It’s been kind of a long, tough week. Actually, that’s an understatement.
Let me back up. Everybody knows my love for Wabash. My undergrad was kind of a tight-nit community, a bubble of sorts. We called it “Camp Wabash” as a joke because it felt more like summer-camp than it did like college. So, naturally, if you’re in a foreign country for a very lengthy amount of time, it just makes sense to see if there are other Wallies around. So that’s what I did. A few, quick Google searches, and I came across Thomas Hollowell, ’00. Thomas has been living in Ifrane (around the corner from one of the princes), one of the coldest, most beautiful cities in Morocco, for a few years now and runs a travel business there. He was kind enough to cook a few meals for us, with great conversation, and take us on a hike into some of the hills between Ifrane and Mischlifen near a few inactive volcanoes.
I, of course, uploaded several of those pictures to Flickr, and I should say that Ifrane is a kind of French-Swiss skiing town built to mimic the Alps, and seeing as how Switzerland is one of my favorite countries, Ifrane was like a nice, European escape from dust storms and endless fields of brown dirt.
Oh and there were cows. Of course. So, the week started off pretty grand, no joke.
Then I went to Azrou. Between fashion shows, dances, driving across town to visit the Small Business Development sector folks, hour after hour of useful but monotonous information we needed to hear, discuss, and copy down, you can imagine how tiring it was and not necessarily in a bad way, but it quickly becomes an environment of stressors. We showed up with all these joys and concerns about our sites and our experiences these past three months, and it can be a lot to bear, a load to carry.
Living in another country is not easy. For anybody. I think sometimes about all that is expected of us. We carry these multiple roles and have to navigate them to perfection – friend, coworker, ambassador, volunteer, professional employee, American, the list goes on and on. I’m not very good at being half of those things (friend, coworker, etc.), I’m discovering, but that doesn’t mean give up or don’t at least try to be better, right?
So, we have to figure out how to make those things fit together. Then, on top of needing to navigate these different roles, we have to find time to plan projects, cook for ourselves (almost always from scratch), get by day-to-day in places where we know a fraction of the common language. In all honesty, I have every ounce of respect for anyone who does nothing more than survive in a foreign, developing country for any amount of time. Nevermind all the work we may or may not be able to accomplish.
On top of that, my language hasn’t been where I wanted it to be, but that’s mostly because I was told during my “mock” language test three months ago that my language was better than it is now. I try not to let it get me down very often. The truth is, we should be proud of what we can do, not disappointed in what we cannot. A reminder I need to give myself from time to time.
Of course, there are little strides we make along the way. A few months ago, my friend Caity read an article in National Geographic about a pair of glasses that could change the prescription on the spot by adjusting the amount of silicon that was pumped into the lens (as well as a newer model that slides refracting lenses against each other to change the prescription). Caity contacted the Oxford physicists who were working on the glasses, then went to Oxford to see the glasses for herself. The organization – Eyejusters – is aiming to distribute over 10,000 free glasses across the developing world to children and youth between 12 and 18 by 2012. Big goal. Caity, because she has gotten busy and is trying to get a school bus to her site, handed me the “glasses project,” and this weekend, I was able to present the idea to my programming staff, the Country Director and her assistant, as well as to my entire Youth Development sector. In the next few months, we’ll be helping improve literacy by providing glasses to children and youth who would otherwise not be able to afford them. And that is definitely something to be excited about.
So there are ups and there are downs, and that’s sort of life whether you’re in America or Morocco or anywhere else. A night or two ago, I was on the roof at the Auberge Hotel in Azrou looking out at the city and the Middle Atlas mountains that surrounded me. A little overwhelmed with how to meet all these different expectations and roles, I just sort of sat there and watched the sunset. Then, a phrase that had been lingering in the back of my brain kinda found it’s way to my mouth, and I thought, “Don’t forget where you are. This is Morocco.” When all else seems to fail, don’t forget the most important thing, that I’m here in this beautiful country, meeting and greeting and – hopefully – helping its beautiful people. Let that be enough. Let that be what it is. And in the meantime, if I can figure out how to better myself in other ways, that would be nice too.