After two years, I think I’ve had an appropriate amount of time to reflect on some of the things I don’t know how I will live without, and some I’d prefer if I never had to experience again.
HOME SWEET HOME(S).
“Does hot water come out of the sink in America?” –Actual question, I asked another PCV about six months ago.
Get me out of here (for these reasons, in no particular order):
1. HOT WATER. Bucket baths suck, plain and simple. I love experiencing hammams (public bath houses), so much that I think I’ll continue to seek them out in the States. But when you’re living on a Peace Corps budget and have an addiction to baking like I do, those visits are few and far between. It’s not that I mind all that much, most of my Moroccan friends only bathe once a week. Hot showers with water pressure (emphasis on that last part sense water pressure doesn’t really exist here) are just so relaxing. There’s something dreadful about dumping a bucket of hot water on your head while standing in a cold, closet-sized room in 30 degree weather.
2.The variety and ease of…everything.Sometimes you can find a light bulb, shampoo and balloons all in the same place. Sometimes you can’t find anything you’re looking for or you simply don’t know how to say it and the store owner doesn’t understand what you’re trying to act out for him—sort of like a really bad game of charades. In the beginning of my service it could take well over two hours at souk to find something I’m looking for and after two years I’m still discovering where and how everything can be found. I’m simply struck by the variety and ease of finding items in the States—essentially anything you want, anytime you want it. It might be nice to know exactly where and how to find things again and effectively communicate what you’re looking for.
3. Family and friends. Despite how close I’ve grown to some of my Peace Corps and Moroccan friends, there’s just something about your close friends and family that is so important. They understand you, I mean really understand you and I miss the ease that comes with being around them. I’m impressed with my tolerance of avoiding home-sickness over two years but on Moroccan Holidays seeing friends and family come together as we do in the States, it’s been difficult. Although Peace Corps-style Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations (i.e. improvised pumpkin pie and plastic bag stockings) have been wonderful experiences, I’m looking forward to an effortless gathering with loved ones again.
4. SCHEDULES, SYSTEMS AND FORMALITIES: If you’re coming to Morocco forget everything you know about time. Ryszard Kapuscinsk describes the differences between “Europeans” and “Africans” and the concept of time of time in his book, The Shadow of the Sun. Although stereotypical, and I am by no means saying every Moroccan or every American feels this way, his explanation of different perceptions of time relates to what I have experienced, especially in rural areas in Morocco:
“In the European worldview, time exists outside man, exists objectively, and has measurable and linear characteristics…The European feels himself to be time’s slave, dependent on it, subject to it…He must heed deadlines, dates, days and hours. He moves within the rigors of time and cannot exist outside them…
Africans apprehend time differently. For them, it is a much looser concept, more open, elastic, subjective. It is man who influences time, its shape, course and rhythm…Time is something man can create outright, for time is made manifest through events, and whether an event takes place or not depends, after all, on man alone…Time appears as a result of our actions, and vanishes when we neglect or ignore it. It is something that springs to life under our influence, but falls into a state of hibernation, even nonexistence, if we do not direct our energy toward it.
In practical terms, this means that if you go to a village where a meeting is scheduled for the afternoon but find no one at the appointed spot asking, ‘When will the meeting take place?’ makes so sense. You know the answer” ‘It will take place when people come.’” (pp.16-17)
It’s not uncommon for projects to take ten times longer than you would expect them to take in the states, in addition to filling out a ridiculous amount of pointless paperwork and traveling to another town just to have them stamped or signed then misplaced shortly thereafter. Sometimes people are late for meetings or decide to not show up at all. The problem is that I’ve actually grown accustom to this concept of time, I really schedule my day around the call to prayer and by American standards I’ve been anywhere between a half an hour and an hour “late” to some things before, depending on the importance. I can’t seem to stop taking my work seriously, however, which I am usually on time for even if the participants are not.
Furthermore lines do not exist here. Whether you’re waiting for a bus ticket, a bank transaction, purchasing food or at the post office, whoever is the loudest and pushiest gets served first. I’ve learned to adopt this way of aggressiveness but the best part is that no one gets angry about it, just me. I’m only really bothered by it at this point when I’ve taken a 17 hour bus ride and I’d really just like to get my bag and be on with my life but people first all need to line up in the aisle and get on and off the bus at the same time and everyone pushes their way to the luggage. Need some nuts? Just push your way to the front and shout how much you want. Need a bus ticket? Just hand someone your money and tell them “one, please”. Although standing in line and first-come-first serve can be annoying and unbearably painful sometimes in the States it seems much less likely to give you a heart attack and greatly reduces your risk of being trampled.
