We’ve been our of Morocco for about 2 months. I’ve taken hot showers, slept in real beds, worn shorts, and walked around by myself. My favorite thing to get back into though is running. To say that running was taken away from me while in Morocco sounds a bit hyperbolic, but that’s how it felt. Exercising outdoors in public was not a cultural norm, and for women, it was most definitely frowned upon. If a woman ran outside (in most cities/towns) she couldn’t do it with peace of mind. The spectrum of harassment for women could range from: unabashed staring/leering, lewd cat-calling, being followed on foot, car, or motorbike, to even touching or grabbing. This was my reality – even in my peaceful town of Figuig. Exercise outside was only possible for men or for some females in tiny villages.
**Note: Some female PCVs didn’t have any issues with this. I’m not speaking for them or their experiences, I’m only speaking for myself.**
I was lucky enough to have a small gym in our town with a time slot for Women’s Aerobics. I had access to: Insanity, P90X, and any other at-home fitness routine on my computer. But I longed to run.
As women in PC-Morocco, when it comes to adjusting to new gender roles, we end up making a lot of concessions for the sake of integration and for the sake of finishing our service. We continually hide parts of ourselves our communities may not accept nor understand. We become small – shrinking back to make room for all the men.We whittle, cut back, cover, tone-down, and tame ourselves for 2 years. Some have the opportunity to reveal more about themselves as time goes on, but most of us remain hidden. I had a hard time masking my natural desires to run outside. I had to talk about it in the past-tense: “I used to run when I lived in the U.S.” “Yes, I used to exercise outside.” We as women made a myriad of sacrifices while living in Morocco.
Now I can run whenever and wherever I want. You’ll have a hard time holding me back. When I come across a beautiful place it’s not enough for me to stroll through it at a leisurely pace – I want to attack it. I have to run on it – whatever it is. To me, I can get a sense of a place better if I run through it. I want to hear my feet pounding, want to feel the air in my lungs, sweat on my face. I want to get tired going up a hill and experience the sweet relief of going back down. There’s something in me that needs to move like this.
This is why I run. This is why I keep putting one foot in front of the other – I have to.
After Morocco, running isn’t just about pleasure, or preferring the outdoors to a treadmill, it has morphed into something more important. For me, it represents a part of me I had to hide. An untamed and independent woman who relished in moving her body on her own terms. A few weeks ago, I ran around a lake in Bavaria and I cried. I cried because only a month before, this wasn’t possible – I felt liberated. I could physically feel the anxiety leaving my shoulders. It was such a gift: to run uninhibited.
I don’t need to run for speed, or to lose 5lbs. for a bathing suit, I don’t need to run to prove my athleticism to anyone. I run for me.