Moroccan weddings – a different aspect

I went to a wedding with one of my friends a couple weekends ago. Since I’ve talked about what weddings are like before on the blog I want to focus on something different this time – the fact that this marriage was an arranged one. A lot of people have asked me how common arranged marriages are in Morocco, and while I don’t have any statistics on it, it seems that they happen fairly often, especially in rural cities and towns like Azilal. This wedding was the first time I’d really gotten to talk about how a marriage gets arranged – my friend explained a couple things to me over the course of the evening, which I thought were interesting enough to share.

The first thing was that the wedding was in Beni Mellal (a city about an hour and a half away), so I figured we’d meet up and catch a taxi the morning of the wedding. But the day of the wedding, I got invited instead to the bride’s house. I was pretty confused until my friend explained to me that the groom was from Beni Mellal, and it was his role to come to Azilal to pick up his bride to bring her to his house in Beni Mellal where the wedding would be. The family and friends followed along behind them.

Later in the evening I asked my friend how she knew the bride, and she told me she knew both the bride and the groom. With a little smile she said, “I’m actually the one who introduced them!” I was fascinated, because while I know many marriages here are arranged, I haven’t heard a whole lot about how the arranging actually happens. It turns out my friend rents an apartment from the groom’s mom, and one day the mom asked her if she “knew any nice girls in Azilal”. So my friend talked to some girls she knew and asked them if they were interested in getting married. The ones that said yes invited my friend, the groom and his mom over for tea. Then the groom and his mom picked the girl they liked best… and that’s that. I’m sure there are some extra steps in there, but as I understood it that’s more or less the process.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this whole explanation for me was the obvious pride my friend had in being the one to introduce the bride and groom. At the very end of our conversation she even told me she thinks it’s better to get married that way, because arranged marriages have a higher success rate than other marriages. I guess the reason I found this all so interesting was because I’d automatically assumed she would be against arranged marriages. In the end, this was a great cross-cultural reminder for me – just because it’s something I’d never want to do, doesn’t mean everybody else feels the same way.

— Cori

The apple of his eye

Matt and I  just got back from our Bike4SIDA trip, which was a big project where we biked to different towns to do events about AIDS (SIDA is the french acronym). We’ll have more information on that trip up here as soon as we get some final numbers and pictures, but in the meantime I figured I’d share a story about the weirdest thing that happened the whole trip, and possibly in my whole time here in Morocco.

I was sitting with some friends eating at an outdoor restaurant when a hand reaches in front of my face and puts an apple down in front of me. I turn around to see a middle-aged man walking away from me, so I turn back to my friends and we laugh about it, but we figure that’s that. A few minutes later, he walks back up to our table and this conversation ensues (paraphrased because I was slightly stupefied by the whole encounter and so I wasn’t listening that closely):

Man, to my male friends: “That one (me) pleases me. I want to marry her.”
Friends: “… what?”
Man: “Can I marry her?”
Friends: “No! She’s married.”
Man: “Ok, sorry.”
Friends: “No problem, bye.”
At this point the man turns to walk away, then turns back around.
Man: “What about the other ones?” (referring to the other girls at the table)
Friends: “Ok, that’s enough. Goodbye.”

Throughout the entire encounter, this guy never made eye contact with me or any of the other girls at all (I noticed because I was staring at him in disbelief) and only spoke to the men at the table. After he left we all had a “did that really just happen??” moment… and then we gave the proposal apple away to a beggar. I’m not about to eat that!

A Moroccan Wedding

A couple weeks ago, our host family from Taounate invited us to attend the wedding of our oldest host brother. We were excited that they invited us, but also a little nervous; like l-3id, Moroccan weddings are much-discussed among PCVs here as a kind of volunteer rite of passage. Still, we were glad to have the opportunity to see our host family again and to experience such a big cultural event!

The pre-wedding festivities included multiple meals with our host family (which we tried to refuse to save our host mom some work, since everything that happened this weekend took place at her house, but she was having none of it) and a henna party the night before. Along with a bunch of other guests, we ate a delicious dinner followed by some dancing while the poor bride had to sit and watch us all while she waited for the henna to dry on her hands.


Matt in a nice shirt and me in my bright blue jellaba waiting for the bride to arrive. I got lots of questions on why I was wearing a jellaba – apparently it’s not formal enough for a wedding. Whoops!

