Thursday, November 27, 2008

A pilgrim’s lack of progress.

Unusually ominous clouds looming over my new town.

“Wesh nti wllfti?”

“Have you become used to it yet?”

That’s the question I face about a dozen times a day here in my new village.

Well, no – not quite yet. But then, it’s only been five days since the taxi plopped me down here in the dry desert heat of southern Morocco. As one shwiya bit of progress, at least I finally understand the question.

So far, I’m more than a little overwhelmed. With no translators to rely on, and no training mates to wind down with, every conversation is short and stilted and yet still beyond my ability to fully comprehend. A five-minute transaction can wear me out enough to sleep for 12 hours. I spend my days with brows furrowed, and surely my interlocutor can actually see the gears slowly grinding as a I try to piece together a sentence. Said sentence is always wrong, and said interlocutor considers it his/her personal mission to point out my error, repeatedly, until I say it correctly.

What dismays me most is how difficult it is to get past my own notions of what is and is not culturally appropriate. The notions of personal space or waiting one’s turn, of personal hygiene or public litter or household sanitation, of doing anything one one’s own (particularly if one is a woman), of walking unnoticed or uncommented on (if one is a gowria, or foreigner), of politeness (as a Westerner sees it) – all these notions and more are tilted some 180 degrees.

I knew all this, of course. But hearing about it isn’t the same as living it. How naïve I was, to think it wouldn’t bother me just because I chose to live this experience. Yet how disturbing to find that my own cultural norms are so deeply ingrained that adaptability is superceded by frustration, resentment – even anger. (It’s the seething anger that bothers me the most; I’m not sure where it comes from or why it continues to linger. I watch it, late at night as I ruminate over my day, and encourage it to pass on through.)

The point is not to show this culture the many errors of its ways, according to me. The mission is for me to adapt to what is here in front of me.

Believe me, I know how fortunate I’ve been in life. I’ve always had everything I ever needed and more – a variety of healthful and delicious foods, a clean and comfortable house, my own transportation, fulfilling work, spare time to spend doing things I enjoy, plenty of fresh air and beautiful outdoor space in which to inhale it, every toy or gadget or pretty little thing that diverts me for a moment.

Perhaps my biggest frustration is my overwhelming sense of guilt for being frustrated in the first place. Do my new counterparts ever get frustrated with the daily difficulties they’ve faced for generations? No; they wait patiently, chat contentedly over another pot of tea. Now is what matters, not what happened before or what might happen later.

I have much to learn.

Back home, today is Thanksgiving. Here, of course, it’s just another day. But I am taking a moment to be grateful for all that I have: Family and friends and family who care for me in every way possible; a lifetime of excellent health, buoyed by the ability to enjoy good nutrition and time to exercise; a free, well-rounded education that allowed me to pursue any career path I chose; the great good fortune to be able to pack up my life and do as I wish; all of the luxuries I have taken for granted; the independence I also apparently have taken for granted; and so much more.

And particularly grateful for the little brother, who despite being a year older tomorrow somehow still has yet to catch up to me.

Quotes of the day.

“If you don’t risk anything, you risk even more.” – Erica Jong

“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.” – Helen Keller


Jenny said...

I had a dream about you last night, Becki! I saw you in town riding your bicycle while wearing a neon yellow and orange workout outfit. And you had on a white turbin underneath the bicycle helmet!

I had those same anger issues as well during my first few months of service and I took most of it out on my sweet host mother (sister). I feel so bad about it now, but I know now I wasn't mad at her, just her culture.

I hope you're doing well down there! I'm counting down the days until I go home to America!

Krista said...

I read something a while back that might be of use. I don't have the exact quote in front of me at the moment, but it goes something like this: "We must embrace our pain and burn it as fuel for our journey."...I can't give proper attribution.

It was super great to hear your voice the other day. I look forward to next week when we chat again. Until then, lots of love heading your way!

Molly said...

Hi Becki- what a wonderful, honest posting. I don't have anything to relate to your experience - other than our joint trip to India where our schedules were decidedly NOT our own. Remember cramming 6 or so people into one of those little Euro cars and heading off to some destination unknown? And whenever we asked for an Internet cafe or phone spot, it was always "sure, sure" but then we never got there.

I remember thinking that I can let this drive me crazy and get totally pissed off - or I can just "be". Which is really a damned hard thing to do!

Give yourself a break - you are doing great! You are doing exactly what you should be doing at exactly the right time.

All the best,