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The following post was written by Global Gap Year Fellow, Liam Railsback. 

When you board a bus, it is very important that you keep your ticket for validation. If you fail to do so, you could face a fine, a shouting match, or a combination of the above. It so follows then, that on a sunny day in Salé, a city across the river from my placement location, I lost my ticket. A logical way to navigate said situation is to apologize, probing to see if grace will be extended, and if not, to pay the fine, tail-tucked and lesson-learned. However, if you’re an Arabic learner with the comprehension level of a moderately gifted toddler, such mores of society will go far above your head, and you will be left wondering why a bus attendant is yelling at you, what the half a dozen people around you are saying in reply, and why the teenager sitting next to you, perhaps over eager to practice their English, is screaming obscenities. However, you will soon notice that your busmates have joined together in solidarity defending your innocence, citing as evidence your status as a foreigner unaware of the rules and your linguistic incompetence. Several stressful minutes later, they have successfully warded off the emptying of your wallet, and you utter truly heartfelt thank you’s and deboard the bus, faith in humanity intact. 

Although this bus story can serve as a cautionary tale, it represents a phenomenon characteristic of my experience in Morocco that I find pretty radical: a sort of community can be formed by a group of strangers united only by a common situation and an openness to each other. I don’t know if I can say that this is a uniquely Moroccan experience, but perhaps being far away from everything I’ve ever known has prompted me to think about how we connect with others. Of course, we all start as strangers, but this maxim took on new weight when I found myself plopped across the Atlantic knowing no one. This being said, befriending strangers is made easy in Morocco.

Take grands taxis. Essentially nonexistent in the United States, these four-wheeled wonders add to to the morning commute a heavy helping of fate, spontaneity, and sometimes too-close-for-comfort connection with strangers. Traditionally, six passengers cram into a 1970’s Mercedes sedan driving a more a less set route on which you can get on or off at any point. Two passengers brave the seat to the right of the driver, and the remaining four pile into the back. Nowadays, many drivers have opted for slightly roomier vans. For the couple dozen minutes you are in the grand taxi, you’ve entered a new community. Lively conversations spring up covering topics from sports to traffic. It’s not uncommon for a political debate to ensue. Once, appalled that I was unfamiliar with the genre of music known as cha3bi, my driver and fellow passengers ensured that I became well acquainted with an impromptu bout of dancing and singing. Another day, by the time we reached our destination, arrangements had been made for me to tutor Najiba’s daughter and I had plans to watch a football match with Abdelmalek.

Of course, lifelong connections are not always made through chance encounters. In fact, the transience of these experiences is at their very hearts. In public transit, we share a time and place with a group of individuals for however long, and then we go on our ways, likely not seeing them again. It is that very limitedness that opens up a sense of possibility and freedom. We can be whoever we want to be for this brief period of time, and perhaps form a community and produce something good without any of the expectations or pressures that come with permanence. 

This concept is not just something I’ve pondered on my commute, but also an idea I have wrestled with in my volunteer placements and general conception of my gap year. Going into my gap year, my vision of my volunteer placement was something like an inspirational teacher movie. Through continuous work with a small group of kids, we would develop a deep relationship that would eventually result in their and my life being changed. While I can certainly say that my life has been changed, the experience has also been very different from my expectations. Rather than a consistent group, the kids and fellow volunteers at my placement have fluctuated, coming in and out pretty regularly with seasons, school schedules, and family situations. This, of course, has repercussions. For example, in my endeavors in teaching English, I have not been able to establish progressive lessons in anything like units. Instead, I keep curricula focused on individual ideas that can easily be modified for a wide range of learners. In fact, when it comes to English, one of the most valuable things one can have is opportunities to converse, which is gratefully something I can offer in whatever situation. 

Coming to terms with the concept of time on my gap year has been a hard experience. At times, my day feels endless and the months I’ve been away from home stretch into an eternity in my mind, but in most senses of the word, my time in Morocco has been brief. Like those twenty minute taxi carpools, my eight months here will come to an end, and I’ll be left to evaluate my experience. What made it worth it? I didn’t make any astronomical changes to the world at my volunteer placement and I don’t know when I’ll be back in Morocco. But this moment in time has brought value and meaning and beauty to my life and I know it has to others, and that is what matters. That is why I think that we must embrace life in transit. 

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