During the summer of 2016, I had the wonderful opportunity to study Arabic in Tangier, Morocco. However, I must be frank; I had a pretty rough and semi-traumatizing summer. Nonetheless, this experience taught me a motto I now live by, “Tough times build character.”
Before arriving to Morocco, I was well aware of the catcalling and prejudice I would face :
A) Being a woman
B) Being a Black woman
A good friend of mine, a dark-skin sister, expressed to me her experience while spending four months in Morocco. As much as she loved her experience, it came with many culture shocks and unbelievable realities she did not expect. I took her experience into consideration and said :
So what if people will call me “Momma Africa”, grab on my twists, throw constant stares my way, or call me an Ahze (a word closely equivalent to slave)? I don’t care! I’m going to learn Arabic, speak it well and shout right back.
I got this!
But boy, was I in for a rude awakening.
My first week in Tangier, Morocco was brutal. I cried at least twice my first night. It was a mix of culture shock, not understanding Darija (local language of Morocco) or Arabic, constant stares, and feeling exoticized/fetishized by street harassers. I would become so scared when men would holler and catcall me in the streets. I’ve dealt with catcalling in NY several times but it was harder to deal with it in Morocco because:
- I feared I would have ended up brutality injured
2. I was in a foreign country and not fully aware of my surroundings
However, these scared emotions eventually left and new ones arose. By the end of the second week, I began understanding the language and took some time to explore Morocco for the beauty Morocco truly is and then BOOM! My scared emotions turned into anger and annoyance.
There was one particular incident that still remains in my memory. It was almost the third week into the program and I was waiting for a taxi with my roommate. All of a sudden, a group of boys pulled up next to us in a van and started screaming vulgar words at us for no apparent reason. One boy attempts to jump out of the car and tried to grab my arm. I calmly jumped out the way and tried to ignore them. Then suddenly one of them yells “AHZEE!!” (word equivalent to slave) .
I was ready to turn up! They were not ready for the Bronx in me.
But then my common sense rushed back to me and I thought “Ermida , there are about 10 of them and one of me. I will get killed out here.” So I had to suck in my pride, humiliation, and anger. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the first and last time I was called Ahzee. The street harassment continued. Every time I faced these situations, I had to force myself to not react in a hostile manner. Eventually, I learned to tune out the negativity and I must say, living with my hospitable host family made this possible.
My host mother treated me as one of her own children. She knew I was having a rough time in Morocco. We would often speak about social issues and how they could practically be addressed. I remember she once told me “I don’t understand why certain Arabs do not like black people. If the color black was not important, then God would not have created the most important part of our eyes black.”
My experience in Tangier, Morocco was one of the toughest times for me mentally. The constant uninviting stares made me feel uncomfortable in my skin. The random hair tugging made me feel as a zoo animal. The racial slurs made me furious and annoyed. But all that taught me, “Tough times build character.” Experiencing those feelings and still being able to love myself for exactly who I was increased my self-esteem and awareness to another level. Granted, I do not think I would want to go back to Tangier, Morocco after that experience.( I may visit other areas in Southern Morocco to compare the experience) However, if I had to for work-related reasons, I would walk down those streets way more confidently.
Ermida K, Founder of Being Black In
Follow Ermida on IG : @_midaaa