By Winter Shaw
Before my travels to Morocco, I pondered the cultural differences I was about to encounter. Prior to this experience, I considered Muslim woman to be restricted and suppressed. I thought the children would lack self-expression and a sense of individuality. I thought the society would be completely male dominated and the woman wouldn’t have a voice. Overall, I thought our inherit differences would be too vast to find common ground. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Traveling alongside two local passionate women (ImprintEd Abroad's cultural facilitators), having the opportunity to sojourn in homestays with several generations of Muslim women, work with the local youth, and having had many long conversations with host brothers, my conceptions have forever shifted. I learned, through many laughs and tears, despite our different upbringings, we are all one and the same. We are all people. We suffer, face upheavals, experience love and loss, just not in the same context. Our visible differences are prominent while our alike hearts are hidden.
Another contradiction to my initial beliefs regarding the strict dress requirements: I believed that Moroccan women's dress was “confining” dress and oppressive, but I soon learned that Moroccan women not only embrace but enjoy dressing modestly. They feel it eliminates distractions and provides the opportunity to surpass their sexuality and connect with people on a more intellectual level. Paradoxically, it frees them. A little take away that many American women may not have considered is the allure, and not to mention self-empowerment, of being a little mysterious.
I learned that the assumptions of what the cultural differences were going to be like is the biggest limitation while traveling. Once I freed myself of my preconceived notions for what Muslim countries were supposed to be, I found myself feeling a strong sense of place, and a deep connection to the environment, people, food, and culture.
Winter traveled to Morocco this summer with the Girl Captains program, which is a collaboration between ImprintEd Abroad and Brooklyn Raney LLC. ImprintEd Abroad staff (including 3 Moroccan program leaders) worked with Brook Raney and Shanterra McBride (of Marvelous University), who are motivational speakers, educational consultants, and formidable mentors to young women. The 13 girl captains engaged with local girls by facilitating workshops, participating in discussions, and over meals in locals' homes; as well as during a 2-night homestay.