Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A Day in the Life

Whoa - two in one day! Jackpot! :-) I've been meaning to do a post like this for a while now, and since my friend Debra recently came to visit, I now have the necessary photos to show you what an average day in my life is like. These weren't actually all taken on the same day, but you get the idea...
I make breakfast in my small but awesome kitchen...
I go to the city (about two hours by taxi) to get groceries for the week...

I talk to my host aunt about our plans for the Women's Association...

I walk through the alleyways of the crumbling old medina to get to the clinic, school, or wherever else I might be going since women aren't permitted on the main road...

In the evening, I go outside and socialize with the women and play with little Fatima...

And then I unwind with my cat, Salvador.

The end!

Prostitutes... and Geography

Sorry about the delay again, friends. I've found I really only update when 1) Something interesting happens and I happen to be near internet in the next day or so before I forget about it, or 2) I get emails from family haranguing me for updates. Since the former doesn't happen frequently, STAY ON MY CASE!!

My story for the day is about a prostitute I met. In my experience, I've always like the prostitutes I've come across here. In this culture, moral and respectable women tend to be more subdued in public, passive, and subordinate to men - a position I often find frustrating. One "working woman", in a taxi with us, decided the driver was taking FAR too long for his cigarette break (he really was - it was almost midnight and he had stopped on the road for 30 minutes), and she leaned on the horn and refused to stop until he got his butt back in the driver's seat. I wanted to hug her. I can't imagine a conservative woman EVER doing something that bold.

The other woman I met was much closer to home. In the interest of protecting those involved, I will just say that she was entertaining a male acquaintance of mine in the city when I went to visit him for business reasons. It turns out she is from a village near mine, and helped me learn a few words in the local dialect. She was outgoing, confident, and kind of sassy. We exchanged polite invitations to one another's home for tea. (Normally, people say this as a gesture, but have no intention of actually travelling to another town for tea. I didn't, anyway.) Well, she did. While I was sick and confined to bed this past week, she came to my house. I was too ill to get up so I asked my family to let her know that I was in bed and couldn't meet her. The next day, the women of my house sat me down and explained to me as though I was a small child, "Malika, that woman is bad. You should not let her in your home. It is good you were sick, because she does very bad things." I asked for clarification, and after an awkward pause, they explained, "She speaks to many men in public."

I knew they were telling me in a delicate way that she was a prostitute. This was later verified privately - apparently one of my male neighbors "knows her", and she has a few illegitimate children. But the fact that she publicly spoke to men was supposed to be indicitive of all this. It made me very aware of how I personally interact with people. I get a little more leniency being foreign, but if I were to speak to men outside my family within my village, I would probably have the same reputation. I am now worried about the couple of times I have had single men stay over at my home. Mostly these were volunteers, and it was preceeded with long talks to my neighbors, landlord, and family about how in America, men and women interact differently, and it is not shameful, he is like my brother, etc. etc. But seeing their reaction to this woman, I do wonder.

The other thing I noticed is that they didn't draw a distinction between being a sex worker and being a "bad person". I offered a mild defense for the woman, trying to walk the line between being fair and honest and not damaging my reputation in the village. It's a line I walk every day. I said that I did not know her work, that it does not matter to me, and I like her because she was kind to me and helped me learn the language. My family's response was: "Well, it's okay, it's not your fault because you didn't know. But NEVER walk down a road with her alone because she will hurt you and steal your money." Prostitute, thug, thief, bad woman - it was all the same to them.

In hindsight, I AM glad I was so sick that day. I didn't have to publicly rebuke a woman whom I liked personally, and who is working the only way she is able, without education, to support her children. But I also didn't have to risk my reputation and my good standing with my neighbors. Honestly, I am not sure how I would have handled that if I hadn't been able to get out of it.

More importantly to me as a health worker, prostitution is the cause of the spread of STD's throughout Morocco. Because it is an industry that is kept in the dark, few efforts have been made to educate women about the importance of protection. A recent study showed that MOST prostitutes did not know the proper use of a condom. Another volunteer recounted a story in which her local doctor found that a woman had contracted an STD, and the doctor was not going to tell her because it would indicate that her husband had been unfaithful. It's an area where health education is really needed, but as you can see now, would be difficult for me to achieve while maintaining a good reputation to carry me through my other work.

On a complete side note, as I was sitting here typing this, a young woman approached me with an email address wanting to know if I spoke English. Her English was minimal and my Arabic is non-existent, so I never did figure out exactly what she wanted from me. Apparently she has an online boyfriend in Holland and wanted my English skills to write something (she said the words "marriage", "email", "chat", and "write" - your guess is as good as mine). As it turned out, she thought I KNEW this man. I was confused. I explained that I am not a tourist, I am not traveling with him, and I have never been to Holland. She said, "but you are American, and Holland is in America." Hmmmm. When I convinced her that Holland and America were different countries VERY VERY far apart, she got disappointed and left. This was a fairly well educated woman in her 20's - she had at least been through high school since she knew French, Arabic and a little English and had computer skills. Mind-blowing. I don't think geography is taught in schools here at all. Other interesting geographical information I have been told include: People in America speak French because it is next to France, Japan is also next to America and that is why they speak French too, America is in Europe, and Europe is in America. I'd love to do a geography education project with some local kids... if I can ever get the local school headmaster to give me the time of day. But that is another story, and this post is long enough.

Much love!