The next day (after enjoying breakfast and lunch with the family) we showed up for the wedding at 8.  We all went out to the street to watch her be carried inside on a litter, accompanied by the traditional group of drummers.  The entire town seemed to come out to dance to the music and see the show. Afterwards, we headed upstairs for dinner where we had three huge courses of food – first big platters with 3 or 4 whole chickens, then another platter full of beef, and finally gigantic trays of fruit for dessert – each served Moroccan style, 1 plate per table with bread for utensils. After everyone was completely stuffed the dancing started. Moroccan women looooove to dance, and the men of our host family do too, which means we got pulled on to the dance floor often to make fools out of ourselves trying the Moroccan dance moves. There’s lots of shimmying that goes on… I have no idea how they do it. It’s a blast to watch though!

Some self-conscious dancing with Naima

Some self-conscious dancing with Mama Naima

For the rest of night (another 7 hours!!) we danced on the roof and in the streets and enjoyed more food courses – platters of cookies, a slice of cake for all, and a bowl of traditional soup. The party lasted until 5 in the morning – a Moroccan wedding isn’t over until the couple has completed their 5-7 outfit changes and the subsequent photo and dance sessions. We were surprised to see that the wedding seemed to be more fun for the guests than for the couple, since the bride and groom spent so much time changing outfits and sitting for photographs that they rarely got a chance to join the party. Throughout the night they were presented in traditional wedding dresses from a bunch of different regions in Morocco, had their pictures taken, and sometimes did a little extra (there was a second go in the litters, and at one point we ended up back outside again for the groom’s henna ceremony and, of course, more dancing).

After the last outfit change, basically the entire room got up gratefully to go home and sleep – us included. It was great to see our host family and celebrate with them, but 9 hours at a wedding (especially while speaking a foreign language) is exhausting no matter who you’re with. But now we can say we’ve made it all the way through a Moroccan wedding!

– Cori and Matt

p.s. I know you’d all love to see some of the bride’s outfits, but without her permission I don’t feel comfortable posting those pictures. If you do an image search for “Moroccan Wedding Kaftans” you’ll get an idea of what her dresses look like. They’re beautiful!

Serving Together

We celebrated our 2nd anniversary this Wednesday- woohoo! I had to teach a class on Wednesday, so our celebration was limited to finally setting up our oven and making pizzas for dinner (might not seem like it, but this is actually a pretty big deal, especially since we got to use the pepperoni that my parents sent – thank you)! But yesterday we used one of our days off to celebrate a little more by taking a little hike up one of the nearby hills, then setting up Matt’s hammock and having a picnic lunch. It was a really nice way to get outside but still have some time to ourselves (except for when a group of Moroccans saw us playing cards at our picnic site and came over to join us).

Enjoying the view outside Azilal

Enjoying the view outside Azilal

Picnic lunch! Yes, our lives revolve around food.

Picnic lunch! Yes, our lives revolve around food.

In light of our anniversary, I’ve been thinking a lot about serving in the Peace Corps as a couple. The classic image of Peace Corps (for me, anyway) is one of a lone volunteer, working through personal challenges brought on by living alone while also bringing positive change to her community. I realize that’s not really a practical way to look at Peace Corps service, but I still find myself feeling a little out of place as one-half of a couple. We are able to support each other in all of our personal and work-related challenges, and at times our life here doesn’t feel that different from life in the U.S. (of course, that’s only until we step outside). It’s a world of difference from what it seems that many of my single PCV peers are going through, and it never fails to make me feel like I’m somehow cheating the system, or not having the true Peace Corps experience.

But of course this is a ridiculous attitude to have, because there is no true Peace Corps experience. The Peace Corps exists in so many countries and so many different urban and rural situations that the true Peace Corps experience can’t be anything besides what you yourself experience during your service. The Peace Corps gives us some really good (albeit impossible) advice when they tell us not to compare our service to that of other PCVs. I think it will be a constant struggle to not compare our experience as a couple to the stories we hear from our single friends. I still feel guilty when I talk to a fellow volunteer about loneliness and isolation and realize I can’t empathize because I haven’t experienced it to the same extent. I still feel behind when I hear about how much time other volunteers spend integrating and speaking Darija with new friends, whereas Matt and I naturally spend a lot of time together speaking English. But living and working together in the same community requires a lot of teamwork and compromise (all on very important topics, like who gets the computer next, and what movie we’ll watch tonight). We don’t face many of the issues that single volunteers face, but we do have the challenge of maintaining a healthy marriage through all of the difficulties that come with serving in the Peace Corps. Serving as a couple is certainly not the same as serving as a single volunteer, but instead of seeing it as less of a challenge, I’m working on seeing it as a different challenge. And in the end (even though he drives me up the wall sometimes), I’m so grateful to be serving with Matt – I wouldn’t want it any other way.

– Cori