Everyday Life in Global Morocco

Everyday Life in Global Morocco


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780253031235
Publisher: Indiana University Press
Publication date: 10/09/2017
Series: Public Cultures of the Middle East and North Africa Series
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 192
Sales rank: 413,271
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Rachel Newcomb is Professor of Anthropology at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. She is editor (with David Crawford) of Encountering Morocco: Fieldwork and Cultural Understanding.

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Marriage and Changing Gender Roles

After the worldwide economic downturn of 2008, Rachid Benjelloun, with more time on his hands, began to think it was time for a life change. Although he worked when he could, frequently returning to Spain to keep up his residency requirements and to search for short-term labor contracts, the steady six-month contracts he had depended on had become a thing of the past. He started going to the mosque regularly, and when he was in Fes he stopped spending as much time with his old friends who still drank alcohol and were going nowhere with their lives. He also began to think about marriage. In the past, he had dated women in Spain and even had a girlfriend or two whom he'd been serious about, but now he decided it was time to settle down with someone who shared his values: hard work, family, and a pious life.

In 2011, on an internet dating site for Muslims, he met Nejma, a Moroccan in her thirties who lived in Texas and worked in an insurance office. Nejma wore the hijab and told Rachid she had been engaged to a Moroccan but had never married. Her former fiancé, Nejma claimed, was not religious enough. After an internet courtship of a few months, during which they spoke frequently on Skype, Nejma and Rachid became engaged. Rachid was looking forward to starting over in America and had begun studying English in his spare time but wanted to meet her in person before getting married. Applying for a tourist visa to the United States was out of the question, since he knew that his recent patchy work history would definitely cause the consulate to refuse him. Nejma promised she would come to Morocco to spend time with him, but she continued to postpone her visit, citing the inappropriateness of dating before a proper Islamic marriage. A shaykh she had consulted said it was better to marry first than face the temptation to commit sins during an engagement. She insisted they do things properly, with him speaking to her family first and then setting a date for the wedding. Rachid had mixed feelings about marrying her without having seen her in person, but he agreed to visit her family in Casablanca to formalize their engagement. Together with his uncle and mother, he traveled to Casablanca, but when they arrived at Nejma's family home in a modest working-class neighborhood full of identical five-story buildings, the family did not invite him inside. Rachid's mother, Latifa, was particularly insulted, saying that even if the family insisted on separating men from women, at least she should have been invited inside to meet the women of Nejma's family.

Instead, they joined Nejma's brother and uncle in a café, where her family laid out the terms of the marriage, including a substantial bride price (sadaq) of several thousand dollars as well as jewelry. If Rachid wanted to marry her, they insisted, he would gather the money to show that he respected her reputation and her good name, since she was, in their words, "still a girl [ma zal bint]." This was an assertion on Nejma's family's part that she had never been married, that she was still a virgin, and that therefore she could demand a higher bride price than someone who was divorced. They agreed tentatively to a wedding four months away.

Latifa had concerns about the fact that the relationship between their two families was almost nonexistent. Was Nejma's family just inhospitable? Why had they not invited Rachid's family into their home? And why had no one in Nejma's family come to Fes? Rachid brought up the issue with Nejma, who, in response, sent her mother, sister, and aunt to Fes to visit his family. The Benjellouns prepared a dinner in their honor, inviting several members of their immediate family, but only women, respecting Nejma's request to Rachid that no men be present. Nejma's mother and aunt arrived two hours late, citing problems with the train. They stayed only about an hour, refusing the several hours of socializing that the Benjellouns had expected, and departed shortly after drinking their after-dinner tea.

Latifa had a bad feeling about the marriage and was convinced that the two families were incompatible. By Fassi standards of hospitality, had Nejma's family really been interested in forging an alliance, they would have been friendlier, at the very least staying a few hours to make up for being two hours late. The Benjelloun family did not practice gender segregation, and aside from funerals, most ceremonies (such as weddings) and parties were mixed. Rachid and his sisters, however, convinced Latifa to put aside her reservations. Rachid was in his thirties, after all, and it was time to marry. There would be more work for him in the United States, where the unemployment crisis was not as severe as it was in Spain. Privately, although his sister Ilham had also found the family to be rude, she invoked regionalism and speculated that it might have something to do with their origins from a city near the Algerian border, saying, "People from there don't have the same manners as people from Fes. And they probably think we're snobs from Fes, so it might take them some time to warm up to us."

Among them, the Benjellouns raised the money agreed on in the marriage contract.

"If they're so religious," Mourad pointed out, "why are they demanding such a large sadaq for her?" Many Islamists decried the fact that materialism and the high costs of weddings were leading to fewer people getting married, so there had been a move in recent years to encourage Islamic marriages without all the associated forms of consumption, particularly the sadaq or expensive weddings. Some highly educated Moroccans also eschew the custom of the bride price, writing down only a symbolic token in their marriage contracts, such as a wedding ring. But most members of the Benjelloun family did not question this, accepting the basic cultural fact that Moroccan weddings came with the custom of money changing hands in preparation for setting up a new household.

