Hikayat #3:

Musings of an anthropologist mom in Morocco

Tara Deubel, U.S. Fulbright Scholar, 2018–2019

Greetings! I’m an Assistant Professor and Graduate Director in the Department of Anthropology at the University of South Florida (USF) in Tampa where I teach courses in cultural and linguistic anthropology, anthropology of development and human rights, the Middle East and North Africa, and visual anthropology. I have been interested in Morocco for over twenty years since I first visited the country in 1999. During 2006–07, I had a Fulbright-Hays fellowship to pursue my PhD dissertation research on oral poetry and songs in the Hassaniyya dialect of Arabic in Sahrawi communities. I have returned to Morocco several times since then to continue my research and start new projects. In 2010 I led a group of U.S. teachers on a four-week tour of Morocco with Dr. Aomar Boum at UCLA that was funded by Fulbright-Hays.

In 2018–2019, I had the good fortune to return to Morocco for 10 months as a Fulbright faculty fellow based in the city of Agadir in southern Morocco. This was a wonderful opportunity because I was able to live in Morocco with my husband and three young children who attended school in Agadir where they started to learn French and Arabic. Our time in Morocco brought many exciting family adventures that included riding a camel on the beach, visiting Essaouira, Marrakech, and Fès, and learning to cook Moroccan food and share tea with the many friends we met during our stay.

During my Fulbright year, I collaborated with Professor Abderrahmin Anbi in the Department of Sociology at Université Ibn Zohr where my husband and I gave guest lectures for the new Master’s program, “Cross-Border Dynamics: Morocco and the Countries of West Africa.” At the university, I assisted students with their thesis research and served on the committee of a student who studied sub-Saharan African migrants working in farming communities around Agadir. We also hosted a guest lecture on migration on the US-Mexico border by a USF colleague and former Fulbright fellow in Germany, Dr. Heide Castañeda, and a lecture on programs to assist Mossi women accused of witchcraft in Burkina Faso by a USF alumna, Dr. Clarisse Barbier, who visited Agadir after completing a Fulbright fellowship in Burkina Faso. I am very grateful to the administration at Univ. Ibn Zohr, Prof. Anbi, and his kind students for providing me and my colleagues with such a warm welcome and supportive academic community.

My main Fulbright project was entitled, “Women’s Status, Family Law Reform, and Human Rights Networks in Southern Morocco” and examined the impacts of the 2004 national family law reform that increased women’s rights in a variety of areas. I studied the strategies that Moroccan women employ to seek legal protection. The main organization that hosted me was the Agadir branch of the Union de L’Action Féministe, one of Morocco’s largest national feminist organizations. I was able to observe and interview Moroccan women who came to the Listening Center at UAF to seek help with their legal and domestic problems. I spoke with lawyers, social workers, and women clients about experiences with issues including gender-based violence, divorce, child custody, and other family law matters. During this research, I worked with some very accomplished and inspiring Moroccan women activists, especially Mrs. Saadia Lbahi (President) and Mrs. Rkaya Mouloud (Director) and staff members at UAF who work tirelessly to advance women’s rights every day through their efforts. For this project, I worked closely with my excellent assistant Karima who helped me conduct interviews in Moroccan Arabic and Tashelhit. My family and I also had the opportunity to share iftar with Karima’s family in Agadir during Ramadan, which was a special memory for us!

A second project that I started during my time in Agadir was a pilot study of rural Amazigh (Berber) women’s involvement in the local industry of edible and cosmetic argan oil, which is produced from argan trees indigenous to southern Morocco. Since the 1990s the increasing value of argan oil has provided a new source of revenue for local communities. With the help of two women field assistants from the university, I interviewed Amazigh women at six cooperatives in rural villages in areas near Agadir, Tiznit, Tarouddant, and Essaouira. These co-ops are part of the Union Tissaliwine led by Mrs. Jamila Idbourouss in Agadir that helps women export argan oil to partners in several countries, including France, UK, Japan, and the US.

Building on this field experience, I recently obtained a National Science Foundation grant to lead a three-year summer field school (2022–2024) on sustainable women’s argan oil production with Dr. Colleen Naughton in the Dept. of Engineering at University of California-Merced and Dr. Jamila Bargach at Dar Si Hmad, a community development NGO based in Agadir. The field school will combine social science and engineering approaches to study the life cycle, energy consumption, and socioeconomic, and cultural aspects of argan oil production and its transformation into a global commodity. We will host six anthropology and engineering students per year from the two US universities who will design their own field projects, as well as Moroccan student research assistants. We are very excited to start this new collaboration in Morocco!

Another new interest that stemmed from my Fulbright experience is the growth of sub-Saharan African migration into Morocco through the Agadir region where a large number of migrants are staying for longer periods of time as they are finding work in the surrounding agricultural industry and other sectors. I am planning a new study on migrant identities in Morocco with Dr. Castañeda at USF to examine the dynamics of gender, race, and work among sub-Saharan migrants in the Souss region in collaboration with Dr. Anbi, faculty, and students in the Master’s program on migration at Université Ibn Zohr. I hope to return to start working on this project in the near future.

I would like to express my warmest thanks to Fulbright, the Moroccan American Commission for Educational and Cultural Exchange and fellow Fulbrighters, my research participants and assistants, my Arabic teacher, director, and staff at Dar Si Hmad in Agadir, and our Moroccan colleagues and friends for making this experience an amazing and memorable year for me and my family. Shukran bzaf!

The Fulbright Commission in Morocco

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store