Before coming to Rabat, I’d never lived in a large city. I lived for eight years in Fremont, California (a suburb of San Jose), then I lived in Cary, North Carolina (a suburb of Raleigh) for the rest of my life. I did live in Nanjing, China (a really big city) until I was four, but that doesn’t really count because I wasn’t old enough to do anything anyway.
So. Suburb life!! There are good and bad parts. Living in a suburb is nice if you:
- can drive
- are comfortable with the fact that you have to drive 30 minutes before you get to anywhere fun
That wasn’t my case for most of my life. In retrospect, suburb kids’ lives are kind of sad. They basically spend the first sixteen years of their childhoods not being able to make their own decisions of where they want to go. My first time visiting China was when I was nine years old—and back then, my cousin, who was also nine, walked around the city and to/from school as well as took the bus by himself. A friend in Shanghai used public transportation and was free to roam around the city when he was twelve. At the same time, back in California, I was being chauffeured by my parents. My brother and I went to lots of places, and I went to the park every day, but my mom gave up a lot so that we could have that kind of experience. She didn’t work and was a stay-at-home mom.
Then I moved to Rabat. One of the things that I love so much about living in a city is that things are always going on and that getting to them isn’t difficult. I like all the artistic stuff that happens. Movie screenings, music events, talks, and so on.
Going places is so easy in Rabat! I do like public transportation but I prefer to walk everywhere. Centre Ville seems pretty far from Agdal but it’s only a thirty-minute walk along the tram line. Back in North Carolina, thirty minutes was the time it took for me to walk from my house to the nearest grocery store.
I’m happy that I have the opportunity to take advantage of living in the city. If only I had grown up in a city, where I would be free to do whatever I wanted, just like what my life is like in Rabat right now? When I was at a middle-school summer camp in China in 2012, I befriended a girl from Seattle who took public transportation to school every day and I remember being pretty jealous because I took the bus or had to be driven by my parents. I think about all the books I’d read when I was younger about kids who lived in places like NYC who had an independent life when they were little. whaaaaat.
But at the same time, even though Rabat is easy to navigate, and even though you can reach most of the city with the tram, I’ve realized that there aren’t young people outside moving around the city alone. Neither elementary, nor middle, nor high school. When I get on the tram, I never see children there unless they’re with parents. While in similar cities in China I’d frequently see single 10 year olds or groups of small kids just walking around on the streets. I can’t speak for big cities in the US because I’ve never really stayed in one, but many of my friends took public transportation by themselves since late elementary or middle school. That doesn’t seem to be the case in Morocco.
I wonder why. Is Rabat really unsafe? To me, it doesn’t seem so—I definitely feel safer walking around alone in the parts of Rabat that I frequent (Centre Ville, Hassan, Agdal, the medina) than I did in New York or Chicago, or even Cary, North Carolina. There is more harassment here but the combination of always having people walking around you and having police everywhere makes me feel less threatened. And most of the time, the harassment makes me feel annoyed instead of unsafe. When I lived in Cary I wouldn’t leave my house walking at dark because I didn’t feel safe if I did so. Here I do that.
So do children not go out alone because Rabat is an unsafe city, or because it’s just not culturally normal for children to go out alone? I asked the people at my school (upper/middle class Moroccans) how they get to places. The overwhelming response was that their parents drive them. They don’t really take the tram or taxis. In the beginning of the school year a girl warned us that the medina is unsafe and she said she never went to the medina by herself, but I’m frequently at the medina alone and yes, there is harassment, but I have never felt unsafe there. When we told everyone that we sometimes took taxis to and from school, they were surprised that we could do such a thing.
I can’t tell if this helicopter parenting is a part of culture in Rabat or if it’s just part of the new generation of young people. I was having a conversation with Fatiha the other day and she complained to me about how young Moroccans can’t do anything anymore by themselves. She told me that little kids will take a piece of fruit, take one bite of it, and then throw the rest away. And then she told me about how so many parents these days do anything for their kids. Apparently some of her young nieces and nephews already choose their own clothes and then throw a tantrum when they can’t get the clothes that they want. And then she told me about how all some Moroccan mothers do is drive their kids around. My bus auntie, Amina, says the same thing. She doesn’t like the kids at our school that she deals with because they’re spoiled brats. tbh I agree. They don’t eat most of the cafeteria food, are mean to the cleaning ladies, have no manners, and hyperactively run around calling me names. They also are dressed nicely, like little adults with belts and watches and Ralph Lauren shirts. (These are elementary schoolers who are maybe 10 years old)
Our school doesn’t represent all of Morocco either. It represents the small percentage of Moroccans whose parents have cars and are willing to drive them places.
Does this overprotectiveness on the parents’ part have anything to do with the lack of little kids on the streets? Maybe. Or maybe it’s because they study a lot. I think that’s the case with the people in my class, deuxième année bac Science Maths. Almost all of them go to cours de soutien (extra tutoring classes) in addition to a full day of school. So they don’t have much time to do anything else.
Or do kids not go out alone because of culture? “Extended childhood” is definitely a thing in Morocco. And I met a few girls in Salé who just don’t go out. They spend most of their time at home. I can’t really speak for young boys but they don’t travel on their own either—which would contradict the “girls don’t go out because they’re girls” hypothesis? I see young boys playing in groups on the streets and running around but I don’t see them walking to places or traveling around the city.
Or is it because tram travel is expensive so I just don’t see many children on the tram? I don’t know either. But it’s only a few dirhams more expensive than the bus and depending on how far you go it’s cheaper than taking a taxi. I mostly don’t see kids outside by themselves at all, boys or girls. I wonder why. At this moment I have an explanation for the upper-class Moroccans that I’m around most of the time but not for working-class ones.
Yeah. This has confused me and right now I still don’t know. I am taking advantage of what the city offers me but I don’t see young Moroccans doing the same, and I wonder why, and if the reasons are cultural, practical, both, or something else.