To afford the sadaq, Rachid returned to Spain, working as much as he could in the months leading up to the wedding, while his mother gathered family heirlooms and sold a dilapidated apartment she had owned in the medina, which brought in a modest monthly income. His siblings contributed what they could as well. In June Nejma arrived. She had been talking on Skype with Rachid for a year now, and by his account their first in-person meeting went well. He found her just as attractive and modest as she seemed on the internet, wearing a fitted headscarf and a long but stylish skirt and blouse. The night she arrived, he met her in Casablanca, where he took her to a seafood restaurant a friend had recommended. He stayed overnight with a cousin in Rabat, and then he and Nejma spent the next day together, walking around the city and talking about the future.

"She said she'll go right back to America and apply for the green card for me to move over there, so we can be together," he reported. He was nervous about his lack of English, but she assured him that in Texas his Spanish would give him a good start, and the English would come with time. The wedding was to take place in two days, and her family members, who were arranging it, had been uncommunicative with him about the details. When he asked if they might go to her house and visit them, she refused, saying they were too busy working on preparations. He respected her wishes and returned to Fes to wait.

For a few months now, his only contact with her family had been when she sent over documents necessary for the marriage permit. When the wedding day approached, the Benjelloun siblings, their mother, and a few other relatives traveled to Casablanca, unsure of what to expect. The wedding was held on two floors of an apartment that belonged to someone Nejma's family knew, and, as expected, the men's party was on one floor, the women's on the other. However, aside from the gender segregation, there was still music and dancing. Rachid's family had paid for the catering at considerable expense, even though the bride's family traditionally covered wedding arrangements. The couple signed the wedding contract and left around eleven that night in a borrowed car, to spend their wedding night in the four-star hotel Rachid had reserved for them. The next morning, they traveled to southern Morocco for their honeymoon.

For the next few days, while the couple was on their honeymoon, no one in the family heard from Rachid, except for brief text messages and photos. The couple looked happy in the photos. But a few days into the marriage, Rachid called Mourad and asked him to send money, around the equivalent of $500. Mourad sent it to him, no questions asked, but after five days, two days earlier than expected, the couple returned to Fes, completely out of money. Rachid and Nejma would stay in the family apartment with Latifa, but Nejma was visibly unhappy with this arrangement, complaining about the tight quarters, the uncomfortable bed, the lack of pillows, and the fact that Rachid did not have any money left to put them up in a hotel. She was waiting for jewelry and an antique gold belt (typically worn with caftans) that his family had given her, which had been at the jeweler's to be fitted. Rachid, Latifa, and Nejma went to the jeweler the evening the couple returned but found the shop closed.

The next day, they returned to the jeweler. The jewelry would be ready later in the day, and Rachid asked Nejma if she wanted him to show her around the city or meet some other members of his family, but she said she just wanted to go to a café and wait. They sat together, not speaking, for an interminable amount of time, and then returned to Latifa's for lunch. After lunch the jewelry was finally ready, but then Nejma announced she was returning to Casablanca. She refused to stay another night in the family apartment, she told Rachid, which she found uncomfortable. He assumed she was just tired from the strain of the past week's travel, but when he called her later that day, her phone was turned off. He left several messages, sick with worry, but she did not return his call until the next day. Nejma was supposed to spend another week in Morocco but announced that her plans had changed and that she had to return to Texas in two days. He offered to come to Casablanca to try to make things up to her, but she told him, "Only if you can support me like a real man, which doesn't seem possible, so I don't want to see you."

He was stunned by her comment and, in truth, by the events of the week of the honeymoon. From the first moment they arrived in Agadir, everything had gone badly. Nejma found the three-star hotel he'd reserved to be not nice enough for her standards, and she insisted on moving to a four-star resort. Rachid was too ashamed to tell her it was beyond his ability to pay. At the resort, food was included in their bill, but after one meal there, Nejma told him the buffet was unappetizing and demanded they eat at restaurants she had researched in advance, all of which were expensive and filled with foreign tourists. Rachid was easygoing and had envisioned that they might go to cafés or modest restaurants, or even eat fresh grilled fish at the port, but Nejma was horrified by this suggestion and accused him of not valuing her. She had no interest in walks on the beach and spent most of her time shopping, bent on acquiring as many things to take back to Texas as possible, ranging from clothes to expensive purses to Moroccan souvenirs for her friends at home. The morning he called Mourad in desperation, Rachid had spent all of the $1,500 he had brought with him to cover the honeymoon expenses. The $500 Mourad sent lasted only another two nights, after which Nejma had to put part of the cost of the final night at the hotel on her credit card, which had infuriated her. She again accused Rachid of not valuing her sufficiently, going back to the day of their wedding, when, she said, his family had chosen an inferior catering company which had delivered food that was of low quality. She cited the first hotel in Agadir and most of his ideas about restaurants as evidence of his cheapness, claiming he had deceived her about his income and the amount of money he had.

