What I’ll Miss Most, or a Top Ten List of Sorts

Jon and I were sitting at a cafe yesterday afternoon just waiting for the head of the diabetes association to show up, and as I sipped my ice-cold Fanta Citron, I just thought to myself, “My God, Fanta Citron, I am going to miss the daylights out of you.  It’s gonna be back to Squirt, the grapefruit drink, for this guy.”

Every which way I turn, I’m faced it seems with final moments, and even though I have fifty-something days left in Morocco – which is actually quite a long time – I’m already beginning to feel a little bit homesick for this place.  You know you’ve got it bad when you’re saying goodbye to a soft drink.

That seems a fair introduction to this final top ten list, so without further ado, I bring you the ten things I think I’ll miss most:

10. Bromance.  Not that Harold Burdette won’t fulfill this category in full, but a patriarchal culture like Morocco is one big fraternity house.  I’m being a little bit cheeky here, because I think the bad (y’know, like, women’s rights) might actually outweigh the good in a culture as patriarchal as this, but even when the bad outweighs the good, that doesn’t mean the good should be forgotten or ignored.  I think there’s something nice about the fact that men here can have friendships, you know, real friendships with each other, but in America, we live by some kind of code that prohibits that behavior.  If you don’t believe me, think for a second about the fact that meaningful connections between males (i.e. a good, ole platonic friendships) are rare enough that we have a special word – bromance – just to signify how we think of two dudes who genuinely like each other.   You know, like it’s not “manly” for two guys to hug in some parts of American culture vs. Morocco where two dudes are walking down the street holding hands, and nothing about it is remotely erotic.  (Okay, well, usually not anyhow).  But no one’s going to question it or go, “Hey, look at them.”  This is something that just baffles my mind, because you would think that the more patriarchal the culture, there would be more boundaries against a dude showing affection toward another dude, but no, only in the far-less patriarchal America do we find bans on males, you know, caring about each other.  Or, to sum all of this up in the words of Jermaine from Flight of the Concords, “Why can’t a heterosexual guy tell a heterosexual guy that he thinks his booty is fly?  Not all the time, obviously; just when he’s got a problem with his self-esteem.  Don’t let anybody tell you you’re not humpable, because you’re bumpable; well, I hope this doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable.”:

9. The convenience of your friendly, local l-hanut.  You’re hungry.  The pantry is empty.  You need to go to the grocery store, but that means getting in your car, spending gas money, and driving somewhere between five and ten minutes to buy something.  Not the end of the world, but the nice thing about Morocco is that there’s a local vegetable store around nearly every corner.  It’s not driving distance; it’s walking distance.  You might be thinking, “Well, that’s more work.”  Maybe.  But, especially when I lived in the January house, there was just something so incredibly wonderful about thinking, “Oh no, I just forgot to buy butter.  Oh, that’s okay, I can leave this cooking while I run out and grab it really quick, because there’s a place I can buy butter a two-minute walk from here.”  I mean, I guess if you live in a big city (or just really insanely close to local food stores and other shops), then you can easily have that, but it’s really something I’ve loved here.  I like the little conversations at the mahaliba (the milk store) with the owners there.  I love the Super-Hanut, which is the one place I can buy canned pineapples and redball (gouda) cheese.  The guy who owns that place is so, so incredibly nice and funny.  I love that it’s not just some giant chain with people in the same color uniform, but that I can stop and have nice little conversations with the people I’m buying food from, knowing that my money is actually something sustaining to their livelihood in some occasions, and not just chunk change thrown at some large, corporate market.  When will I ever have that sort of Mom-and-Pop convenience store experience ever again in my life?  Maybe never.

8. Moroccan cuisine, including lamb tajine with plums, pastilla, arfissa, etc.  You know what.  I can’t even write about this. I just can’t.  Thinking about it makes my stomach growl, and I think my taste buds are actually screaming.

7. Mak-Doh Abroad.  That’s right.  I said it.  I’m going to miss McDonald’s.  You might be thinking, “But Philip, you’re coming home to America; there’s a McDonald’s on every corner.”  No, my friends.  Mak-Doh (the appropriate Moroccan pronunciation) is a venue of high-class and luxury.  It’s like going to the movies in America; it’s where the cool kids go on a Friday night.  And it tastes better, too.  Come to think of it, the one we went to in Porto was even beautiful.  I mean, when was the last time you felt dirty after you walked into a McDonald’s, because everyone there was dressed nicer than you?  I’ve now had McDonald’s in the UK, Spain, Israel, and Morocco, and I can honestly say, I’ve never been disappointed in Morocco abroad.  But don’t think you’ll catch me there in the States.

6. Bab Boujaloud, and the Mdina Qaddima.  There’s no city in the country I love more than Fes.  I mean, I wrote a whole blog about it.  Check it out.

