In honor of International Women’s Day, we have our very own Mushmina Co-Founder Heather O’Neill to share a personal story of her journey as a busy working mom, entrepreneur, and ex-pat living in Morocco. The IWD theme for 2019 is, Balance for Better. A balanced world is a better world. Let’s do our part to take action for gender equality!
Behind Closed Doors. Sacred Space and Moroccan Zumba
It has become my three-day a week ritual. And it is a ritual, my sacred space. As a working mom of two rambunctious toddlers, it is rare that I have a moment to hear myself think. So this year, as a gift to myself, I joined a gym!
Do other moms feel like getting your kids to the two-year-old mark is a rite of passage? I don’t think I’ve had more than a minute for self-care in the last few years. (And I don’t mean getting to shower alone!) Most days, I am the circus tamer and the monkeys are out of control. I don’t know why, but managing two toddlers is more than just doubling one. And managing a social mission business on top of it all is like having two full time jobs. Most days, I’m depleted.
Deciding to join a gym is a big deal. It means I am making a conscious effort centering on my wellness. It also means taking two precious hours out of my productive work time on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings. But I’m committing to this. So here it goes.
I am an expat living in Morocco. But In case you didn’t realize, I don’t live in Casablanca, Marrakech, Rabat, or another city where you might find other expats. I live in Khouribga, rural central Morocco. It is a small city; most Moroccans have not ever been. I am the only American, to my knowledge, who lives here. I live in a sunny neighborhood where a new gym just opened walking distance from our house. Serendipity, right? The only problem is that it is next to a café. This is not the latte, kale smoothie café oasis you often find attached to American gyms. This is an informal ‘Mans’ Café,’ as most are in Morocco.
If you have been to Morocco, you know that most cafes are full of men sitting side by side, facing out onto the sidewalk and street, drinking coffee and peering at passersby. A café, and many public spaces still are ‘male territory.’ Women can patronize cafes, of course, but most often, it is uncomfortable to be the only one or one of just a few women.
So what is a gal in her workout pants to do? “Don’t join that gym,” my husband protectively tells me. I simply decide to give it a try and walk around the back entrance to avoid the ogles and stares. “Really? You walk around the back?” My sister asks me in shock. Yes, I do. I am determined to make this work and I, like Moroccan women and all women, find ways to cope with my environment.
This is one side of Morocco, but behind the doors of my new gym is another world. I find many middle class Moroccan women dancing, laughing, and carving out time for themselves, like me. Many are moms, doctors, bankers, and students. We gather three days a week as a ritual, one might say, when the gym is open solely to women. Our sacred space.
Last week a ‘Moroccan Zumba’ of sorts started up in class. Loud Berber music was coming out of the speakers and the stunned group looked to the instructor, ‘You want us to dance?’ To give them a laugh I let out my ponytail out and started flipping my hair like the Berber women do while dancing at a wedding. To them, it was just about the funniest thing they had seen all day. The ‘goriya’ (foreigner) dancing. This week, a spicy aerobics class got our blood pumping and booties shaking and with more than 15 women in the class, there was not a space to be had. The joy in the room that day was palpable.
Perhaps a quiet revolution is happening. I see it around me, even in central Morocco. Women taking their power back. Moroccan feminist, Fatima Mernissi once said… “There are two prerequisites to growing wings: the first is to feel encircled and the second is to believe that you can break the circle.”
In honor of International Women’s Day today, we honor bold women everywhere who are reclaiming their power whether publicly or behind closed doors…in their own sacred spaces.
By Heather O’Neill, Mushmina Co-Founder
(images from the Mushmina Morocco studio walls)