International Travel Photo Contest
Susan Stout, Luke Air Force Base Campus Center, Africa
It's the memory of the 17-year-old girl who nearly passed out after having a tooth pulled, or the young girl whose lazy eyes were fixed by a "miracle worker," or the little boy who suffered from hydrocephalus that will always be on my mind following my two-week trip to Guelmim, Morocco, to provide humanitarian assistance in April 2007.
As a member of the Air Force Reserve, I had the terrific opportunity to join our medical unit to participate in African Lion 2007, a regularly scheduled, combined U.S.-Moroccan military exercise designed to promote improved interoperability.
Our team of 37 included members from several specialties including dermatology, optometry, pediatrics, gynecology, internal medicine and dental.
We visited six sites in six days with each site containing Moroccan patients with various medical needs. The Americans and their Moroccan medical counterparts were able to assist 3,746 patients and provided
5,803 prescriptions and 833 pairs of glasses.
The initial challenge of the mission was the language barrier, but it was soon overcome. Using several translators, the team became more and more efficient throughout the weeks as the relationships between the Americans and their Moroccan counterparts developed.
The experience of seeing a different culture was incredible. I grew up in a small town in Texas and diversity wasn’t something I was able to be introduced to until I joined the military. Morocco was fantastic.
The people were incredibly nice and welcomed us with open arms. My experiences in Morocco have come up a lot in my classes at Park University. It seems like in every class I take, there is something we discuss that I can relate to or compare to my experience in Morocco.
I think one of the most interesting things I learned was the difference of the view of Moroccan women. In America, we’ve fought a long time for equality to a man. It wasn’t until January 2004 that women in Morocco were, by law, considered equals to men. Prior to the new Family Code, the “Moudawana,” which was passed in 1957, turned women into eternal minors who had to submit to their father’s, brother’s, or husband’s will. It wasn’t until the implementation of the Family Code that women in Morocco could marry without the authorization of their tutor. And even then, the husband had the right to throw their wife out of the home at any time without going in front of a court by simply saying, “I repudiate you.” The new Family Code also modified the status of women by pushing the minimum marriage age from 15 to 18. As we were triaging patients to be seen by the gynecological section, we would ask them if they were on any contraceptives. Much to the Americans’ surprise, a woman would shyly say, “I’m not married” instead of saying “no.”
Pregnancy outside of marriage is prohibited in Morocco and remains punishable by law and religion. Still, even with the changes to the laws, Moroccan women still commonly estimate the man to be superior to her, tolerates work of a temporary nature, judges having children, especially boys, as all important for inheritance, thinks that virginity is of major importance, and accords a great place to the ceremony of marriage.
Contrary to American “beauty,” Moroccans view heavier women as beautiful. The Moroccan military general explained to us one day that women of marrying age take supplements to make themselves heavier so they are more attractive. Even women performing a ceremonial dance would wear padding around their mid section to make themselves look more appealing.
Visiting Morocco was an incredible experience. I think it was so neat to be able to visit the non-tourist villages that had no running water and no electricity. I wouldn’t have had the same experience had I gone there on vacation or something. I really, really learned a lot.