Thursday, November 20, 2008

I swear.

“I don’t run away from a challenge because I am afraid. Instead, I run toward it because the only way to escape fear is to trample it beneath your feet.”

– Nadia Comaneci

As of this afternoon, I’m now longer a lowly trainee but a bona fide Peace Corps volunteer. A two-hour bus ride to a zwin hotel in Fes, a half-hour ceremony, an hour or so of hors d’ouevres and small talk, and a two-hour bus ride back to the dorms. Safi. Tomorrow we hit the road by bus or train or taxi or some combination thereof, going our separate ways to our new homes.

Like any ending, this one doesn’t feel quite real yet. And like any ending, it is in fact a beginning.

Our final days of training ended rather anticlimactically as well. As if reliving my college days, I procrastinated studying for the final language exam, tried to cram at the last minute, got frustrated and felt sure I would fail. Instead, I managed to score Intermediate Low; only needed Novice High to “pass.” (Failure to “pass” only means scoring more money for private tutoring; I half thought to bomb it on purpose, but my overachieving nature got the better of me.)

A new year.

Far from home, I was wondering whether my birthday would pass unnoticed.

I needn’t have worried; friends near and far made this truly a special day.

Jill sent an entire kit of handcrafted goods, from a new market bag to an iPod cozy to an entire collection of adorable notepads to this rockin' headband:

Melissa and Naomi chipped in the hippest pair of over-the-knee cable-knit socks this side of the Atlantic, as well as some Jhumpa Lahari.

The divine Miz K begifted me an iTunes download of the new Lila Downs CD (awesome, btw!) And my family showered me with phone calls and blessed cash and handmade cards and letters from the little ones.

Here at the training site, I got an amazing dinner when my friends Trish, Christa, Kristen, Eric and So-Yoon hijacked the cafeteria kitchen and produced eggplant parmesan and a yummy lemon cake.

Trish also added to my bandana collection with a specimen from her previous life in China

… and Candace gave me a lovely beaded frame with a photo of us together in Marrakesh.

I’ve known these people only a few months, and some are already family in my heart. And of course my family at home, by birth or by choice: I miss you more than I can say.

The only birthday disappointment: I was expecting parades in the street. Nov. 18 is also Morocco’s Independence Day, a holiday that passed practically unnoticed here.

A year ago, on the big 4-0, I was traipsing around Mount Lemmon outside Tucson with my dear friend Krista. I’d just received my Peace Corps nomination and was navigating the long road to medical clearance. I remember I felt quite serene, sure that I had chosen the right path.

Now I’m not sure of anything. I’m about to move to a town where I can’t speak the language, where I have to teach my own language with no background in teaching, in a place where the simplest tasks can take all day and the infrastructure to which I’m accustomed is a rare and distant luxury. (Read: Squat toilets and bucket baths!)

I have no idea what I’m doing.

And yet … I continue to feel this odd sense of calm, even when the culture shock is at its most trying. I know I am becoming stronger and more patient. I have an amazing opportunity to experience a sliver of the world as the vast majority live it – and, perhaps, to pare life down to its essentials. Despite many trepidations, I look forward to seeing what comes out of all this.

Hokey, perhaps, but here’s an image from a session on stress management: A tree that is battered with continuous wind from a single direction will actually grow more cells on the side facing the wind, in order to strengthen itself against the blows. And it’s the roots, widening below the surface, that keep it standing in the fact of the constant barrage.

What you can do.

I’ve had the luxury, these past few months, of being surrounded by others who speak my native language and understand my culture and lifestyle and expectations. I’ve made some wonderful friends during training, some of whom will live nearby and others who I am sad to be so far away from.

But I know, especially in these first few months, being the only foreigner in my town will lead to the occasional bout of loneliness. Inshallah I will keep myself too busy to get homesick, but there will be times when I will be even more eager for connections with y’all at home.

You’ve no idea how much even a short note or phone call can boost one’s spirits during those times. I guess what I’m saying is: Keep in touch, eh?

PS to Jenny’s dad: How kind of you to keep the dar chebab on your radar! Your daughter set such a strong foundation here. The village adores her and will miss her greatly; I have a lot to live up to.

More photos.

Artisan weaver.

Limun (orange) seller.

The man who made it all possible: Lahcen, our intrepid language instructor.

Entering Fes.

Staged photo.


Krista said...

Yea!! I'm so happy for you. Thanks for all the photos! It's so great to see your great smile! Can't wait for the next post. Love you!

Anna Jo said...

Happy Birthday Baby! You look lovely. Missing you here in chilly Nebraska.

jill said...

happy late (and early!) birthday. so glad you counted my package to you as a bithday gift. sorry it got there so early!

best of luck to you in your new site. i know they'll love you as much as i do!!