5. Gender Interactions, dressing like an “American” and anxiety-free exercise: I think one of the most challenging parts of my entire service was dealing with a completely different perception of both women and foreigners, altering the way I dress, talk, walk and interact with men. I could write paragraph upon paragraph about the perception of gender in Moroccan society according to my personal experiences, the perception of women and the extreme discrepancy and contradiction that exists from village to town to city, but I will save this exhausting essay for another entry. I didn’t expect to change myself so completely, to hide certain aspects of my life just in order to maintain my integrity to my community, to avoid what I already came here labeled as—“A western floozy”. I’m not saying that every volunteer has done this or should, I’ve just grown to accept interacting and dressing in certain ways and for the respect and response that I’ve gained from making those few sacrifices for just two years, it has been worth it to me. It is entirely unacceptable for me to wear anything above my elbows or my knees and I can’t remember the last time I saw my bear legs. My daily outfit usually includes a long sleeved shirt or cardigan that covers my butt, pants or an ankle-length skirt and a scarf. I have never covered my hair, unless it’s for sun or wind protection. I’ve never felt the need. I’ve had many women emphasize the importance of not showing your shoulders and covering your butt since these things seem to send the most provocative message to men, according to my town. I’ve learned to walk with my head down, especially in front of cafés, which are overwhelmingly male-dominated spaces. I never make eye contact or smile at a man, it sends an entirely strong message which they are probably already thinking. If I am verbally harassed I do what most Moroccan women do and just ignore them, looking straight ahead because they have told me if you respond in any way, even negatively, it shows that you are interested. Regardless of the size of the town in this region, I find that the general anthropological commentary of Middle Eastern societies in which public space is male dominated and private space is female dominated to be entirely relevant. I actually appreciate this in some circumstances, since I’d rather be sitting in a woman’s kitchen drinking tea than at the smoke-filled café on the busy streets. I’m looking forward to being able to exercise and not be stared or yelled at, to be able to wear a dress without jeans, to be able to jog without four layers and feeling comfortable in public. It’s not that I’m scared or worried when I leave my house, but I am constantly alert, especially in the main town in my region since harassment of women, not just foreigners, has become such a major issue. I’m so used to an environment in which men are separate from women I’m not sure how to reacclimate to being comfortable in the same space again. Although we still have a long way to go for women’s equality in the states, I am so appreciative and proud that I feel like I can truly be myself, regardless of who is in the room or how I am dressed.
6. Not taking the bus, ever again: Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but I’ve had to rely on cheap, inefficient buses for nearly all my transportation for two years—some which break down, do not have adequate seating (i.e. I’m standing in the aisle, seated on a tiny plastic seat or my legs do not fit in my seat), tolerated so many people vomiting that I automatically carry a plastic bag anytime I travel (not for me but for the passengers that will inevitably get sick en route), sat next to screaming babies, chickens, creepy men, had people sleep, drool, sneeze and vomit on me, almost passed out from heat exhaustion, seen death flash before my eyes as we nearly speed of a 50 foot cliff, endured 18 + hours of travel that I think I’m good on long bus rides for a while. I’ve taken public buses quite often to get around in the States and even in Portland where there is generally at least one homeless crazy person each ride and I’ve never been as uncomfortable. I’ve done many things to tolerate these long bus rides and they’re actually quite efficient compared to other countries but after two years I need a break.
7. Not feeling guilty: From the day I arrived I felt like I owed every Moroccan something. I’mthe one that wanted to be here, so I should do something to prove it. To this day, I am essentially at everyone’s beckon call in my community and if I cannot provide them with one of their requests, even if it is absurd, rude or I know that I’m somehow being taken advantage of, I can’t help but feel guilty that I failed them somehow. When I have to cancel class because I am sick, or I lock myself in my room to watch a movie after 17 hours of travel I feel incredibly guilty. I’m not sure where this feeling comes from, it might be a sense of work ethic or just simply that when I signed up for Peace Corps I knew you had to be very flexible and I was willing to do anything and go anywhere in the world to be able to be a part of this type of experience. It also might be linked to cultural responses here—saying “no” directly to someone’s request is very rude and every “no” has to be a long, indirect explanation. For example: “Come have lunch with me!” “Another time, God willing!” Even if you don’t intend to do so…but if I didn’t I would probably feel guilty about it.
“Peace Corps is hard.” Some other small annoyances that I could do without for a while:
The Turkish toilet: great in some circumstances, not so great in others. There is also never any toilet paper or soap in public bathrooms so just chew on that one for a while. The large “ventilation hole” in my ceiling that provides for it to rain into my house, and also so that I can hear everything my neighbors do and say and likewise. As I was making coffee this morning she didn’t bother coming down to speak to me, just shouted my name and started asking me questions as if we were already living together. As I write this they are blasting the Qu’ran. Along these lines I am going to appreciate privacy again, as most people just walk into my house and both in my old site and here, talk to me through windows, walls and any open spaces. I can’t go to the store without at least three people stopping me and asking me what I am doing. Temperature control: except for one month in the spring (March) and one month in the fall (November) it is extremely cold or extremely hot in everyone’s house. Air conditioning and heating come in small, inefficient and incredibly expensive units. Although I live in a desert climate I could sleep with up to four blankets, a hot water bottle, all of my clothes, and a hat in the winter and I wore close to nothing with frozen water bottles and towels in the summer, if I wasn’t able to sleep on the roof because of the glaring noise of weddings going on until 5 AM or all the mosquitoes. Hand washing…EVERYTHING: Rain, wind, hot or cold laundry has to be done. Hand washing every single sock, pillowcase, blanket and towel is a lot of work and can take a whole day. Keep in mind that with washing machines in the States you can do your laundry and something else at the same time! Not living out of a bag: I am fortunate enough as a Peace Corps Volunteer to have basic necessities like a home, dishes and utensils but I’ve essentially been “living out of a bag” since March, 2011, regardless of whether or not I’m traveling. It will be nice to not have to wash something and immediately put it into a bag and not feel like such a vagabond. Gas that does not come from a butane tank: These cheap, and sometimes terrifying tanks seemingly weigh 50 pounds and replacing them is always an ordeal. They are often problematic or leak and if you ask a Moroccan to help you they are wonderful but always “test” for a leak with a lighter. My heart always jumps out of my chest for a few minutes. Not having to carry this thing four blocks and “install it” each time I want to keep cooking something will be really nice.
Meet the temperamental metal gas box (oven) and her partner in crime (butane gas tank):
I can’t say how much ice cream I’m going to consume or how long of a shower I’m going to take but what’s important is come May 22nd both of these things will be at my fingertips. After two years a hot shower and a cold IPAnever seemed so heavenly.