OMG. It Really Does Take a Village

I was once told that I was too impatient. I needed to know the end and the middle all at the same time and that I would be better served if I let things unfold organically. And because this advice came to me at a time when my life was spinning off its axis, I took it to heart and it has become one of my guiding principles. Just wait….listen…..let things unfold. You will know when you know, In’shallah, when the time is right all will be revealed.

And so I look back over the last month or so, in particular this past week and I see things that I didn’t see before. I have experienced a shift. It always happens when you go away from a place and come back. This going away, when you are new to a place, is always a critical time. I realize that when I go back to Canada in the summer there will be a shift and when I return to Marrakech in September, another shift will occur. But last week I packed my bag, boarded a train and left, only to return anew to my home. And on reflection it was definitely enough to create a shift in my perspective.

Here’s the context. I went to Casablanca by train and met my friend Jennifer who is teaching at an American school on a 2 year contract. She lives on site now (I had visited her off site apartment in October), and she has been here since last September. We packed a graciously borrowed car, and her roommate Rebecca (also Canadian), and headed to Moulay Idriss and Chefchaouen. I had been to both places last October and Moulay Idriss again as recently as a few weeks ago. I was along for the adventure and the company. We went to those places. We saw some things. We stayed in new-to-me places. And we returned. In the process I also saw a great deal more of Casablanca than I had previously.

Here is what I have learned / come to realize:

  • It really is a big deal that I moved here alone.
    • I knew Jen was in Casablanca (and therefore close by). I knew in October that the experience of people who move here already with a job is different. Dare I be so arrogant as to say “easier”. But only in the sense that someone is waiting for them to do the official paperwork, provide them with an income, and guidance, and community and healthcare. So while I make it a policy not to allow myself to be overwhelmed by my own circumstances (because that’s a recipe for stagnation), I am now starting to see why people have been looking at me funny. I still don’t think its that big a deal because I do have the skills I need to do get by. But ok, I will accept these “that’s a big deal” comments with a little more understanding from now on.
  • It is really, really, really nice to have a community. 
    • As I start to get settled I am starting to make more contacts and see more potential friendships here. With expats. My Berber friends have been my lifeline of course, but expats are going to be what keeps me sane in the long term. It was really nice to see and be among those who are living in a community of expats in Casa. To hear their stories and to get a feel for how we are all meeting and overcoming challenges. To hear about “bad things” that have happened and how they were handled. To hear how other people are getting by, or feeling. Stories of people like myself are good for the soul and a good learning experience. I needed those at this time. I’m glad to have Jen and her situation and experience. It is definitely adding to my stability here.
  • Marrakech is like Banff in the 80’s, and Casa is Calgary. 
    • I really needed to see more of Casablanca and I was surprised by what I saw. It is a really big city. “Just a city” as any Moroccan will tell you. It doesn’t have the soul that Marrakech has. But it does have the commerce that we don’t have. I have access to very little in the way of shopping here. It’s pretty basic. And by basic I mean K-mart style shops (2 or 3 brands / locations) or artisanal goods. Or the medina. We have one mall with an H&M, an Adidas store, and a Body Shop, a Zara, Zara Home and some other mid-range shoe shops etc. But Casa has a few malls to choose from. And a lot of stores downtown. And lots and lots of restaurants that aren’t tourist places. People go out after work for birthday dinners and get togethers. I haven’t had that experience here and I really think that my observation of Banff v Calgary is correct. If I get an unfurnished place in Marrakech for the long term – I will be renting a car and going to Casa to shop. To the new IKEA. And to one of the Kitea Geante’s. We just have a regular size Kitea here. I am still on the hunt for a comfortable chair in Marrakech. One that I can sit in on my balcony when I want to read a book outside. There is no lawn and garden section at Canadian Tire here so it may be something I have to get on my next trip to Casa. But I remain hopeful anyway. We just don’t have a lot of choices here.
  • Sometimes you need to see Morocco in the dark. 
    • This place is pretty basic. That’s not a bad thing. But it’s a thing. It’s really hard to qualify this point. I think there is just not a lot of variety in commerce. So when you drive along the coast road in Casablanca there are a lot of new developments coming, there are some seaside restaurants. But there aren’t casinos, and valet parking, and high end v. mid range steak houses and boat launches and parks and all the things that you might expect to see in New Jersey or the Bahamas for example. It’s a developing country. Basic. It’s nice to see it in the dark because you can pretend that it’s more like home than it might actually be. Good for the heart, if only just to trick it a bit.
  • You don’t need to speak the language if you are able to gesture effectively.
    • I don’t speak Darija (Moroccan Arabic). I only speak enough French to be dangerous. But I am learning some of both. The problem I have always found is that speaking another language is a great way to communicate as long as no one responds to you. I am able to say to a taxi driver – “afek, (my street name), heada bombia” (near the fire station) and they smile in recognition of where I want to go. And then they launch into some stream of Arabic at which point I just have to say “What?” and they take me along in silence. But, as long as you know a few key words, are able to make hand gestures that indicate approval or disapproval, or extreme disapproval, it’s all good. I am much more confident just walking onto a train, or into a store, or getting a taxi now, because I know that we will make it work. Whether I have to translate a sentence and hand them my phone to read, phone a friend to speak for me in Berber, or flag down someone on the street to help out (been there, done that), there is really nothing that can’t be managed in a foreign language. Although there are times when I do realize that I need to get my ass into a Darija class immediately or life is going to start getting lonely …..

So now I’m back in Marrakech. Back home. In my house. I’m planning the next few days, the next week, some next steps in business. I am starting to really understand a lot more about where I am and what I can expect. I am more confident.

And I am starting to put some strategies in place to manage this place in the long term. Not like a person who came here for a long trip, but like a resident. I’m starting to think like someone who lives here. Someone who needs to retreat into a little Western-ness once in awhile, even if that means not leaving the house and just watching Ellen all day.

And that is pretty cool.

Oh, and I do have a love affair going on with this country. Not just being an expat and living abroad, but living here. In Morocco. I am closer to becoming a Marrakshia every day. (A female from Marrakech). And the more I see here, the more I love here. I made a good choice.

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