I learned pretty quickly that “What are you doing today?”, my standard conversation starter, doesn’t start much of conversation here. When I ask women in my town about their day-to-day plans, there is a sense of confusion and perhaps embarassment. “What am I doing today?” they might say, “The same thing as yesterday and the day before that. The same thing as always.” And then I have to come up with a new topic.
I know… a lot has happened in the two months since I’ve posted in Rabat. I’ve been busy learning Moroccan Arabic, drinking tea, and itching my flea bites. I’d like to excuse my lack of blog posts on my very dead computer and lack of wifi, but really, I’ve been trying to integrate and enjoy my time during training. I was fully planning on staying off any computer until swearing-in, but current events have made me want to borrow a laptop and get typing.
When the new president was elected, the hundred volunteers were together at a training in Meknes. I heard the news as I was waking up in my hotel room. After yelling a bit and using up a few tissues, I went into the lobby to find someone to talk to. After all, misery loves company. However, words were hard to come by. There were at least thirty of us, sitting in silence, mourning for our futures and the livelihood of our friends back in the States.
I am still having trouble coming to terms with the recent election, but this is what I will say: I am lucky in that when I get back to America, most things won’t change for me. I will still have access to good health care and will feel safe in most neighborhoods. I still won’t ever have to worry about my nationality, my religion, or my race being questioned.
But as a volunteer for Peace Corps Morocco, things have unequivocally changed; my job has just gotten a lot harder. I am here to advocate for friendship and understanding between the Moroccan and American people, but that will not be easy if our president preaches Islamaphobia. To many Moroccans, I represent America, and if all they know about America is what Trump says, not only my job, but my safety could be at risk.
That being said, the Moroccan people have been incredibly kind to me. When I was crying watching the news at my host family’s house, my host mom gave me some tea and let me wear her fuzzy pajamas. I thought she might be disappointed at me for what my nation stands for, but all she cared about was making me feel better.
I think my biggest challenge will not be convincing Moroccans to accept me, but convincing Americans to accept Moroccans. It makes me so sad to think that the kindness and generosity that has been expressed to me by many Moroccans would not be returned if they visited the United States. I wish people could understand that just as Trump doesn’t represent all Americans, extremists don’t represent all Muslims.
I have yet to fully see what this election means for me or my job, but I can say that I am grateful to be here and I am grateful for all the Moroccans who have made me feel better this last week.
When I explain to people that I am joining the Peace Corps, I tend to get one of two responses.
First, there’s the shifty eye movement, that accompanies a furrowed browed and a mumbled, “you be careful out there,” as if I’m delicate prey that needs to be protected. This often happens when I explain that I am moving to Morocco or that I am trying to learn Arabic. Something about imagining me, a young blonde, blue-eyed woman, in a Muslim country makes people very uncomfortable.
However, the other common response that I’ve gotten makes me almost just as uneasy. It’s the accolades from the neighbors and church-goers who act as though my decision makes me a hero. Somehow they’ve gotten the idea that moving to a developing country is a sacrifice, that going to Morocco is a noble mission. Well, I hate to ruin veneer of saintliness, but I did not join the Peace Corps to teach or to inspire. I’m not joining to even help people.
A year ago my World Theatre teacher introduced me to the motto of Aboriginal Rights Advocates and it has influenced me since. It goes like this:
“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
I believe that volunteering needs to be more than the transactional act of giving, but instead, a collaboration between equals in order to create a better world for everyone. I am tired of violence, tired of difference causing distance between people. I do hope that I leave an impact on whatever community that I am honored to join, but what I really hope to do is to learn, not only about Moroccan culture and Muslim practices but also about myself and my own culture.
Moving to Morocco will certainly be a challenge, but perhaps the more important challenge will be what I do when I come back armed with a new perspective and passion.
I’ll see you in 27 months, America!