Thirty Days

Thirty Days.  It’s like America is so close but so far away at the same time.  You may as well be dangling a giant cheesy gordita crunch in front of me and saying, “One month.  You have to stare at it for one month, but you can’t eat it yet.”  Sick, sad world.

I think I made the mistake of thinking this last thirty days was going to be relatively relaxed.  I mean, most of my projects were over, right?  The diabetes project is done; the glasses project has passed into the hands of other volunteers; Hassan cancelled my classes at the youth center.  It was an ideal time to turn and focus on grad school applications and saying goodbye to friends.  I even went to Fes and sent a package home just to free up some packing space.

Then, out of nowhere, my schedule booked up.  Next week, Jonathan and I are going to Tandit, a nearby village to replicate the diabetes project.  Basically, a guy who attended our workshop was originally from Tandit.  He loved what we did so much that he said, “We gotta do this again.”  This time around, Jon and I are mostly playing the role of spectators rather than having the stresses of planning the finer details.  This is exactly what you want to happen when you do a project.  It’s sustainability perfected.  I think seeing this happen in Tandit will be one of the highlights of my service.

A week after that, the Country Director and someone from Peace Corps HQ in Washington, D.C. is coming out this way for a mural painting project and another Eyejusters glasses distribution in Jonathan’s village.  Jon and I are preparing to put on quite a show, and we’ve invited folks from the diabetes project and my youth center director, as well.

And then, just when you thought things would finally die down, Jon and I have committed to playing an ongoing game of Risk for the remainder of my service.  And so it begins.  I will command the greatest Army that ever walked the face of Planet Earth, and I will obliterate annihilate Jonathan Pleban battalion by battalion until not a single soldier is left standing, so help me God.  (And somewhere in there, I will find time to pack my house, work on manuscripts, say goodbye to family’s in town, and help Allal slaughter the family sheep for Eid).

In the meantime, I find myself cherishing the littler things I know I’ll miss.  The monster olive trees with their curved spines.  The crimson, cold, paprika-cement floor of my orchard house.  The deep guttural musings of Arabic – my God, how I’ll miss Arabic.  How crazy is it to have this entire language buried within you and no one around to hear it?

I’ve had several friends lately trying to remind me, “Oh, Philip, you’re going to be so depressed when you get back to America.  I know so-and-so lived in such-and-such place and they were so crazy culture shocked when they got back!  Blah blah blah.  Bob Loblaw’s Law Blog.”  One friend even went as far as to say I would be “vacant.”  Really – vacant?

Here’s what I think: I think change or transition or transformation, however you want to phrase that, very often involves some kind of death and rebirth.  But I also think that metaphor can come across as kind of violent, so instead, I’m going to play a little with the idea of vacancy, or as I like to call it, an emptying of oneself.  I think for the past two years, I’ve had all these opportunities to fill up on Moroccan culture.  It was like I was filling this bottle with couscous and mint tea and God-phrases and Islam and djellabas and rugs, and a day is quickly coming where I’m going to have to slowly pour that out to make room for something new.  And I think the healthiest kinds of transitions are the ones where you learn how to empty the bottle slowly sharing it with the right people at the right time while you simultaneously refill it, taking in new experiences, new faces, new things.  …unless you’re a recovering alcoholic, in which case that metaphor just sort of breaks down altogether….

So, in thirty days, will I begin a painful process and sometimes be down-and-out?  Sure.  But it’ll be one of those moments, I believe, that wakes you up inside and makes you feel alive and experienced and loved all at the same time.

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