Monday, March 31, 2014

Experiencing Racism in Morocco

Hello my fellow Missourians!

I hope the sun has arrived early enough for you to enjoy the beginnings of spring.

       This particular subject is something that I have been struggling with upon my arrival to Morocco.
Racism is always a heated topic of discussion in the United States (US) because of the its long affiliation with slavery. Coming to Morocco, I never expected to be openly discriminated against. I sincerely thought, " I AM GOING HOME". When I say home, I mean Africa. As an Ethiopian Diaspora, I view all the countries in Africa apart of me, I carry a piece of my cultural pride with me where ever I go, especially back home in the US. My expectations of Morocco were much of the same expectations I held for Ethiopia. I was expecting Moroccans to accept me with open arms, open arms for their African sister, but I was wrongly mistaken.

   My first encounter with racism was shortly after my arrival in Morocco in August. Sitting in the Taxi, my friends were conversing with the driver about Morocco and my friend said something along the lines of, "I'm so excited to be in Africa". The Taxi driver immediately said, "There are two Africa's, black Africa and white Africa, Good Africa and Bad Africa". The first real conversation we had with a Moroccan man in Casablanca soon painted a reoccurring theme I had with Moroccan locals. This state of differentiating between the white and black Africa.

  After this encounter I just tried to brush off the conversation and head to my bed. I had a long exhausting twenty-six hour flight getting to Morocco, all I needed was a bed to just crash. Soon upon my arrival in Meknes I would receive stares, which isn't anything out of the ordinary. Honestly, I wasn't expecting to blend into a homogeneous environment, but I was not expecting to receive the reactions (from some individuals). DON'T get me wrong, I have experienced PLENTY of racism in the US, but in America it's behind closed doors and rude remarks with underlying tones of racism.

    The only difference between Americans and Moroccans are people here are more inclined to be open their frustrations with sub-Saharan black people and Americans attempts to hide it. I do want to set the record STRAIGHT by also saying I can understand why some Moroccan locals are frustrated about the migration of sub-Saharan into Morocco. I am not making excuses for Morocco, but what most Sub Saharan people try to do is escape poverty (who can blame them??).

Sometimes people are willing to experience extremes for the taste of freedom.

    Immigrants first diverge a plan to make it to Europe through Morocco. Essentially just trying to use Morocco as a transit, not a permanent place to live. First, they travel up through Mauritania, then through the Western Sahara, then up through Morocco. When arriving to Morocco, they head North to the Strait of Gibraltar. The body of water is a 13 km gap between Spain and Morocco. Both Moroccans and Sub-Saharan Africans either try to bribe their way onto the ferry which will carry them onto Spain, others try to sneak their way into the Cebta (the disputed Spainish territory Morocco), and other try and swim across. Those who try to swim across are mostly faced with a deadly fate of being shot, drowning, and very rarely there are some who make it to shore. All illegal citizens whether in Morocco or Spain either, A. burn their personal papers or B. don't bring them, so the government has to deal with them. The government cannot deport them because they do not know the country of origin without papers.

  The European Union has now made a HUGE push with additional funding for Morocco to secure its border patrol because of the how many illegal immigrants are making it into European countries. A lot of this racial tension comes from the new immigration laws and previous colonization. Morocco was a "protectorate of France", another fancy meaning for colony. When the French came, they also divided the people of Morocco, between the Amizghr and the Arabs. Of course, like Napoleon said, Divide and Conquer. There was already racial tension between the two main ethnic groups in Morocco, but this additional pressure on Morocco is causing more racial tensions to soar even more with the immigration issues.

This is what is causing racial tensions.

  There are many places in Casablanca which refuse to rent to Sub-Saharan Africans. This back lash against blacks has caused many institutionalized systems of Moroccan Jim Crow laws. It wasn't until this year--2014 that King Mohammed the VI offered Sub-Saharan African children (who were born in Morocco) to a Moroccan father citizenship. Do not get me wrong, this is a GREAT step in the right direction, but the root issues for tension should be solved by the governments from which these people are trying to escape from. Most illegal citizens, both Moroccans and Sub-Saharan Africans, experience racism and poverty in Spain.

The grass isn't always greener on the other side.

     People in both Morocco and Spain are frustrated. Morocco has a 30% unemployment rate, there are not jobs for those who are educated or those who are not. Which means there is a big competition of jobs for "blue collar" jobs. We see this frustration in the US with the (illegal) migration of Hispanic people. Sub-Saharan people and Moroccans are working for much lower wages in both Spain and Morocco to just compete with the job market. This is just like how the illegal Hispanic are treated in the US. 

