Continues from Part 1.
Author: Anna Pelova
Featured photo (above): Photographer © Rokos Frangos
Later that day I met with Najla – a local girl who greeted me on her moped and took me to Gueliz (a trendy neighbourhood in the new part of Marrakesh). Unlike in the Medina, where locals walked around with djellabas, in Gueliz a lot of women wore their hair down and almost everyone was fashionably dressed . When I asked Najla why so many young women have stopped wearing a veil she explained that they were actually now coming back to this tradition as their previous king had made it really hard for women wearing a hijab to find work back then.
With modern buildings, fashionably dressed residents, fancy restaurants and wide streets Gueliz was the exact opposite of the Medina. I felt like Najla has taken me to another city. She parked her moped and we decided to take a walk as I wanted to explore the little streets of the neighbourhood. Surprisingly, Gueliz reminded me of my hometown, Sofia. It was peaceful and quiet but yet all the traffic and city buzz were breaking the silence. Monotonic block buildings had surrounded the streets where cars were parked on both sides of the way. Trendy street cafes were full of well groomed friends who were socialising over the latest gossip in town. Somehow everything felt very familiar and I had to find out why.
As we discussed our countries I found that although Najla had a different religion she wasn’t much different than me. The few stereotypes and prejudices that existed in my mind disappeared with our conversation. She was very open-minded, honest, chatty and passionate to learn as much as possible about the world. Since we were both young and looking for love we laughed and talked about how flawed men are. Moroccan men were very straightforward and when they liked a girl they just started talking to her, making it very clear that they like her. Sometimes it was a little too much as too many of them did this in one day but I wish European men were just a little bit honest like Moroccans. In both our countries men perceived themselves as ‘macho’ but in Morocco they had a stronger sense of ownership over women. This is not to say that women in the Machreb are mistreated or have no rights as many Europeans often think. My impression was that men were taking a good care of their women following the old fashioned model to provide for the family while women had to take care of the children. Many women also worked various types of jobs. Domestic violence existed like everywhere else in the world but as women were raised to be modest a lot of them were afraid to seek help and protection.
Najla and I both had strong family values and in our cultures it was usual to live with the family before marriage. The family meal was a tradition and bread was cherished as the most valuable part of the meal. The food was always natural and home made but in Bulgaria there has been some influence from the West that has changed our food from natural and self-produced to imported branded goods full of GMO, hormones, antibiotics and artificial flavours. I wish we could take a step back in history and return to the point where food was completely unspoiled and sold in small shops owed by locals in stead of in big supermarkets owed by multinational corporations. What I liked about Marrakesh was that even the new town was almost untouched by globalisation – although it was slowly creeping in people still valued the great taste of nature.
The difference between me and Najla was that she had to stay virgin until marriage and wasn’t allowed to have a boyfriend. But then she smiled and told me that there are a lot of girls who have boyfriends but keep it a secret from their families and especially their fathers who are afraid that this type of relationship may lead to ‘the mistake’ that will ruin their daughter’s reputation and life. Women who have sex before marriage have no chance of ever getting married in Morocco. I thought that there must be an exception to this rule but Najla explained that even if the man is really inlove, when he finds out that his wife is not a virgin he will divorce her straight away. This rule used to be the same in Bulgaria and in other European countries but it changed with time. The only exception is if the woman gets divorced and then gets married again which is acceptable. Najla also shared with me that many girls refused to wear a hijab as they believed that this way they have better luck finding a husband. Men, however, had a different opinion about this.
Afterall, I found that it was as if our cultures were very similar but they were clashing in different times. Many people from my world have difficulties understanding hers but they have just forgotten that at some point their culture used to have the same values.
Continues in Part 3.