Well, after a fantastic couple of weeks in Spain traveling with fellow RPCVs (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers) I’m back in the States, for real this time. Bizarre doesn’t even begin to describe it. I’m happy to be home, of course, and to see friends and family, but I left a big part of me in Morocco. To wit, I spent this morning going through my replacement’s blog posts, and everything from photos of my town to stories about people I know there made me wish I could just hop a souq bus back across the Atlantic. Which is ridiculous. The bus would sink.
As it turns out, readjusting to America might be the very hardest part of Peace Corps. Actually, it totally isn’t, but how’s that for a topic sentence? No one’s asking me to eat sheep brain here, though I do get to keep people riveted with stories of things I’ve eaten, places I’ve been, and challenges I’ve seen. Which is pretty cool. At least on occasion it lets me go back to being the center of attention like I was for the last two years in my town. That being said, it’s really nice to not be the center of attention every time I go outside. Sometimes.
So, I’ll give a quick overview of things I’ve noticed coming back to America. I’ll start with a few general observations, and then move into some more personal anecdotes. Firstly, and most importantly, American suburbs are really weird. Globally speaking, that is. That big yard between houses, as if each and every suburbanite were a member of some kind of minor European nobility. No one does that. Except Canadians, I think. Maybe Australians? However, in Spain I noticed all the small outlying towns were cramped and medieval, just like Morocco and the English countryside. Only nobility (and farmers, but they live in a different setting) ever have large private yards. We really are a strange country. Never thought I’d come to a huge realization about American culture vs. the world’s driving through suburban Jersey.
Another strange thing is public performance and practice of the arts. While New York obviously has plenty of touts and professionals performing in the streets and parks for cash just like Marrakech’s Djmaa El Fna, it also has tons of people just going out to practice or play for fun. The other day I passed by a gospel choir performing in Central Park, no hat out or anything, just performing. People are out painting, writing, playing music, whatever, just for the pleasure of doing it outside. In my town, and really most places I went in Morocco, I was the only person who did that. Here it’s normal, and changes the landscape quite a bit. The same goes for public exercise. I’m just not used to joggers anymore.
Every RPCV I’ve ever talked to has a version of the following story. On Memorial Day I was out with my grandparents and parents having lunch at a diner. I opened the menu, a 5 or 6-page affair, and found myself completely and utterly overwhelmed by the options. Do I get a gyro or do I get a salad? Omelets look good. My God, there are eight varieties of hamburger. Just another 50 cents for onion rings. I couldn’t make a decision. I had heard stories of RPCVs suffering nervous breakdowns in supermarkets (haven’t risked one yet), or utterly unable to choose deodorant from the endless options, but I’d thought it wouldn’t affect me. Totally wrong. America, the land of overwhelming choice.
On another day I set myself a list of five chores to do regarding coming back and preparing for grad school. They would easily have filled a normal day in Morocco. I got four of them done in an hour. Admittedly, the fifth took several days and made me jump through enough bureaucratic hoops to feel like I was back in Morocco, but still 4/5 is pretty good. That being said, that last chore did teach me that my constant refrain, “this would be so much easier in America,” isn’t always true.
Lastly, I just can’t get over using and thinking in Arabic. I’ll hang out with my friends from home, and I just can’t help but drop words. I even think that since they’re my friends they must understand Arabic. Isn’t that what my friends do? I miss it, though to be honest I hear it all over. I’ve made a game of trying to guess which dialect I’m hearing as I pass by. Still haven’t heard any Moroccan Darija, but I’m sure it’ll come with time.
I wish I had some powerful closing remarks that could sum up the last two years of my life, but of course I don’t, as that’s basically impossible, so I’ll close out with a Joha story my dad made up when I came home. I think it fits the spirit of the tales very well.
One day, Joha returned from a long trip. His friend asked him how it felt to be home. “Coming home is the best feeling in the world,” Joha replied. A few days later the friend saw Joha atop his donkey, heading out of town.
“Joha,” said the friend, “Why are you leaving? I thought you said coming home was the best feeling in the world.”
“It is,” Joha replied, “I’m leaving so I can come home again.”
As Moroccans say, take care of your heads. Go with peace.
- Ted Rizzo