It’s not very often that I get to just write out the mundane things, but the mundane things are sometimes the best memories I want to hold onto, just for me.
I’m sitting on a train in Oujda waiting to leave, and there’s pellets of rain slapping the windshield pretty viciously. Thought I’d kill some time writing and studying. Doubt the studying will happen, though. It’s been a good trip to the Algerian border (we call this part of the country “Peace Corps/Algeria,” because the Arabic here is a little more influenced by Algeria than Morocco, and well, it’s just so far away from the majority of the other volunteers). I got in yesterday and ate dinner at McDonald’s with my friend Meetra who is from Ohio. It’s always nice eating an American French Fry even if I wasn’t really a big fan of McDonald’s back in the States. Something about it here gives it a little more of a posh quality, believe it or not. Plus, I was so hungry after my taxi and bus rides that I could’ve eaten at Arby’s. Actually, Arby’s sounds great right now and I find it a little offensive when people dig on Arby’s. Or Wendy’s. Whatever, I need to avoid that topic if at all possible.
So Meets and I went to a hotel but got turned away because the stamp on our passports said we’d been in-country for more than three months. I was hoping the receptionist wouldn’t notice this small detail, but alas, this was what, in Morocco, we call a “mushkil kibir,” or a big problem. After three months in country, you’re illegal unless you apply for the Carte de Sejour. I think I’ve mentioned that before. Anyway, it’s a resident card similar to a license required for every Moroccan.
The train just started moving and I’m hoping I can get a taxi from Guercif to my site when I get there, because I hear that’s very difficult to do, and I really don’t want to spend the night in Guercif. I mean, I couldn’t get a taxi to Oujda on the way here, so I had to take a bus, but a bus was a better choice anyway. It was just surprising because Oujda is a big city and my site is so small, so shouldn’t it be more likely to get a taxi to a big city than a small one? I dunno. We’ll see.
So yeah, anyway, I’ve applied for the Carte de Sejour, which is good news, but I forgot to bring the receipt with me proving I had done so and officially making me an illegal resident in this country. Bad news. The hotel receptionist wanted to call the police, but we decided we’d try a different hotel first and hope for better luck there.
Success. They gave us the keys no questions asked, so we put our stuff away and then headed out to Marjane, the Wal-Mart of Morocco. You can find one of these in pretty much any major city in country, and they have everything you could ever want, though it’s expensive. It’s basically a supermarket, like I said. So what’d I buy – a nice heater (tried to get a Whirlpool, but they were sold out), brie cheese, chocolate, and a Michelan Map of Morocco. Oh, another side note, the guy across the seat from me just finished eating Kentucky Fried Chicken. Like, what country am I in, seriously?
So Meets and I stayed up munching on cheese with my spork, eating chocolate, and chatting it up about our past lives in America which seem so far-removed now. Really, it’s just kind of interesting how a place and circumstances in it can change a person. I don’t know that I’m changed or different, but I keep hearing volunteers say this experience does change you, so I guess time will make that more clear?
Meets mentioned that I seem really optimistic in my writing which kinda shocked me, and I’m not sure if she was contrasting that with how she thinks I am in reality, but we sort of agreed that there are many aspects of living in a foreign country that make life difficult but simultaneously worth the experience, if that makes any sense. I guess that is to say that I have had days here where I’ve been overwhelmed or felt inadequate to be able to do everything I want and need to do (i.e. learn the language, make a positive impact on my community, etc.) – days when I just don’t have the energy for it, but then something happens that makes me smile or reminds me of why life really is good. I mean, to use the trite phrase, “Life is a journey, not a destination,” seems to sum it up well. I’m not aiming for some magical moment where it all comes together, makes sense, and is perfect. I’m aiming to ride the roller-coaster, the goods and the bads, the bumpy-cart ride so to speak… to explore both the best and worst of life and to appreciate all of it together. I think that’s what’s changed for me. It’s not that I’m suddenly Mr. Optimistic. It’s that I can suddenly appreciate the bad news in a way I haven’t been able to before now. Or in writing it out process it in such a way that I’m able to see the long game rather than the momentary frustrations that you deal with in the every day moment of it.
[Of course, having written that earlier this afternoon, I came home to some especially bad news, that one of youth from my church back home, Juri Bunetta, was killed in a car-wreck this weekend. It’s put me back a little, and I dunno I want to say more about that right now other than to ask that prayers be with his family. Juri was a wonderful kid.]
So, someone knocked on my door at nine in the morning (that’s early for me); it was the receptionist, and he had just realized that I was in the country illegally. Mushkil. Kibir. I had my camera with me, though, and it had a picture of my receipt for the Carte de Sejour. That wasn’t enough.
He called the police and they told him to bring me and Meetra to the station. Uh oh. I joked with Meets about it a little, something to the effect of, “Well, four months in-country without going to jail was a pretty good run while it lasted, right? I mean, what do you think the punishment is for being here almost illegally? Just deportation, that’s all, right?”
So, at the police station, Meetra shares her receipt, and we explain that I had one like that but forgot it. Sorrryyyy. heh. They tell me to remember to bring it next time, but it’s okay. Obviously, I’m writing this from a train instead of a jail cell.
Meetra and I made the best of our early morning and went to the Old Medina where we bought some malawi and cheese and ate breakfast across from an art gallery while a kitten begged me for some of my cheesy, sugary pastry. Then, of course, we figured we’d check out the gallery, but it was empty. The two men standing in the doorway realized we knew a little Arabic so we talked with them some about the gallery and Picasso and drank some tea.
And that was it.
Now I’m on a train heading home and excited about the upcoming week. The rain is gone and the view out my window is absolutely tremendous – rolling green hills with rosemary covering the small cliffs in the distance. Here and there is a copse of trees whose branches twist and turn and remind me, “This is Africa.” Here and there a herder stands alone with his sheep and goats. The low-lying clouds, like a flock of sheep themselves, grace in the sky, spotting the ground below to provide an olive grove with a little relief from the scorching sun whose rays still can burn on this cold day. I could empty my head and stare out this window for hours.