Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A Year Reflected Upon

    Socrates once said that all he really "knew" was the extent of his own ignorance. The last year of my life has embodied this idea of knowledge and left me bare to see myself as I truly am. Something can be said for spending countless months separated from all that you once knew, and at times it is difficult to recall the fact that I am currently 5,000 miles away from the home I grew up in and the wonderful family and group of friends who have helped get me to this point in my life. Within the first few months of being in Morocco I soon had the epiphany of what would come to define this time away from America, and it quite simply is this: time away.

    If I made a list of every thing that occupied my time and mental faculties while in the states, the list would be immense. I have the belief that this is not simply unique to me, but is indicative of how most people I have been around spend their time. Family and friends would probably top that list, but school, careers, doctor's appointments, shots for the dog, facebook, twitter, the internet in general, 200+ television channels to trudge through looking for anything to catch your attention, would all be competing elements of daily life that clutter their way into our minute to minute existence. In all of this it is often baffling how little time we have to ourselves. Sometimes the only time people have to be alone with their own thoughts is their sacred time in the restroom, shower or before drifting off to sleep at night. Now imagine the shock to the system as I encountered my new life where internet may be intermittent, I live with no television, the water in my house chooses to be off for days at times and the there are only two other Americans within an hour and a half from me.

    Now this is where the concept of knowing the extent of my own ignorance comes into play. It is hard to bluff for a year in another country where you do not know the language or the people and are separated from your previous life. The bluffing can be done, but in an environment such as the one I am living in will reveal your true self over time. I can only speak for myself, but I have become more honest with myself and those around me and once that moment comes you can begin to look outward a little bit more.

    The amount of events and people and feelings I wish I could describe here for you would take up pages, and would also unnecessarily take away from your day in an unproductive way. But thinking on the last year I've felt as if I've been slowly climbing the first hill on a roller coaster, frozen at the top for a moment, poised to tumble down the hill with all the momentum I have been gaining. I think of the confidence I have gained within my community; greetings coming from many directions as I walk the streets near my apartment, the countless invitations to meals with families, the short stops for tea outside of a barbershop or cafe, the young children who stare at me wide eyed as if seeing something wholly unique for the first time (AAHH! WHITE MAN!!) until I say "Salam, labas?" with a smile and watch, amused, as the kid doesn't know what to make of me but their mouth slowly closes and starts to smile.

    The students who continuously attend my English classes, eager to learn, never fail to make my days, almost like clock work. The volunteers I have been able to spend countless hours with, at times doing nothing other than spending two hours at a cafe with nothing but our cups of coffee and our arsenal of conversation skills, have been one of my favorite aspects of my time in Morocco. I have written in previous blogs about my classes and about my friendships with other volunteers so this could be set aside for another time, but there is one more thing I wanted to tell you about:

