films. I was impressed with that, believe me!
I also met the imam of the mosque that our apartment is joined to, and he was not averse to shaking my hand. After all, I listen to him five times a day, when he chants/sings the call to prayer – now I have a face to go with the voice.
Others have been very kind, translating for us when they could see we were having trouble communicating or understanding. And a co-worker took hours of his time helping us find an apartment in Azrou – a lovely place we are very happy with – and absolutely refused to accept money for all his time and trouble.
And, even when the encounters aren’t so positive, I can still usually turn them around, like with the boys, or think to myself, perhaps they were just having a bad day. And then I can move on to the next encounter, hopefully another positive one!