Even writing the title of this blog I know that some people will already be waiting to read about some gruesome detail of being tricked out of money or romanced for a passport – these stereotypes are unfortunately hardwired in Western consciousness. And in all honesty it can happen to some people, so I can see why.
Well, it’s one year on since we had our wedding at Riad Ilfoulki in Marrakech, and 3 years since we first met, and we’re moving forward all the time. When I met Ali, I was happily single, I had a good life, great friends and support networks, there were no gaps, I wasn’t looking to be loved, I just met a guy (on holiday) that I cracked on with who spoke about interesting stuff that a lot of English blokes tend to shy away from; – life, the Universe and which flavour cheesecake you like the best! With Ali over time, getting to know each other better, I felt I had found a companion in life who wants the same things, and understands the bigger picture, comes from a place of having to fend for himself from an early age and has values and principles I admire. But I need to talk about how it feels to be on the receiving end of prejudice when you’re living a life which can be seen as a cliche, a huge risk, simply unusual or breaking unspoken cultural rules.
I was surprised at the feelings that ran through the expat community here when I arrived to explore a life out here with Ali; ‘I’ve never seen it work in all my time here’ was one comment, not a great foreboding of a positive future. ‘I’m glad I wasn’t one of those who met a Moroccan guy – I’ve done it on my own’ was another comment from a woman who lives in Morocco on her own, without thinking about my own situation – a clear signal that you have ‘sold out’ if you didn’t tough it out without a local bloke.
Well I am ‘one of those’ and I think that I’m lucky for many reasons, actually being with a Moroccan gives you a deeper appreciation of the culture here than you would have if you ‘did it on your own’, but more than that, I like the sharing, the shouldering of support, the fun times and silly things we laugh at, having a best friend and a confidante by my side. For me finding that kind of human relationship with a significant other is the real stuff of life, as much as achieving your dreams or personal ambitions. I don’t feel less for having done it, I feel more – but I also know I would have been ok on my own.
Ali seems to take all this in his stride, perhaps having worked with some Internationals who call him ‘Ali Baba’ and who are used to being waited on by brown faced people has created a state of unwitting acceptance, and for him I think he doesn’t care what people think which is a great gift in life if you can attain it – he is extremely positive as a person and focussed more on who he is and how he show’s up in the World than how other people are to him.
But I do get a bit weary of the looks, pauses and underlying patronising comments which can follow your announcement that you’re married to a Moroccan, especially when you say he’s younger. You can hear the cogs turning ‘sold out’, ‘how long until she divorces’, ‘she’s taken the easy way of living in Morocco – not toughed it out’, ‘why would he marry her?’.
I must admit that it’s taken me a long time to get over these voices in my head myself, the internal and external critics. I didn’t tell a new employer that I was going to marry Ali when I went for the job because I knew that they would see me differently – not the independent, intelligent and experienced person I am, but a quirky creative woman who’s ‘one of those’ who came over and fell in love with a handsome smooth talking muslim boy. It’s not how I want to be judged, for my relationship – I want to be seen for who I am, so I’m still careful about how I bring my situation into conversation, and maybe sometimes don’t help myself with a lack of confidence about talking about it.
Reading about prejudice it comes from several places; one is stereotyping and negative storytelling in society which people use to make quick decisions about another (a human way of quickly navigating around people and groups) these negatives can be combatted by changing the stories; another is the ‘them and us’ dynamic which is neatly expressed in the cartoon below – (us = the puritan imperialists with money, them = the barbarians who want to steal our resources) when you cross these boundaries you play with peoples understanding of social identity – hence the ‘he wants her passport, or money’ kind of thinking, finally prejudice is more likely to come from Authoritarian Personalities – these people tend to be hostile to people they see as inferior, and obedient to those they see have high status, rigid in beliefs and upholding of more traditional values (people from our older generations often seem to sit here, although it’s more about personality than age). If you want to read more you can here.
When we’re together (reaching across the water) I know Ali’s a great guy, I’m realistic that with any relationship there is a meeting of needs, ours is no different. It is difficult not being from the same place financially as it is culturally but Ali makes it so easy, he never really spends on much, he’s a dab hand at getting great second hand clothes that he looks a million dollars in because he is naturally stylish, he is ecologically conscious anyway so doesn’t believe in buying lots of new things when you can get good quality second hand that is often better made. He spends all his own money on other people, his mum whom he supports, our food, and with just a bit left for him he makes the most of it. I bought him clothes once from England and he made me take them back – ‘don’t do that again’ he said. And he looks for ways I can save money on things like bills – putting in a gas water heater and getting rid of the electric one, he’s come from a place where money was scarce, I’ve come from a place where you don’t always look at receipts you just buy – a throw away, instant gratification kind of society.
He wants to spend as much time with me as possible, and that also creates a bit of conflict as I like to explore, travel, meet friends for dinner – we’re used to having all those freedoms in my world. In a typical local Amazigh marriage from his town things are a lot more home based, there are roles for everyone, and people don’t eat out – he’d never been to a restaurant with a woman before he met me. However Ali is emotionally intelligent, he has got his own head round the fact that us English types like ‘experiences’ and ‘events’ and ‘eating out’, that our life experiences are different, so we find a way to compromise on those things, which gets easier the more we know and trust each other. However as a true warm hearted Moroccan, he also reminds me that sometimes the most valuable times are actually quiet times with good food, and the people we love and care about (in our case the trio of Ali, Me and Ruby – our dog) that you don’t need a lot of outside whizz-bang stimulation to be happy – that happiness comes from the inside and doing things for others like cooking nice food and showing love. When I met him I’d had many years of that external stuff spending long days at work and rewarding myself with nights out, so part of what attracted me was the desire to get back to something more real and meaningful, the pivotal moment was when I was in a belly dancing restaurant in Marrakech the owner of my riad recommended I visit, and I just felt I’d much rather be having a proper conversation and a giggle with Ali at home than in this restaurant with dressed up people spending too much on dinner and ogling girls in glittery bikini’s. Ali for me represented what’s real and good in the world not the stuff we get excited by and doesn’t mean anything really, I think that you learn something from everyone you meet – we have many teachers.
One of the sweetest things Ali has done, which is quite natural for him because it comes purely from his heart, is to send in a picture of both of us to National Geographic for a competition – it was to illustrate the possibility of love across cultures and ages he said, he had written ‘look at me and my wife, different cultures, different ages but we still love each other’ it really touched me that he would think of doing such a thing so proudly, it’s a shame it didn’t get published so I’m publishing it here.
My wish for the next year is that I find ways of communicating the positivity of our situation to others to help alleviate prejudice which may be founded on old stories, and not wait for the put downs, and that I can continue my work on being a better human being, guided by my lovely muslim, moroccan, 32 year old husband.
Wish me luck!