My stifled laugh only resulted in a loud snort, and a hot wave of embarrassment rushed to my cheeks. I glanced around the office to make sure nobody had noticed before returning to poorly stifling my giggles at an inexplicably hilarious meme. Last night it was quiet at the office. It was the kind of Monday where most people barely trudge through the day then tuck in early to build stamina for the rest of the week. That generally means I’m not needed and can afford to waste time laughing at memes. The recent development of my meme obsession is somewhat of an inside joke between myself and Joanna, my boss. It began with her infatuation with cats, which translated directly to a love of Grumpy Cat memes, which has since extended to funny animal memes in general. The development from a single, tentative, meme printout, to poorly stifled giggles and snorts in the office basement with a steady stream of meme exchange via WhatsApp has correlated rather directly with my personal development over the last month. I’m finally starting to feel at home here, and that feeling has been a long time coming.
As I described to a friend, during my first few days away from home, I operated not unlike a character in a computer game. My mind walked me through a series of simple tasks, and my mind was never more than a few steps in front of my feet. Get off the plane. Find customs. Get my backpack. Wait for my ride. Walk to work. Find the keys. Log into the computer. I met lovely people whose names I forgot almost instantaneously. I recognized beauty around me, but didn’t take the time to appreciate it. My mind struggled to keep up with all the new things it was trying to process, and I soon became mentally drained, exhausted, and homesick. During that first week, I came to a number of realizations. First, working hard all day long means my body will sleep at night, even if my mind never seems to calm down. Second, my mind needs to rest too, and my mind does not rest well in an unfamiliar place. Music helps with that. Third, when I am that mentally drained, I feel more homesick than I can contain. Last, I am not nearly as capable and independent as my routine, bubble life in Chapel Hill led me to believe.
I resolved to be patient with myself, to take baby steps.
After two weeks, I had learned how to use public transportation. I had eaten more meat than I have in the last ten years combined. I had tasted things that were unexpectedly delicious, and things that made my stomach a little less than happy. I had walked through the souk, with shoes hanging from the tops of little booths, carts full of cactus fruits, and bags of spices that can be smelled from yards away. I had seen the old blue city where the maze of roads are only a few people wide. I had seen the ocean in two different cities. I had seen people driving fancy red motorcycles next to donkey-drawn carts. I had beautiful designs painted on my hands with henna. I had walked through town with friends admiring the villas with beautiful flowers pouring over the walls. I had marveled at the tiled Mausoleum of Mohammed V, which holds the tombs of King Mohammed V, King Hassan II, and Prince Abdallah. I was finally able to appreciate the beauty around me.
After three weeks here, I finally started to feel more at ease with my reality. Given that I spend so much time around people who are starting a life here, or have already started a life here, I found myself forgetting that I’m not exactly one of them. For many of my colleagues, this is not their first time in Morocco, and their projected future here extends much longer than mine, in some cases years longer. They came and fell in love with Morocco and decided to stay. After a good day, I would realize that I had been so swept up in the joy and the sense of community I was finding here with friends and coworkers that I would forget that their reality was not my own. I would feel disappointed when I remembered that, come January, I will be starting all over again, in a new city, with new people, clueless, stressed and craving something familiar. The feeling is bittersweet, to say the least.
Above all, the last month has taught me that there is so much more to discover about Morocco and I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface. I realize now that making the most of the few months I have left in this place will make it harder to leave. And that is as it should be. I am proud of where I’ve come over the last four weeks. More so than that, I am excited for what has yet to come. And with that, I say (in the words of Tigger) T-T-F-N: Ta-Ta-For-Now.