Portrait of Meryem Jariri

“I like to cook Moroccan food, couscous, lots of vegetables, with meat or chicken, but my kids like American food.”

Meryem Jariri is a nursing assistant.

15. IMG_0471aI left Morocco on April 22nd, 2000. I was married September 9th 1999. There was an immigration lottery program called a “Diversity Visa” and we applied and were selected. You have to have a high school diploma and a job to apply. Once we were here we could get green cards. My husband’s brother already lived in Maryland. We lived with them at first, but Maryland was expensive. We had many friends in Philadelphia, so we came here.

We worked so hard. I worked at Goodwill, and then I went to school to become a nursing assistant. We don’t feel like immigrants, there are lots of Moroccan people we know who live nearby. In 2004 I became a citizen.

In 2002, I had my first baby. We were so happy. My husband and I had to work and my mother-in-law came to help take care of the baby, so we would not have strangers looking after him, or have to pay for childcare. My mom came here in 2005 to help with my second baby for six months. For the third baby, they both came. In 2013 we applied for my mom to get a green card, so that she could come and stay any time. I have two sisters and a brother still in Morocco. We go to visit every three or four years.

I grew up speaking Arabic, French, and English. When we came to the U.S. I watched cable TV with captions and wrote down words or sentences that I wasn’t sure about. I watched movies and TV with a notebook and pencil to improve my English. I always tell people to do this. I feel bad for kids who grow up speaking only one language. My husband and I speak Arabic at home. My kids understand Arabic, but they reply in English. As soon as they started school they started speaking English all the time. I like to cook Moroccan food, couscous, lots of vegetables, with meat or chicken, but my kids like American food.

We are Moroccan and Muslim. Children should live with their parents, not with roommates. At night, children should be at home, not sleeping over at friend’s houses—where they might learn bad things. In Morocco, people live with their parents, the family is all together.

The day I left I was excited to come. I left my mother and everybody, but we were so happy. Then I see how hard life is here. I went back one year later to visit. This time I cried to leave again. Life here is very stressful. I never worked before I left home. Morocco is a very beautiful country. I could never go back though. Life, routines, are very different, and I am used to this routine.

When we left, my husband’s family and my family had a big party. We had a big dinner with Moroccan food—chicken marinated with cilantro, garlic, ginger, olive oil, lemon juice, and lots of onion. We had cake, fruits, soda, and Moroccan bread. Everyone wished us good luck. My sister gave a gift for memory. She gave me a necklace that I always wear. My uncle gave me a keychain that I use every day. My mom gave me American money. My brother-in-law in Maryland said don’t bring anything, but it turned out everything was so expensive here, so that wasn’t the best advice.

People in Morocco enjoy life more in the moment. People work 8:00 to noon and 2:00 to 6:00, the European system. Everyone goes home for lunch from work and school. It cuts down on stress. And families live all together, which makes life easier, with more people to contribute to a houshold.

Life here is really hard. College, clothes, everything is so expensive. When I lived in Morocco, everything is cash, no loans. Now we have house loan, car loan, etc. Now Morocco is more like the US in that respect. People always want more. But what is important, our family is all together—we have love.

Photo by Jennifer Baker

Portraits of People on the Move tells the stories of Philadelphia-area immigrants through their own words on the Supperdance.com blog and was first shown as an exhibition in June 2015, at the Gray Area of Crane Arts in Philadelphia. The exhibition was created as a companion work to Supper, People on the Move by Cardell Dance Theater, a dance inspired by themes of migration.

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