Sunday, September 26, 2010

From A Chaperone's Diary

It was a full moon. The moonlight lit all corners of the village. Where was I? Hidden in the sliver of a shadow, back pushed against a recently vacated house. Or trying to stay hidden as best as I could, wearing my white North Face jacket. *Shayma and her boyfriend are giggling and flirting to my right. I recounted the moments leading up to this. It was l’Aid Kbir. The day started with a big fanfare of events and I was overwhelmed by the newness of everything. When things started to slow down, Shayma instructed me to tell my host sisters that I was heading off to the hanut. Instead, we walked the opposite direction, meeting Hamza in the darkness. After thirty minutes of bickering and testing different stops, they decided this spot would do. This marked the first of many times I became the designated chaperone.

Shayma met her boyfriend multiple times afterwards. When darkness allowed, I gave them a respectable distance. I faithfully did this because I knew no one else could. And I thoroughly enjoyed our following conversations. We’d share experiences and thoughts on relationships. It was like a girls night, just without the wine. Over the course of a year, the relationship soured. She complained that he constantly seemed dejected. Uncomfortable silences replaced the cheerful banter on their dates. Before my second L’Aid Kbir in site, she broke things off. Smart girl. Good for her.

Shayma wasn’t the only girl I chaperoned. I’ve sat waiting in the village’s surrounding fields for *Naima’s “boyfriend” to come on motor. I’ve passed productive hours in the cyber, while *Silama and her interest sat chatting a couple computers down. I’ve blocked traffic in souq so that *Narjist could have a 20 minute “date.” I’ve inadvertently video chatted with a man living in Tangier, connecting him with *Zahra. I’ve even traveled 40 minutes to drink a panache with *Marian and her “telephone friend.” That was their first and, to my knowledge, only meeting.

I’m honored that they trust me in such a way. Then again, who else but a female foreigner could fill this roll? I’ve been privy to and a chaperone of so many dates it ought to be a “Secondary Project.”

Goal 1: To provide a safe, secure and supportive environment for girls to meet potential lovers.

Objective 1.1. Provide a list of “safe spots” for couples to meet.

Objective 1.2: Supervise young couples, providing professional chaperon services upon request.

Goal 2: Empower clients with important life skills in romance.

Objective 2.1. Put into practice skills necessary for a healthy romantic relationship. (PG of course!)

Objective 2.2. Empower clients to make informed decisions through setting S.M.A.R.T goals, monitoring outcomes and devising effective evaluations.

Objective 2.3. Be a good friend for each client. Listen and offer honest feedback.

Like all my other Peace Corps projects, teaching and learning goes both ways. I’ve learned and shared a lot on love, romance and marriage chatting and crocheting at the Women’s Center. They pry into my private life but also share their husband-wife dynamics and gossip about others. When I said I’m a long way from marriage, Sultana responded, “Get ready. There’s no escaping death and marriage.” Like many other Moroccans, she sees marriage for its economic and social purposes. Marriage doesn’t always have to do with love and romance. Aicha shared the two-year courtship with her husband. Other women added in how their marriages grew into love. I’ve never been less than intrigued, hearing women their age (40-50s) say on this topic.

After English tutoring one night, *Omayma and *Farida dove into the topic of careers, futures, romance and finding true love. They are both about my age, strong-willed and strong-minded girls. Least be said, they have a rather different view on love. We threw out hardball questions, ones none of us have sorted out (and quite frankly, don’t need to just yet).

There’s something to be said in how critically they’re approaching all this. I don’t have love figured out. And I know the girls I chaperone sure don’t either. But with each step and misstep, I learn something about myself, what I want/don’t want in man, what I want/don’t want in a relationship. I think there’s great value in taking such a risk. I hope that in chaperoning dates for girls, they learn the same.

*The names of all the girls are changed for their privacy.


One a separate, loosely-related note: CONGRATS TO SARAH AND BRAHIM!!! They recently tied the knot, in full Berber style. I hope they're finding their happily ever after.

Photos from Sarah and Brahim's Berber Wedding:

**Sarah, the American girl and traditional Berber bride.

**Brahim and Sarah cutting the cake. Berber wedding with some American flavor!

**Wedding parade, 14 cars strong.

**Traditional Amazigh Wedding Dance

**Me and dear staagmates sneaking a quick rest while the music blasts.

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