What they don’t tell you about Peace Corps before you join is that not everyone in the host community wants you there. Not everyone will welcome you with open arms and treat you as a member of their family. Many people in my community have praised me for my mediocre Darija skills and ability to eat profuse amounts of couscous, saying, “you are Moroccan now.” Others, mostly people I don’t know, shout at me on the street in languages foreign to me and treat me as an outsider. I understand why they do this; after all, they don’t know me and probably don’t know that I work at the dar chebab. But nevertheless, it’s frustrating. In less than a month I will be celebrating my one-year anniversary of living in Morocco—the longest time I’ve ever spent living abroad, and I’m still trying to fit in. What Peace Corps doesn’t tell you is that some volunteers spend their entire 27 months of service trying to fit it, trying to convince people that, no, I don’t look like you, but we can be friends, you’ll see, I have much more in common with you than you think.
I’m not trying to complain, I’m just trying to tell all of you back home that integration is not as easy as my photos probably make it look. That, as I’ve said before, fitting in takes patience. We don’t take photos of the bad moments after all, only of the good ones.
This constant need to feel like you fit in is wearing. It kind of reminds me of high school in a way, where everyone is trying desperately to fit into one mold. I often feel that way here in Morocco—like I just want to shout out, “Accept me! Like me! Stop shouting at me in Italian! I live here!” Just to reiterate, the people who know me, my Moroccan friends, my students, they treat me well and have accepted me and welcomed me with open arms. It’s just the other people, the people who shout at me on the street (who, I’d also like to point out, are 99% men) that get to me, because I know I’ll never be accepted by them. Maybe I shouldn’t care so much; after all, it’s not them I’m trying to work with.
Anyway, the point of this entry wasn’t to complain about that. It’s a problem I have, but I’m dealing with it. The point of this entry was to tell you all about my light in the dark (the dark being everything I just mentioned above).
The other day after my current events club, one of my students, a kind 16-year old girl named Fatema Zahra, had no one to walk her home. Sadly, here in Borouj, many girls are afraid to walk home alone at night and usually get a male sibling or neighbor boy to walk home with them. On this particular night, Fatema Zahra had no one to walk her home and asked if I would go with her. As we were walking, she asked me if I was afraid to walk home alone in the dark, to which I responded, “No, I’m not afraid. I’m a strong woman and I can protect myself. I have nothing to be afraid of.” She then responded, “You know, Martha, I want to be just like you, someday.” Confused, I asked, “You want to be a volunteer like me? You want to work with youth someday? That’s wonderful!” She politely shook her head. “No. Well yes I do want to help my community someday, but what I meant was that someday I want to be strong and brave like you.”
We all need those lights in the dark, those moments when everything becomes clear to us again, that we remember why we set out to do something challenging and frustrating in the first place. This was mine.