Hellooooooo blogosphere, the infinite chasm into which college students pour the details of their world travels and moms anxiously read to ensure that their child still lives, breathes, and stays under budget.
If you check out my bio, you’ll see that my name is Ms. Nancy Randolph Smith and I am an undergraduate “researcher” from UNC-Chapel Hill currently in transit to the lovely country of Morocco. Want to know more about my boring life and background? Go to the bio page.
But I think you’ll find my destination itself far more engaging. Morocco is located in North Africa, and heir to a long and rich history of Berber, Phoenician, Carthaginian, Roman, Muslim Arab, and Jewish peoples. It’s difficult to encompass all the good, the bad, and the ugly that defines this nation in a short introductory paragraph, but I’ve created a crash course in Moroccan history, geography, local celebrities, etc here (I just figured out how to make hyperlinks and it’s awesome). On that page, I’ve also included links to more expansive websites for the overachievers among you.
So for my first trick, I would like to outline my purpose, methods, and goals for this trip.
As an individual who identifies strongly with third wave feminism, I’ve done my best to dedicate my research to questions of inequities based on gender, race, and class. However, I am aware of how answers to these questions invoke standards of a Western design. Are women’s rights – and human rights by extension – universal or culturally relative? Too often, “first world feminists” look at North Africa, the Middle East, and the wider developing world and feel compelled to assign autonomy and value to the women living there. Too often, these women are denied the right to self-define, in the process limiting their abilities to lead healthy and fulfilling lives. At the same time, there are undeniable issues in these regions that we can all agree need changing. According to the 2014 Global Gender Gap Report, Morocco ranks 133rd out of 142 countries when considering economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment.
Whether a woman chooses to pursue that path or not, she as a human being should be aware of and have access to health care, education, and economic & political opportunities. Furthermore, her contributions to her community should not be undervalued in the context of history due to her sex. In this last concept, I am trying to make some small difference with my research. I’m travelling to Morocco to explore the extent to which women find their own paths of self definition and empowerment through culinary culture, oral history, and personal space.
In this process, I take into account the preconceived notions of my own identity as a basic white girl from a Western nation who loves Starbucks and Panera, and I pinky promise to be as un-WASPy as possible. All jokes aside, it is my utmost objective to keep orientalist leanings out of my work (and feel free to call me out otherwise).
Methods and Goals.
I will conduct my research through a series of face-to-face interviews with Moroccan women. I hope to approach these women in their kitchens, a valuable personal space, and begin the interviews with questions about their culinary knowledge and history. Hopefully, they will share their family recipes – and a little of themselves along the way. If the interviewee does not identify with culinary culture, then I’ll find out why. My ambition is to interview between ten and fifteen women of multiple ages and backgrounds, predominantly in Fez but I’m not opposed to traveling outside the city. Unfortunately, rural Moroccan women are some of the most understudied and underprivileged members of society; many of the constitutional reforms enacted by King Mohammed VI in the name of women’s rights are poorly or not enforced in rural areas, where judges and local officials remain more conservative and unchecked. I plan to post these interviews, photos, recipes, and transcripts, along with researcher notes and English translations throughout the trip.
And for those of you concerned that I might destabilize a fragile cultural ecosystem with my prying questions, never fear, for I am undergoing extensive training via the Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative at the University of Miami – and my project will be reviewed by the UNC IRB and Office of Human Research Ethics – to ensure that I am not guilty of illegal genetic cloning or something else like that.
Furthermore, I am beyond blessed to have a wealth of resources to access during the course of my project. For your convenience, I will both hyperlink the resource (if it is electronic) and post it to my full super official bibliography page that is coming soon to the blog.
Why the Title?
In case you were curious, diffa in Arabic means “feast” or “banquet” and since my project relates to both Moroccan culinary culture and the wealth of women’s cultural contributions, I felt that “Women’s Diffa” would be fitting (However, I am open to other suggestions . . . we can make this like the baby panda naming contest at the National Zoo).
So, sit back, try not to fall asleep through all the academic mumbo jumbo, and remember that there’s food in it for you! (well, sort of). I hope that you stick around for my stunning sense of humor, dashing charisma, and – most importantly – the things that my subjects have to share about their varied and rich lives. Enjoy!