The things that follow you

The pilot’s voice cracks over the intercom. A thirty minute delay.

Passengers on the plane begin to fidget, craning their necks to glimpse the flight attendants. They grab the magazines who wait, knowingly in the neatly organized seat pockets.

I shrug and return to my music, enjoying the cool air blowing on my face. Souk buses never announce delays.

The passengers sitting near me stare at my hands. The henna is etched in deep, dark triangles on my palms. My fingertips are black. I look up, searching for their eyes to explain.

“This is traditional where I live,” I want to say proudly. I stop myself.

I start fidgeting now. The man in the seat next to me has taken ownership of the arm rest, his elbow inching nearer and nearer to my thigh.

My heart starts to race.

Moments on the train, on the bus, in the grand taxi, come roaring back, flooding my mind. All of a sudden my eyes start to tear up.

I ram my elbow into his, to let him know my discontent. I take deep breaths.

Once more I look down at the patterns on my hands. Morocco is following me on this vacation in more ways than one.

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daily inequalities

The recent discussions surrounding #YesAllWomen have hit me hard this week.

I am currently living in one of the most unequal societies in the world to be a woman. According to the World Economic Forum, only 7 of the 136 countries surveyed in 2013 are more unequal than Morocco — Iran, Cote d’Ivoire, Mauritania, Syria, Chad, Pakistan and Yemen.

I am a witness to gender discrimination every day. Women were forbidden by their husbands or boyfriends from running in the race held in town because they believe it is inappropriate for women to exercise in public. There are no hours for women to swim at the local pool because, as a young man told me, “the pool’s café would lose too much business.” I receive marriage offers and am constantly asked about my relationship status, because my worth increases with relationships to men.

I am a Peace Corps Volunteer, a teacher, a college graduate, and an amateur photographer. And yet, before all of that, I am always seen as a woman.

Every hour of every day I am reminded of my gender.

If someone is shouting my name on the street from behind me, I never turn around.

If I am walking alone after dark, I always have my phone in my hand.

If I am running in the morning, I time my route so there is a perfect amount of people on the road – enough so that I’m not alone, but not crowded enough that I feel stared at.

If I am walking through my town, I know a safe place on every block I can go to if I need help.

If I am walking anywhere at any time of day, I know how to shift my eyes in such a manner to assess my surroundings without seeming paranoid.

If I am ever at home, you better believe my door is locked tight.

If a man is yelling obscene comments or staring at me with such intensity that I know he is mentally undressing me, I adjust my sunglasses, say nothing, and walk on.

I have become skilled at each of these techniques not because I have employed them throughout my nearly six months in Morocco — but because I have been perfecting them my entire life.

I am no more scared of being sexually assaulted or harassed in Morocco than I was when I lived in suburban Texas, or Washington DC, or Cape Town. Why? Because as a woman, that thought never quite leaves my mind. It is a seed that remains firmly planted at the front of my consciousness – and will remain every day of my life. Because I am a woman.

But still I rise.

Because even though society teaches me that I am less than my male counterpart – I refuse to believe it.

I refuse to believe it’s normal that every time I’m harassed on the street I automatically think about the clothes I’m wearing and if maybe I brought it upon myself. Or that my boyfriend’s job opportunities should be more important than mine. It’s not normal that I don’t take the same route home every day because I don’t want onlookers to learn my schedule. That my job has more hazards than my male coworkers simply because I’m a woman. That I need a man at all in order to live a fulfilling life.

Still I rise.

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Writer’s Note: I do not claim to speak for any person’s experiences other than my own. This is the opinion of one female Peace Corps Volunteer — and may not necessarily be shared by other Volunteers in-country or serving in other countries. Thanks for allowing me to express myself here to add my piece to a very important topic xx