One of the many things I admire and love about author Elizabeth Gilbert— particularly in Eat, Pray, Love— is her ability to write about really profound experiences and transformations in a self-aware (without the deprecation), funny, and profound way. There’s no preaching, and the writing is just so damn good you keep reading and absorbing vast amounts of information without feeling like you’re in science class. She’s a master at the art of crafting a story out of life (which, after attempting to do in this blog for 2.5 years, I can assure you is nothing short of neuroscience). Yep, it’s just you and your new hip BFF Liz chatting about ashrams in India and striking a balance within your life…all while gorging on a massive dish of fresh mozzarella and succulent olives. A novel about the latter two edible items would be Pulitzer material on it’s own, in my opinion, but Glibert reaches for the stars and goes beyond just satisfying the stomach.
…as did Morocco. Over the past 2.5 years, I’ve my own experiences with eating, praying, and loving (and eating) here in Morocco. Now, a little over 1 week into America and officially an RPCV (returned Peace Corps volunteer), I’m still searching for the right way to present it in written or any other type of form. My Arabic was comically inadequate for expressing anything beyond “I sad to leave! Yes, very!” to my fellow Moroccans, and, even in English, someone who hasn’t been here in my brain for the duration won’t have the context to fill in the gaps. SO. I figured I would send out this thank-you letter to the universe in hopes that positive energy not only exists, but that it will be able to find its way to the people who have changed my life during my time here in Morocco. This is also a way to express on my own terms to the world what Morocco has meant to me. And don’t worry— food gets its own section.
Thank you, Morocco, for teaching me patience. You are a country that is too post-modern (post-something, at least) to be concerned with a task like waiting in a line. How in-the-box! You have revealed to me the delicious half-day adventure that is delivering a letter to the post office. I had no idea such an activity involved tea at a stranger’s house and politely dodging curbside conversion attempts. Whenever I would get frustrated in my huffy little American way about time, you would laugh at me. “Hey, Ms. Art Degree, when are you going to get creative? What is time, anyways– didn’t you do a performance piece on that?” My hours waiting for students to show up to classes turned into good ol’ fashioned thinking time. I’ve spent the better half of a day contemplating donkey unions and the gender-dynamics of coffee shops. Whenever I would get too carried away in the outcomes of projects, you would send me gentle reminders (or punches to the gut) about how important the process is rather than, well, whatever it is I thought was so important. Numbers? Statistics? Oh, Morocco, that’s not what you want me to learn or remember about my time here. You’ve encouraged me to sip my coffee, savor my food, ask the extra questions, read the additional chapter, and soak in the hours of doing nothing. That part in EPL where Liz sits down with an Italian newspaper (and a massive breakfast) every morning and has the time to read it in its entirety while circling and learning new words? That’s me, minus understanding the Arabic written in newspapers. I believe in Italy it’s called la dolce fare niente– the art of doing nothing. Here in Morocco, there’s no expression for it. “It” is the nature of existence in itself.
Thank you, Morocco, for giving me so much delicious food! Fresh juices, savory and sweet tajines, hot couscous on Fridays, sweet chebekiya and dates for Ramadan, rich white harira in the mornings, rafisa as my new comfort food, an abundance of fruits and vegetables grown down the street from me, thick crusty bread baked every morning, meats and spices and dried goods…all at my fingertips (as they shove these delicious things into my mouth). There were also stomachs, brains, intestines, cows’ feet, liver, eyeballs, head, and tongue…never have I eaten so much non-mysterious meat in my life (brains and feet are pretty true to their assumed form). It’s not just delicious food, though, that I need to thank you for, Morocco—it’s tasty food and a culture that values taking time to prepare and enjoy it. When else will I essentially have a mandated 2-3 hour lunch break daily? And the encouragement to finish up the last bit of my second breakfast? Morocco, you may have nurtured my soul, sure, but there is absolutely no question about my body.
