In a few days, I’ll be leaving the many comforts of home and stretching my travels a bit father than my usual 677 miles east or west down I-70. I’ll be headed to Morocco, where I’ll be living in Rabat for three weeks. I’ll be spending my time volunteering at the Feminin Pluriel, a women’s center that uses social, cultural and educational activities as a means to help empower women. That being said, I really have no idea what I will be doing. The language barrier is a bit daunting to me right now, given that I don’t speak Arabic, and they don’t speak English. Several months ago, I did go through the motions of thinking I’ll learn some basic phrases in Arabic… I bought the book, turned some pages, got discouraged. Then of course, there’s the whole Arabic characters situation, which although quite lovely on the page, it’s all very unfamiliar and overwhelming. I will never complain about the subjunctive tense in Spanish again. The book tells me that with a vocabulary of only a few hundred words, I will be able to “survive in an Arabic speaking country and even communicate some thoughts.” I’m still working on “good morning” (sabaahal kyayr) but am not sure how far the one phrase will get me. Especially once the sun goes down. I think I’ll bring my knitting. That’s one thing I can teach without words. And photos. Pictures tell stories without words.
|I’m going to call that “how to communicate without fuss or fear… instantly!” false advertising…
This will be my second volunteer trip with Cross Cultural Solutions organization (my first being to Perú) and my first time to Africa, which is feeling very far away to me right now…. 4,681 miles to be exact. While preparing for this (ie packing, unpacking, rethinking then repacking etc.) I find myself teetering between feelings of excitement and anticipation laced with a bit of what the hell am I doing? I’ve been down this emotional path before while anticipating the pathways to new adventures, and whether it’s on a mountain trail by myself, or getting ready to travel to a foreign country for three weeks by myself, where I don’t speak the language and know little about the culture, I think a bit of fear and trepidation is good. I believe it helps keep me safe.
People will ask me when I return home, what did I do? Did I help build houses or schools or develop programs that will live on long past my stay? And I’ll answer just as I did when I returned from Perú. None of those things. But what I did do was…
I listened. I held hands. I accepted gracious invitations into homes that were dirt floored hovels and was invited to sit on couches that scared me because of the rodents that I’m sure were sharing the cushions with me. I danced to Peruvian music that I never could find the beat to and painted the thickened and dirty nails of grateful abuelas with old sticky nail polish while I held their hand in mine and recognized the thread of vanity that connected us both. I listened to countless stories of abuse, fear and pain told to me by some of the strongest women I’ve ever met. I laughed with them. I cried with them. I held their hand and accepted their affection. I immersed myself into a culture that I thought I knew about before going, but really had no idea.
But what did you DO???
What I did was learn that the world is far bigger than the country where I comfortably reside and that there is so much to be learned from the handful of third world countries I’ve spent time in. First off, how much we take for granted. Clean water comes to mind. I saw a lot of sickness that was a result of drinking the local water without adding bleach to it first. Seriously. Bleach. While we run our water through filters that we’re told will take out the impurities, these people were adding drops of the same substance we use sparingly to whiten our whites. Fortunately, I had the luxury of bottled water at my disposal, unlike so many in the community where I lived. One of the first things my daughter, Emery, said to me during our initial stay in Perú, was how little the people we were volunteering with had, yet how happy they were and maybe, just maybe, they had a much better understanding of what makes a person happy than we did. What a beautiful realization about life for an 18 year-old to recognize. To see such joy on the faces of people who live their lives in a constant struggle to simply survive, was a tremendous lesson to us both on living in the moment and finding gratitude in the simplest of things.
I have no idea what to expect during my stay in Rabat, but am guessing many of the experiences will mirror those from Perú, which is what has attracted me to volunteer again with this organization.
Years ago, during my second attempt with college, I decided to major in anthropology after sitting through the first lecture of a cultural anthropology class. Before signing up for the class, I’ve got to admit that I wasn’t even sure what the study of anthropology even was. After making a definitive declaration that my major was going to be cultural anthropology with a minor in Spanish, I was asked countless times what I planned on doing with such a degree. Teach Spanish, perhaps? I really had no idea. Almost 30 years later, it’s all starting to make sense.
I look forward to writing my blog posts from Rabat, as much as both time and internet connection will allow. So, for now…. as-salaamu alaykum – the most common Arabic greeting and one that thankfully gets shortened to “salaam”, which means peace be upon you.