Over the course of the next few weeks, in anticipation of my two-year anniversary of living in the Kingdom of Morocco (Sept. 15), I’ll be posting a series of “top ten lists” detailing some of my favorite things and some of my least favorite things about this country, some of the ways I’ve changed, and all the things I will and won’t miss as November quickly approaches and my time here comes to an end.
So, without further ado, I bring you the first in this series, a top ten list of what all America has to offer, from everything I’m excited to get my hands on and buy to all the people and animals I just can’t wait to see:
10. Fox News, Tea Partiers, the American South, and all the things I just can’t stand — I guess there’s just one point I want to make here, and that’s that I love America. I even love the part of America that I despise. Why? Because I just love to despise it. Two years abroad really brought out for me just how awful of a country we can be – how bigoted and idiotic, and I won’t start down that path, because my point really is that I’m so excited to get back to America that I’m even excited to get back to that side of America that disappoints me. It’s like sitting down in front of the T.V. to watch an episode of Walker, Texas Ranger. It’s a guilty pleasure, and you do it not because it’s a good show (it’s not), but because there’s nothing funnier than watching Walker round-house kick some awful Texas stereotype that misrepresents someone’s race or gender in some terrible way. And so while I am, honestly, terribly disgusted with some parts of American culture, I’m still glad that America comes with all these rich complexities, that we’re filled with so many different human beings from all walks off life, some good, some bad, and most just trying to get by for themselves. I think when you remove yourself from a place for any lengthy period of time, you long for that place in such a way that it’s like you’ve stepped outside of a box and can now describe every detail of the box with a clear memory. That’s, in large part, how I feel about America. I left one box for another, and now that I’m re-entering the old box (or about to), I worry a little how that will go. It’s as if I became box-less in there somewhere, as if I lost my culture, because I no longer wanted to be associated with all the quirks and traditions and social stigmas that make up whatever we call ‘us’. But rather than re-entering the box and suddenly regaining culture, I just want to be able to appreciate what it is for what it is without having to be a part of it. And while I think there’s a lot wrong with our culture, I do earnestly want to believe that most people, even though they may get caught up in silly little beliefs and traditions, just want to be good people. No one wants to believe that they are guided or socialized by Fox News or CNN or whatever Pastor so-and-so has to say or whatever the popular music of the moment may be. So even though we may get sucked into all of that, I like believing that no one wants to be. It’s the only way to trust people, and it’s the best way to believe that we all have a good heart in common underneath all that crap we’re fed all the time by our interwebs and T.V. stations, and etc.
9. New things of 2012, from clothes to shoes to cars to interwebs — It’s not just because my shoes are falling apart. Or that a series of Moroccan haircuts have officially resulted in my growing of what some might call a combo between a “fro” and a mullet. It’s just that Peace Corps is going to hand me this nice, fat readjustment allowance, and I’m tired of living off $250. I’ve detailed some of the things I’m going to be buying in my “Official Wish List,” (see the bottom of the list) in case you’re just eager to buy it for me first. *Wink.* Shameless, I know. I’ll let the wish list speak for itself, though. Moving on.
8. My Transatlantic Cruise, followed by a six to nine-month vacation of doing absolutely nothing. No, I don’t mean a second round of Peace Corps. I mean really doing nothing —
I’ve already posted about the cruise, but here are the details again. I’ll let this speak for itself, and for any naysayers who realize this isn’t really “America,” two weeks of luxury aboard the MSC Poesia are the antithesis to my life in Morocco.
7. Finding Moroccans in America and using Arabic with them — Several weeks ago, my friend Zach went to a “Moroccan” restaurant in Memphis called “Casablanca.” I’m just going to go out on a limb here and guess that there’s probably one Moroccan working there, if that. It’s probably just some Arab guy who decided that a restaurant named after the famous movie would probably make more money than, say, Saudi Arabia Restaurant in Memphis (although “Lawrence of Arabia” could’ve been a good restaurant name). The menu looks delicious, but very little of it is Moroccan, except for harira (Moroccan soup), a couscous dish or two, and kifta (ground beef or lamb). Actually, the idea that I could get kifta (if it’s prepared anything there like it is here) in America is incredibly exciting to me. The rest of the menu is Levantine food between baba ghanoush, chwarma, and hummus. Still great food, and on a rare occasion, and I can find it in Morocco, but I am hoping for something traditionally Moroccan.
You just can’t have an experience like this living in a country for two years and then suddenly be plopped back into your own culture, as if you’re supposed to forget this two years like it was all some fantasy. All that is to say that one of my chief goals getting back to America is to find a Moroccan community or at least one Moroccan person and surprise them with some Arabic. Or actually get to know them. I’m not going to pretend like I wouldn’t love to meet a Moroccan-American girl either (take note Katie Frensley). Or my God, if I could make friends with some Moroccans, and they invited me to their house for some real Moroccan food?! Best idea ever.
Whatever it takes. I just want to know that I can continue to connect with this beautiful country even when I’m far from it. It’ll always be a second home of sorts. Next.