"I wouldn't have married you if I'd known you were so cheap," she said. "You deceived me, with your Benjelloun name and your work in Spain. I thought you were someone else."

"And I thought you were religious and didn't care about money and gifts," he argued back. "You told me you liked me for who I was, and that the most important thing was to be a good Muslim, not to be so obsessed with money."

Rachid realized too late that Nejma and her family had assumed his family was wealthy based solely on their family name and Fassi origins. His side of the story was that he had never deceived her about his own wealth, and that he had explained to her that he worked in Spain when he could but had not had the same job opportunities that had been available only a few years before.

"I don't know what else she wanted. We had an agreement about the sadaq. I found a way to cover that. All our other conversations were about how we would start a life together and support each other. I told her I was a hard worker, and that we might start our new lives with nothing but we would grow with time. And as for her, I thought she was a religious girl. I didn't see anything religious about her when she got here. She only asked to go to the mosque once, for Friday prayers, but all I saw was someone who treated me like I was a bank."

For the rest of her time in Morocco, Nejma avoided Rachid. He went to the airport on the day she was scheduled to return to the United States but could not find her, and after driving around Casablanca visiting all the places he knew her family might be, he finally found her brother at his workplace; the brother admitted that Nejma had not left but told him to stay away from her. She had lied to Rachid about returning early and stayed another week in Morocco, her mobile phone turned off.

Soon after that he received an official notice that she was petitioning for divorce and spousal support. In the petition, she claimed she was unemployed, which he knew was not true, and she asked for the equivalent of several months' rent, alimony, and several thousand dirhams for damages to her reputation. She also stated that he had only wanted to marry her to immigrate to the United States.

"I'm divorcing you because we're incompatible, and also because you didn't respect me," she told him one of the few times she agreed to communicate once she left Morocco. He asked her what she meant by a lack of respect.

"You were so cheap on our honeymoon," she explained. "And when you took me to the cheap fish restaurant in Casablanca the first day we met. You never bought me one present except when I had to ask. And the catering your family ordered for our wedding was horrible; the chicken was cold. And because of the new mudawana I'll get everything I'm asking for. All I'll have to do is come back and sign the papers. You're going to pay!"

Rachid consulted a close family friend who was a lawyer, who looked at the conditions of the marriage contract. Rachid pointed out that the contract said she was unemployed. It also, he said, claimed she was a virgin, though he had found out on their wedding night that this was not true. Nejma had been briefly married in the States, he learned, although she had divorced right away. Originally, she had told him only that she had been engaged to someone. The lawyer consulted a colleague who often handled transnational divorce cases, and the colleague explained that marriage and divorce records in the United States were public. At considerable expense, Rachid paid the second lawyer, who had connections in America, to obtain copies of both the marriage and divorce decrees. To his surprise, he discovered that Nejma's "brief" marriage had lasted more than two years. He filed a countersuit for marriage fraud, since virginity in Morocco still makes a woman more "marriageable" than someone who is divorced, so for Nejma to claim that she was a virgin significantly increased her value in the eyes of Moroccan law. Additionally, it was technically illegal for a Moroccan who married abroad to neglect to register a marriage in Morocco. In his petition, he asked for the return of the jewelry his family had given her.

What followed was a legal nightmare that took up much of Rachid's time and energy over the next year, as he pursued both cases through the courts of Casablanca (where she filed) and Fes (where he filed). Nejma came to Morocco once, and they met in court. The judge urged them to stay together, which Rachid was willing to do, but Nejma refused and said she would never stay married to him. Most of the time he was in court alone, with his lawyer facing her lawyer, and the cases were repeatedly deferred as the lawyers asked for more time or the judges asked for more paperwork. During this time, Rachid was unable to travel to Spain for work, even when his friends there had called to let him know about available work contracts. He worked in Fes when he could but was now receiving very little income. The Moroccan courts repeatedly refused to accept the marriage and divorce documents from the United States, often for puzzling reasons, such as too few stamps on the documents, or that the documents looked like photocopies (which they were, although with stamps certifying them). Nejma's lawyer repeatedly filed for delays, a strategy that Rachid realized only too late was meant to delay the clock on the divorce so that he would be responsible for support during the time they were legally married. He spent several hundred dollars obtaining translations and multiple copies of the marriage and divorce decrees from the United States. Rachid and his lawyer tried several times to have the police question Nejma about her first marriage in the United States and serve court papers to her house in Morocco, particularly when they were aware she would be in the country, but the police were never able to find her.


Excerpted from "Everyday Life in Global Morocco"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Rachel Newcomb.
Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Note on Transliteration
1. Transnational Suspicions: Marriage and Changing Gender Roles
2. Reproduce: Changing Conceptions of Reproduction and Infertility
3. Labor: Migration and the Informal Market
4. Consume: The End of the Mediterranean Diet
5. Dwell: Urban Nostalgia as Neoliberal Critique
Appendix: Glossary of Terms

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