Reflections from the 1/3 mark

I sit here staring up at the stars.  The first shooting stars of the night should be come at any moment.  There is no moon—making tonight the perfect opportunity.  It took me a couple minutes to find the darkest place to sit.   A place where the dim yellow light of the city doesn’t interfere with the night sky.  I sit there and stare up at the sky.

That’s when it hits me.  I don’t know how to tell you what I am experiencing.  I can tell you about the stars.  I can tell you about the dim light of the city.  Hell.  I can tell you about the dogs wailing off in the distance—in their eternal fight for more territory.  I can show you the mountain behind my city and how tell you how angry I am that it is being mined into the groud.  I can point out the mosque I can see from my roof and explain to you that I can hear the call to prayer—every day—five times a day.

But that will only graze the surface.  There’s no way for me to paint a picture that properly tells you how amazing this experience is.  How difficult it is.  How I’ve cried for hours.  How I’ve been numb for days.  How I’ve been happier than I’ve been in a very long time.  There’s no way to put 90% of what I see into words.  Sure, I write to you every day in my diary.  I tell you what I encounter on a daily basis.  But I pick and choose.  If I wrote a full account of what I came across every day—I wouldn’t experience as much because I’d be writing for hours on end.

The only way I can get you to understand what I am going through is by bringing you here.  My parents are coming in a month.  As I figure out what to do with their short time here, I’m hit with a strange dilemma.  I want to fit in so much.  But I have to accept that they won’t be able to see what I see.  I can wander this country without being much stress anymore.  That’s not going to be the case with my parents.  It’ll be a whirlwind.  They will understand my life much better.  But it still won’t put them in my shoes.

As I sit here looking up at the stars, I can tell you that I am lonely.  And that’s okay.   Today marks 1/3 of service.  That is a strange comfort to me.  I can feel time passing—a necessity to remind myself that I will be back home someday—even if I do not understand where home is anymore.  It also reminds me of how much time I have left.  A deep reminder that I need to fit as much as I can in to the little time I have left here.

It impossible to tell you about the passage of time.  I look back home and see people living their lives.  A few things have changed, but life remains the same.  Meanwhile, I’ve been sucked into a vortex.  The person I was nine months ago wouldn’t recognize the person I am today.   I could Early Terminate right now.  I could go home.  I could see my friends and family.  You.  I could eat the food I so desperately want to eat.  It would be good for a week.  Maybe a month.  But I wouldn’t know what to do.  How do you explain what has happened to you when you can’t even understand it yourself?

540 days from now, I’ll sit out here again.  Downstairs my apartment will be bare—picked apart my new volunteers who are just starting out.  It’ll be my last night in the apartment.  In the morning I’ll hand over the keys.  I’ll get in a Grand Taxi and say goodbye to this strange town.  Sitting there, staring up at the stars, I’ll breath.  I’ll cry.  I’ll laugh.   I’ll be terrified and excited about the idea of returning to America—much like how I felt in the days prior to coming here.   I will have come full circle—ready for my next adventure.

Until then, I’ll enjoy the ride and continue writing.

Witnessing a Beautiful Moment

This moment has been with me for the past five hours.  I was t the supermarket behind the orphanage.  As I checked out, I made the lazy decision to take the moving walkway instead of the stairs.  As I walked up to the walkway, there was a 50-year old woman standing there, looking at it.  She was in her hijab, looking really uneasy.  I gave her a smile as I passed by her.  A part of me wanted to help, but I knew that would be inappropriate.

I’m glad I didn’t.  When I looked back at the woman, her husband had caught up with her.  He took her hand and eased her slowly onto the platform.  It took her a couple false starts, but she got the hang of it.  It was so cute. It was one of those moments when I realize I want a love that lasts into old age.

That being said, my next memory is about a wedding:

Day Six: My Sister’s Wedding

 

Individual Struggles

In the time that I’ve been in Peace Corps, I’ve come to solidify I thought process that has been growing on me over the past couple years: “Do not judge someone by their actions (or inactions).  Wait until you have the full story.”  This idea grew out of my father who told me this story (which I think is from the book, “7 Habits of a Highly Effective Person):

A man working in NYC just finished an 80 hour work-week.  He gets on the subway, exhausted, and tries to rest his mind as he goes home.  At the next stop, a middle-aged woman enters the subway car with a 2 year old and a 4 year old.  She sits down close to the man.  When the subway starts moving, the two kids start chasing each other around and screaming when they catch each other.  This annoys the man who just wanted a nice trip back home.  He notices that the mother is just staring out the window–not paying attention.  Then one of the boys knocks over the man’s briefcase and keeps running.  This annoys the man so much that he calls out to the woman and tells her to control her kids.  She snaps out of her daze and says, “I’m sorry.  Their father passed away this evening and…”

