Today marks one year since swearing in as a Peace Corps Volunteer. A year ago from today I was so nervous for a two-year commitment, scared to leave my Peace Corps friends and go to a community alone where I knew nobody. I knew the name of my town and found a couple of inaccurate Google images, but I had no idea what I was getting into. I remember that day so clearly. The swearing in ceremony was exciting. I got to wear my first Moroccan gandora, a traditional long-sleeved dress shirt, and my incredible mom and sister woke up really early to watch the live stream. I got another text every time I made it into the shot. “I see you, sweetie!”
After the ceremony, I planned to enjoy my last night with my friends. Instead, I felt like you feel when you wake up from a nap but it’s dark out. I felt cloudy and nauseous. I didn’t know if I could do it. I would be isolated, overwhelmed, cold, unable to communicate. I didn’t want to say goodbye. Training felt like camp. With an intense class schedule. We had homestays, played silly games in class and with the youth, had our American friends to hangout with at the cafe and fool around with in class. Now was the real thing, what I’d signed up for.
I woke up early the next day tired and too busy dragging bags that weighed more than myself through the rain to feel anything other than physical exhaustion. I was actually looking forward to getting into the car at this point so I didn’t have to deal with my luggage anymore. The ride from Meknes was long. In Rich, the group split up into different taxis. I got into a taxi with two other new volunteers towards our sites. The beautiful desert mountains at dawn surrounding us filled me with presence and joy. If nothing else, I loved how it looked where I was going.
I got to my site as the sun was setting, no idea where I was going. The other two volunteers get into another taxi to their site. I called my host family and didn’t understand what they had said. Suddenly, a guy walks up and starts speaking in Spanish. He calls my host family and hangs up. He’s driving me to my host family’s house. Ok, sure, I don’t have another plan. He fulfills his promise.
I don’t remember the rest of this day. But this day turned into thirty. A month of ups and downs, waking up late, being judged by my host dad for not working or cooking or speaking Darija well, taking daily walks through the cold, dry afternoons to the hotel café, eating bomb home-cooked meals, sleeping under six layers of blankets, enjoying the fireplace, discovering my host mom’s hidden talent. These people became my family over this month. And this month turned into twelve.
The other day, I was reading The Book of Awakening, a book of daily readings. This day’s text emphasized moving forward until you can’t, and in humility, accepting your humanity, the peak may come to you. At the end, it prompts the reader to close their eyes and think of an aspect of humanity he or she is grateful for. I closed my eyes and felt at home, tears welling. I feel grateful that even in a place I’d never expected to be, where I can barely communicate, where I am apart from my loved ones and all the places I’ve ever called home, I can dig deep into my humanity. I can create a home, a comfort zone, with love. The person who toured this empty apartment is not the person who lives in this home full of love. I filled it with love for myself, for my community, for my beautiful tile, my failed and successful cooking attempts, the words of books read, and the time I spent here with my mother. The love for my gratitude journals, my solo dance parties, and the days I find mangoes at the market help too.