“Sometimes, the Only way to Return is to Go where the Winds’ll take You”

When I embarked on this journey a little under two years ago, the idea that this period of my life could ever come to an end was just absurd.  Two years is just long enough that if you want to be here, it doesn’t just become some temporary adventure; it becomes your life.  And when it becomes your life, the adventure behind it dulls a little bit, so when you hear people back home asking you in the midst of your journey, “So how’s that vacation going?” you kind of want to slap them, because while they may see extravagant pictures on Facebook or whatever, this is anything but a vacation (at least for most volunteers).  It carries with it the same ebb-and-flow of everyday life in any other place, except the lows can be harder to climb out of, and the highs can be high enough to let you see miles beyond what you were used to seeing Stateside.

But now that ebb-and-flow is slowing down a little, as the end begins its approach, and I find myself returning to that sense of adventure I caught glimpses of when I first arrived here.  A week or two ago, it was walking by a derailed train with several cars and the train tracks uprooted and flipped over.  It was swimming in the Mediterranean Sea with Algeria in sight less than a hundred yards away.  It was deep conversation with an older PCV couple in their sixties about American politics or the Vietnam War, old stories surfacing – the kind that inspire or give you fodder to chew on for days.   It was watching the moon change its phases this month as Ramadan crept in and now creeps out with Eid El-Fitr quickly approaching.  Even the call-to-prayer ringing out from the minaret again sounds something deep within me, bringing me alive as I seem to catch myself whispering, “This is Morocco.  Do not forget this.  Cherish these last days.”

This is Morocco.  It’s a phrase I’ve returned to a thousand times, a phrase that runs through my veins.  I don’t know what it is about Africa or the way it just seems to grab hold of you or sink something mystical into your skin, but there are times I’ve had here where I just seem jolted by those words, by the very reminder that this one place is where I currently reside and exist.  And I’m not alone in that experience.  I recently discovered several volunteers had their own little phrases.  “This is Afriquia.”  Or, “I live in Africa.”  Some kind of overwhelming sense of self-awareness seems so evident by this life, and I can’t quite put my finger on what it is that makes us all so alive in repeating those phrases.  It’s almost as if we were made more aware of our very nature when we were thrown into a culture so absurd to what we were used to, and from there, everything seemed richer and exploded with diverse beauty.  I don’t know what it is, really.  I can only hope that we will sing the same songs, those same phrases, about America, that our sense of liveliness could carry over beyond this place.

I don’t think that’s too much to hope for.  I mean, yes, America is my own culture, so the little things that catch me off-guard and mystify me here may not shock me with the same sense of awe or self-awareness back home.  But while I’m still currently on the African continent, I can say this: who I am as an American is much more embedded into me and appreciated than it was two years ago.  And I suspect that I’ll return to America feeling just that, a sense of patriotic awe or maybe even a kind of quiet gratitude for what all America is and represents, at its best and at its worst.

Some quiet gratitude much like that has carved out a chunk of my service, usually under the guise of what I called “legacy.”  I’ve tried these past few years to walk the path of someone I admired, and come November, I’ll be walking that literal path one last time.  Or floating rather.  On November 8, just a few days after I send in my absentee ballot, I’ll be making my way to Rabat for the last time, where I’ll “stamp out,” signing my name in the book of volunteers who have completed their service and thus marking myself, officially, a “Returned Peace Corps Volunteer.”  From there, I will make my way north to Tangier, where I’ll take a ferry across the Strait of Gibraltar and into Spain.  By November 12, I have to be in Barcelona to board the MSC Poesia, a cruise-liner scheduled to embark on a transatlantic voyage that evening at 7:00pm.

Strangely enough, the Poesia’s first stop is none other than Casablanca, which will take me to the same port my grandfather left from sixty-six years ago.  I have to admit, I might get off the boat to walk around the Port itself, but I have no interest in walking around Casablanca that day, unless I realize there’s something I’ve forgotten to get (or unless I make friends who want to pay me for an exclusive tour of Morocco’s dingiest city).  We’ll see.

The ship then stops just south of the Canary Islands on an autonomous Portuguese island called Madeira.  If it’s anything like Oporto, I’m sure I’ll love it.   After that, it takes five solid days to actually cross the Atlantic Ocean.  How crazy is that?  Five days at sea in the wild blue ocean.  Maybe I’ll meet some cute girl at the ship’s bow, and we can spread our arms, the wind whipping us in the face like we’re flying, and — oh wait, that story doesn’t have a happy ending.

There are three stops in the Caribbean – Bridgetown, Barbados; Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe; Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas (Virgin Islands, U.S.).  Some of you may recall that I was originally nominated to the Eastern Caribbean for Peace Corps, not Morocco.  So to be heading there is kind of exciting to me.  I am hoping I’ll get a sneak-peak at what I was missing out on, and if I ever do Peace Corps again, I can say, “Oh yeah, send me to the Eastern Caribbean this time,” or, “Don’t send me there.”

The last two stops are Freemont in the Bahamas and then Fort Lauderdale, where I’ll make my way to Miami in time to catch a flight home to Nashville, Tennessee hitting the ground November 28.  That’s two weeks of travel for nearly the same price as a plane ticket directly from Casablanca to Nashville.  And to be home just after Thanksgiving Day, two years to the day that I arrived in my desert village in Morocco, couldn’t be more fitting.

But it’s not time to get excited just yet.  There’s too much here to still take in.  To let it seep in slowly and quietly mumble, “This is Morocco.”  I have a long way to get before I get back home.

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