    As the anniversary of the September 11th attacks passed yesterday I took the moment to think about an incident that happened to me this past school year while talking to a high school English class in my town. We were talking about American culture and as the period ended about half of the class headed out the door but about fifteen students came towards the front to continue talking. Both boys and girls were present when I was asked the question I very often receive: "Do you pray? Are you a Muslim?" As I began to explain that I was not but that I respect and understand their beliefs and religion one of the boys interrupted me saying, "Why do Americans hate Muslims? Why were they mad about New York and why do think Bin Laden was bad?"
    Obviously these questions hit me hard, here I was in a town as the only American, and for many of the students I was the only American they had ever met. So standing there, as the students and the teacher eagerly listened for my response I started slowly and responded the best way I could. I asked the students what they cared most about in life and what they wanted out of life. As they began to mention things like a good job and families I told them that for most Americans, all they care about in life is their family, their children, leading a good life and being happy as well. I asked the boy, "From what you have told me, you would be happy if someone came in this room right now and killed me for who I was and where I was from and they would be right to do so?" The boy soon backpedaled and said that of course no, they really liked me they said. So what about my mother and father, my brothers and sister? Again they said of course not, that would not stand. I then extrapolated and told them to just keep pushing that idea further to include my friends and the rest of the 300 million Americans who want nothing more than to care for their families and to be happy. I asked them to put themselves in the place of all Americans on that day and how it would have devastated and changed them forever. As I began to explain how although we live in a Democracy that every choice made by our government once they've been elected are not vetted or okay-ed by the public as a whole. Logically it does not follow that the responsibility for the decisions a president makes should fall to the people born to that country.
    Understandably there is much more to this complicated issue, but this is about the extent we covered in that 30 minutes after class. Obviously many people I come in contact with feel very strongly against what happened on 9/11 and vehemently confirm their appreciation and love for Western culture and the United States. What are the ways I could have reacted in that classroom? Icould have angrily stormed out of the room, I could have become outraged and begun telling them how ignorant and one dimensional they were being, but in retrospect those thoughts never even entered my mind. Here were a group of people who have limited access to information about the world, much of what they believe comes from parents, community members and the local news all of which constantly confirm an already held bias. They had never seen an American's point of view on this issue before, let alone met one. I did the best I could with answering their questions and I feel I learned more about myself and the deeply important notion that we should never be satisfied with our beliefs about the world and ourselves, we must continue to grow and learn new things, especially those from opposing or conflicting views than your own.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Some Catching Up

    First of all I must apologize for not updating my blog as often as I would like to. Whether I have been traveling for long periods of time or been without internet, I have found it tough to sit down and write out an entry for a while. But much has happened in the last couple of months and I will try and lay out much of what has been going on in my life. This past 4th of July was truly a fun time, but also quite bittersweet. Several friends and I went up to a quiet beach town on the Mediterranean Sea to celebrate our country's birthday and it was a wild success and quite fun. The first night I was out on the quiet beach with two of my closest friends in the country and one of my friends, one that I have been closest to since day 1 in the country told us he had decided to leave the country early and head back to the States. It hit me hard but I knew what it meant to him and gave him the support and love and let him know I was so happy for him. Without a doubt it will be tough going the rest of my time here without my closest friend but I'm so happy for all the time we had it doesn't leave me sad or bitter. People enter our lives in random ways and without our say so and can sometimes become something so meaningful we don't realize it until they are moving on. I am not sad about missing theoretical times we could have had in the future over here in Morocco, I am so thankful and happy for our great times together and all he meant to me while I tried figuring out what I was doing in this country.
    Pretty soon after the 4th I went with a few others to Spain and Portugal for a couple weeks and it was like a breath of fresh air. The food, the people, the culture, I had begun to forget what western culture was like and I found myself giddy with every tiny aspect of life outside of Morocco. To be fair, I do enjoy my time in this country, but this was as close as I felt to being back in a familiar world in almost a year and it was glorious. Pictures from my trip are up on my facebook if people would like to see visuals from the trip.
    Before I left for my trip I had three days in the country which were the beginning of Ramadan, which is the Muslim holy month that consists of much praying and fasting. While I was in my town I wanted to participate for the first couple days in solidarity and for the first time in my life I chose to forgo food and drink for the day until the breaking of fast around 7:20 in the evening. Currently it has been between 115 and 120 degrees Fahrenheit outside so this was tougher than I had anticipated. I pushed on through, using reading and movies to distract me and also moving as little as possible to conserve energy. At one point, when I noticed my watch and saw I still had about three hours to go, I put on the film Ghandi which helped keep me going. Seeing this powerful skinny little Indian getting beaten and starving himself made me keep things in perspective. Breaking fast with families in my town has been some of the best moments in my time in this country. I have broken fast with three different families a number of times now and it's been great each time. Being a part of something that so many people are doing, and have done for more than a thousand years is beautiful. Knowing that all of 40,000+ Moroccans in my town are participating in this religious celebration and doing my part as well has meant a lot to me and also, as they have told me, the families and the people I talk to it about it.
    I am coming up on my year mark of being in country and then will be a couple months away of reaching my year mark of service and I haven't yet wrapped my head around what I think about that. This will have to wait for another blog post at another time.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Words of Wisdom

