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During our initial training, we were given a lot of ‘cultural sensitivity’ training. Of course, a lot of this is necessary – very few of us knew anything about Muslim culture or Morocco. Other times, it served to scare the bejeezus out of us.
Now, I’m not going to discuss what other volunteers have or have not done – that’s their story. But for me, I’ve dodged the truth on more than one occasion – I had quite an instilled fear of cultural backlash in me. I had no desire to be ‘that volunteer who had to change sites because she ignored the sensitivity training.’ However, haltingly, I’ve told more and more complete truths about topics we were cautiously warned to ignore. And you know what? No backlash has come. Specifically on the topic of drinking, it’s actually provided quite a lot of conversational material with people in my town. To my knowledge, no one has shunned me for it, and I still regularly talk to the guy that calls out the Call to Prayer in my neighborhood.
I understand that there are many places in Morocco that are more conservative than my site, but I still live a far cry from urban (read: liberal) Morocco. Had I been placed in an exceedingly conservative site, as some PCVs are, all the fears I took with me from training in me may have been legitimate. However, they have been the largest thorn in my side throughout service – I’m an honest person, and I feel it does neither my service, my community, or myself any good to continue sidestepping truths in fear of offending people or being rejected.
This is why I’m trying to be more and more straightforward in my remaining 10 months of service. My community is exceedingly, sometimes painfully honest with me – returning the favor leads to some very interesting cultural and personal conversations.
This is not to say cultural sensitivity is a bad thing – I still dress conservatively, although slightly less so than I did at the beginning, and the women in my town are not shy about letting me know they appreciate it and letting me know if I need to rethink a specific outfit to conform a little better. I also still respect the boundaries placed on me by being a female volunteer, and don’t do things like go into the cafes at my site or have men in my house. Those are the big ones, but I know there are other cultural hints given to us during training that I still use every day.
This is something I think about often, but it’s been particularly highlighted in the last few days. I had a conversation about a ‘taboo’ topic with a small group of women yesterday, initiated entirely on their side and without a trace of condemnation despite the fact that some of my answers would have been shameful coming from a girl in their culture. Today, I had a ton of fun at a wedding – initially I was told not to dance, but I gave up on that restriction in April at my friend’s wedding. After the delicious lunch, I went to the party room and shook my booty (which another lady wrapped a scarf around, of course, for emphasis) to the drums and singing – a much better way to pass time at a party than my previous M.O. of sitting on the sidelines vaguely trying to understand the words of the call and response. More dancing to live music will commence on the streets in the evening, and I plan to participate to the fullest.
I’m really looking forward to my next 10 months of service. May more frank discussions – and much more dancing – ensue.