14 November 2010

The Letter I Actually Sent to Peace Works

Dear Volunteer Community-

Volunteers and their romantic relationships with Moroccans: It happens, everyone knows that it happens, and yet there is so much fog and mystery surrounding all of it, that often, there is also a lot of “collateral damage” resulting from these relationships. We, who have been or are currently in relationships with Moroccans, need, as guests in this country, to consider the implications of our actions, and work to be more respectful with our relationships, especially towards our communities.

For us as volunteers, being in a relationship with a Moroccan in Morocco means that we have to follow the Moroccan rules of dating. You are only here for two years, and your primary responsibility is to work.. You can make sacrifices, and there is always time to negotiate between American-ness and Moroccan-ness in your relationship.

Before we started dating, both my boyfriend and I had seen the volunteer I replaced and her Moroccan boyfriend be very public (holding hands in the street, him coming in and out of her house during all hours of the day and night) with their relationship. We saw the damage it had done to her reputation and that of other foreigners in site, including me, and the increased harassment it had caused in both her and my lives. I didn’t want my replacement to go through what I went through.

So, he and I decided to keep our relationship secret, but more importantly, respectful. Just as you wouldn’t walk around in your site in a tank top and shorts, you can’t go parading your relationship around either. We wanted my reputation to stay positive in the community. We also didn’t want to cause problems for him and his family, because he was a teacher and he too had a reputation to maintain. From our experience, I can offer a few concrete suggestions:

• Explain to your girl/boyfriend that you want to be respectful of your community and overly conservative in the way that you date. They will understand what you mean.
• Especially at first, try not to let people in your community see you together very often, especially your neighbors; meet in a bigger city if possible, where you both know less people.
• Don’t hold hands in public in your site.
• Kissing in public anywhere in Morocco will get you in a lot of trouble, don’t do it.
• If you have to work together, keep a “brother-sister” distance at work.
• If you are going to have him or her come over to your house, have him or her come or leave at at night or with a big group of visitors.
• Don’t tell people in your community, except those you trust with your life.

It can be very frustrating to abide by so many new rules in addition to the other challenges of being a volunteer in a foreign country. Neverthless, with patience and flexibility it can be done. We can't expect everyone to be as accepting as our fellow Americans. We can and should expect volunteers to be non-judgmental but it’s not realistic to expect that from your whole village as well...

Additionally, if you have a friend who is dating a Moroccan, be supportive of them. You may disapprove of the relationship, but it is our duty to support our fellow volunteer – and not to judge them – no matter what decisions they make. You are not going to change their mind, and you are not going to help the situation by being judgemental of them. Dating is challenging in any context, and balancing a relationship in addition to the struggles that we all face is no easy task.

We should be aware of our responsibility to ourselves, to our communities, to Morocco, to our friends, to our replacements, and to our jobs. When dating, especially in Morocco, we should stop and take time to consider the repercussions of any of our actions, especially our public actions in a culture where there is such a dichotomy between the public and the private.

Thank you.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this candid take on the Moroccan/American relationship issue. I support your way of doing things, Americans should try to minimize the "fitna" that they cause, especially in the rural sites.