Wednesday, September 22, 2010

I go to parties like it's my job

I go to parties like it’s my job.

Well it kind of is. Going to parties is actually part of my job. It may not be in the job description but going to Moroccan parties is fulfilling goals two and three of Peace Corps, cultural exchange. By going to parties and living within the cultural norms of Moroccans I can in turn share my experiences with friends and family in America, and through me they learn more about the Moroccan culture. And being the only American at the party people get the chance to know an American intimately, and hopefully realize that Americans are not always as them seem in movies.

Even though parties can be extremely awkward situations for me I somewhat enjoy going to them because they show a lot about Moroccan culture. This week I got invited to an “engagement party” of the daughter of a friend of my Moroccan mother. I had met some members of that family before so they welcomed me with open arms. Traditionally and usually most Moroccan parties are segregated. Men and women branch off into different rooms immediately upon crossing the threshold. I was lucky that my sister Rababe attended this party with me so for the first time I would have someone to talk to and ask questions about what was going on. First about 10 women, myself included, we sitting in a small room doing not much more than staring at the floor and twiddling our thumbs. I asked Rababe why women are always so quiet at this parties and she told me it’s because usually most people don’t know each other. I began to think “this is sooommme party.” What happened next was a complete change in atmosphere. Someone brought out a soft metal serving tray that I quickly learned was going to be used as a drum. Four other small hand drums came out and the table became an object to bang on as well. Quickly the room filled with percussion and chanting. Some women got up to dance. I put them in or around their 40s and 50s but they danced as if they were 20-year-olds.

A little bit later the couple arrived. Two people around age 30 give or take a couple years. Once they arrived the women went to a larger, more beautiful sitting room, where lots of pictures were taken, and the exchanging of rings happened. Also a tradition much like our one of feeding each other wedding cake took place here. The man and woman feed each other a date and milk and they rest of the guests eat this too. Because I had Rababe with me I learned that this is the actual ceremony of marriage. At this party the bride and groom are actually married. Here I thought it was just a party celebrating the engagement. The actual “wedding” if you will takes place months later, but the new couple can not live together until that event takes place. I bet you are confused, but the thing is so am I. I still don’t understand Moroccan marriage ceremonies because they are nothing like American ones. I just smile and laugh and enjoy it for what it is. Speaking of laughing I loved how young and modern this new couple seemed. There are many posed pictures taken at these events and the pair of them had a hard time getting through them straight faced. For instance there is always the same picture with the man fake kissing the woman’s forehead. They had to keep a straight face long enough for someone to snap a photo. Also the two of them met at work, where they both are employed in the medical field. I asked Rababe if the bride would continue to work once she is married and she said yes, which shocked and thrilled me. A modern couple in a modern time.

Going to parties is also a good way for me to connect with my fellow community members and to make them and myself feel like I am a member of this town. As well as strengthen connections it helps to make connections too. I have found that on many occasions of venturing to a new place or meeting a new person it almost always leads to more positive connections made. I met my best friend here in town by to going to a party. I went to a party with my Moroccan mother and one of her friends who were in attendance asked me if I could tutor her 15-year-old daughter in English. I agreed and our meetings took place at her 22-year-old sisters house, because it was near mine. Her sister very quickly and easily began using the high school English she had learned five years previously in order to help our lessons go smoother. Pretty soon after a couple of weeks Imane and I struck up a friendship. And soon in addition to my weekly English lesson I was going to her house just to hang out. Now after five months Imane and I have a strong relationship and we can easily tell each other a lot of things. The chain of events that led me to her started with that party.