Ever since I heard that story, I’ve come to realize that there is little value in first impressions.  We all are experiencing our individual struggles.  That is how I am getting through today.  I am one of four volunteers helping run a camp in Eastern Morocco right now.  Tomorrow we will say goodbye to one of the four because his own personal struggle has grown in recent days.  It’ll be hard without him, but I know I cannot judge him for it.  On the same cord, I woke up feeling rather ill today.  In order to be prepared for when there are only three of us, I decided to use this morning to rest and get better.  I hope I won’t be too harshly judge for missing a day (though I’ve come to care less and less about what others think about me).

Then I logged onto Facebook this morning.  I started talking to a very close friend of mine.  She is going through a struggle with her family (the fighting itself sounds like it has a lot to do with judging others when we have no right to judge them).  I did my best to listen because that’s really all we can do.  When someone is struggling, we can listen.  From time to time, you may need to tell someone to snap out of it, but most struggles need little more than a listening ear.  Although, I wish I could be there in person to offer better support.

Thank you Dad for teaching me this valuable life lesson.

100 Days Into My Peace Corps Experience

Fes

100 Days In

100 Days Down.  700 to go.  The past week has changed everything for me.  It started with Spring Camp.  That gave me the first experience of interacting with kids in Bhalil.  Once camp concluded, I got to work on some of the most important aspects of my time here.  First, getting a house of my own.  As of yesterday, I have the key to my very own beautiful apartment.  I will be spending the week ahead furnishing it and moving in.  Secondly, I am filling my schedule with classes.  I already have three English Classes scheduled in the week ahead.  I am likely to get a couple more over the next couple days.  Most of them will be reoccurring.  This will be the core of my service.  All of my projects will branch out from the kids that I teach.

Starting to be successful is changing a lot.  There have also be recent changes back in America.  It has all brought me to a strange understanding.  I now know what I am doing in Morocco.  I now know the full extent of the sacrifice I made by leaving America.  The combination is strange.  On the up side, my feet are planted firmly in Morocco and my service will benefit from that.  On the down side, there is no going back to the way things used to be.  I knew Peace Corps would change my life.  But what surprises me is how it changed me.

The emotional roller coaster that was 100 days of homestay is over.  It made me realize how many emotions can be active at the same time.  There was one point when I almost exhausted my vocabulary for emotions and honestly felt all of them simultaneously.  It is exhausting.  However, considering I was an anxious wreck only six months ago, this is a great change for me.

The other aspect is Love.  I have come to realize the true meaning of love here.  In all forms.  I have never truly understood how much I love my family…because I have never had to miss them this much.  It is a great thing to realize.  The same happens for friends.  I coming to realize who I was close to because they were around…and who is honestly a good friend (and how I can be a better friend).  As for romantic love, that is a whole other can of worms.

I am ready for the second 100 days.  I know that I do not know what they hold.  That is clear.  I barely understand what tomorrow holds.  But that is part of the beauty of Morocco and Peace Corps.  You never know what is going to happen…but is usually turns out for the best.

Like being ushered into a random house and given cake, peanuts, and tea.

Morocco is awesome.

The Fishbowl Effect

Sad T-Rex

Sad T-Rex (Photo credit: iJammin)

There’s a pain that comes with Peace Corps service.  At least it accompanies the first 100 days of service.  I can’t pretend that it won’t also be a part of the next 700 days, but it will be less intense.  It’s something that Peace Corps warned us about.  When they told us about it, I didn’t understand.  How could I?  Now I’ve been through it.  Now I understand.  Now…how do I explain it?

Peace Corps’ description: You are always “on.”  In the Peace Corps manual, you will find a list of Core Expectations.  I have number five circled: “Recognize that you are responsible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for your personal conduct and professional performance.”  Add that on top of the reality that you are the only American in town, and you’ve got yourself quite the fish bowl.

This hit me hard today.  I wanted to do some writing.  I needed some inspiration, so I looked through some old pictures.  The pictures stabbed me with memories.  Beautiful memories of a time that feels so long ago.  Whenever I get like this, I like to go for a walk.  It clears my head.  But I can’t go for a walk.  My host family will ask where I am going.  I’ll tell them I want to walk.  They’ll tell me it’s not safe with all the dogs out at night.