  What is the solution? I sit here telling to you about how I've been called a nigger multiple times on the streets of Morocco and I have been physically assaulted, because I am a woman of color. At first all I could do was sulk in my bitterness, but now I know there are more positive ways to work towards a future of working together. NOW stop what your thinking AMERICANS, we AMERICANS (including myself) have a tendency to generalize people. I have experienced a lot of racism here, just as much as I have experience in America, BUT there have also been AMAZING people I have met here that DON'T care about the color of my skin. The key to moving forward is addressing this situation. I have been apart of amazing group of young Moroccans trying to make a change in Morocco. The first step as an outsider is to support locals to bring change to their communities. Change comes from within.

 Many Moroccans are extremely hospitable people (besides Ethiopians [lol]) and have the kindest hearts.

    My experience in Morocco has NOT and will NOT be tainted by ignorant people. Of course it does not make you feel good when people judge you based on something you cannot control (my skin color). There is nothing more that I love about myself than the color of my skin. It is a badge of pride that I wear. I'm not going to lie if I told you I haven't wondered how much easier it would be to be white man. The treatment of my friends when we go places, for the most part, is exceptional. Experiencing some of this hatred has made me question a lot of things, but at the end of the day, there is nothing more than I am proud of than to be a beautiful brown woman and if that brings negative or positive understandings, I know I am working for a brighter future where we all work together.

I honestly LOVE Morocco and there is nothing in the world that could ever change the things I have confronted and dealt with here. It sucks that a small minority of stupid people sometimes are the face of the majority, but unlike those people I refuse to generalize Moroccans or Arabs.

I have to remember not that ONE person is not a REPRESENTATION of the whole society.

Love is colorblind.

 أحبك (I love you),

Ida Ethiopia Ayalew

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The unspoken truth

Hello أمريكا (America),

     I have missed you all very much. It's been about seven months since I have seen all the McDonald and Quicktrip signs. As May approaches, I am filled with sadness, my time in Morocco is drawing to a close. This second semester has been a semester of plenty of reflection and acceptance. It has definitely been an emotional roller coaster, but I am learning to let unimportant things roll of my back.

    Last semester, I did not fully appreciate Morocco. I constantly ask myself why did it take me so long to come to this point of revelation? I was extremely homesick and didn't even know..

    When packing for Morocco, back in August (ages ago), I did not expect myself to fall into a perpetual state of homesickness. I was thinking to myself, Morocco; colorful long skirts and shirts. Not once did it ever really hit me, I was going to be gone for one year, 365 days. I never asked myself, what I should take with me to a distant place, drastically different from home. I urge those who are planning, considering, or beginning to study abroad to make sure you bring a piece of home with you wherever you go. 

   I have struggled with mild depression before coming to Morocco, visiting my counselor once a week during the school year, I addressed the problem points of my life. When the opportunity of traveling to Morocco came up, it never crossed my mind that I could fall back into my perpetual state of depression. I was thinking it will be all things Sunny! What was there to worry about? Nothing. Well, I was mistakenly wrong. The first semester in Morocco where incredible, until I came back from Ethiopia in January. I just tried to cope with life the same way I do when I am at home--study, study, study, but the longing to be home in Ethiopia with my mom and sister got the best of me. I would sometimes come straight home from school and sleep for hours beginning of this semester. I still traveled on some weekends, enjoyed some moments, but I was not living the moment. My mind was constantly bogged with dreading coming back to Morocco which I *thought* would draw me into this perpetual cycle of sadness, but it was my own reluctance to address my issues which trapped me in my room.

    I just needed my family, especially when I came back from Ethiopia. I hadn't seen my sister or mother in five years so coming back to Morocco felt so much harder than it actually was. Looking back I wish I just would have left my apartment, I wasted so much valuable moments and time. All I needed to do was get out and see something, breathe, meditate, but I choose instead to ostracize myself. My friends tried to encouraged me to go, but I made the ultimate decision.

What the solution? HONESTY! Call your loved ones.

  I encourage all those who can, call your family! There is nothing better in this world than hearing the voices of the people you love. Their voices bring so much comfort and encouragement, you feel you can conqueror the world. I am EVER so blessed to have a family and school who supports me. Without the help of my aunts, uncles, sisters, cousins, brothers, dad, mom, friends, and UMKC, I do not think I would have been able to get to the point of realization I have recently came to this semester. Life is not about your expectations, it is all about making your expectations met life. This preconceived notions about life abroad people have are wrong. Same you + different country = same you, BUT you have to choose to take advantage of the opportunities you have and it saddens me that it took me this long to realize this! It is such a simple answer to a simple question.

  I have this theory that life is actually simpler than people make it, I am accountable for making my life more complicated than it needs to be.

