They call me Chris-chi-bal in Morocco. I’ve been living here for two weeks. First in a bubble with a hundred Americans, becoming familiar with the logistics of capital D Diarrhea and meeting people who understand me for the first time in a long time. Now in another bubble, in an apple town, with an apple family, drinking apple juice. Just kidding. No juice yet.
I live with my host mom. She’s unmarried and lives in her childhood home. Still not sure who else lives here. It changes by the day. But I think her parents, along with two of her brothers and their families do. They gave me the most beautiful bedroom I’ve ever lived in. That’s not a hyperbole.
The other day I was offered a much needed shower. I usually hate showering so I’m down for the Moroccan custom of showering less. My host mom scrubbed my back with the roughest care. I had a fat smile, while thinking if she keeps going I might start bleeding. To her, to her family, I’m one of them, in a matter of days. They have every reason to believe I don’t belong in their family. I have every reason to believe the same. But reality is disintegrating those expectations.
The food here is fire. They won’t let me stop eating though. I could have worse problems. They always put the plates in front of me, constantly hand me the “good pieces,” and think it’s a conspiracy when I say I’m full. We all drink from the same cup and eat from the same plates with our hands. Usually not about the messiness, but I feel so in tune with my food that way, and with my company. It’s hard to explain the connection it establishes. I just feel human when we do it. It feels basic in the most profound way. Like we trust enough to let each person nourish him or herself without laying claim.
So all day, every day I have language and culture class with four other Peace Corps Trainees and our Language and Culture Facilitator, Salah. Salah is from a town where Peace Corps is active, and he has worked for years as a counterpart to the volunteers in that community. For three months, he came to train us for service. He’s so talented and impressive, and we’re lucky to have him as a resource. I’m learning Darija, or Moroccan Arabic, which is so different than any of the languages I speak. It’s such a unique challenge for me with countless rewards, considering what I’m here to accomplish (more on that later). I’ve never visited a country where I couldn’t communicate and that was a startling revelation when I went to a grocery store during my first week here. I’m a baby in an adult’s body here. I can’t really do anything on my own. It’s humbling.
I am happier than I’ve been in a long time right now. I feel like who I want to be. I always knew I would finish college, which is one of my proudest accomplishments (shout out everyone who helped make that happen). I never felt strongly about anything other than education growing up. And as much as I did it for myself, I did it for my family who never got that chance. I wanted to accomplish what they couldn’t, for us. This choice was also inspired by them. They couldn’t accomplish what I know they were capable of because at home, they had no opportunities. Abroad, they were immigrants. And, by the way, immigration is fire- if you want it, not if you need it. In my opinion, the sacrifice that accompanies immigration often goes unrecognized. I chose to live in another country, which I totally recommend if it’s something you want to do. But many immigrants don’t choose, they’re forced to leave their homes and families to succeed or else stay stuck, repeat the cycle. If i can provide resources and support for someone to create options, I’m down.
I feel powerful in choosing to leave the US after everything my grandma and mother gave up to live there. I feel proud to be sharing the privilege of education. I feel vulnerable in a foreign country. Secure with my new family. Supported by the Peace Corps. Patriotic as a representative of my country abroad. Loved from back home. Strengthened by my options and the right to choose. Time to share the strength.