It’s funny how the world doesn’t stop when you’re not attending to it. Coming home doesn’t mean coming back. Instead it means learning what has changed. How you have changed. In coming home you learn what old hang-ups are gone, and how many new habits you have developed that will take a lot of effort to erase… if you even want to.
When last I wrote to you, I said that I would be home in time for mother’s day. Indeed I was. My first day in the U.S. was spent with all the matriarchs of my family gathered together at a restaurant near my grandmother’s home. This was where I noticed the first difference: for the first time in four months I was wearing something that wasn’t floor length with sleeves at least half-way down my upper arms. I felt rather exposed and yet my outfit fit in with everyone else’s at the restaurant. I also found it much more difficult to sit still! I’d gotten so used to going places and keeping occupied after that frenzied month of ISP that the abrupt cessation of work left me frazzled.
The next step after coming home and reintegrating with my family was to go out into public. I feel sorry for the poor cable salesman at the grocery store who tried to catch my attention as I passed by. Instead of a nice typical return greeting and a polite no thanks, not today… he received a death glare. Apparently the inordinate amount of catcalling that occurred in Morocco left a much larger impression on me than I thought. Fortunately, by the time my birthday came around I was once again able to interact with men I met in public in a more civil manner!
Despite these interactions and readjustments however, I don’t believe it really struck me that I was home until I was leaving Colorado for Boston. When I stepped on the plane into my family’s arms, they were matter-a-fact about my arrival. I hadn’t been there earlier and now I was. Yes, they had missed me but they always miss me when I’m away. They asked about my semester but there was very little more emphasis placed on it than on any other semester. The local was more exotic but in the end they wanted to know about my classes and the people I met… which is also what they ask about when I return to Colorado each semester from Boston.
It was as I was flying domestically retracing a route that I’ve taken numerous times over the span of the past three years that I had my ah-hah moment as I spoke to the girl sitting next to me on the plane. She was on her way to Providence to attend a wedding of some friends and asked where I was headed. I mentioned visiting my college and she asked why so I told her that I was returning to wrap up my Junior year after being abroad for a semester. After learning that I had been to Morocco, she revealed that she had done a similar home-stay experience for her church as a missionary… to Boston. She had worked with the Spanish-speaking community which was according to her like another culture. She then told me that someday she would like to go to a foreign country. Hearing this I was reminded of a couple different things.
First, I was reminded of just how diverse America is. I remembered how shocked I was the first time I moved from my home where the nearest neighbor is a quarter mile away to Boston where not only do you have neighbors next to you, but they’re on top of you and beneath you as well. I remembered my first breakdown as everything was happening at warped speed around me and I didn’t think I could ever catch up.
The other thing I was reminded of however is just how special my opportunity to study abroad was. I’ve met so many students abroad and spoken with many others that have been abroad in the past that I forgot that in this I am in the minority. It was only through my study abroad program that I saw how a community abroad differs from the community at home. I formed much closer bonds much faster than I would have in the U.S. with my fellow students and found myself talking about issues that I only ever discuss with people I have known and been close to for my whole life. In Amsterdam when we met the Moroccan community, there was also a vast difference in how they performed their Moroccan identity. One difference that was very obvious was Friday afternoon. While in Morocco everything shut down on Friday afternoons as it is a religious day and the family gathers together for prayer and couscous from about noon until four or five in the afternoon. However, in Amsterdam the souk in the neighborhood I visited that was comprised of mostly Moroccan immigrants remained open on Friday. The Moroccan people I spoke to in Amsterdam were also far more vocal in wanting a democratic government in Morocco.
But onto a less reflective note! I promised you all pictures of the presents I brought back to me and here they are!
First for my grandmother: a Moroccan style teapot that serves eight people with a matching set of six teacups. The next two presents are hand painted teacups from Fez.I also got the hand-painted ceramic bowl with a lid from Fez. For my younger sister I got the beautiful little lucky knife (really more of a letter opener than a knife!) with a hilt wrapped in Camel leather. And finally, the last picture is a Hammam kit. The green powder is actually henna. Then there’s the traditional black olive soap in a cloth bag, and a bit of rhassoul… Moroccan lava clay that’s used in masks, as soap, and as a shampoo! The final piece is the rough scrubbing exfoliating mitt. I made several of these for family (personalized for what I thought they would enjoy the most) and friends… I also brought home caftans for my mom and older sister! My dad and grandfather (being difficult to buy for) got some candied almonds in caramel.
This has been an interesting ride. For the most part fun and amusing but also stressful at times. I learned much that I didn’t know and realized that I don’t know some of what I thought I did. I hope that I will always remember the lessons as I include them in my life and that as I share them in my stories, the people I share them with will take flight with me. There really is no comparison to real life. No TV documentary or novel can compete with hearing the sounds of a foreign language in your ear while feasting your eyes upon a wall older than an entire country. Someday perhaps I might go back… but for now? I must go forwards.