Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I spend time with family or friends that I rarely see the rest of the year, add some drinks to ease the arguments and hug everyone. I’m a hugger. I get the chance to recognize that there is a supportive community to call my own, whether or not they are around the rest of the year.
In high school, I would go with my youth group to a hotel in Minnesota, Iowa or Colorado, and they would lock the doors and throw away the keys with 500+ high school students inside. Occasionally we would venture outside to explore the city, but the majority of the time was spent playing Apples to Apples, making new friends and reveling in friendship that will last a lifetime–the kind you can talk to again after 5 years, pick up where you left off as if no time had passed. If you’re reading this, Kinnus-friends and rainbows of my life, you made me laugh too many times to count and were with me for all the tough bits. I’m thankful I have so many wonderful memories to hold close.
In college, that changed; my family had started a tradition of going to the mountains every Thanksgiving, and I joined them for the annual feast. It wasn’t the same at first, spending so much intense time with my relatives. My best friend and I would meet up in the mountains in-between the two towns and huddle up for hours by the fire talking about boys, life, where we want to travel and what kind of people we want to be.
This year I was lucky enough to have a wonderful group of friends throwing a Thanksgiving celebration in a little town outside of Kelaa’t Meguna.
When I walked into my friend’s house, my nose was assaulted with smells of turkey basting, potatoes soaking and casserole fresh from the oven. These were not smells of Morocco, and honestly, I’m surprised I did not get sick from all of the delicious American food. This concept stuck with me–that something so commonplace in the country I grew up was actually making me uncomfortable. And I began to wonder what “culture oddities” now made me feel at home, that perhaps contribute to homesickness of Zagora more than the U.S.
Now that we’ve officially passed the 8 month in-country and 6 month at final-site mark, I am finding that not many “Moroccan” occurrences are as shocking to the system anymore. What was once shocking are the things that were most frightening or unnerving to me once upon a time, surprisingly enough. Not that long ago, but feels like another lifetime. And let’s be clear: As big a barrage as I put up, upon arrival to Morocco I was terrified–it’s just taken a few months for me to admit it.
Let’s go for some examples…
1. The turk. The turk is our affectionate name for the turkish toilet, and you can think of it is a hole in the ground with serrated placements for your feet. I was terrified of it when I first got to Morocco, to the point where I refused to use the restroom for the few days. Eventually I got over it, because I had to… and now that it’s winter and getting colder every day, I have reached a new level of respect for the Turk. When your entire house is as cold outside as inside and there is no hiding place from the frozen tundra, the Turk is your best friend. Porcelain is cold! Instead of sitting for however-long on the Turk and wincing at the cold.. meet my friend, the Turk.
2. The Call to Prayer. 5 times a day, anywhere in Morocco, I can hear the Call to Prayer from whatever mosque happens to be nearby. When I first arrived, it was strange–it woke me up in the middle of the night, I had to stop listening to music in public places, it was confusing and different. Now, it is comforting; if I wake up at 5 in the morning, I’m reminded that I am in Morocco, my community is around me and I am not alone. It lulls me back to sleep; I’ve gotten used to it, and it gives me peace of mind. Sometimes when I hear the call to prayer or groups of men chanting prayers in the middle of the night it brings me back to a time when I attended services with old Jewish men in large hats chanting and singing through the night– the religion might be different, but the evident community presence has become a comfort zone for me.
3. Eid L’Kbir. The Big Holiday. Blood flowing through the streets? An animal slaughter at every household? I came to Morocco knowing little to nothing about Eid L’Kbir, but it seemed every conversation spun around this important holiday. This year, I spent the time with family and friends, watched the neighborhood children show off their fancy new clothes, and even as a new member of the neighborhood, was included in every aspect of the holiday traditions. Not as scary as I thought it would be, and everyone was incredibly efficient. If I did eat red meat, I think I would have gained a new appreciation for knowing where your meals come from. No parts of the body were wasted, nothing came wrapped in plastic or needed to be defrosted.
