The American Dream

“Life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement” regardless of social class or circumstances of birth.”

-James Truslow Adams’s definition of the American Dream

For the past month and a half, I have been working at an internship with an NGO that helps African immigrants in Chicago.  Refugees and asylum seekers are given help with attaining legal status, improving their level of English, understanding the American social service system, and with the task of restarting their lives, safe from whatever may have threatened them in their countries of origin.  Many are given the chance to live what is considered the American Dream; to start with nothing but a green card, and then to work their way toward financial stability and a comfortable home for themselves, their families, and their children.  As I mentioned in my last post, the process of feeling at home in a new place takes a long time, and it certainly must take longer for those who had no choice but to leave home.  After dreaming for years of a better life in America, the life here for immigrants is not all spacious green lawns, smiling kids, and sleek cars.  Usually, it involves living in small apartments, making frequent trips on public transportation to wait in lines for social services, and to struggle to find city schools that offer quality education.
One of my projects at work has been to research where in Chicago the majority of African immigrants live.  The North side is often thought of as the immigrant neighborhood, and has many African, Arab, and South Asian restaurants that are well-known throughout the city.  However, I found that only a fraction of Africans live in this area.  The majority actually live much further south, in the African-American neighborhoods that are rarely (if ever) seen by tourists and even by most Chicago residents.  These neighborhoods are known for their empty lots, lack of fresh food, gangs, and high crime rates.  Africans are supposedly the most educated immigrant group in the U.S., yet in Chicago, they often live in neighborhoods where they fit in based on skin color, but not at all by education level or by culture.
Living on the South side of Chicago is probably better than living somewhere where one could be killed just for his or her religious or political beliefs.  But is really the American Dream?   Can life really be richer and fuller for immigrants who become implicated in the worst of America’s social problems?

The Land of Opportunities

When I was about to land in Chicago, the TV screens on the airplane showed a video welcoming passengers to the U.S.  It showed green lawns, kids chasing golden retrievers, and people of every skin color.  Despite having lived the majority of my life in America and already knowing exactly what it looks like, the video made me pretty excited about arriving in the land of opportunity.

The photos in this post are of bread I've made.  This is yogurt bread and date-sesame bread.

The photos in this post are of bread I’ve made. This is yogurt bread and date-sesame bread.

America isn’t really as perfect as it looks on that video, although that’s not much of a surprise.  However, after being away for a year, there are several things that have surprised me.  First would be the no guns allowed sign all over Chicago (thanks to the conceal and carry law being passed), which is on a lot of public buildings; it’s odd to think that people need to be told that weapons do not belong in public buildings.  Not that I wanted to take a gun into the library, anyway.  Men wearing their pants so low that their butts hang out is not new, but it is still kind of surprising to see after not seeing it for so long (maybe some of them could use a djellaba).  Occasionally getting catcalls when I’m walking to my internship on the South Side is also not new, but is pretty disappointing – I thought I was going to have a break from that!  It is much easier to go for runs or walks here without worrying about what I’m wearing, but it’s not as different from Morocco as I was imagining it to be all of last year.

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Oatmeal bread

Another surprise came to me at Walmart.  I made my first ever trip to the all-American store last weekend, and only now do I really understand the purpose of giving up sugar.  Walmart is full of packaged foods, nearly all of which have sugar or High Fructose Corn Syrup.  It’s in cereals, peanut butter, bread, yogurt, and pre-prepared meals.  Someone shopping only at Walmart would truly be challenged to totally give up sugar.  And what’s more, the food doesn’t taste the same here, even if bought at fancier stores than Walmart.  The carrots aren’t as sweet, the eggs aren’t as rich, the olive oil doesn’t taste like olives, and the Philadelphia cream cheese has ten ingredients instead of the four in Morocco’s (or Spain’s) version of the exact same brand.  These were difficult discoveries for me when I arrived; I love cooking and baking so much, so I want the ingredients to taste good!

Challah (egg bread)

Challah (egg bread)

I know from working with refugees that new immigrants (and even those who have been abroad for quite a while) have trouble adjusting, unfavorably comparing everything to equivalents in their home country.  It takes a long time to get used to little differences and to both appreciate what is better in the new country and to stop comparing it to the old.  It’s oddly not that much easier when the new country is also where you are from.  I guess I’ve got six more weeks to work on it.  Well, at least my bread loaves are pretty!

This isn't bread!  It's South African Bobotie, a dish made with lentils (or meat), bread crumbs, and egg/milk/banana topping.

This isn’t bread! It’s South African Bobotie, a dish made with lentils (or meat), bread crumbs, and egg/milk/banana topping.

Sister Vacation in London

Although it was hard to leave Morocco, even just for two months, my summer started with the best kind of vacation.  I spent a week in London with my favorite sister (don’t worry, she’s also my only sister).  The week started with a couple rainy days, but once it cleared up we were able to fully enjoy London’s beautiful parks, canal, and numerous free and clean public bathrooms, which most certainly could not be found in Casablanca.

Our toes enjoy the fresh air too.