      As I was sitting at Pizza Hut eating the closet "American" thing I could find. My thoughts had consumed me. That was the moment I knew, I was homesick. Soon after this realization I knew I had to do something about it to enjoy the rest of my semester. January was definitely some long days of sadness, trying to break this funky mood I was constantly in, I starting running everyday. Exercise and mediation is helping me in my progress to move towards a positive direction.

      Homesickness is not taken seriously, it's my seventh month in Morocco and I am just getting over the milestones of homesick. People need to understand studying abroad isn't all rainbows and sunshine, but it is about creating your own sunshine and pushing through those cloudy days. It has taken me a long time to let the small things roll off my back. It's for the better, control what you can control and don't worry about the rest.

I just want to take this time to let everyone know, it is OKAY to be homesick, it's natural. We just have to work through it all the good and bad.

Find something which gives you peace and be self-aware. Whether it's sports, writing, singing, dancing in the rain, hiking, YOU have the ability to change how you feel.

Sending positive vibes from Morocco.

ليلة سعيدة (Good Night),


                                                        Enjoying some sunshine in Rabat!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

안녕하세요(Annyeonghaseyo)- Hello from South Korea~

Hi to everyone who studied abroad, will study abroad, or is interested in anything related to studying abroad! Currently, I am here in Seoul, South Korea studying at Dongguk University as a Business-Management student for two weeks now. Everything is happening so fast. I am enjoying all the new faces and environment. I met so many people since I first arrived in Korea. Many Korean people here are very friendly if you just talk to them. So being in a new, completely different country where you cannot speak the language sounds scary, but is not so bad once you overcome your fears of spontaneously meeting and talking to new people. I have spoken to many Korean students who rarely knows English, but are still nice to try to communicate with me.

My first experiences since I been in Korea:
-Riding the bus
-Riding the subway
-Taking a Taxi
-Trying Korean BBQ
-Trying street food
-Walking everywhere!
It was great that I got to experience all of that here in the city of Seoul. From time to time, I would miss my car, but I got used to walking everywhere.

A few things I learned about the country and the people:
-Seoul has A LOT of HILLS and STAIRS, especially at Dongguk University
-When it gets crowded anywhere, and you start to bump into people, it's natural to say "excuse me" or "sorry" BUT a lot of people do not mind or say anything to you. They are used to it.
-Be careful when crossing the street in busy traffic, the cars here will continue to go even if they have a red light. So, the crosswalk lights are your best friend. Do not jaywalk unless there are no incoming cars. Even in some narrow streets, cars will still try to squeeze in and you will be forced to get out of the way. They like to drive really close, but won't necessarily hit you, hopefully.
-When meeting someone, they will tell you a time such as 2pm, in Korean time, that means it can be 2 minutes BEFORE 2pm or 2 minutes AFTER 2pm. Being on time is very flexible here.
-A lot of Korean students are very dependent. Therefore, most of them are still living with their parents, which is not a bad thing! :) 

I am very lucky with the classes that I chose to take here at Dongguk University. All my professors spoke descent English with all the materials written in English. My first day of classes, I was very nervous of how the professors, students, and the way the class will be like. I imagined all my professors would end up teaching the classes in Korean. However, after my week of attending all my classes, I felt very relaxed due to all the friendly students and helpful professors who were able to speak in English. I cannot wait for when the semester picks up and I will be able to study again. I have been on break from classes since the beginning of December of 2013 (End of the Fall semester at UMKC).

I hope to write again!

Ting Ngov

Here is a link to see all my pictures from my fun and exciting adventures in Korea:

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Second Semester

I'm now well into my second semester in Lyon, France. This semester is harder scholastically because I am in regular French university classes, but my intensive language classes last semester are definitely proving to be helpful. It's still amazing to me that I know what's going on at all. Being proficient in a different language is so interesting. Words that seem like gibberish are coming into my brain and being processed quite normally. It's so much fun. :) 

My parents came to visit me over Christmas break and we traveled to Annecy, Rennes, Mont St Michel, and Paris. It's definitely a lot easier to travel on my parents budget. ;) In Februrary, I had the opportunity to visit Oxford, England another time. I haven't done loads of traveling this semester so far but I'm looking forward to doing some traveling in April, May, and June. I'll be traveling to the south of France (Avignon and Arles), as well as the west coast (La Rochelle), and then it'll be up to Amsterdam, down through Germany to visit some dear friends, back into France, then up into England and Scotland for some hiking before coming back to the states. 

It's hard to believe how fast this year is going by. I only have four months left abroad, only three of which will be spent in France. Back in August and September, I was sure that the eleven months would pass slowly but now I have no idea why I ever thought that. I am a little apprehensive about returning to the states. I'm a missionary kid, so moving around a lot has always been a part of my life, but I was never alone before. There are absolutely many features of Lyon that I will miss when I'm back in Kansas City.