Photo by Gabe Roy
By Shreeya Singh
Teetering on a ledge, I spared a long look into the swirling brown below me, took a deep breath, and jumped into the heat.
As a Floridian, the feel of beach sand against my bare feet shouldn’t have come as a shock, but Salè’s beach was very different from everything I had been accustomed to. Primarily, the sand was searing, and pulled at my ankles like quicksand with every step forward. The unruly Moroccan wind was pulling it up and in circles, whipping my hair and sleeves into a light brown haze. While the initial sight of the leaping waves had been met with exclamations, our little group trudged towards the water in silence: each person alone with the weight of the shifting sands.
The closer we came to the water, the hotter the sand felt. It had transitioned from swirling around us to becoming a tightly packed slate that glistened with the sun’s reflection. Every light step left a clear stamp in the dry sand until it gave way to wet dunes. I was one of the first to the water’s edge, and running from the heat only made my initial steps into the embrace of the chilled waves more joyful. Water lapped up against our clothes, and concerns over keeping our pants dry were snatched up by the wind.
The waves in Salè seemed to be competing with each other, and each drew its dark line further down on the sand. Initially, we were so enthralled with the heights they reached that we didn’t realize what was really so different about the beach. It took a long time before I turned away from the fierce, tumultuous edge of the world and looked behind me.
Teenage boys ran past us, excitedly tossing their ball over our heads. At the edge of the water, a gaggle of shirtless men set each other up to do backflips off of clasped hands, performing for an absent audience. Two men filmed their friend while he dove with impeccable form off of a formation of rocks, into inscrutably deep water. When one of us turned the camera to photograph the shore, the same men posed for unsolicited pictures while flexing their biceps and flashing smiles at us.
There were no women on Salè’s beach.
Aside from us, the American tourists, the beach was dominated by men. While they walked the sand shirtless and free, the only other woman there stood out of the water holding her baby, and no other women were there at all.
After living in Morocco for two weeks, I am no stranger to the different manifestations of gender roles in the country. Women stay away from smoke-filled cafes and are delegated to separate spaces for prayer in Mosques. They commiserate in women-only hammams and are never seen as taxi drivers. They live their lives in separate spheres, and I know better than to quickly label it all oppression: for many of them it is a satisfactory and free choice.
However, there was something poignantly sad about their absence at the beach. Don’t get me wrong: gender segregation isn’t unique to Morocco. Far from it, all societies fail to remain entirely unsullied by these institutionalized divisions. But there, at the beach, lay nature’s domain. The heat of the sand married the cool waves, and the water seemed to touch the sky while the breeze picked up individual grains in a frenzied dance. It was pure, and it was untouched. The scene almost sang of freedom.
While it is likely a choice to stay away from the beaches, I wonder how many women would be enjoying the shore if they lived in a culture that made them believe they were welcome there. I wonder where they were while their fathers, sons, friends, and husbands were there. I wonder, really, just how much of a fair choice it was. Just like those women who have never seen the waves, I can’t help but wonder.
Shreeya is a rising sophomore in TD. You can contact her at email@example.com.