Our toes enjoy the fresh air too.

There is such a great difference between where life is conducted between London and Casa; in London, one could spend the entire day out of the home, and be able to find easy meals, bathrooms, water fountains, and entertainment.  If you do decide to return home for a meal, you could buy your vegetables pre-chopped so that you wouldn’t spend much time in the kitchen.  In Casablanca, it would be hard to find such accommodations, especially for a female.  Spending time in the home is probably more common, and homes are perhaps more spacious.

Best sisters in the V&A Museum park

Best sisters in the V&A Museum park

My sister and I made good use of the parks, often walking for hours.  We concurrently made good use of the water fountains, public bathrooms, and several coffee shops.  We ate some wonderful Thai food, enjoyed some museums, and went for daily morning runs by the canal.  And of course we took lots and lots of pictures of ourselves, mostly in matching outfits, in celebration of being best sisters.

We are able to match in any length of skirt.

We are able to match in any length of skirt.

Weekend in El Jadida

This weekend was my last weekend in Morocco before I leave for the summer.  To fully enjoy the Moroccan sun, my boyfriend and I went to the coastal city of El Jadida.  Only about an hour from Casablanca by train, El Jadida is an easy escape from the big city.  We arrived on Friday night, and set out first thing on Saturday to explore the city and check out our beach options.

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No motorcycles here!

The major site of El Jadida is the Cité Portugaise.  There are walls built around the tiny city, and some old canons warding off pirates.

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Don’t worry; they don’t work.

My boyfriend proved that he is really to attack those pirates, should they come.  I’m ready to flip my hair at them.

IMG_4421 copyIMG_4423 copyOn Saturday afternoon, we made our way to the beach.  It was pretty busy, but the water was perfect.

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Perhaps London would be this colorful if it could borrow El Jadida’s sunshine.

The highlight of the weekend came as a surprise.  Back in November, the circus had been in Casablanca, and I had really wanted to go.  My students had obviously all seen it in the fall, because for a couple of months all they wanted to do in class was “faire un spectacle.”  My friends saw it and discussed their favorite acts, and I could only imagine the things they described.  And then when we showed up in El Jadida, one of the first things we saw was the big red circus tent.  J’ai de la bonne chance!

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Next weekend I’ll be in London with my very best sister.  We plan on taking lots of photos, rain or shine.

The Confused Expat

A friend of mine recently wrote a blog post on liminality, or the state of one’s identity being suspended due to a certain situation, such as during war or when one gets married. When someone’s surrounding so drastically change, it becomes unclear what is truly part of that person’s identity and what just based on the situation becomes unclear. When I read this, it reminded me of some of the changes that occur when one moves to another country, or even after moving back home again. Expats frequently go through that liminal state.

This is still me, just upside down.

This is still me, just upside down.

When I first arrived in Morocco, I went to an orientation meeting where we discussed how our identities will stay the same or change in a new environment, and how we can accept that in order to adapt to life in Casablanca. I remember telling my partner during group time that part of the reason why I like living abroad is that it helps me think more carefully about who I actually am. Now that I’m at the end of a full year in Casa, I definitely have thought a lot about my identity, but I’m not entirely sure that it’s become clearer!

Using chopsticks for the first time might make you think that you don't really know how to eat, after a lifetime of thinking that you do.

Using chopsticks for the first time might make you think that you don’t really know how to eat, after a lifetime of thinking that you do.

There are some things about a person that will always be true. For me, I know that I am quiet, that I like to read and to run, and that I prefer having one very close friend to having many friends.

Some things, though, change just slightly depending on my situation. In the U.S., I went to a top university, I didn’t wear extremely revealing clothing, and I spoke English with every one of my friends. In Morocco, no one has heard of my university, the knee-length skirts that I consider to be modest draw a lot of looks, and I speak another language on a daily basis.

And then there are the details that totally change when you enter a new situation. I was once a vegetarian, but now eat meat nearly every day. I never studied education or worked with children, and now am a teacher. I once had never been out of my country, and now live outside of it.

I like hiking anywhere in the world.

I like hiking anywhere in the world.

As time goes on, identity starts to take on aspects that depend on your environment. Who I’ve become this year is slightly different than who I was when I left, but at the base I am still the same person. My coworkers and I will be returning to the U.S. for the summer in the coming days and weeks, and we’re bound to feel that loss of identity all over again when we realize that we may no longer quite fit into what we consider to be our homes. But no matter what, I’m going to take a good book with me and go for a lot of runs.

The End!

It has now been six weeks of no sugar, meaning that our experiment is over.  I broke my sugar fast with a coffee macaroon, one of my very favorite sweets.  I only ate about half of it (I was surrounded by a hungry flock of three-year-olds), but what I did eat, although delicious, tasted a little too sweet.  That didn’t surprise me, as I’ve gotten so used to eating unsweetened foods.  What did surprise me though was that I got a headache afterward that lasted the whole afternoon.  It’s possible that I got the headache for another reason, although I didn’t do anything else unusual.  So perhaps I’ll be continuing to skip the sugar, whether I like it or not!