How do you deal with this?  My host family has a puppy.  I thought I would love it.  The thing is, that little dog reminds me of my two dogs—who died within two months of each other right before I left for the Peace Corps.  But I can’t be sad.  I can sneak into my room—because that comes across as antisocial.  And I can’t cry.  Having someone ask questions would only complicate the situation.

But…I move into my own apartment in 13 days or so.  That’s the small light at the end of the tunnel.  It’ll be nice to have a whole apartment rather than a small room.  It’ll be great to control my diet.  It’ll be nice to not be expected home at a certain hour.  Most of all, I can go for walks whenever I want.  It’s this beginning part—these first 100 days of service that have worn on me.

I know there’s a part of me that will always be “on.”  That part of me will either learn to adjust or sigh a long awaited sigh of relief when I finally hit American soil in 2015.  That’s such a strange thought.  The idea of being here two years is realistic now.  The thought of returning home is so…surreal.  All the food.  The flat sidewalks.  Movie theaters.  Strong Internet.  Not having trouble understanding someone in a basic conversation.

I feel like I’m in a constant state of over-alertness.

I need a vacation.

Cultural Misunderstandings & Moroccan Integration

English: Extension of Moroccan Arabic (Darija).

English: Extension of Moroccan Arabic (Darija). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I need to talk about yesterday. Out of nowhere, yesterday became my biggest step forward with regards to integration.  At the same time, I made a mistake that will likely come back to bite me.  All in all, the day was busy and worthwhile.  I went to sleep unsure of how to interpret everything…but that is happening more and more here in Morocco.

The day started normal.  I woke up late.  I walked around town.  I read at the park.  That part of my routine is set.  It’s perfect for what I want to accomplish here.  I need to integrate, so walking around daily is a must.  I meet at least one new person a day.  The reading in the park is something that came out of nowhere.  After being told that “I’ve never seen a person in Bhalil read in public,” I decided to do it every day.

When I got back, my family whisked me off to lunch at my mother’s parents’ house.  I’m starting to get to know everyone in the family.  More importantly, my Host Uncle has taken a liking to me.  He tries harder to communicate with me than anyone I have met here in Morocco.  After lunch, he took me to his barbershop.  At first, I thought I was going to be forced to get my hair cut.

Turns out I was wrong.  The barbershop is kind of a local hangout.  A dozen people came and went throughout my three hours there.  I met several friends of the family.  We had conversations about language, indoor heating, money, and clean energy.  It was fantastic.  Later, the English teacher at the local high school dropped by.  We had a long conversation and suddenly I have another counterpart in my work here.  Those three hours at the barbershop integrated me as much as a week’s worth of walking around town.

I headed back to my family’s house.  As we ate, the conversations somehow turned to how long I’m spending in Morocco (two years).  That quickly turned into whether or not I would marry while in Morocco.  This isn’t the first time a conversation has started about me being single.  Back in Bouderham, it was an ongoing joke between the postman and I.  So when the topic came up, I gave an overenthusiastic, “No, no, no, no.”

This is the first time the subject came up with my host family.  They were confused why I was so adamant.  It’s not that I’m adamant against it…it’s more that I can’t see it.  Back in America, I really wanted to have a house and a good job and be more like 30 when I started a family.  If my ideals play into it—religion, writing, etc..—I just don’t see marriage anywhere in the picture during my two years here.

Problem: How do you translate that into a language you’ve been studying for two months?

I missed my opportunity to explain myself.  Instead, my host mother asked me if there was a girl back home.  I said no.   My mother decided my “no” was a little sheepish and interrupted it as a “YES I DO!”  Before I could do anything about it, the conversation flew by me.  I was only asked one more question, “Is she still studying at University in America?”  Unsure of what else to say, I just said yes.

So my host family things I’m halfway to engaged.  This being on the heels of me suddenly feeling single again.  I want to set the record straight with my family…but bringing it up would be inappropriate.  The best I can do is set the record straight if they bring the subject again.  But what am I supposed to say?

Back in America I would explain it eloquently, “We never officially dated, but we were defiantly together.  We never officially broke up, but we are definitely not together anymore.”  In Darija, I will inevitably sound like a bubbling idiot.  I live in a culture where dating is considered inappropriate.  I quickly discovered that it’s not as much of a big deal as I was led to believe.  Still, it is quite a strange situation.

Every day here is unexpected.

I love that.

But it’s exhausting.