They say that Peace Corps Volunteers need one skill more than any other: the ability to adapt. Something tells me there’s a resounding “duh” on the other side of the computer screen with regard to that sentence. I mean, okay, we signed up for two years in a new culture with a new language, and I know a lot of people who think they couldn’t do Peace Corps for that very reason. The idea of leaving America and the comforts of it and people in it behind for two years is just something that’s impossible for some of my friends to wrap their mind around. And really, if you’re not an adaptable person, what are you doing showing up in the third world anyway? But that aspect of Peace Corps (i.e. going so far away from home to such a different place) is the easy part, in my opinion. Because what they don’t tell you is that it’s more complicated than simply adapting to the culture or being away from home. It’s an evolution of adaptation you have to prepare yourself to confront, because no matter how “accustomed” you might get to the culture or the language, your life suddenly and nevertheless enters waves of change, with every six months or so bringing a completely new experience to the forefront.
Maybe that’s not that abnormal. Maybe it’s not actually unique to Peace Corps Volunteers. I mean, I look at the folks I know back home, and they’ve experienced all kinds of change between marriages and babies and new relationships and whatnot. But something about my life here feels like it’s on warp speed change, and it gets to the point where just about the time you settle into one notion of your life, you have to pick up and be ready to start over again. And there’s a part of me that loves that, that loves the unknown, so to speak. I’ve definitely grown more comfortable with being uncomfortable, more prepared to be unprepared, to live a life out of a backpack of sorts, and though I’ve accumulated plenty of, well, crap, here in Morocco, there’s very little material “stuff” actually in my life, and that makes it easier to move to the next phase. I meant that both metaphorically and literally.
But there’s a real flip-side to all of that. Having to constantly adapt doesn‘t make adaptation easier. I think when I first got here, I was riding on an adaptation train of sorts, so giddy and excited and happy to be making this huge, ridiculous change that I was able to look past the “difficulties” and hardships that come with change. My life in Nashville had grown so incredibly stagnant and lonely that I was doing good just to make it from day-to-day there. When I got to Morocco, I was suddenly placed into a shared, liminal state. It was a recipe for instant friends, and it was the first time in nearly three or four years where I felt like I had a set of constant, reliable people in my life. Or that I could be that to anyone else. Moving to the desert solidified that, because I was placed into a situation where I was the sole volunteer in a market town with neighboring volunteers thirty minutes to an hour away who were relying on me for serious support. I was the transit site between them and the rest of Morocco or the rest of Morocco and their villages. And I thrive in that kind of scenario, where I’m the one shepherding friends on the move. And even though they were older than me in terms of experience (with six months on me), and I certainly leaned on them heavily when I first arrived, I was simultaneously able to be a constant, available, and loyal person to them. It’s the same reason I like leaving my computer online for hours or check my email regularly and respond immediately – because I pride myself on being able to be a constant and reliable person.
And now, that’s all on the verge of changing again. And I fear that. I fear having something so good taken away from me, especially when it’s something I do so well, and especially when I remember so well what life in Nashville was like, which won’t be forgotten very soon. This week, Caity Connolly, Avery Schmidt, and Nicole Abrams, three of my market-mates (or souq mates) are in Rabat at “Close of Service Conference” to find out all kinds of exciting details about the final month or two of their service (they leave in early May). They’ve, arguably, been like a brother and two sisters to me, and I couldn’t be more thankful for having them in my life. We’ve spent a lot of nights sipping tea or soup, talking politics or religion or relationships. We’ve made the best tacos you’ve ever had to the sounds of the Avett Brothers or a selection of West African music. We’ve laughed together, been harassed together, sorted through our pasts and prepared for our futures. I’m not ready for them to leave. But I’m excited for them to adapt to a new phase of their lives, whatever that new phase may be.
Thankfully, my friend Jonathan will still be here for the remainder of my service, and as for the old volunteers, Peace Corps may send their “replacements” in May (or actually, it’s unlikely that this will happen, since none of them have youth centers in their sites, and Peace Corps is only putting volunteers where youth centers are these days). It is exciting to think about new folks being around (if not also a bit intimidating), and there’s a small chance we’ll get someone here in my village or at least a couple of people an hour south, but no one will “replace” these three or how important they are to me. It’ll just be another adaptation I’ll face. It’s funny, I guess change is really the only thing that doesn’t change, as cliché as it is to say that. I think I’m coming to a place where I believe that the reason why we value traditions and rituals so much is because they help us to briefly escape the inevitability of change. And in that escape, our traditions and rituals helps us value and celebrate change in the way they allow us to take pause, anchor our lives momentarily and take a real look around at ourselves and our surroundings before we dive back into the real world with the waves of change slapping against us once again. We need both, and we just can’t live healthy lives without finding ways to stop and go and stop and go again.
In brief other news, I’m hoping to move to the olive orchard in a matter of weeks. It looks like that might come through, and if it falls through, I can always stay in my current home thanks to a deal with the new landlord. Meanwhile, the glasses project is in full swing with distribution tentatively set for the first week of April. Will all that happen as is planned, though? Especially with Israel and Iran at each other’s throats? Who knows what the next month or two will bring? Lots of change, for sure.