1st Full Week in Rabat

Madison Sommers
February 22, 2013

Milestone achieved: 1st full week in Rabat! Before it was just a few days for Orientation, and then off to Fes for 10 days. Now I’ve been here in Rabat for a week, gotten settled into my homestay, and purchased a pair of house shoes (nothing makes me feel more Moroccan than walking around in house shoes).

Rabat is a very different city than Fes. Fes is still very medieval feeling, at least in the medina, with winding streets and old buildings. Fes is also considered the spiritual and intellectual capital of Morocco. It has been the historical capital of Morocco until the French occupation, after which the capital was moved to Rabat. It is still a very conservative city, and the catcalling was pretty bad there at first. And then, at least for me, either because the men got used to me being there or because I was walking around with a very aggressive look on my face, they dropped off. This was a relief, because one can only be called fromage so many times before one snaps.

Rabat is a different type of city, but is surprising to me. The streets are wider, which is very noticeable in the medina. There are police and military personnel everywhere, which was true of Fes, but it is even more pronounced here. There are also frequent protests, which can be a bit disconcerting if you’re trying to walk home. I am also surprised by the lack of catcalls that I have experienced here. I still feel very conscious of the fact that as a white woman I stand out like a sore thumb, but at least fewer people are shouting at me about it.

Another thing I find interesting about Rabat is the variety of women’s dress. In Fes, I saw a large number of women in both western dress and hijab, but very few in niqab, which covers the face except for the eyes. Here in Rabat, I have seen many women in varieties of hijab, ranging from a simple headscarf to a more elaborate covering, and women in varieties of western dress, some of which would be eccentric even in the States. The thing that is most surprising is that here, in the most modern of Moroccan cities, I have seen a large number of women traditionally veiled (that is, in the djellaba with the hood up and a veil across the lower face), wearing niqab, and even a few wearing the burqa. It is an interesting sight to see a woman in a burqa walking down the street next to a woman in western dress.

I like Rabat, with all the dichotomies and seemingly contradictory Moroccan cultural identities. Daily life always has some interesting new thing to show me, but already things are becoming familiar. I have already adopted the various street cats along my route through the medina and check on them daily and have made friends with some of the vendors around my house.

Today I even made it down to the beach with a couple of friends, and being a New Englander, immediately begin looking for sea glass. I had to explain to my friends that sea glass, or Mermaids’ Tears as they’re called in Maine, is just eroded broken glass that gets washed up on the shore. I guess if you don’t grow up with it it isn’t that exciting, but I try to collect it from any beach I go to, especially from different countries. Seemingly, beach combing is not a thing in Morocco because there was sea glass everywhere, although this could also be because there is so much litter here. So once again, I am returning from the beach with my pockets heavy with rocks, shells, and glass.

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Madison Sommers

<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">I am a third-year student at Saint Michael&#39;s College in Vermont majoring in Gender Studies with a double minor in Philosophy and Political Science. I hope to attend law school after graduation, and want to work with women who are victims of domestic violence. I also have a fascination with neurology and would like to find some way to combine the two. I enjoy traveling and lived abroad in France after graduating early from high school. My current home is in New Hampshire with my parents, sister, dog, and two cats. I love cooking, knitting, reading, and art, and am looking forward to experiencing Moroccan culture. I have always had a passion for gender issues and am excited to study gender from a Moroccan perspective. I hope I can share my experience of Moroccan culture with you.</span></p>

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