Before I got to Morocco I did hear quite a bit about the patriarchal nature of the society. My brain was filled with horror stories in the weeks before my flight. I imagined a classroom divided by gender, or worse, a classroom where the boys completely disrespected me because I was a woman. I worried whether I’d be taken seriously as a female teacher. I worried that my gender would be a barrier to me in the workplace. Fortunately this has not been my experience at all.
A few of my kiddos working hard.
The American Language Center is a beautiful place for me as a woman in Morocco. Almost a refuge if we’re talking extremes. I’m not going to say that there isn’t misogyny in Morocco. There definitely is. Just like there is everywhere else in the world, it just happens to be indoctrinated and publicly accepted in Moroccan culture. Walking through the streets and being perceived a “tourist” or “foreigner” especially in the medina awards you a certain amount of conspicuousness, especially as a black woman (more on my specific experiences as a black woman in Morocco to come). You’ll be catcalled, you’ll get stares, men will try to talk to you. But, at the ALC, where almost all of the administrative staff are Moroccan men, female teachers are treated with respect, and dare I say it... reverence? Ok yes, maybe that is taking it too far, but I do love the Center. My students are amazing and excited about learning English, which makes classes enjoyable, even when they are challening. I genuinely get excited to go there, despite how stressful my job can be. I have come to see the American Language Center as my safe space.
Twinning with my mentor teacher before Winter Break.
Despite the safety I feel at the center, there a couple things I needed to be aware of here. One, is the politics of every work space. Coming in as a new person there are social rules and things you just have to be aware of and learning them can take some time. In Morocco, greeting and acknowledging people, all people, especially those you work with, is extremely important. In a collectivist society, failing to acknowledge a new person to walk in the room and give them a proper Moroccan greeting exchange is tantamount to slamming the door in their face. Multiply this by ten if its a person who you actually need to help you by making copies, getting extra white board markers, providing you with folders when your flimsy ones have fallen apart for the 5th time. The rule is, never forget to acknowledge people, this goes for women as well as men, although sometimes the male ego can make it a bit more adamant for men. When the computer room monitor walks in after his break, make sure you pass him a genuine “Ssalam alayum,” and even a little smile. I think this is a good general rule and let’s people know you value being a part of the community and aren’t just looking to get in, take care of your business, and leave.
A very rare quiet moment in the computer lab at ALC Tangier
Another thing I wanted to be more aware of is how familiar I get with male teachers and staff. Although in the states I am used to laughing joking and freely smiling at my male coworkers, in Morocco, this level of familiarity can be unwittingly taken as flirtation among unmarried (and sometimes married) men. I haven't had too much experience with this, but I do know that some American women at my center have experienced it.
Bottom line, teaching as a woman in Morocco has its ups and downs, but honestly, compared to my experience in the streets, its primarily ups. Things may seem strange and difficult at first, but you will get accustomed to the culture and idiosyncrasies of a Moroccan lifestyle. The staff at your center will appreciate the efforts you make to follow cultural norms, so don’t be afraid to ask questions. When you first arrive, people will expect that you know nothing about living in Morocco, and unless you’ve lived in the country before, you won’t. Lean into that fact and never hesitate to ask people, especially other women, “so what’s going on?”