Saturday, January 1, 2011

What exactly happened there, anyway?

A few weeks ago I posted a link to a story in the local newspaper that quoted a snippet of something I'd written about my Peace Corps experience. I decided to offer up the entirity of what I'd originally written. Here it is: 

Having just completed my Peace Corps service this month, I’ve been spending a lot of time lately asking myself what I’ve done in Morocco over the past two years. Have I mastered the localized Arabic dialect? Not hardly. Have my students become fluent in English? No, though a few are on their way. Have I brought in new infrastructure or funding? Definitely not ~ anything I do here must be sustainable, built and supported by the local community rather than imposed on them by an outsider.

And yet my time here, in a dusty southern desert where I am often the first American my fellow villagers have met, feels full of accomplishment. The most important aspect of Peace Corps service, to me, isn’t the development work, but the relationships built. Friendships between individuals become relationships between nations become understandings across cultures.

Morocco is a Muslim country. Contrary to the image of Muslims you may see in the American media, I have not met a single terrorist. The people in my community have gone out of their way to welcome me and care for me. They are eager to hear about my life back in America, and are often surprised to learn that it’s not much like what they see on TV (via the American movies widely available thanks to satellite dishes). We’re not all wealthy jet-setters, in skintight microminis and towering teased hair. We have to work for a living, and sometimes our jobs are pretty boring and don’t pay enough. We value time spent with our families. Why, my friends here occasionally exclaim, we’re bhal bhal ~ we’re the same!

This has been my main mission, the second and third of Peace Corps’ three goals: To promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served, and to promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

Through my blog, I hope I have shared with my family and friends back home how we are all much more alike than we are different. My friends here work to give their children a better future. Families love to share big meals, to laugh loudly together, to coo over babies and sing along to popular music. They sometimes argue, and usually feel badly about it later. They watch too much television. They visit their place of worship. They fear change and welcome it, in often convoluted combinations. Any of this sound familiar?

Not one of my Moroccan neighbors has yelled at me in the street for being from another country, for having a strange accent or a different color skin or for not wearing clothes exactly like theirs. My difference is more often a cause for celebration, an excuse for a party, an invitation into strangers’ homes where I am fed more couscous and mint tea than I can comfortably keep down. They are eager to hear my stories of another world, and surprised to hear just how much we have in common. My hope is that I might now encourage my American friends to be as hospitable to the “strangers” in our midst as my adopted country has been to me.

Rebecca Roberts
Peace Corps Morocco 2008-2010

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