The number one thing I feel homesick for when I’m in Casablanca is exercise. I miss how easily I could exercise in Chicago; there were two gyms right near my home, a beautiful running path, and just a mile away was the lakefront path, which I biked down many weekend afternoons on my way downtown. Here in Casa, the running is a little more challenging. Cars block the way, motorbikes speed by, the sidewalks have holes, and men in cafés stare. I only rarely see other runners, and I think I’ve only once seen a female running by herself…and she was clearly also a foreigner.
Dodging cars is good for increasing your heart rate.
Moroccan society certainly has more divisions between private and public life than American society does. It is perhaps a little strange for a woman to go out in exercise clothing and run in the streets. Unemployed men have the bad habit of staring, particularly at foreigners. And perhaps the idea that exercise is important and is not just something for unskilled laborers is new to Morocco, as the wealthiest of society live in such a way that they rarely have to interact with the outside world. However, I think it is generally accepted that exercise is a good thing for everyone.
There are deceptively few cars in this photo.
Tomorrow I plan to get up and go for a run in the morning. It will probably be hard to get myself to go out knowing that I will have to dodge cars and bumps in the pavement, and that all eyes will be on me as I pass each café. But I’m going to do it anyway, because I love the feeling I get from running, and the way that exercise allows me to think clearly and positively. I’m going to continue doing what I love even if it can be uncomfortable; but I really hope that it starts to catch on!
This past weekend, my boyfriend and I left the speeding cars and dusty air of Casablanca for a few days in sunny Tangier. Tangier lies right where the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea come together, and is known for its beautiful beaches. It was a little cold for swimming or sunbathing, but we still enjoyed walking around the city and enjoying how calm it is compared to Casa. I also really liked our walk in the evening, following a seafood feast near the ocean. There were lots of people walking around at night, and it felt very safe to be out. I also loved the view of the city we got from a rooftop; the combination of hills, ocean, occasional dark red walls, and colorful laundry hung out to dry made for a very stunning landscape.
Nobody has a dryer but everybody has cable TV.
It was nice to be reminded that not every city in Morocco has as much traffic as Casablanca, and I always find it refreshing to see mountains, hills, and the ocean. It was a much needed break!
In many cultures, it’s considered to be a sign of hospitality to encourage others to eat. The best way to make a guest feel at home is to bring them plates of food until they can no longer move, and then to exclaim, “but you haven’t eaten anything!” Or to ask someone who has eaten modest portions why they haven’t eat much and if they might be ill. I certainly enjoy situations like this on occasion, because it makes me feel like royalty; not to mention the fact that there are some truly phenomenal cooks in the world.
But if these situations of being encouraged to eat too much happen on a regular basis, it becomes a burden. It is difficult too eat enough to please your host without making yourself sick, or to praise the food profusely enough that you can get by without offending, or to come up with a convincing excuse, often a lie, as to why you can eat no more.
We’re having pastries for dinner tonight! (If only my mom had ever said that…)
Nutrition is certainly a confusing thing, and new studies still come out on a regular basis with new information on what we should or shouldn’t eat, how we should eat, or when we should eat. I have made it one of my goals to teach my students (and their parents) about proper nutrition, but I’ve realized that one of the major obstacles is that many people just don’t know what good nutrition is. I think this is the same issue with food as hospitality; it is unclear whether eating more is good or bad. In some situations, eating more might give you the necessary nutrients that you might not otherwise have gotten, and if you do not have enough to eat normally, it is helpful to be served too much every once in a while. But if you make a point of eating only healthful foods and in appropriate quantities, being to told eat more can be annoying or offensive.
Look at all of those fruits and vegetables! I’ll trade in my pastries for some of those clementines.
When I cook for myself, I like to make dishes like lentil soup with cauliflower instead of potatoes, or bread with yogurt instead of butter in order to make them a little healthier. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t enjoy some pastries every once in a while.
As a teacher of both kindergarteners and adults, I see both ends of the spectrum of students. Here in Morocco, both ages of students tend to be quite talkative, since speaking a lot is acceptable in Moroccan culture. For my different classes, the effect of this cultural practice is totally different because I tend to want the adult language students to talk but the kindergarteners to be quieter. When I am teaching adult ESL, being with a group of people from very talkative cultures makes my job easy because I never have to encourage students. With my young students, I’m also glad to hear them practicing English, but feel like I have to repeat myself millions of times every day…they just never stop talking!
As a very quiet person, having to talk all day is completely exhausting. For my first few months of working as a teacher, I felt like I always had such a strong desire to just be alone. I was worried that this was a sign that I was on the brink of becoming depressed. But then one night, as I was staying up later than my roommate so that I could have a couple hours of alone time (thankfully she goes to sleep pretty early!), I found some articles on introversion on the internet that explained what might be going on. If you believe what you read on the internet, which I do, then you can read about how extroverts recharge themselves by talking and processing what is going on by sharing it with others. Introverts, on the other hand, process within themselves, and need to spend a certain amount of time alone so that they can recharge their minds and emotions. Perhaps the fact that I don’t have this time is part of what is tiring me out. When I was a student, I slept about an hour less than I do now, exercised a bit more, spent more time working or focused, and was constantly a little bit worried about things like impending finals, my thesis, graduating, and finding a job. However, I did a lot of these things alone. I spent long hours in libraries and coffee shops, with the freedom to occasionally let my mind wander. Of course, there were times when being a student was very lonely, but I never found it to be exhausting. I think that may have been because I had so much more time to process things in my own introverted way.