I was doing some grocery shopping in my neighborhood the other day at my usual shop and a man that was in the store started talking with me. This is very common, as I am the only white/foreign looking person in my town of 40,000 and the conversations usually start with people asking where I am from and if I'm a tourist or if I live in Morocco. This man soon asked the question I receive frequently when meeting new people and also from people I have known for months. He asked if I pray and if I am a muslim. I responded with my usual answer that I am not, but I do respect their beliefs and I have done my part to study about the religion to show I am not ignorant on what their tenants are. After another question was asked of me about the Qur'an I was bracing myself for a strong attempt to tell me why it is vital that I convert but the conversation took a turn that made me stop and appreciate this man. Most of the conversation was in arabic but the man had a strong grasp of the english language and suddenly switched to english as he said to me,
"Do you know what firefighters say? I do not care about your race, or your religion. You are a human being, that is what I see. This is how I see you."

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

David Sees Seashells by the Seashore.

 The site of my two week spring camp, El Hoceima, this has been one of my favorite cities in Morocco. The fish (namely the calamari) was some of the best I've had in a really long time.

I normally am against putting pictures that include myself that can disrupt the natural beauty of a nature shot, however on occasion I choose to do so for several reasons: A. So family and friends can see I'm in good spirits and eating reasonably well. 2. To show I'm not totally bald yet. D. They're my pictures! I can be selfish every once in a while!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

One month living out of a backpack.

Trains, buses and taxis were my friends this past month. Packing up my clothes and things I set off for a month away from home. Starting off I had a two week spring camp to work in the beautiful beach town of El Hoceima where several other volunteers and I taught english to about 50 youth. We played random assortments of games and were fortunate to spend most afternoons at the beach where I played beach volleyball most days (rough life, I know.) After those two weeks I made my way to a small town about six hours south of the coast where a group of new volunteers were in training. I spent four days with them, talking about what the next few months will hold for them and how to integrate into their new towns. It's crazy to think that I am no longer in the group of "new" volunteers in this country and am quickly approaching the 8 month mark. From the training with the new volunteers I traveled into Rabat where I had a week long training with seven other youth development volunteers. We are preparing to implement a new 53 session program of life skills for the youth in our towns. Overall this last month went great, and towards the end of this month I will hopefully be getting a new site mate which would double the American population of my town. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Hitting the 6th month mark.

Yesterday marked the half year mark of being in Morocco and I took a little thinking time to ask myself a question that was surprisingly easy to answer. Do I have any regrets about doing this? Absolutely not. This has already been the greatest experience of my life in so many ways, and I know when I look back at this time in my life I will know that I chose what was best for me at this time in my life. Three weeks at a time with no other english speaking people has shown not to be an unbearable endeavor but instead has shown me my true personality. Laughing at myself trying to cook new food, wondering if today will be one of those days there just doesn't happen to be water in my house, feeling satisfied when I use arabic to successfully tell off a man selling me a bus ticket but trying to bump up the price because he thinks I'm a tourist, choosing to lay down for a few hours while shops close up and I can read some from my books, seeing evidence of little bits of progress in the language of my students, spending time with some of the friends I've made here knowing that these volunteers will be friends I will have until I die...these are all little moments that make up my time here and I can say without any doubt that I'm happy, and I wish there were more words to use for this feeling that I have.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Meetup in Rabat

This past weekend proved to be a great one, from the food and the drinks that flowed to the amazing company of other volunteers who all came into the capital city to see Sec. of State Clinton talk at the embassy. As always, a trip such as this one set me back slightly in the money department with my monthly allowance, but it was well worth the lightening of the wallet. Linked below is a snippet of Hillary Clinton's talk and it has where she mentions the Peace Corps which was pretty neat. I also was able to shake her hand after she talked. Her hand was surprisingly smooth, but I didn't have enough time to ask what kind of lotion she uses.