4. Time alone. As most PCVs know or come to discover, 90% of our time is spent alone and without some sort of pre-constructed, imposed schedule. Everything we do, all the times we work, are because we choose that time. What I’ve discovered is that, I like myself. I don’t need to be around other volunteers or Moroccans to be happy-but it’s nice when it happens. I can be alone and take pleasure in my independence. I think this might be the most important concept that I or anyone else take from my time as a PCV.
5. Chronic tardiness. One of the most important subjects discussed during our Language and Culture training (first two months of service) is the distinction between American perception of time and the consideration of time in Morocco. Setting a meeting? Yes, 2 o’clock is fine. Ah, but I must cancel or change the timing or may not even show up. Oh, there’s a class? But I must go to a wedding and cannot show up. For three days. ..Originally, I thought this would drive me crazy, and it did for a while. Seemingly, I have begun to embrace the different use of time and even appreciate it! Most of the time my schedule is packed–busy from 9-10, 10-12, 12-2, etc. Not a free moment of the day. BUT! Because of the chronic tardiness (that I love so much!) I get 20 minutes or 30 minutes or hours of free time to read my books or contemplate life that wouldn’t happen otherwise. It is the time in-between the schedules and responsibilities that I look forward to every day. Whenever you are planning an event, the phrase goes “if god wills it”. Nothing is set in stone, but it gives me plenty of free time and flexibility for personal time.
6. Bucket baths. I like them. I use a bucket and a half of water and I can feel and be clean–and maybe don’t even need that much. Nuf said.
7. My site. I wanted someplace that had resources, where there had already been a volunteer and I didn’t want to be cold. I got Zagora, and it was everything I wanted… but I did not appreciate how well it fit me at first. I was miserable and confused and felt like I had been dropped off at the ends of the earth with no contact or care… for a few weeks. I didn’t realize that was how I felt at the time, but 6 months later, I am lucky to recognize the difference. Zagora is NOT the end of the world, and has everything I need. If I had been placed at a major city or crossroad of PCVs, I wouldn’t be able to focus on what really matters–the people of Zagora who I want to work with every day. When I’m away from my site for even a few days, I get homesick for the friendliness and accepting community of friends I have built up in my social network. I know that I am safe, that people care about me, and have too many activities keeping me busy. It took a while to realize it, but Zagora is an amazing fit and I’m lucky to be there. Just don’t look for me there in the summer, because I am NOT appreciative of 140 degrees!! Love the desert.
8. Other PCVs. At the beginning of our service, I wanted to know everyone. I wanted to be everyone’s friend. If you’ve ever met me, you wouldn’t be surprised by this admission. I’m learning that there are certain people who are worth the time and effort and painful positioning on buses, and those are the ones whom I will call lifetime friends. And it’s worth it. So, I’m thankful for the PCVs who spend the greater part of their weeks talking me away from the emotional ledge. My support team is strong!
9. Bread. Moroccan cuisine is delicious, beautiful and the smells are mesmerizing. Newcomers may be surprised to find that all this delicious food is meant to be eaten with a slice of bread. When we first were going to our training sites, we were told by every PCV we met–girls will gain weight and boys will lose weight. From that point on, I avoided eating bread whenever possible, but to be respectful and fit in to the culture I ate much more of the bread than I wanted. When you stay with a host family, there is little to no control over your diet–although they were very aware and observant of my desire to eat no red meat and drink no milk. HOWEVER. Now, eight months later, I am confused when there is no bread. How am I supposed to eat? How am I supposed to enjoy my breakfast of butter and jam with no bread to eat it? Now, making my own menu choices, I often choose to eat that bread/xubz/agrom… Xubza, xubza.
10. Being told to stay. Hospitality is an art that I have been studying under the tutelage of master Moroccans. When I first arrived, I would knock on someone’s door and ask for a friend to come out and study or for some food item for my host mom–and stay for 2-3 hours, drinking tea, laughing and consuming an ordinate amount of food. I used to feel really confused and out of place with this, wondering why people asked me to stay and made any excuse to get out if possible. Now… if I’m not asked to stay, I feel like I did something wrong. Of course I refuse more often than not because I am a busy PCV that can’t always hang out with a family until 2 in the morning, but… I like it.
For some more sappiness: I am thankful for the amazing Moroccan and American and French and Belgian and Australian and every -an I have met on this life-changing journey.