I also recently came across this TED Talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c0KYU2j0TM4 This talk summarizes Susan Cain’s argument in her book Quiet, that our society is set up for extroverts to succeed, and often neglects even the most intelligent introverts. Offices and classrooms are set up so that those who talk the most do the best, even if they are not putting thought into their work. She writes that introverts tend to be very thoughtful and observant, but don’t like to share those observations with large groups of people. Her idea is that introverts should be confident in their style of interaction and should play to their strengths by expressing themselves in writing or in small groups instead of pretending to be extroverts, or feeling like there is something wrong with their disposition.
For while I’m a teacher, there’s not much I can do about how exhausting I find my job to be. But perhaps I can find ways to get around this by being aware that quiet is something I need, even if others don’t. And when it comes to sharing my ideas, I know I’m not going to feel comfortable saying them to a crowded staff room or big bible study group, especially if I don’t know each person who is there. I know I should push myself occasionally to step out of my introverted nature and to share, but I can also use my own ways to express myself. For example, I’ll keep writing on this blog, a nice quiet and thoughtful way to share what I’ve been thinking. Because according to Susan Cain, “Everyone shines, given the right lighting.”
Sometimes we can shine while using big machinery.
How is it that we can connect with people all over the world using internet and phones, something that was unheard of not long ago, and not be fascinated by the technology every time we use it? Why do those miraculous things wear off and become a normal part of life; and even annoy us if the connection is slightly slower than usual?
This impressive photo was taken in Dharamsala, India.
I often feel guilty that I am not more excited by my own life, which one of my mom’s friends in the U.S. deemed to be just like a movie (I think that movie would be called Casablanca….) I am no longer impressed by the fact that both my boyfriend and I have jobs in the same city, exactly where we both wanted to be. Instead, I am frustrated by my commute to work, how far his apartment is from mine, and that I don’t really like his kitchen. I spent months longing to be more involved in my church, and what’s more, to improve my level of French to the point where I would be able to understand sermons and bible study. Yesterday I was at an event at church and understood all of it, but was bored with the topic and wanted to leave. So what’s wrong? Am I taking God’s gifts for granted? Have I forgotten about what is important?
This impressive photo was taken in Vienna.
This weekend, in need of spiritual guidance, I discovered the text of a sermon by the pastor at the Rabat International Church about this very topic (http://rabatchurch.org/sermons/everything’s-amazing-and-nobody’s-impressed/). He wrote that we can’t always be impressed by everything or expect everything to always go right; that would be exhausting. But if we are making an effort to learn and grow, we’ll have those moments where we realize how wonderful things can be and are truly thankful for what we have.
This impressive photo was taken on the way to Zanzibar.
I certainly don’t feel thankful when I wake up at 5:30am, when a child coughs in my face and I know I’m going to get another cold, or when the tram lines are down and I’m already late for something. But there are also the moments when I go for runs in perfect whether, when I can’t help but laugh with my students, or when I drink avocado juice outside on a Saturday afternoon. I guess I can’t always be impressed or even totally thankful, but I do need to remember that I still have plenty of those good moments.
This impressive photo was taken in Utah.
“The thought of becoming an ordinary American again scares me. We expatriates don’t like to admit it, but being foreign makes us feel special.”
Pamela Druckerman, An American Neurotic in Paris: The New York Times, 27 Nov. 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/28/opinion/druckerman-an-american-neurotic-in-paris.html?_r=1&
One of the things I really like about living in Morocco is that I feel that I like myself better when I’m here. I like that I am more thoughtful about my surroundings, my relationships, and my place in society. I like having frequent opportunities to speak other languages, and I like meeting people who have backgrounds different from my own. I like hearing about other peoples’ experiences and explaining my own path to where I am now. I like that I can meet other Americans and realize that we have things in common, but also that we have a lot of differences.
It’s true, though, that when we are abroad we are in many ways extraordinary, which definitely does lend a feeling of being a little bit special. Here are some things that make the life of an expat feel remarkable.
- Nearly every day, at least one man tells me that I am beautiful/a princess/the love of his life/a spice girl.
- Going shopping is much more exciting. The foods are slightly different, and it’s fun to use new brands or even just to have packaging of American brands that are written partly in Arabic. When I find something that I have missed, even if it’s something small (like decaf black tea) it’s really exciting.
- Nobody forgets who I am. A neighbor of mine whom I had never seen before helped me replace my gas, and he knew exactly which apartment I live in. I’m easy to remember when I’m the only foreigner.
- If you don’t fit in, you can just chalk it up to culture. If you don’t fit in to your neighborhood, it’s because you’re the only foreigners. Unlike in America, where we would rarely claim to not fit in based on where we are from since everyone is from a different place anyway.
- Most people back in the US think of Morocco as an exotic and mystical land. I don’t think there is much awareness of Morocco among Americans, so whenever I said I was going to live in Casablanca, I could tell people were imagining me having cocktails with Humphrey Bogart every Saturday night.
The Rick’s Café in Casablanca is actually just a restaurant for tourists – the movie was filmed in a studio in the US!
- You have to think more about what it means to be you. For example, being American means eating turkey on Thanksgiving. But I’ve only ever eaten Thanksgiving turkey twice, both times in Morocco and so now associate that tradition with Morocco. So I am like other Americans in celebrating Thanksgiving, but that doesn’t mean that I have had exactly the same experience as everyone else.
My first American thanksgiving
I’m not sure when I’ll be okay with being an ordinary American again. There are a lot of things I’d miss about Morocco, but I’ll admit that I would also miss that feeling of being a little bit special!