It’s a little hard to know what to write these days, and it’s not because there’s not plenty on my mind. It might actually be because there’s too muchon my mind. I mean, I could probably write three blogs about the glasses project and tell you quite the bedtime story about how Caity Connolly and I, after five drafts of our grant proposal, were approved $900 to purchase 60 glasses for our region and then, two days later, had the grant canceled on us because of “unforeseen complications.” I suppose I could write about Meagan Guilfoyle’s departure from our region to vacation in Italy and then return to America or the arrival of Jonathan Pleban, the new volunteer and souq-mate to replace Meagan. I could tell you about the hike I went on with Avery near my site that was supposed to take us three hours but ended up taking us twelve hours and over multiple mountain peaks. Or I could tell you about a spunky, beautiful new girl who has entered my life as of late and how at the end of the day, a little chat with her can make a hectic world a little less hectic. I could go on about next week’s travel plans to Ouzzane where I’ll be participating in the Carrefour International de Jeunes pour le Developpement Durable, which is essentially a workshop for youth on volunteerism with the Minister of Youth present. I could tell you that I was invited to participate in the Gnaoua Music Festival in Essaouira with several health volunteers to educate youth there about the risks of HIV/AIDs and STIs. So, really, some good news, some bad news, and some news that’s just news.
But the truth is, as much as I’d like to fill you in about all of that, it’s tiring just thinking about it. And it doesn’t really draw an accurate picture of my life here.
I can’t name the number of times lately that I’ve stood around with other volunteers as we had this awkward realization that what our lives actually look like day-to-day can’t be fully expressed, shared, or understood by anyone who doesn’t actually go through it with us. Even the Peace Corps staff in Rabat, I sometimes think, on their eight-to-five schedules in the big city with American and Moroccan holidays off work (we get neither of those), have no real concept of what it is to live and work in rural communities in the developing world.
Meagan was talking the night before she left about her Close-of-Service Conference and lifting up some of her concerns about “reverse culture shock” as she returned to America. She mentioned how, when she went to visit her family for Christmas, on the ride from the airport, her parents were joking around about the lottery and what they would do with all that money. Fresh out of a Peace Corps country, listening to people jabber on about money they wish they had as they rode in one of their family cars around a well-paved Chicago street, it really hit her just how different our lives are than the people back home. She joked that whenever she might hear someone complaining about not getting the car they wanted, about not getting to do what they wanted when they wanted how they wanted, she’d probably just think to herself, “First world problem.”
Earlier today, Avery opened a package he’d received from his parents, and the first thing he pulled out was an oven mitt. We both just sort of stared in awe at this magical, yet simple device and then joked, “Strange how something can become so precious to you in this country that isn’t just ‘taken for granted’ back home but isn’t even considered special or noteworthy there.” When you’re living in a world where something as simple as an oven mitt can be precious to you, the simple fact is, you start to reach a point where you can no longer fully relate to people who have the luxury of such things, where you can no longer fully relate to… well… America.
And when life is so different in those little ways, it becomes difficult to describe with the right words, difficult to explain in the right way – “Well, this happened today, and that’s how Morocco is Morocco and it’s not America.” No, that doesn’t do it justice. I can only show you. I can only have you go through it with me. That’s why we volunteers tend to get so close to one another, I think. And why when we have to say goodbye to each other, it’s kind of hard. No one else is sharing this with us in this way. I remember Caity saying at one point that when she returns home, she may have a friend or two ask here or there, “So, tell me about Morocco,” and the truth is, as much as I want and need to share this experience with others, Caity and I agree that that’s a daunting task, and the reality is, most people don’t really want to hear what living in rural Morocco or any third world country is like outside of your immediate friends and family. And even if they did, summing it up briefly as we would if we were to talk about a college experience or some other shared experience back home is just flat-out impossible. Case in point, this video went up recently to encourage people to volunteer in the Peace Corps:
What I find so interesting about this video of this returned volunteer is that the reaction on everyone’s face is real. Some of them even have a look on their face as if to say, “Oh Lord, not Peace Corps guy here blabbing on about his experience in the Peace Corps again.” It makes me feel a little sorry for the bloke, which in turn makes me wonder what returning to American life will be like for me. And yet, it’s too early to really dwell on that. But I wanted to mention it, because it is very much at the forefront of my mind.
And yet at the same time, I can’t help but wonder whether this inability to relate is more common than I’m giving it credit. There are plenty of people back home with whom I’m not sure I could fully relate to even if I was still in America. Like my friends who are now married and having children. I just have no concept of what that must be like without the experience. It makes me think that whenever we find ourselves in arguments with other people, half of the argument is our inability to place ourselves in the other person’s shoes, to see their experiences as our own. Empathy. And it makes me want to try to stand in as many shoes as I can to relate to as many people as I can. It’s a humbling experience, really. We should come away from this realizing how far removed we are on the one hand but willing to hear out different viewpoints from our own, as well.
So, that’s that. What’s going on with me these days in Morocco? Well. Come see for yourself. That’s the only way to do it justice.