Thoughts for a Spring Day, or Identity Not-so-Crisis

So, it’s a breezy day, and I’m sitting in a chair chewing gum with my mudir (boss) in what might be the only grassy place (the Dar Chebab, or “House of Youth and Sports” where I work) east of the Middle Atlas Mountains, where everything else is desert.  So, we’re sitting there having a short conversation about what’s ahead later this month with all my travels and the different projects we both want to try to make happen.  In September, again thanks to the collaboration with Caity Connolly (and this time, Avery Schmidt), we’ll be bringing forty youth on a two-day education workshop concerning the risks and effects of HIV/AIDs and other STIs, as well as some basic gender education.  Exciting stuff, really.  I’m sitting there getting it all planned out, the finer details, that is (like the cost of paint), and the breeze slaps me in the face just slightly enough to remind me that summer is coming but is not yet here.

And then something else hits me, like a breeze, something I’ve known for awhile but haven’t really had a chance to express or explore.  As much as I love Morocco and as much as I feel that this next year-and-a-half is a part of who I am and where I need to be, development work is not what I want to do with my life.  No surprises there.  I majored in religion and kinda already had different plans anyway, but it’s just nice to have those little confirmations along the way, to have a clearer picture in your head of where you need to be, and it wasn’t one of those negative moments where you’re suddenly like, “Oh crap, I hate my job.”  To the contrary, like I said before, I’m really happy and feel privileged to be here and know this is where I need to be right now, and yet at the same time, I could recognize how temporary this is, like it was a stepping stone to something else and far more about following in some special footsteps, those of my grandfather.

Which really goes back to my last post, about how there’s no such thing as true altruism, that everything we do – whether we want to admit it or not – is actually at least somewhat self-serving.  No kidding.  I’m not here because I decided one day that “I want to help people” (and I don’t even think that’s an appropriate way of phrasing what the Peace Corps does).  And I’m not here because I want to make an impact or a difference in Morocco (and statistically-speaking, I’m not convinced the Peace Corps actually does that either).  I mean, if along the way, I touch someone’s life in a positive way, then great, that’s wonderful, and I’d like to think – be it thru this HIV/AIDs seminar, the glasses project, or something else – someone will gain something.  We’ll have worked together so we can all have something to smile about.  After all, what I actually think the Peace Corps is here to do (or should be here to do) isn’t so much about the bureaucratic numbers we’re required to report about how many Moroccans we worked with or how many organizations we helped to create sustainable programs; I think it’s a little more about the more immeasurable aspects of life and the little stories that come with those.

That is, you can’t really measure the friendship I’ve gained with Omar, when he comes over to my house and pretends to enjoy the tea or the spaghetti I make him.  You can’t really put statistics on sitting at a cafe with Driss discussing the Arab Spring, revolution after revolution.  But that’s more about what I’m here to do, to foster friendships.  Plain and simple like that.  And I’m not sure any report I could write or submit to Peace Corps could ever capture the importance of that (or the importance of that for American tax dollars), but I think and believe it has a lasting impact on these two societies, fostering these little friendships that ultimately reflects the friendship of not solely these individuals but of these two societies, as well.  And that’s something to write home about.

But in the long run, however you choose to “measure” our “efforts” in this country, I imagine I’ll gain more out of this than any “host country national” will, and I imagine I’ll have moments where I can picture my grandfather leaning against a Moroccan building, one leg kicked up against the wall with a half-smile across his face, and I might mimic that just a tad.  Because we live like the people we love.  We mimic their moves and try to be who they were, and God willing, the people we love and admire, the people we want to reflect, will be good people, people who lived the kind of lives worth reflecting.  There’s too many people in this world reflecting and admiring the wrong kind of people.  Which brings me to a whole other conversation altogether.

I was chatting with a few friends, different conversations but both of whom have really been struggling with gaining a sense of identity and purpose lately, and one of whom is in many respects reflecting anyone who will listen, it seems, anyone who will make him feel like he’s cared about.  [This, by the way, was another one of those confirming moments for me, where I realized that development work may not be my calling but listening to people and giving them some degree of guidance might be more my speed.]  So, in both conversations, one of the realizations I had was that when we’re faced with the trite question, “Who Am I?” we force ourselves to find answers to that.  We never just stop, sit back and let that question be a question.  We have to fill  that void with something and constantly be prepared to provide a very concise answer.  Who am I?  I am a hipster.  I am a goth kid.  I am a Republican.  I am a Democrat.  I am an American.  I am this music, not that music.  I am the North Face with Adidas sandals.  You get the point.

Okay, but this isn’t solely a critique of labels.  The point, rather, is that we never let ourselves just chew on that question – who am I  – and be comfortable without having an answer.  Why is that?  Why are we so afraid of uncertainty, even to the point that many of us would rather be something we don’t fully understand or like rather than simply… being.  Just be.  See, I already want to go buy Nike now.  What the heck?  But just being, simply being, was the best advice I had to offer my friends, and I think in time, we grow into who we want to be, and it’s often far more complex than any labels could give it justice, and that’s okay.  We’re human beings.  We don’t have to be easily understood or have simple answers to who we are, and if we did, we’d be much simpler creatures and not the top of the food chain.  Who am I?  Lately, I’ve been my grandfather’s grandson, but who I am is ever-forming and changing, and letting that shape and move and grow is extremely difficult but necessary.  Lest I be trapped in some label I can’t escape.

But all those complexities of our identity aside, and I think who we are as a human race is actually a bit of a paradox between what makes us complex and what makes us simple.  We are love.  That’s what I believe.  And yet, there’s so much more to it than that, now isn’t there?

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