Sunday, January 17, 2010

Gone, but I'm back. Kind of.

Random photo, pre-vacation: Three capable, trustworthy Youth Development volunteers.

Vacation. ’Twas great. Several weeks back in the States, with nearly all of the people I love most in this world. Much play, much laughter, much good food ~ things I’ve been craving such as mushrooms, leafy greens, sushi, black beans. I went to movies and malls and (shh!) bars. I used washing machines. I played Wii. I was coddled all around.

And there was snow. Way too much snow. Lincoln got more than 24 inches in December; it just kept coming and coming. Blizzards thwarted several holiday plans, but it also made for cozier, quieter days at home with family and friends.

Peace Corps volunteers are constantly warned of the difficulty of readjusting to Western ways after a certain period “in country.” So many choices! So many opportunities! So few obstacles! Seems it’s a bit too much to take, at first, for some.

Well, I had no problems readjusting. In fact, I was a bit worried that returning to Morocco would be too much of a letdown after the culinary and cultural comforts of America. But, other than a litany of annoyances in my five-day odyssey trying to get back to my dusty village (an odyssey that included one flight canceled and two delayed, one majestic black eye, one threat from airport security, two sleepless nights in skanky hotels and four days without showering, but also the luxury of an overseas flight in business class and unexpected opportunities to reconnect with old friends), I found myself unexpectedly relieved to fall into the arms of my host sister and to feel .

The litany of annoyances hasn’t let up. I’ve returned to a village overwhelmed by rains, where, a week later, could-be swimming holes still punctuate what once were dirt roads. The improvised water/sewage system under my house has backed up once again. My dar chebab is closed yet again, this time thanks to rampant mold after all the flooding. The cost of replacing the lock on my front door (my host family, at my request, broke in while I was gone to sweep out the floodwaters) turns out to be a quarter of my monthly allowance. Said new lock broke, from the inside, the first time I used it, trapping me inside and leading to a brief bout of claustrophobia.

Most annoyingly, my Internet modem isn’t on speaking terms with my new laptop. So I feel unusually disconnected from the folks back home, particularly disconcerting after having just spent so much time in close proximity with that life.

Still, to no one’s surprise more than my own, I’m feeling fine. Maybe even a bit too prideful on how well I’ve learned to cope with everyday difficulties. Everywhere I turn, I feel truly welcomed back. I have plenty of projects to keep me busy, the dar chebab was full to overflowing Saturday, and students have been stopping me in the sodden streets, asking for English lessons. It was great to be home in America, but feels good to be home here, too.

No debate.
The other night, too tired to read, too sleepy to sleep, I popped in one from a stash of DVDs saved for such occasions, absolving myself of laziness with the idea that I was doing “research”—making sure it was an appropriate film to show my advanced English students.

The movie was “
The Great Debaters,” starring Denzel Washington as the adviser of a team of African-American college debaters in 1930s Texas, against the backdrop of Jim Crow laws, inexplicable racism making excuses for unfathomable violence. A celebration of hard work, fierce intelligence, determination, solidarity and perseverance. The idea that young people can make life better for themselves, for their society.

It was a moving, inspiring film. And it left me ticked off no end – because it’s yet another movie I cannot show at my dar chebab. A handful of scenes that couldn’t add up to even 30 seconds would mute its larger message. Two brief kisses, two briefer implications of sex, and it’s rendered impotent, so to speak, for my purposes.

American movies are easily viewed here, with several channels devoted to them. Action-adventure, idiotic comedies, slasher flicks are available day and night. Curse words are almost never bleeped from the English soundtrack, though the Arabic subtitles likely aren’t quite literal translations. Violence, as far as I can tell, is never censored. But if a couple even appear to move in for the chasest of kisses, the film suddenly leaps ahead to the next scene. Male-female relations simply don’t exist. (Of course that’s not true, but that’s the story and everyone sticks to it.)

I find it a struggle, here, to stay true to my own morals and values in a culture that has sometimes very different ideas about what is right and wrong. I sometimes find myself passing judgment on others based not on what I actually think, but on the messages this society conveys. A good lesson for anyone to learn, the ease with which we adapt to local norms.

Still, in this case, I don’t think it’s wrong to wish that the movie might’ve stuck to its larger message, in order that it might reach a larger audience. All my life I’ve fought censorship, but I find myself desperately wishing I could just snip out those fleeting moments and give my students the gift of this well-written film.

So, to that end …
I’m hoping my friends back home might be on the lookout for English-language movies with a positive message and with no hint of sexual overtones. Films are such a great way to let students hear dialogue and absorb a message without feeling as if they’re working.

“Wal-E” comes to mind. I haven’t seen “Freedom Writers” but wonder if it would fit the bill. I’m trying to remember whether “School of Rock” has any untoward romance ~ one of the English teachers at the high school here has mentioned it specifically, but I’m sure he’s seen the televised version. Anything else? Anyone want to contribute to the cause? Won’t someone please think of the children?

Quotes of the day.

“What is to give light must endure burning.” – Viktor Frankl

"We change, whether we like it or not." Emerson

1 comment:

william lauer said...

Your baseball cap looks really heavy.

In "School of Rock" doesn't Jack Black get the principal drunk and try to hit on her?