I’m not one to tout karma, but last year when load after load of bad news kept coming my way from my grandfather dying to multiple graduate school rejections, I felt like something good was destined to happen. I even felt like I deserved it. After all, I’d hit rock bottom, and it was past time for a bounce.
Well, here I am, in the bounce, and I’m not sure if it’s crested or what, but I’m loving it.
I’m actually not so sure I believe the world works that way either. I tend to think it’s a lot simpler than that: sometimes, bad stuff happens; sometimes, good stuff happens, and it’s not weighed out on some grand scale that eventually equals out somehow. It just happens. Still, when we’re in the moment living from day-to-day, it’s no surprise that we feel as though there is some giant scale weighing out the good news with the bad, because we begin to view our lives, to view the past and the future, in those ridiculously dualistic terms. It’s the Plato in us. We never really let go of that.
Hamza, Omar, and I have spent the past two nights dancing in their room (that’s right, I said dancing) and then doing push-ups and sit-ups (yes, I said we exercised), just for fun (yes, I said it was fun). Then, we lay on a blanket on a floor in an empty, cold concrete room exhausted and listening to more quiet music overwhelmingly content with the way this evening had come to a close. Me and my brothers just completely zoned out and happy. It’s ridiculous how something so simple can mean everything to you. The modern age, I think, has fooled us into thinking we need something big to happen to be happy, when just lounging around with someone we care about is often enough.
I caught myself wondering after I went to bed last night when my luck would run out, when things would go back to “normal,” whatever that meant, or when I’d find myself again trying to climb out of some rut. Then I thought, “That’s not the right attitude to have; life is what you make of it, and it’s all about your perspective,” which may sound cliché, but things that are cliché often become trite solely because there’s truth to them, right? I think I’m just still in shock with how genuinely happy I’ve been lately, something I mentioned in a recent post that I’m finally trying to pin down and understand.
The thing is, there are plenty of reasons I could be sad if I chose to be – I’m far from home, from family and friends; I don’t have a great grasp on the only languages everyone here knows; I’m almost always tired; I don’t remember when my stomach was churning out something remotely normal (maybe the day before I flew to Philadelphia); you get the idea. But for some reason, minor or even major frustrations that enter my life can’t seem to get in the way of this inner joy I exude. I call it “joy,” because it’s more long-lasting than having just a “good” day, and don’t be fooled into thinking I walk around smiling all the time hugging people like a Care Bear. No. That will never be me. But deep down, I’m changed. It’s kind of like a happy identity crisis, because I’m not really sure who this new Philip (or Fouad) is, but I like living this way. It feels so much healthier than the past. Maybe it’s the food?
Of course, that’s not to say I was depressed back home. But last January, I kinda got hit extra hard, and most people who know me know I can be cynical from time-to-time. Or harshly realistic.
Maybe this newfound joy is just how you feel when you’re in the place you know you’re supposed to be, whatever that means. Again, not to tout karma or fate, but when I look around my house, at my host brothers, or sitting in a cafe and looking across the dusty, sandy desert plains here, I tend to think, “Of all the places in the world I could be right now, I can probably think of a few that are prettier but no place I could actually go and gain such a sense of belonging at this time in my life.” So, this place is becoming a kind of home away from home slowly but surely, from the amazing, though small, community of Americans who live nearby to the beautiful Moroccan people I encounter everyday.
That’s not to say I don’t “belong” back in Tennessee. I can see my Mom ready to strangle my neck already, but there’s something about this place carries a constant reminder about why I’m doing this and why I’m here, and that’s just one of those very wholesome feelings, for sure.
Let me be more specific:
One of my first nights in my host family’s house, an old refrigerator kicked on and took me back well over ten years to my grandparent’s house (my paternal grandparents). Something about that buzzing noise took me in time to my childhood, reminding me of family, the food we ate around Christmas and Thanksgiving, and hours of sitting on a couch wishing I could be anywhere else.
But it was a fond memory, one of those memories you don’t realize was a good one until years later when you can look back on it and think, “That was a special time in my life with people I will always hold dear.”
I think a lot of what contributes to my joy in this place is how much this place reminds me of things I had forgotten or things I hadn’t forgotten but deeply cherish. I talk often, actually, about my grandfather and his having served in World War II in Casablanca. Earlier today, in fact, I pulled out an Army Air Force publication he gave me called “Rocket Run” that was printed in Casablanca in 1942, a book he received when he arrived in country specifically about Morocco, and I looked over parts of it with Omar. Here’s an excerpt:
Soon after take-off from Cazes Field, your ship will settle on a course almost due east. Rugged mountain country follows the [s]table land of the Atlantic coast. Far to the south may almost be seen the dim outlines of the Atlas mountains. The higher peaks are snow-capped. Later, the mountains come closer, for the Middle Atlas range bends across this country from South Morocco northeast to the Mediteranean. Occasionally, you will pass over towns which look almost like medieval fortresses. These are walled native villages [where] the Berber [and Arab] people live. […] You would see, were it possible for you to get off your plane at one of these native keeps … blue tattoo marks … displayed on the chins and foreheads of the women; [and] orange henna protect[ing their] hands and feet. … These people live almost entirely on sheep and goat.
Some of the information in his book is no longer accurate (if it ever was), but as I read that portion, I kept thinking, “That’s me; that’s where I am right now, here in this little book my grandfather carried around with him for months and months in Morocco. I got off the plane and stayed, like he did.”
The fact that Morocco hasn’t changed a whole lot (some of my pictures of Rabat look almost identical to some of the pictures my grandfather took in the 40s of downtown Casa) makes me feel sometimes like I got in a time machine and stepped back into the very same world my grandfather saw only sixty-something years ago. For example, I remember sitting in a cafe one of the first days I got here sipping a banana smoothie and listening to Lady Day while a few Mafioso-esque Moroccan men smoked cigarettes in the dark corner of a nearly abandoned room that looked like it hadn’t changed since at least 1950. Even the transportation on the street, an old broken-down Volkswagen or a mule standing right outside the cafe, all made me feel like I was in a different time rather than a different place. And it was a time I have always kind of longed for and wanted to experience. That gave me a powerful sense of connection to my grandfather that I can’t begin to fully describe and that I don’t think I could’ve experienced any other way.
But I think that’s where my joy of late comes from… from knowing that I’m doing something that always reminds me of such a good American who lived such a good life, to continue – in some weird way or another – to try to live out a legacy of sorts. I haven’t mentioned him a lot on the blog lately, but I think about him often, carry his dog tags and a few other trinkets of his with me, and try to view the world the way I think he would view it.
So maybe being happy isn’t such a complex thing after all.