“ Wasn’t that the definition of home? Not where you are from, but where you are wanted?”
–Abraham Verghese “Cutting for Stone”
This might sound totally crazy but for the longest time I didn’t want to do anything to make my apartment homier. I didn’t want to fill it with many possessions or even with more household goods that would make life easier. I didn’t want to paint the walls, even if it made my house look better. Something within me was terribly afraid of making my life here feel permanent. In my mind, doing all of these things meant that I was living in this Moroccan apartment forever—and as much as I am committed to completing my entire 26 months here in Morocco, I didn’t want it to feel like forever.
Whenever I meet people for the first time here in Morocco they always ask me the same question: Do you love my country? My automatic response was always the same, “yes, I do. It’s beautiful. Everyone is nice.” But more than being a sincere, heartfelt response it was a way for me to quickly avoid having to tell them how I really felt. It was a shield that I put up so that all of the things I truly felt didn’t come pouring out of me.
I remember when I first arrived and was filled with so many questions about this place and my work. I leapt at every chance I got to talk to a second year volunteer and seek out any advice they might have to offer. And just like the Moroccans, my first question was always, “Do you love it here?” Most of them said they did. That despite having moments here when they were ready to pack their bags and head back to the good old US of A, they didn’t. Something about this place held them back.
And so after 7 months of living here I have to ask myself the same question that I’ve been asked so many times and asked of so many others: Do I love this country? And if I’m being totally honest, no, I don’t think I love this country. At least not yet. There are things about this place that I know I won’t ever get used to. Like not being able to take a walk in my town without feeling like a piece of meat, without getting cat-called and hissed at by the men in my town. I won’t ever get used to that. And I don’t want to. I believe Morocco is better than that. And I won’t ever get used to how people say “Inch’allah,” “God willing,” after you announce your intentions to do anything in the future. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stubbornly rejected this phrase and said, “I’ve already spoken to Allah, and yes, he has confirmed that he wills my project to be.” Moroccans just laugh at me when I say this, and then respond with another “Inch’allah.” I won’t ever get used to feeling like I have limited freedom, because I can’t just do whatever I want, because I can’t just sit down in a café and quietly read a book—cafes in my town are reserved for men only. And I can’t just sit in the garden without being bothered—people might think I’m a prostitute. I won’t ever get used to feeling like I have nowhere to go when I leave my house.
And yet, I’m still here.
For every little thing that drives me nuts about Morocco there is a redeeming quality that pops up right when I’m feeling down, to remind me, wait, be patient, falling in love takes time. So I’m learning to fall in love with Morocco. I’m learning that falling in love means overcoming your fears and learning to depend on someone (or something) other than yourself. I’m learning that as much as the Moroccan “Inch’allah” drives me crazy, it’s also all I have if I’m ever going to accomplish anything here. I’m learning to depend on that “Inch’allah” and hear it as a call from the divine about what is meant to be and what isn’t meant to be, instead of thinking of it only as an empty promise. I’m learning to walk with my head held high and to look those men who shout crude things at me in the eye so that I can remind myself that this is just one man, and he does not represent an entire nation.
But most importantly, I’m learning to love the people around me. To love the families who bring me food because they know that I live alone and don’t want me to have to cook for myself. To love the children on my street who shout my name at the top of their lungs at 8am in the morning because they want me to come to my door just so they can talk to me. To love my host family who welcomed me into their home as their daughter and who I know, would go to the end of the earth for me. To love my students at the dar chebab, who come running into class everyday with huge smiles on their faces, excited to learn, even though they’ve just been in school for 8 hours and could be spending their free time doing other things. They have to walk home late at night in order to come to my classes and yet, they are always there, notebooks at hand, ready to learn. Like the Abraham Verghese quote above, my students make me feel wanted.
So things change. I’ve changed. This week, I painted the walls of my living room a vibrant red—the same vibrant red that represents bravery and hardiness on the Moroccan flag. After living here for 7 months, I have finally come to terms with 26 months. While the United States will always be my home, I am also ready to accept that El Borouj is my home now.
Recently, I was taking a grand taxi from Settat back to El Borouj. The harsh summer sun has finally given way to a warm and tolerable fall. The fields around Borouj which were dusty as far as the eye could see have now changed into a ripening green and for the first time since moving here, I can see all the way to the mountains. And just as the sun was setting, I thought, isn’t this place beautiful.