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From Wisconsin to Morocco: Memoirs From Morocco

19 March, 2012 09:32  Erin Erin

morocco memoirs jaime brown My name is Jaime and I’m originally from Kenosha, Wisconsin. I spent a few years living in Los Angeles before I moved to Morocco so I’m kind of like a West Coast-loving, mint tea-sipping  Cheesehead. And I love glitter.

1. Why did you move abroad?
It’s a pretty unique story, actually. I was working as a production manager for music videos, commercials and television and after a while it became less and less fulfilling. I wanted to be doing something different and living my life without being forced into the tiny bubble known as Hollywood. One day while visiting a friend, I saw a copy of the Quran on the bookshelf and I picked it up.  Turns out, I couldn’t put it down.

I was a Christian my whole life and even taught Sunday School in church—so this was strange for me to be reading something about a different religion. Within three months, I knew FOR SURE Islam was the truth and I had to leave the craziness of LA and live my life in a Muslim country.

Before I knew it, I was on a plane to Morocco without ever visiting before. I didn’t know anybody, I didn’t have a job or a plan, but I had faith that everything would work out. Guess what? It did. J I’ve traded the glamorous life of living in the fast lane for a modest life wearing a khaymar and praying every day. I’m now married to a Moroccan man who treats me better than a queen and sometimes it’s still hard to believe this is really my life.

2. How do you make a living?

Oh that? Riiiiiight. I don’t work.

3. How often do you communicate with home and how?
My parents and I communicate almost every day. Sometimes, I send homing pigeons with messages back to America. So far, I haven’t heard back from anyone. In all fairness, it’s a long flight.

Other than that, I keep in touch through emails, facebook, Sype, and the occasional phone call.

4. What's your favorite thing about being an expat in Morocco?
For sure it’s the hospitality here. Everyone is so welcoming and friendly. It’s part of the culture and I think I get a little extra attention because I’m the “American girl who converted to Islam.”  I’ve met so many people since being here and everyone wants to hear my story—and drink Moroccan tea of course! This can be good and bad.

5. What’s the worst thing about being an expat in Morocco?
Sometimes it’s hard to be out in public normally. If I go to the souk (like a big bazaar or market) I get stared at and people whisper and point. The thing is, most people have no idea I speak Arabic so I understand what they’re saying. Most of the time it’s, “Look, look, look! There’s a white girl—and she’s wearing a khaymar! I wonder if she’s Muslim…” In LA, EVERYONE is different so nobody pays any attention, but here I stick out like a carrot in a candy shop!

6. What do you miss most?

Seeing (and hugging) my family and friends whenever I want, driving, shopping, working, being able to go to the store and actually find what you’re looking for when you need it, Mexican food, having a washer and dryer, speaking English, having a cell phone with a monthly bill, actually getting what you ordered at a restaurant, toilets that flush, art supply stores, couches, food trucks in LA, people that look like me, and grocery stores. Oh yeah, and Taco Bell. (Yep, I said it.) Nachos Bel Grande, HOLLERRRRR!

7. What did you do to meet people and integrate in your new home?
I met someone on www.CouchSurfing.com and we communicated for about 3 months before I moved here. I spent the first few months living with a Moroccan family and seeing how daily life goes here. To say that I experienced culture shock is a huge understatement. Things that are normal to me are strange to people here and vice versa. Even things like hot water are sometimes considered a luxury and I was not expecting that. I’ve learned to adapt and adjust but it was definitely stressful in the beginning.

8. What custom/ habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?

I don’t even know where to start. I could dedicate an entire blog to this topic alone. How about I just give you my top 5 list:

1. Nobody uses plates or napkins when they eat and everyone shares a big dish in the middle. Drinking a lot while eating is considered odd and they think cold water makes you sick.

2. It’s normal for women to belch very loudly while eating. That’s one thing I’ll never get used to. Ever.

3.  There’s no concept of a “space bubble” here. People will push, shove, and generally invade your personal space without noticing that you even exist.

4. Everything here is copy/paste, copy/paste, copy/paste. There’s no creativity and everyone just copies what’s already been done. All the décor in the houses is the same (traditional Moroccan salons, doilies on the tv, cheap artwork with the cardboard corners left on, obnoxiously fake flowers, etc.)  

The neighborhoods have corner stores about every 20 feet (seriously) and the inventory inside of them is exactly the same. I’m not even joking. It’s like one person had an idea, and the rest just followed suit.

People don’t understand marketing, either. For example, you might see a man selling beach umbrellas on the side of a long stretch of road—but literally 5 feet away from him, another man will plop down and try to sell umbrellas right next to him. Why wouldn’t you go to the opposite side of the road to catch the other traffic?!  Common sense is not so common here.

5. PEOPLE LOVE TO BE HOT. It boggles my mind on an almost daily basis. Let’s not forget people—this is Africa! On a 89º degree day, you will find Moroccans wearing multiple layers of clothing. We’re talkin’ 2 pairs of sweat pants, socks, hooded sweatshirts, winter parkas, and fur coats. I’m 100% serious. If you want to torture yourself, take a bus somewhere. They love to keep the windows closed because, like everything else on earth, hot air “will make you sick.”

9. What is a myth about your adopted country?
There are camels everywhere. Oh wait, that’s true. Many people think that everyone just sits around and drinks tea all day. Wait, that’s also true. Ok, fine—a myth is that Morocco is like this magical, enchanting land that is brimming with culture, tons of spices, and some of the friendliest people on earth. Dang it! That’s true, too!

10. What advice would you give other expats?
Don’t ever stop exploring. Sometimes we get comfortable in our new surroundings and we forget to keep discovering what else is out there. If you made the move to live in another country, don’t stop moving around inside of it. There are too many sunsets to see, hidden cafés to relax in, foods to try, adventures to partake in, and too many interesting people to meet—so don’t get stuck in a rut!

11. When and why did you start your blog?

May of 2011 was when I published my first entry and I’ve had about 12,000 page views since then. The original purpose was to let my friends and family know what I was up to and to share pictures with them—but now I have readers in over 60 countries. I didn’t expect so many people to take interest and I’m always surprised at how people come across my blog. Some of the search words are hilarious!

12. How has the blog been beneficial?
For starters, I have found a way to stay in touch with my family and friends without having to answer the same questions in emails over and over again. I like to write so it has also become an outlet for creativity. Sometimes I write about life in Morocco, sometimes I post recipes, and sometimes I just talk about goofy things. Either way, it’s fun to keep it going.downtown jaime brown camel

From an Islamic standpoint, I think it’s good for people to see that there’s an American Muslim who has such strong faith, she packed everything up into one suitcase and headed to a land of mystery. There’s been so many people asking me questions about what I believe in, how I found islam, and what the religion is all about. Back in the States, the media portrays Islam to be this terrorist religion with scary people screaming about jihad—which couldn’t be further from the turth. I love that I can give people a glimpse of the religion from a very real point of view.

Right now I’m working on a long one all about Islam. Besides the religious aspect of my blog, I have a few favorite posts:  The 7 Day Scramble, A Letter to Los Angeles, and The Junk Drawer.  Check it out—you might laugh a little—or at least smirk and shake your head. Smart-alleck comments are always welcomed and encouraged.

Blog Link Jaime's blog, Memoirs From Morocco

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