Thank you, Morocco, for your complexity. Studying Buddhism in college taught me the basics of labels, the constructs we use to identify and categorize that actually, in fact, limit their inherent complexity. Preach, brotha Buddha. The worst question someone can ask me about Morocco is “How was it?” I have to boil down the most ridiculous 2.5 years of my life into a simple adjective. I can use the word “good” and be just as equally descriptive (and still honor the essence of my time in Morocco) if I instead say “horrible.” It was a waste if time, but it was also the best decision I made in my life. It was a hopeless glimpse into the world of development and international aid that, paradoxically, has given me a lot of hope. It made me cringe at organized religion while somehow renewing my interest in it. It was the best of times, it was the w….alright, you get it. I’d like to say that these (upwards of 50) shades of gray have made me a little more empathetic, a little less quick to make snap judgements about the things I think I know. Morocco is quite “in-between” right now: in between Europe and Africa, in between the internet and the mountains, in between Arab and Berber, in between education and unemployment, in between religion and secularism…it’s an interesting time to be in this awakening country.
Thank you, Morocco, for your humor. Any country that produces someone like Abdellah Ferkous is going to be a good one, right? When I was first assigned to the Marrakech region, people told me that Marrakchi people are famous for their sense of humor. They had no idea. Marrakchi people love to laugh; they speak in these exaggerated, loud voices that are the audial equivalent of peacocks waving their tails around (and they’re just as colorful). It’s honestly just as funny to be listening to the voices as it is to be understanding what’s being said (which happened for me once or twice). I was lucky to be placed somewhere that understood sarcasm and irony, where inflections of tone and wild contortions of the face get laughs and respect. The flipside is that, well, being the white chicken I am, everything I did was inherently funny. Morocco, thanks for lessening my stuffy self-awareness. You watched me dance like a monkey every single day, explaining to people that “YES, I do speak Arabic!” and “No, I’m not married yet!” over and over and over. And don’t even get me started about how much people liked making me actually dance. Weddings, women-parties, and basically any time the men weren’t around, the second-favorite activity (first place obviously is a tie between eating and watching soap operas) was turning up the beats, wrapping a scarf around my waist, and falling over laughing from watching me attempt at shaking my hips. Between me and the Marrakechis, there was plenty to laugh about.
Thank you, Morocco, for helping me find love. It was an honor to serve for 2.5 years with the Peace Corps Morocco community, the people who became my closest friends. It was love at first site with my CBT group, that fatefully haphazard group of 5 human beings at completely different points in their respective lives who were somehow, in every single way, soulmates. I fell in love again with Tameslouht, my home away from home, a city that prefers dirt roads with a killer view of the Atlas mountains to any semblance of Westernization. My village introduced me to a community of absolutely lovely people; a kind postman who would chase me down in the streets to hand-deliver me packages and letters, two coffee shop owners who would probably have let me drink coffee on credit for two years if I asked, two mul hanuts by my house who never questioned the fact that I bought chocolate and diet coke from them about 5 times every week, the ladies running the public bath who would give me free soap and squeal over my pathetically white skin that would become pink at the slightest scrub, the students who came to my English classes despite me not having any sort of grasp on English grammar, the little girls who would race across the street to kiss me even though I had never met them before in my life, the women artisans who defined my second year of work and filled my time with creativity, and a great group of friends who invited me over to their houses, helped me with work, and made me feel like part of the family. I also, of course, found l-o-v-e love: my weird, wickedly intelligent, passionate, kind, and lovely counterpart in-life-and-in-Peace Corps. Oh, my, what a journey it’s been with all of this lovin’.
It’s been my pleasure keeping a blog and writing about my time in Morocco, hoping that the world gets to know this country in a slightly more intimate (and less touristy) capacity. I still haven’t decided what to do with it now that I’m no longer a Quinn in Morocco– suggestions are much appreciated! In the meantime, send a moment of thanks to this strange and beautiful country that I had the honor of eating, praying, and loving in.