(*Note: We have left Morocco, and I’m just now getting around to publishing this draft.)
We stood in the road of a small Moroccan village named M’hamid. My spouse and I chatted with a local man who spoke fluent English. A threesome approached us, and the local man turned to greet them. Everyone introduced themselves, and one of the men in the Italian threesome grabbed my hand and bent to kiss it. The Moroccan man turned to Tedly and said, “If she was my wife, I’d break that man’s jaw.”
And that will launch me into a few thoughts about how I felt as an American woman traveling with a husband in Morocco.
Men and women generally do not show public displays of affection in Morocco. I first noticed this in Marrakech, and I continue my observation as we tour the country. As of this writing, after more than two weeks in Morocco, I have seen fewer than a dozen instances of hand-holding between couples, and zero kisses or hugs (minus the hug and kiss I got permission to give our Sahara guide – he was an awesome person).
I am not a woman who overtly shows affection. In fact, I can be rather aloof and somewhat cool in public. However, I also can be playful as a non-muslim Western woman. So when my chatty, silly spouse said something outrageous, I slapped his ass in public. The thought never crossed my mind that I shouldn’t do that – I just did it.
And once his ass was swatted, I immediately knew I shouldn’t have done that out of respect for the people in the country to which I was but a visitor. I sometimes wear a headscarf (or at least my coat’s hood) when we are around more rural areas and where the women all cover their hair. I have not kissed my husband on the street, nor have I hugged him, although the desire to do both has welled up fiercely inside me a few times. Somehow, my hand found his ass and whapped it good without any forethought.
Nothing happened after the slap. I looked around in the market where we were. No one pointed at me; no one called for the PDA police. I felt a bit embarrassed, and I resolved to keep a better handle on my wandering hand.
Morocco is a Muslim country that also is somewhat liberal. Women can choose whether or not to wear veils and headscarves. Women drive, and women can even file for divorce. It’s not like women are subservient to men, exactly… and yet…
We took a tour at the largest mosque in Morocco – Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca. It was beautiful. It’s one of the top sites to see in this modern, high-rise city, especially for non-Muslims like us because the mosque allows us inside. What struck me more than anything else was where the women pray inside. There are large wooden platforms on which women worship God. The men worship underneath them. The platforms are designed in such a way that neither group would really be able to see much of the other.
I asked our guide why there is this separation. She replied if there is a beautiful woman bending over to pray in front of a man, he might get distracted from his own prayer. She also said men and women can pray together on the same level, if, for instance, there are more than five thousand women on the platforms and there is an overflow. But — the men and women on the same level still will be blocked from each other by a partition.
And that really sums up most of the world’s trouble – doesn’t it? So many men have a such a hard time controlling themselves around beautiful women.
It seems Muslims have determined public separation of the sexes and prudeness are good ways for men (and women) to stay honorable. Of course, what happens between a husband and wife behind closed doors is another matter.
Out of respect for the religion and customs here, I will continue to keep a mindful eye over my hand so it doesn’t connect to my husband’s backside in public for the duration of our visit. And then, when we leave Morocco, I might mindfully slap his ass more often – not because I particularly want to – but just because I can.