Many of you probably don’t know this, but I cried when I left for the Peace Corps. Not tiny little tear drops, but gushing streams of water that soaked my shirt. The reason most of you don’t know this is because as I said my goodbyes to all of you, I was stoic, I didn’t shed a tear. I might have even seemed cold. Before saying my goodbyes I had decided that the only way I wouldn’t break down was if I was to remove all of my emotions when I gave you my last hugs. I know it sounds terrible, but we do what we have to do to tell ourselves that everything is going to be alright. It wasn’t until I said my last goodbyes and went through airport security and then finally sat down alone while I waited to board the airplane to Philadelphia that I realized how alone I would be over the next two years. How, even though I would Skype with all of you throughout my two years and make new Moroccan friends and volunteer friends, this was a challenge I was facing alone. And that’s when the tears started to flow.
Now as I’m in the last week of my service, I find myself wanting to come clean about what being here has meant for me over the past two years; to share with you the whole truth even though its picture might not be as pretty as the one you had painted for me in your mind. Why is it that at the end of our days, we can say all the things we couldn’t say before? Perhaps there is some liberation in speaking about the past. That remembering what happened exactly as it did frees you from the weight of future lies in which you create a fictional truth to impress your listeners.
Or maybe, knowing that we fought so many battles and experienced so many wonderful moments means that we finally deserve to tell their tales.
So here it is: my truth and reconciliation.
Truth: The gender roles were never easy for me here and I think they were one of the few reasons that I could never fall in love with Morocco. Constantly getting harassed on the street, even if it was just a “Ciao Bella,” turned me into an angry person many days. Every time I’d have to walk somewhere I’d put on my “don’t fuck with me” face and hope that by looking as menacing as possible, and as ugly as possible, that men would leave me alone. I’m looking forward to being in a place again where I don’t have to wear that mask. But even outside of the harassment, some of the very people who were closest to me exemplified the behaviors that I found to be most frustrating. A very close friend of mine, who has also been friends and counterpart to all of the volunteers before me told me recently that he wants to marry a girl between the ages of 16 and 24 (he is 30), that she should not have an education higher than a high school diploma, and that she will stay at home and not be allowed the option of working. While saying this, he sat and made comments about girls’ butts as they walked past us and said that if girls didn’t cover themselves well then they deserved to be stared at. This from someone who I thought would have learned from being friends with strong, independent women! I guess not. In another instance, when my family was visiting I wanted to bring them over to my tutor’s house to eat. My tutor is one of my favorite people in town and I was dying to introduce her to my family. However, before the lunch she informed me that if my family came my father and brothers would have to sit in one room with her husband while the women sat in another room. She said that her customs would not allow her to be in the same room as my father. That she and her husband and her children and me and my parents and my brothers could not all sit in one room together and share a meal. I cried when she told me that. Morocco can break your heart sometimes.
And yet out of all that I now hold closer to my feminine identity than I ever did before. Not that I didn’t feel like a woman back in the US, but I think sometimes it takes someone threatening us for who we are for us to truly understand how important that identity is. Here in Morocco, I faced many struggles because I am a woman, but facing those struggles made me feel more womanly and more proud to be a woman than ever before. It also made me want to work with Moroccan women as part of my job here, and do programs that remind them how important they will be in shaping the future of this country.
I would say that the same holds true for my identity as an American. Here in Morocco, I’ve been confused for an Italian, a Spaniard, a Frenchwoman, an Australian, and a Chinese woman; and yet throughout all of that confusion I continue to make it clear where I’m from. Additionally, watching Moroccans call my Asian-American site-mates “Chinese” for two years because they don’t understand how diverse America is has made me more proud than ever to be from a country that is truly diverse. If there is one thing about being American that should make every one of us proud, it’s that. Not our high GDP, our world power, our army, or our films—our diversity.
Truth: Moroccans are some of the most hospitable people I have ever met—much more so than Americans (sorry guys!). If I’d wanted to, I could have probably eaten every single meal for 2 years in the homes of others. Not only will they invite you over to their house for tea as soon as they meet you, but that tea will inevitably turn into an invitation for dinner which will turn into an invitation to sleep over and stay for breakfast in the morning. And this phenomenon not only holds true for wealthy Moroccans but also for poorer ones. I’ve eaten a meal with families who don’t have much and yet they still manage to scrounge up whatever they have and treat me like royalty. How is it that those who have so little are often the ones who want to give so much? I will never cease to be amazed by this kindness and generosity and I will do my best to make my Moroccan friends proud and carry that tradition back to America with me.
Truth: This final week has been full of tears. The first time I cried was when I gave a thank you letter to my counterpart Nabila, thanking her for everything she’s done for me over the past two years. I don’t think she realizes it, but the majority of the things that I accomplished during my time here would not have been possible without her. In a country filled with “Inch’allah,” tardiness, excuses (“I was late because it’s very sunny today” is something I heard quite often. . .), and sometimes laziness, she was a beacon of light and hope and reliability. She came when she said she would, she came on time, she did what she said she’d do, and more than that, she took initiative. She is a role model for all youth and female professionals in Morocco and I can’t wait to hear what her future holds.
The second time I cried was when I was handing out certificates to my INJAZ students for successfully completing My Company Program. In that moment, I felt so proud of them and everything they had accomplished. Not only did they overcome difficult challenges but they also proved that students in rural Morocco are just as capable as those in big cities. Because of their hard work and determination, they paved the way for thousands more students in rural Morocco who will now also be able to do INJAZ programs. I wish them all the best as they go into the regional competition in Casablanca in June.
Truth: Despite all of the challenges and hard times, I’m going to miss Morocco terribly. In all honesty, I have never felt that I was more a part of a community than I do here. Working with community members to accomplish a goal, engaging with people at all different levels in the community to host events, sipping uncounted pots of tea and discussing the future of Morocco, and working with youth to make El Borouj a better place, are all experiences that I will never forget. And because of this experience, I will be looking for a job in community development when I return to the US.
I could make a list of all the ways that Morocco and this experience have changed me, but I’m not going to do that. You’ll see it when you meet me again in the US.
Alright. This is it. The big one. To all those who have made this experience what it was, a thousand times I thank you. Through the good times, the bad, the waiting, the couscous, the cultural confusion, the tea, and the forced public-dancing, you’ve always been there, right alongside of me. To all of my students, my aerobics ladies, my community partners, my Moroccan families and friends, I will never forget you u ana gan-tuhajtkum bzzef! To my American family and friends and all of my PCV friends, your love and support have made me the person I am today, and for that I am eternally grateful.
As all things must eventually come full circle, so must this blog. So with that, I end with a quote from the first blog post I wrote, “Here’s to continuation. Here’s to the next step of my life. And here’s to never saying goodbye.”
. . . But that’s not it!! I’m going to try to keep the blog going throughout my travels this summer, so if you want to hear about traveling in Eastern Africa—stay tuned!