6. The Unknown —
Although it can be the source of significant stress, I like not knowing what’s next. I like the betwixt and between stage of life and the crisis that comes with it as you’re sorting out what to do or where to go. I like the freedom that comes with that – some feeling that I could pick up and go anywhere in the world and do almost anything, and I like not knowing what that is, because uncertainty fosters dreaming for me. Of course, I love planning and scheming, too, but I don’t take them seriously anymore. So much of the time I spent planning things out, I’ve come to realize, is all part of the imagining and dreaming I like to do in the place of all my uncertainties. Once, that was a place of angst for me, and I loved the angst. But I no longer have fears about what’s next. I just trust that whatever’s next will be here before I know it, or as the song says, “The doctor asked him what he was afraid of, just what he was running from; it’s not a fear of success nor of closeness; but of going through life feeling numb.” You could say, the experience of Peace Corps has made me want to experience so much of life, as much as I can get my hands on, but grabbing hold of those experiences often means not knowing what’s next – of always being on the go in some sense. I think that fits and describes me well. And even now when I’m heading home, I’m still heading into the unknown.
5. Nashville, Tennessee – the Athens of the South — Despite all the scene and hipster kids who just want to use Nashville to break into the music world with their raspy, wannabe folksy voices, Gotham City – so named for its one tower too tall – is a lovely, cultured community with everything from the Bluebird Cafe to Vanderbilt University to an arboretum of trees planted by Andrew Jackson. After living there for nearly four years (and being born there), I’m proud to call it my home, and there’s nothing quite as exciting to me as driving around the 440 with my city in sight.
I’m most looking forward to hanging around the Bicentennial Park, my favorite state park in the world with its grassy mall, its large state map engraved into the concrete, and a 1400-foot “wall of history” that stretches the length of the park. To one end of the park, there’s an international market, where I’m hoping (but not sure) I can buy couscous and Moroccan spices, including Moroccan tea, but I’ll have to explore the market again to see if that’s true.
So, yeah, Nashville had to make the list. It’s just a great city, and it’s a place I very much look forward to calling home again, even though I’m open to moving almost anywhere in the world if that’s what I gotta do to make some money or get back into school. That Nashville would be on my list should come as no surprise, though. Who couldn’t love a city that gave us the Bat Poet:
4. Five Guys Burgers & Fries. [and other restaurant chains of American cuisine] — At this point, they really should hire me for all the press I give them.
Every Peace Corps Volunteer, probably every person living abroad ever, has experienced the craving, the deep, heartfelt yearning for American chain restaurants. That’s because like cigarettes, the internet, heroin, and fast women, Five Guys Burgers & Fries – and other chain restaurants across the United States – are blood-sucking, money-grabbing forms of addiction. You think I’m joking, don’t you? Just try to go six months without eating that beautiful, cheesy Gordita crunch from Taco Bell; go a full year without a Lemon-Berry Fresh Fruit Slush from Sonic. You’ll see what I mean. If you can make it past two weeks, you’ll know what I’m talking about. You’ll crave it. You’re stomach will gurgle and ache for it. You’ll dream about it, and you’ll even have visions of a giant taco singing, “Eat me, Philip. Find me and eat me.”
Then, just when you think you’ve broken free of that horrid addiction, they come out with this, a dorito-based taco shell. And you think, “My God, America. What have you done?! What is this delicious morsel sent from the third circle of hell to appease the second deadly sin? You sweet red, white, and blue damsel, you. I’m coming for that Doritaco.”
I should not be writing this while I’m hungry. That was a terrible idea. Whatever, you get the point: I’m looking forward to sinking my teeth into a double-bacon-burger with cheese cooked medium well with lettuce and tomato and extra ketchup and served with a bag of heart-attack fries. Oh God. I’ve opened Pandora’s Box. Next.
3. Abner Doubleday, puggle puppy dawg extraordinaire — I’m afraid, over the last two years, Abner has become like some big Berber woman who loves chomping down white bread and sprawling out on the sofa watching hours of daily soap operas. Abner has gained approximately 120 lbs. since I left, so once I’m home, we’re going on a strict diet. While I’ll be busy gaining back the 40 lbs I’ve lost (and that number is not a joke), Abner will hopefully be losing the same amount (that one is).
Truth be told, while Abner is my dog, I haven’t decided what to do with him. It almost seems cruel to strip him of his life of luxury. He does pretty much whatever he wants. He’s a puggle living like a King at the Eubanks’ residence. And his friendship with Gibson, our golden lab, is like no other. The two play in the backyard for hours until Abner gets to go inside, while Gibson watches longingly in the sweltering heat. Actually, according to Mom, Abner didn’t go outside as much this summer to visit Gibson, because it was too hot. He’d just stand at the door waiting to be let back in to the cool air conditioning. That’s my dog. He knows where it’s at!
But since I don’t yet know where I’ll be in four months, let alone six to a year, it’s a bit premature to predict what will happen with Abner, whether I’ll schlep him up north if that’s where the winds take me, or if he’ll continue living like a King at Chateau Eubanks. Time will tell, but we’ve come a long way since those early days of bein’ a puppy, so I’m looking forward to giving him a big hug and letting him curl up to nap with me in the fetal position.
2. Katie Frensley, Harold Burdette, and the Frensley Family Extravaganza — There’s a lot of people I’m excited to see, a lot of folks who are like family to me, and I hope I don’t offend any of you if you didn’t show up on this list. But I figured Katie, Harold, Greta, and Jacob had a special place on this list, because come January or February, there’s a good chance I’m movin’ in. For good. I’ve warned Katie about this, and to a lesser degree, Greta, but never tell someone they’re “like family” if you don’t want them mooching off you like a leech. I mean, all I asked for was a corner, and Jacob’s already offered his whole room, so….
Of course, they’ve no need to be too worried. They are more than welcome to pass me around. Two weeks at one Frensley residence, three weeks at another. I’m also willing to cook Moroccan dishes or soups or other delicious meals. I require very little maintenance; although, if they have guests over, I guess I can try to shave and put on deodorant and use toilet paper temporarily. And if the guests are still offended by me, they can always just warn them ahead of time: “We, uh, we have a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer staying with us, and uhm, he doesn’t always use utensils when he eats… and he’s kind of offended if you use your left hand to eat… and don’t be surprised if he takes your clothing from you and gives you something of his own in a strange barter system of sorts; he means well. Oh and sometimes, he clicks. One click means yes; two clicks means no.”
In all seriousness, though… no, wait, I was being completely serious. I am moving in, Greta. Get ready.
But seriously. Srsly. I can’t name the number of messages, texts, or emails I’ve had from Katie or Harold reminding me how much they miss me and how much they just want me home. I think having a community of people is really important, and in some ways, they are my home base, my center-of-gravity, my fan club, my band and we’re gettin’ the band back together. You get the idea. Being around them is like being in a sitcom. So, while I may eventually head off to some new city for school or work, or while I’ll be in Jackson for some time, too, it’s nice to know that I’ll always have a place I can return to – my own little posse, my homeboys (and girls), Team Fouad. I need to stop doing that.
It’s just that I think one of the things that scares me about America is that I’ll turn into some recluse, that Jackson or whatever city I end up in will be some stale place to me, and the task of having to start over, to work at making friends again, is just this daunting reality I have no desire to face. I don’t want to explain Peace Corps to people. I don’t want, like I had to do at Christmas, to have somebody say to me, “So, Morocco, what’s that like?” and then have to explain an entire culture in a thirty-second sentence the other person could care less about. Katie and Harold and Greta and Jacob are four people I don’t have to start over with or explain myself to.
And besides, Katie is on a mission to find future Mrs. Eubanks anyhow. She’s got a tough job ahead of her, you know, finding a girl who’s going to be totally okay with the fact that I am mooching off of my friends indefinitely.
There are, of course, a lot of jokes here, and I’m not willing to divulge fact from fiction, so yeah, moving on….
1. The Eubanks‘ — Family first, right? Although, I don’t mean that in some hokey, cheesy way like, “Oh man, I missed Mama and Baba so, so much these last two years!” I mean, I did miss them, but not in some overly emotional outpouring of love. It’s more of a quiet love, an understanding that comes with a heck of a lot of freedom. Mom’s [been forced to get] used to the fact that traveling is, well, kinda my thing, and I’ll be surprised if anybody’s expecting me to stick around for more than three months before I’m off again on some ridiculous adventure or another. But over the past few years, I think I’ve developed a new appreciation for how weird I think my family is (though everybody thinks that about their family, right), and I feel closer to them in that I feel as though we actually discuss things like adults these days. Even though my mother will always remind me if I packed extra underwear and remembered my toothbrush (yes, Mom), between being home for Christmas and a few Skype dates here-and-there, you could say I’ve come to appreciate the range of subjects we can talk about these days. I no longer feel like a child being talked down to, even though my parents are often saying things I, like a child, need to hear. In some sense, they are probably the most civil, normal people that I know, and that’s actually what I think makes us so darn weird. I mean, my parents are some cross between Hank and Peggy Hill from “King of the Hill” or maybe even the Wilkersons or the Morgendorffers. And Beth is just Beth, you know – hippy sister extraordinaire whose got a bad side and works constantly. But I love them all anyhow, and I fully expect Mom to be all teary-eyed at the Nashville International Airport in November. Maybe I will be too. Who knows.
I guess it can be a little cliché to say that “family” is my number one – what I’m most excited to get home to, but when you go from living in a family-oriented culture like that of the Muslim world, you sort of get this different picture for the value and importance of family. I think I grew up just thinking that family was a support network of people who loved me, and it is that, but I think it’s so much more than that now. I think the people who you call family, even if those people aren’t biologically related to you (and I mean those few special friends, too), are the only people you can trust or expect to be there. I think all our lives are spent trying to find and identify those we regard as that kind of family. So, it’s a little inevitable that two years in this kind of culture, a culture where family equates with rigid expectations of dependability, and I’m glad to be going home to a place where I know I’ve always had that even though that’s so rare in some ways.
So, there you have it. Ten things I can’t wait to have or see. People and places that are consistent in my life. The days are numbered, and I know at least some of you are counting them down.