While the average American probably saw one or two Facebook posts about Ramadan, and has forgotten about the whole thing, my feed has been crammed with pictures of lfturs (the meal that breaks the fast at sundown) and inspirational first-time fasting reflections by non-Muslim Peace Corps Volunteers. From the looks of Facebook, many Peace Corps Volunteers in Morocco are withholding food and sometimes even water from sunup to sundown. However, when I call up my friends who haven’t had much of a recent Facebook presence, I hear about them sneaking sips of water on public transportation or closing their windows before eating any food. All of us seem to have strong opinions about whether fasting is the best choice for volunteers and I am certainly not an exception. But for the sake of parity, let’s talk about things from both sides.
Honestly, I’m really getting into the swing of things over here. I have my own house, I have classes to teach (for at least until Ramadan starts) and I kind of have friends. Who would have imagined?
For those who have been wondering what I’ve been up to, I figured I could show you one of the wacky hobbies I’ve started during my time here. For the last few months I’ve been tracking what I’ve been doing on what I like to call, my Reverse Calendar. Basically, I have a set of symbols that represent the things that I try to do on a daily basis (classes, entertaining friends, studying), and when I do them, I get to reward myself by adding the appropriate symbol to my calendar. Continue reading “What Life’s Like, 8 Months In”
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.
The hundred of us Peace Corps trainees are spending a week in a suburb of Rabat until we move in with host families in our Culture Based Training sites. We have been warned that the town of Harhoura will be nothing like our final destinations; the mint tea cost 18 dirhams instead of three or four, and it is common to see women in cafes wearing jeans with their hair down. Other than the 24/7 police presence at our hotel and the preponderance of stray dogs and cats, staying at the hotel feels like any old vacation. There’s even a pool.
Though I had been across the street to a few French and Italian themed cafes, yesterday I decided to go with a group of about fifteen other Peace Corps members to the closest town. I knew about two things about Temara, that it was about a twenty minute walk, and that it was a nice place to hangout. I wanted to experience something outside of our hotel, so I tagged along with a group leaving the reception area.
Looking back on the experience, I can say that many mistakes were made. First of all, the group was too big. They say that safety is in numbers, but sixteen people is just too many. Not only because decision making was difficult, but due to our size, we also brought a lot of unnecessary attention to ourselves. While we were blocked the sidewalk debating what to do next, a few children came up to us and threw fire poppers at our feet. If our western appearance didn’t attract enough stares, the screams of surprise as the poppers exploded solidified our position as the town spectacle.
The larger issue was that we didn’t have a plan. We figured that we’d simply walk into town and find something to do, but that proved to be difficult. Even though we were near the liberal Rabat, the public sphere in Temara seemed reserved for men. I would have loved to sit and drink mint tea after the long walk, but there were no women relaxing in the cafes or even chatting with their friends on the side of the road. The only women seemed to be rushing off to their next location. Rumor has it that other parts of Temara had more inclusive cafes, but we weren’t prepared well enough to know where those were.
I wanted to be courageous and ignore the stares, but when a member of our group, who had spent time in Palestine and had been in the US Army said that she felt uncomfortable, I knew it was time to go. After only a few minutes in Temara, I turned around and went back with a few other volunteers. In that moment, I realised that while bravery as a Peace Corps Volunteer is important, I’ll need to know the difference between pushing personal boundaries and pushing cultural boundaries. Even though it was disappointing, I was glad to have done the first and not the second.
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!