Well that was awkward.
I’ve lived in this apartment for only a few short days and as with anything there were a few hiccups. First and most importantly my washing machine jammed. Inside the machine at the time were two towels. One suspect towel that was here when I moved in and one towel that I recently liberated from a nearby hotel when I moved. I left a whole pile of handy items here when I left my last place. Frying pan, tea pot, towels, shampoo, hangers. You get the picture. All those handy things are at my friends place and we haven’t worked out “the drop” yet. So left with no towels now, I used the opportunity to buy myself something pretty at our local Zara Home and then had brother Ridoun call the nice landlord and ask for help.
First came Simo. One of the young workers who helped me at the start. He came, looked at the machine, found the problem to be exactly as I had described it to be and he left.
Next came Mr. Abdou. He came, saw the problem to be exactly as Simo and I had described it to be and he left. While here, he spoke a great deal of French to me and I thought I understood perfectly. I stayed in and waited at 6 pm last night for the technician and no one came. So later on I was chatting with Ridoun and checking my French. Turns out “a demain” means tomorrow. Not tonight. My bad.
So a few more texts with R and a few more calls from him (poor guy but love the help!) and finally a technician showed up. He came to fix the washing machine and apparently the air conditioning unit in the master bedroom which was really really loud. (who knew?)
This is probably a good time to mention that he is now the third man to be in my house while I am here alone. This is NOT cool by Moroccan standards. Not cool at all. It is a very serious matter of respect and propriety and safety, but mostly respect and propriety. This has been a topic of discussion since the start of my Moroccan association almost a year ago. (WHAT?!) I finally learned my lesson once and for all after an incident in the desert that was completely innocent from a western perspective but still left me in tears and vowing that I finally understand the way things are in Morocco. So.
So here I am in my home with a tradesman. Alone. This is not the first time I have been in this situation. I’ve worked high rise construction and residential reno’s. I know how to deal with trades. Trust me. My philosophy, passed along by my father, has always been – be nice to people. Don’t be an asshole if you don’t have to be. Treat people like human beings and you will earn their respect in return. Hasn’t failed me yet. I have seen tradesmen treated like stray dogs by completely certifiable, crazed homeowners. Will they be doing their best work for that person? On time? With a smile? HELL NO. But I’ve been nice and I’ve always heard, “I’ll do this for you because you’re nice.” “No charge for the extra work – you’re nice.” People appreciate that. And they remember it. In fact this past summer I had two very busy tradesmen do a job for a friend. Both of them said, “I am not taking more business right now and I wouldn’t have answered the phone if it wasn’t for you.” Thanks guys. And I will always treat them like intelligent human beings.
But this is Morocco. It is not Canada. Women are viewed differently here and foreign women are viewed very differently. And I do, finally, once and for all, completely and 100% respect the fact that the only Moroccan men that should ever be in my home are ones that are related. My little family. That’s it. No exceptions. Except……
My protector is travelling. There is really no other way to manage this situation without really inconveniencing other people. So I am left to walk a very very thin line. In order to win glowing accolades from my protector I really should have asked R to come over while the man was here. But that is just not practical. Plus, I am an independent western woman. I can take care of myself. I moved to Africa by myself. I know how to handle this situation. Right?
So in comes the technician. He goes to the terrace and takes apart the washing machine. I sit on a chair at the table in the other room at full alert. Playing 2048 on my phone. “Allo?” comes the call. I go to see what’s needed. French ensued. He wanted a hanger. Uh…….don’t have one of those. Not one. Ok he’ll manage. “All?” comes again. Do you have a broom? No. No I don’t have that either. Nor a cleaning cloth or a mop. None of those things. And of course this is all said in broken French with hand signals and at some point I laughed and relaxed a little and said “ Je suis desole”. Whatever. He seemed like a nice man and was relatively respectful.
Then he went on to the A/C unit. That was when I came around the corner to find him standing on two rickety stools piled one atop the other. STOP for safety. Non monsieur said the voice in my head. Inside voice thank goodness. I was not about to engage in that inevitable conversation so I shut up and watched the stools sway under his weight.
Then he needed help. Hold this, pass me that, bring me that screwdriver. This was all accompanied by the standard small talk. “Do you have kids?” “Me, ha, no?”. “I have trois.” (Good, a family man). And on he went. Dropping screws all over the place, answering the phone with screws in his mouth, teetering on top of two stools, in wool pants (random observation), and working a screwdriver. He hopped down at one point to get a part, and pointed at me, smiled and said “a good one.”
And that’s when shit changed. The desert incident came crashing back. This is not Canada. I am not alone. I must respect and behave according to my adopted culture, not my own.
After that comment, I stood back farther, eyes downcast, phone in hand. He went to climb up on the stools again, which was not an easy thing to do, and asked for a shoulder from me to help him up. I backed up three feet and said “NON” with a shake of the head. No WAY was I going to help him in this crazy task if it meant he had to touch me in ANY way. He said “Oh, finance?” with a smile. “YES” I said emphatically, “a Moroccan man.” And that was the end of that. No more small talk. Not another word. And thank goodness for that.
You see I am an independent western woman. I do believe that women can do whatever women want to do. I could go on for 6 years about rape culture, and propriety and safety and all those things. But I am not in Canada anymore. I am in Morocco. I know that rules that apply to me and I am committed to respect those rules. I learned my lesson and today I was reminded of that lesson. It wasn’t a bad experience but it was wholly uncomfortable. And I have to say that I am proud of myself for respecting the rules and I also realize that by following them it makes my time here so much easier.
I don’t even want to talk about the panic that ensued several hours later when the door bell rang. I didn’t answer. I thought about hitting the floor to hide (despite lack of windows) and then I giggled. The bell rang again. I yelled through the door. It was that nice Mr. Abdou checking to see that everything was ok. Ah, that’s nice! Stay outside.