5. Cafe Culture, complete with Mint, Sage, or Wormwood (Absinthe) Tea.  First of all, you might again be thinking, “But Philip, America has Starbucks!  You can get your tea or coffee, quite literally, on any corner.”  Not the same.  In fact, not only is there a cafe on every corner in Morocco, but for every corner cafe, there’s five more cafe’s in between each corner.  And I can promise you this, I can’t get absinthe tea; I can’t even get Moroccan traditional mint tea prepared the same way.  Where will I find a perfectly chilled bottle of “Coka” at a cafe in America?  Where can I sit and people watch while I sip a ns-ns (half and half: half coffee, half sugar, a tiny bit of milk)?  Where else can I sip freshly-squeezed orange juice or banana milk or avocado milk whilst munching on harcha or malawi?   It’s, by far, one of my favorite things about Morocco.  It’ll be something I crave secretly for a long time.

4. Taking the Train.  When I first heard that President Obama had proposed a high-speed rail as part of his 2008 platform, I was ecstatic.  Sadly, America is just so incredibly huge that a high-speed rail would have a lot of trouble competing with the plane, but something Europe – and Morocco – have done right is the train.  You know, come to think of it, I can’t picture myself taking a taxi, a bus, a van with a goat cage on top, or a train anywhere in Tennessee.  This may be the third world, but the third world knows how to travel a lot better than we do in America.  It’s a shame that we’re all so obsessed with having cars in America or that public transportation is somehow a “lower class” phenomenon.  I just love falling asleep on a train and waking up, and bam, you’re exactly where you wanted to be.  I can honestly say that I wish America would invest in this idea, even if it doesn’t pay off in the end.

3. The Arid, Mountainous Geography of the Boulemane Province.  Morocco’s geography, I like to say, is a lot like California. We’ve got the sand dunes, the beaches, the mountains, the arid desert, and the green forests.  It’s just far more condensed and probably a little more on the arid side.  I’ve lived near farmland and on a beach (twice) and in the suburbs, but I’d never in my life lived in a place like the Boulemane Province before I moved here.  There’s no place quiet as desolate, quite as beautiful.  I discovered that I actually really love mountains.   But over time, I’ve really grown to love the Middle Atlas in particular.  I mean, just behind Avery’s village was the second tallest mountain, Bounasseur, in all of North Africa.  I got the opportunity to hike a lot of it, over the Tichoukt where I stood at the peak and saw green on one side of the mountain and an endless desert, the Sahara, on the other side.  I think one day I’d like to live on an island with a mountain and a desert.  And I’d live in a suburb really near a large city.  Somebody find me that island.

2. The People: Hassan and Hamou, Allal, Lahcen, Ahmed, Kaotar, Omar and Hamza, etc.  How did I manage to not have a Mohammed in there?  I’m finding it more and more difficult to speak about some of the things I’ll miss.   I just regard them as something I hold dear, and there’s not much more to say about it.  Today, I cracked jokes with Hassan about the history of our village.  Earlier this week, I was having lunch with Allal, and a week or two ago, I bought a beautiful carpet from Ahmed.  It’s a no-brainer that the people are what I’m going to be missing the most of, their smiles and their laughter and their jokes.  They are who I came here to get to know, and I will never, ever say this experience was about me helping them.  They helped me.  They helped me appreciate and love life a little more, and I can’t be more thankful for that.  They are more Morocco to me than anything else ever will be.  To say anymore would be to do an injustice to who they were to me deep down.  So I’ll just leave it at that little bit.

1. The Olive Orchard.  My home in the woods.  My first encounter with an olive grove, ever, was the Garden of Gethsemane.  I loved it, because that’s probably my favorite Biblical story ever – the disciples still getting it wrong, the sacred tempted by the profane, the dark and mysterious garden of trees whose branches are like the arms of monsters.  There’s this peace here I can’t really fully describe to you.  It’s not constant.  It’s very often interrupted by a donkey or a stampede of goats or even an occasional car rushing by.  But there are moments when I feel and know it, when the wind just rushes through this quiet place, and I feel a little like I’m part of it, embedded into it, like I could fall asleep just like those disciples, or maybe – more fittingly – a little like Rip Van Winkle.  It’d be a nice place to sleep for a 100 years.  Or maybe forever.

Well, there you have it.  On Saturday, my big project with Jon – the so-called “diabetes project” – is finally happening.  We’re distributing 100 workbooks in Standard Arabic on literally everything you could ever want to know about diabetes and nutrition.  Then, after training fifty youth on how to teach diabetes nutrition, we’re dispatching them into the community to do just that.  Keep your fingers crossed for us, because there are a lot of people we have to depend on to make sure this whole shindig goes off without a hitch.  I’ll leave you with an exciting preview – the cover of our workbook, put together by myself and Jon with some Moroccan help.  It says, verbatim: “Booklet Sickness (of) Sugar and Nutrition” followed by the name of our village and then “Peace Corps America.”

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