Local Voices: Amanda Ponzio-Mouttaki

Posted by on Dec 8, 2013 in Local Voices | 1 comment

 This installment of Local Voices features Amanda, an American woman living in Marrakech with her Moroccan-American husband and their two children. 

Where did you grow up?

 I grew up in northeastern Wisconsin right on the border of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  Very rural and lacking of diversity.

What was it like where you grew up?

I think it’s one of those places that you either can’t imagine leaving or can’t wait to get out and never turn back. I was in the later camp. I graduated with only 36 other kids in my class and we had known each other from the time most of us were in preschool.  There isn’t a lot to do in remote Wisconsin, aside from outdoor activities like skiing, hiking, etc. I took every opportunity I could to get out and go to anywhere bigger and more diverse.  Was it a good place to grow up? Yes, because it was very safe and there wasn’t much trouble we could get into but, I wouldn’t raise my kids there – just too insular.

Did you know anything about Islam before you went to Morocco the first time?

I did. I was a bit of a nerd (who am I kidding, I still am!) and so I read a lot and was anxious to experience more than my small town could offer. At 16 I went to Greece and Turkey, and being in Turkey was my first “muslim-world” experience, but I really didn’t think much of it at the time. Honestly, before I became Muslim I was the last person in the world who would become Muslim.  I really had bought into the media version of Islam and really only saw it as something negative. 

How did you go from living in the US to North Africa? 

Quite a stretch huh? The first time I visited Morocco, I met my husband rather randomly. We ended up getting engaged and married within 18 months of meeting. He came to the US, and we lived in the States for almost 9 years before we decided to go back to North Africa. Our primary reasons were pretty simple; we have two boys and wanted them to learn Arabic and French and also we wanted them to form a stronger bond with my husband’s family. Neither of these things would have been possible if we stayed in the US.

How did you meet your husband? What was the courtship like? Typical American dates? Something else? 

We met when I was on vacation in Morocco.  It was pretty random, and completely love at first sight. I wrote a post on the whole long story here. Our courtship was a bit of a blur. We couldn’t really “date” because we lived on different continents so we spent a lot of time online and on the phone. The first time we met, we spent 3 days together and I left. A few months later when I went back, we got engaged the day I landed.  I just knew it was right. I don’t really think there was anything normal about our courtship! We were married about 15 months after we’d met. 

How did you make the choice to adopt Islam? Where you religious before?

Great questions! I was raised Lutheran and yes I was fairly religious. Though, once I was in college I began to explore other faith systems. I was raised in a very rural, small community. Catholic or Protestant was about as diverse as things got. Honestly, the first time I was in Morocco, before I’d met my husband (I met him later on this trip) we went to the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca and it was a really powerful, spiritual experience for me. I walked away wanting to learn more, the non-media-biased Islam. I questioned a lot of the things I had known growing up as “fact” but could never get real answers from pastors. Ultimately I decided that Islam made sense to me and I decided to convert.

What is it like living in Marrakech?

At first, I saw all of these negative, different things.  I think when you move somewhere new that’s a common reaction, to compare everything to what you know. Overall, my life is not much different here.  Most people have a really romanticized idea of what Marrakech is. Well, I don’t live in a luxury hotel and believe it or not tajines and other delicious Moroccan food gets boring when you’re eating it every day! We have a residential life and live in a residential neighborhood with other Moroccans. Day to day life is a little bit harder in the sense that most things require more effort. To make the things I want to eat I have to make almost everything from scratch. Houses for the most part don’t have central heat or air so it’s a constant battle to regulate temperatures. The garbage pickup in Morocco isn’t anywhere near what it’s like in the states, and traffic can be a nightmare.  

That being said, moving here has afforded us many things we couldn’t have in the US.  We’re able to live on a lot less money (though Marrakech is the most expensive city in Morocco to live in.) Our life is much more laid back here, there’s really no rush. I am also able to have help in the house with cooking, cleaning, and helping with the kids. This has removed so much stress and anxiety from my life, and given me the time to focus on the things I love. Finally, being on this side of the ocean we are able to travel to Europe, in Africa and to Asia much more easily. 

What are the most obvious differences?

Some of the obvious differences are a lack of the social society structures that exist in the US. People throw garbage everywhere, cars follow only the bare minimum traffic laws, and  no one counts on the police to do much of anything.  If a fight were to break out or a traffic accident occurs, people are largely on their own to figure things out.  Bureaucratically there doesn’t seem to be any standardization to completing basic paperwork for things such as drivers licenses, residency permits, or marriage registration. It’s really a nightmare. 

Are there any similarities people may be surprised by?

I think many  people who haven’t been to this part of the world are surprised to find out that for the most part, no one here cares much about America. What I mean by that is I always get this feeling that Americans think people in the Muslim world hate them. When in reality I just don’t think many care or give it that much thought. Also, women here play a domestic role, however there are women police officers, judges, and the mayor of Marrakech is a woman! The women who live here are very similar to the women in the US. Culturally there are some differences but they have many of the same dreams, aspirations, and motivation as women in the US. 

What are the biggest misconceptions Americans have about Islam?

I could write a book on this one! I think there are a few.  I talked about one above, the notion of Muslims hating Americans. Honestly most people rarely ever think about it.  Another misconception is that Muslims don’t care about terrorism. Morocco has had 2 terrorist attacks in the last 12 years. The Moroccan authorities spend a lot of time and money on anti-terror efforts because it affects us too. A third misconception is that Islam is the cause of mistreatment of women. No. Around the world, women face injustices because of many reasons. Islam is very clear about the treatment of women, however that doesn’t mean all people are perfect. In the US we do a very poor job of separating religion from culture. A Muslim woman in Mozambique is going to live differently than a Muslim woman in Malaysia, whose life will be different than a Muslim woman in the US. 

What are the biggest misconceptions Moroccans have about America? 

“The road is paved with gold” mentality. The classic immigrant story that they will come to the US (or Europe) and immediately be wealthy. There’s not much understanding of how hard you have to work, the importance of higher education to gain high paying jobs, and how expensive life is in the west. I’ve also seen that many Moroccans think Americans have terrible family lives and that they don’t care about family because kids leave home when they’re adults and are expected to stand on their own feet instead of being taken care of by their parents until they marry, and that older parents aren’t cared for by their children. It’s a clash between a collective culture and an independent culture. 

Where can people find you online? 

Find me on my blog www.marocmama.com where I write about food, travel, and raising bicultural kids in Morocco. You can also connect with me on Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest.

One Comment

  1. What a great post. It’s been fun to follow Amanda’s journeys on her blog, and I love the insights she shared here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *