Oh! Hey Amber! There you are!

I realized this morning that the past year has been an experience not unlike Robin Williams’ portrayal of Peter Pan in Hook. If you haven’t seen it (you need to RIGHT AWAY!) or don’t remember it…. He basically forgets he is Peter Pan and when put to the test, he must do some hard and fast soul-searching to find the Peter that once was. Unfortunately, it took me a little more than the two hours to catch a glimpse of myself- I suppose that is because my life is not a box office smash hit!

But it hit me because, often times, I feel as though I am in a rut or riding an extremely tumultuous emotional roller coaster. This coaster takes me from place to place without giving me a flick of a second to realize what is going on before it dives right into a muddy rut! Moments of happiness and joy along with feelings of content are just as fleeting as those frustrating and overwhelming moments- so as you can see attempting to find oneself again is difficult among all of the twists and turns.

Although much of what happens in our daily life contributes to this craziness, it is the inability to express myself completely that I feel contributes to it most. The absence of fluent language as well as the cultural understanding that provides a brick wall for me to run into when I try to speak or express myself. All of this also comes with a feeling of dishonesty or secrecy. Because of the cultural implications- there are just certain things here that are not acceptable to talk about with people nor is it acceptable for me to fully express myself with what I wear. This translates to hiding part of who I am and on some levels, feeling defensive about some things. Some volunteers even feel with a new Moroccan name, comes a completely new persona. For awhile, I felt like “Iman” (my Moroccan name) and Amber were completely s e p a r a t e people.

I started to see glimpses of my old self the more Peace Corps volunteers that we were able to get to know….moments of wittiness and intelligible conversations would happen, who knew!!! Tyler and I have one another- which makes me more grateful than words can say- but one thing we have learned about here is that both of us thrive on having all sorts of relationships with other people. In a lot of ways, it brings a certain richness into our own relationship.

Other situations where I would experience brief moments of comfort and solace were when I was teaching and working out in my women’s class. Working out with the women requires little to no verbal language- we are all there as a unified group with the goal of becoming healthy and coming out of the class without too much pain! In the almost 6 months that I have been going to the class, I have had only 2-3 actual conversations with my fellow ladies but I feel an intense bond with them, nonetheless.

Teaching gives me moments where I can attempt to be funny or even have a tiny bit of control over something. Most of this journey has been about relinquishing any control and being positive in moments of complete hopelessness. It starts with living with a host family and then trying to find work in your final site, sometimes one might know what is happening but most of the time it is “inshallah” ( if God wills it).

In remembering myself in these special moments has taught me that even with all of this change, I am who I am…..and even in absence of the ability to effectively communicate, some aspects do not change:

-I like to be in control.
-I, like most people, can pretty particular about things
-Most of the time, I like to be right (I mean, who doesn’t?)
– I have little to no patience with a lot of situations
– I feel like I have an insatiable thirst for any kind of knowledge ( this includes to Tyler’s disdain, gossip)
– Being physically active is a must not a want
– I enjoy laughing and jokes more than any other activity

The latter can be especially difficult because humor is so different here. But in many of my favorite moments here have been joining in with the laughter, it becomes a special moment that makes me feel truly apart of something. In my journey over the past year of feeling lost, out of control, thinking that I am falling in love with Morocco- to only realize that it might only have been lust, to learning how to find and keep ” my happy thoughts” – I realize that this is just the growth process. That this dissonance that I am feeling will only continue to be more difficult if I continue to resist and blame those around me for any discontent. The clearest version of myself came this morning when I remembered this quote:

“our lives are not determined by what happens to us, but how we react to what happens, not by what life brings us but by what attitude we bring to life.”

As I continue to search, I will keep this in mind and hopefully I will catch more than a fleeting glimpse of Amber.


COMING SOON: comunicación sayib près de ntuma!

Imagine your typical day…

You wake up, maybe you drink coffee and sit down for some breakfast…. you might pull out your newspaper or check your email. You get ready for the day and then you walk/drive to work. Throughout the day, you communicate with your co-workers about issues at work, chat with your friends about when your next get together might be, and talk to your family about what might be for dinner or what is coming up next in your lives. You go home, spend time with your family or friends, maybe watch the news and finally you head to bed. Before you go to bed though, think about all of the time that you spend communicating throughout the day. How easy is it to transfer ideas and thoughts to the person/people you were talking to. If you are American, did every person you spoke to speak fluent English- family, friends, and co-workers? Did you read a newspaper in English? Was your nightly television show or newscast in English? Unless you are among the 20% of Americans that speak a different language at home, then the answer to all of these questions would be yes (United States Census, 2010). But think as hard as you can about how it might be IF* it all weren’t in English… what if some of your communication took place in English and some in Spanish? What about English, Spanish and French? What if… you knew two sets of alphabets? Like the Chinese alphabet or Greek alphabet along with our standard Latin alphabet?! What if all of these were incorporated into your daily lives?

I bet you are now wondering, after all of that imagining, what the title of this blog post means… well, figuratively it means “WELCOME TO A DAY IN LARACHE, MOROCCO!”. Meaning that at any given time throughout the day people can be speaking French, English, Spanish and Arabic (both standard Arabic and Moroccan Arabic). And the multi-lingual experience does not end with speaking… when walking around Morocco, you can see street signs written in French and standard Arabic! CRAZINESS! BUT* if you must know… literally, the title means: Coming soon: difficult communication near you (a word in each of those languages)!

Obviously with five languages floating around all of the time, there can be some confusion, especially for someone who speaks only a little Spanish and NONE* of the other languages. But this confusion is a necessary evil- and has forced me to think about communication and language in a much different way. First it now SHOCKS me that in the United States EVERYTHING* is in English! Absolutely everything… yes, there has been an increasing presence of Spanish, but even with a slight emergence, EVERYTHING is still in English!  My host sister in Ifrane did not believe me when I told her this- she said it could not be possible. I know that I have written a post like this one previously, but that is because the notion of language here in Morocco and its crucial role in everyday life has had a profound impact on me.

The ability to communicate with others in any country depends on knowledge of a local language. Language creates bridges to meaningful relationships, and specifically here, relationships are the foundations for which Tyler and I can begin our work. In Morocco, it is not only difficult to communicate because of the plethora of languages but that, Darija (Moroccan Arabic) has a feeling of exclusivity because it is only a spoken language. There are some resources for learning Darija, but these are few and far between and sometimes inaccurate.  You would never be able to find a Rosetta Stone and would be hard-pressed to find a Darija class outside of Peace Corps training. Also* as mentioned before all signs are written in standard Arabic, so even though I am working on reading Arabic letters- nine times out of ten, I won’t know the meaning of the word that I am trying to read. This brings me to my next point, illiteracy. An idea first proposed by a fellow traveler studying in Turkey, you can see her post here. Never in my life would I have thought of myself as illiterate, I have had almost 20 years of schooling AND my idea of a fabulous rainy day is cozying up with a good book! But in reference to Arabic, I am in fact, illiterate, according to the dictionary.com definition, “unable to read and write”. This idea was reinforced today when our mudir (director) invited me to join a Moroccan women’s literacy group. I was, obviously, nervous before going– my knowledge of Arabic letters is on the slim-to-none side and it did not hit until halfway through that these women are (or were a couple of months ago) illiterate. This is by far one of the most emotional experiences I have had in Morocco- yes, I have cried plenty, been frustrated, excited etc. etc. But* to sit with grown women and listen to them sound out words, answer questions from a worksheet page, and  then to exchange a mutual confused look with my neighbor when we were supposed to be following along and have her say to me “Htta ana, walu” (me too, nothing) was an overwhelming emotional experience. My neighbor also chuckled at me when I asked our teacher how to spell my name, but then nudged me and proudly showed me her “cheat sheet” which had her name written on it.  Of course, they also laughed at my transliteration of the words into English, called me mesquina (poor thing) and talked about me (because they don’t think I can understand) but I felt bonded with them on an entirely new level. They were not the sixty-something percent of Moroccan women who are illiterate, but rather, strong and determined individuals who are intent on building new relationships and a better life for themselves.

As I think more about language, obviously I examine the prevalence of English. As one of the top languages in the world, I feel as though native English speakers sometimes expect English to be spoken even* when we travel to other countries. Admittedly, as an adventurous 22 year-old, I arrived in Spain with the expectation that all of my problems were magically going to be solved by all of the wonderful English speakers. That dream was harshly interrupted by several people looking at me as if I had two heads when I spoke English to them. In Morocco, it has also been considerably difficult to find someone who speaks English. And as Tyler and I have learned this past summer with aggressive guides (seeking financial benefits) in our city, if someone does know English well, why do they know it so well? It is not only pompous to assume that other people will speak English, but where does that idea come from? Is it only an idea that Americans have because we are insulated from the world of varying languages?

I emphasize this point on the expectation of speaking English, because as a white person attempting to speak Arabic (I stress attempting) there are often looks of surprise and disbelief as well as the attempt to keep communication in French. Often, these looks of disbelief continue when I adamantly say that I don’t speak French. In the seven months that I have lived here, I have yet to meet a Moroccan that has the expectation that I should be speaking Arabic. If anything, it is more of a problem that I don’t speak French. Even the delegue ,(who is our boss’s boss), told me that it is a waste of time to learn Moroccan Arabic and that I should focus on standard Arabic. I realize that for my future endeavors, learning both would be highly beneficial, but this idea leaves me dumbfounded. I would never encourage someone to not speak my language! In fact, being an English teacher I am doing my darnedest to HELP people speak my language!

So* despite the fact that I am, by definition, illiterate, it has been an interesting ride these past seven months. Our mudir and I often communicate with some Spanish and some Darija, which gets us by and probably sounds crazy to an outsider. And even though this way of communicating is a little abnormal, we are slowly developing a relationship and it is WORKING*! He is really starting to understand what we want to do here and how we want to help!  Tyler and I can now get around to places we need to and find the things that we need with our language skills and I am hoping to get to know the group of women through the bond of “illiteracy”. With the four languages (and a dialect) floating around us, the most useful phrase is still “shwiya b shwiya (little by little).