My Facebook friend Mandy asked if she could share a post about her recent journey into Morocco…
Mandy Lea Schwarz
3 months ago my husband and I arrived in Casablanca, Morocco; although the journey began quite a few months before that. In February 2015 we agreed to interview to teach at an American School in Casablanca and nothing could prepare us for the journey that lay ahead. Our prayer through this process was this- Lord, if it’s your will, let it be done. There was no way we could prepare ourselves to move across the continent, especially with an almost 3 year old! I had some preconceived notions about what life would be like. But all I can say is this; I was wrong.
As a Christian, I knew moving to a Muslim country would be a challenge- I hoped we would find fellow Christians, and I prayed that we would make a difference. I trusted that God would use me in a way I had never been used before. It’s easy to delve into this “missionary” mindset and believe that God is sending you to make a difference, to change people. Well, I was wrong. The experience thus far has changed me, has taught me, has molded me. I guess there’s an element of, before you can be used, you need to be ready; clearly, i’m not ready! Don’t get me wrong, you can reach out to people, pray for people and God can use you, but I feel that God has used this short time to teach me that I still have a lot to learn about myself, as an individual and a follower.
I’m going to be frank, completely honest. I have never spent a lot of time around Muslim people, people of the Islam faith. I keep asking myself why, and I can’t pinpoint a specific reason. Did I have opinions about Muslim people? Yes. Did I stereotype people of the Islam faith? Yes. Have I read articles about Muslim extremists and researched terrorism in Morocco? Absolutely. So this is the mindset I came to this country with- there were Muslims, and then there was me. Upon arrival in Casablanca you are thrust into a Muslim environment; prayer calls 3-4 times a day (we live across from a mosque), women who choose to cover themselves (some even cover their eyes), coffee shops filled with men only, streets bustling- again, mostly men. As a Western woman you most definitely feel, out of place. Men stare. Women stare. Everyone, stares. But why wouldn’t they? You’re different, and so they’re curious.
From the beginning I questioned my place as a woman in this society, and have been humbled by the way I look at woman. As we walk in the streets of the suburbs, or in the city, or make our way to the beach- I have found myself somewhat in awe, because I’ve been forced to look at people, really LOOK at people. When I’m standing on the train and a woman is standing in front of me, covered from head to toe, how will I get to know her? Well, it’s easy- I’d actually have to talk to her, step out of my comfort zone, maybe even smile! I admire how woman carry themselves, perhaps being a mother of a future teenager- I appreciate the conservative nature that I see in these woman. I used to believe that Muslim woman were forced to cover their heads- almost as if they were trapped by their husbands, their faith. Well, not all Muslim women do cover themselves, but most people don’t know it is a choice, and one they make proudly! So once again, I was wrong.
Finding a church in Casablanca has been a challenge! We were told beforehand that there were some Christian churches in the city, and after we visited one- the worship was fantastic- we just realized that it wasn’t the right church for us. We’ve since joined a home church in our area, with couples who have kids the same age as us- this works! However, I thought I would had this idea that moving here would draw me closer to God, that I would have intense worship sessions, mind blowing teaching and simply, be challenged. Well, I was wrong. Church here is like church back home. Number 1, you’ve got to go- only you can make the decision to be there. 2, it’s one day of the week- it’s not going to shape you into the Christian you’re aspiring to be. You still need to commit to daily worship, to daily prayer, to seeking out God; daily. Sometimes, I feel even more so- when you’re isolated from the Christian circles you used to move in, there can be an element of loneliness and isolation- it’s up to you to reach out, in every way possible.
Another thing that I feel has surprised me most here (kind of links with the point about feeling out of place as a women here), is how absolutely, out of this world KIND men are to women here- it doesn’t matter where you are from. Upon arrival at the airport we were faced with a daunting crowd at passport control- after travelling for 20 odd hours, an exhausted toddler in my arms, and fearing for the life changing decision we had made, we felt; overwhelmed, to say the least. The crowd was pushing us and I remember thinking, this is too much for me. I made eye contact with a man at the front of the line, he looked at me and smiled. “Come to the front please.” I shook my head and insisted we stay where we were, I didn’t want to upset anyone.
“You have a child, you must come to the front of the line. Please, this is how we do things here.” he insisted. Pushing himself to where we were, he grabbed our bags and led us to the front of the line. This man, this Muslim man, was an angel that night. I could never really thank him for what he did that night- as we placed our passports down this impatient crowd ,people filled with frustration, stampeded the queue and everything was chaos- thankfully we had gotten through.
On another occasion we had a complete stranger come into our home, fix our internet for us and refuse to accept a tip from us. The following day a young guy that worked across the street pointed out our gas bottle was leaking, he replaced the valve, reinstalled it- and again-refused a tip. Unfortunately we had an emergency room run one night with a sick toddler, we were at clinic in the middle of the night and needed to get to a different hospital. A parent of a sick child overheard and even though he couldn’t communicate with us in English, told the security guard he would drive us to the other hospital. So, did I think people would treat me differently and not welcome us? Oh, yes- and guess what, I was wrong! We have only been confronted with warm and kind responses from complete strangers-how awesome!
Embracing a new culture is never easy, people told me- the only way you’ll make it is to submerge yourself in the culture. There’s an element of choice that comes in to play- submerge yourself in the culture, eat the local food, go to local spots, mix with the locals- or exclude yourself and you’ll always be a foreigner living in someone else’s country. The beauty of being South African is that we come from a land of diversity, something that has truly helped me whilst living here.
It’s hard for me to admit this, to admit that I had these preconceived ideas, because honestly, they seem very naive and stem from a great deal of ignorance. It has made me think about how we stereotype people, countries and basically anybody that is different from us. The lesson I am being taught on a daily basis is to simply accept- accept people and try and understand who they are, why they do the things they do, and to simply do one thing; love. God is love. Jesus is love. Jesus loved those who were different. And i’m slowly realizing that’s all I need to do while i’m here, and basically anywhere else in the world. I know that we have a lot more in store, I know there will be challenges- I know God has brought us here for a reason.( My motto here is “God is in control!”) It’s challenging teaching in a school with learners who are from a different culture, and have a different faith. They have taught me so much these last few months- they have shared how they feel about how “Westerners” stereotype Muslim people. It’s sad to see how much it hurts them. It’s convicting. It’s up to us though to change that view, change that stereotype- change the way we see the world, and the people in it!
It’s difficult to try and put this experience into words, any life changing experience is! But I pray that you will think about your opinions about people, and maybe even try step out of your comfort zone, and simply give people a chance. #Casalife #Meltingpotofcultures!