Once at a cafe, a random singing and clapping woman danced over to me, placed both her hands on my belly, and blessed my womb with five children.
Three months ago I wrote that I only understand what’s going on around me maybe a quarter of the time here. Welp, the same holds true these days. On a good day, I might understand half of the world around me.
Earlier this week while I was on a walk and chatting with my mom on the phone, Fat’ma (my mentor and work-partner here) called to tell me to go meet a woman parked in a white van next to the pool. I cut my stroll and phone call short to find the mysterious van with the mysterious woman. When I met her, she asked me if I wanted to go to a coffee shop. “M3lum” (of course), I said, assuming she’d meant the coffee shop down the street.
Turns out it was an hour-long drive away, folded deep into the mountains.
The funny thing is, that’s pretty normal for life here. It just picks me up, tosses me around and I end up spontaneously sipping avocado juice in the middle of the mountains. The absurdity of it all hit me while I was explaining to my mom why I had to get off the phone. She was worried about me getting into a van with strangers.
My safety here is another absurd subject all on its own. When returning from that surprise coffee trip, the police stopped the white van to ask why I was in it and where I went. It’s like I have a team of personal bodyguards. I have never been (and will never be) more safe than here in Ourtzagh. It’s not even just the police. The whole town seems to have an eye on my every move.
If I walk to a hannut (store) across town, my neighbors somehow know that I bought spicy peanuts before I even return. Random children I have yet to meet know that my American family has a dog named Windsor. And random women somehow know that I’m going back to the U.S. for my sister’s wedding in the fall. (People here might talk about Amy’s wedding more than she talks about her wedding).
I’m telling you, life is absurd.
One day I wore my hair in French braided pigtails. People lightheartedly made fun of me all day, telling me it was a hairstyle exclusively for toddlers and pre-teens. About halfway through the day, I took a good long hard look at myself in the mirror and seriously considered taking the braids out. I resisted the urge, and me and my two French braids powered through.
The next day, at least four high school girls styled their hair in French braided pigtails.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve interrupted class to tell students to stop taking pictures of me. I started kicking them out if I caught them, and then they made up excuses like “my mom says she wants a photo of you teaching.” Yeah right.
There’s often a post-class selfie-with-Jacline shoot that I don’t have the energy to extinguish. One photoshoot was particularly painful when a girl said she wanted to see what my signature looked like. Not thinking, I jotted it down in her notebook, which ignited a mob fighting for my autograph.
I wish so badly these kids knew how incredibly ordinary I am. Not even just ordinary, but maybe even somewhat incompetent here in Morocco.
Although I’m really really trying, I’m not qualified to teach 150 students English. One day while reviewing house vocabulary, I asked my students, “What room do you eat breakfast in?” One girl shot her hand up and looked as if she was going to explode if I didn’t call on her. “I AM COUSCOUS!” she blurted out. Oh no.
I’m also not qualified to lead a gymnastics club (I can’t even touch my toes), teach swimming lessons (I can’t swim) or direct a play (I prefer to sleep through plays). I wish I were joking, but all of these have been requested of me. And most of all, I’m not anywhere near worthy of signing autographs.
Despite its silliness, this absurdity has also helped me grow.
Last week, Fat’ma called me with another request: to meet her and some women at a government building in my town. When I showed up, co-ops from my region were selling honey, soaps, cookies and couscous. About 50 women were waiting for a presentation to start, which I presumed had something to do with the co-ops. During the presentation, Fat’ma kept announcing my name and asking me to stand. I did as she said. People would clap, and I’d sit back down. This happened multiple times throughout the speech, which I understood nothing of.
After the presentation, Fat’ma called me to the stage. Oh noooooo. She asked me if I had anything to say to the people of Ourtzagh. I’d said something like I’m so happy to be here, and ended it with my most-used phrase “ana marhadoda” (I’m lucky).
Afterwords, I learned the presentation had nothing to do with the co-ops. It was about a law that was passed last month prohibiting violence against women. No clue why I had to stand up during it. I’m now embarrassed that my “words to the people of Ourtzagh” were unrelated to the important subject, but I’m also proud because I realized my face didn’t even turn red in front of the crowd. (Which, if you know me, is truly unbelievable).
So here’s to embracing absurdity. Being called Jacline Banana. Packing into taxis like sardines and waiting two hours until they actually leave. Random people shoving sunflower seeds in my pockets. Eating without utensils. Eating things like cinnamon sugar pasta, and sometimes unfortunately sheep hooves and tongues. Donkeys everywhere. So many triumphant donkeys. Sporadic water outages (a particularly bad one lasted for five days. Even the stores ran out of water, and no one was able to flush their toilets. A smelly week to say the least). Ten-year-olds teaching me to do very basic things, like squeegee my floor and fold massive blankets. Having no friends my age (my two best friends are six and 46-years-old). Random adventures in white vans. And random women blessing my womb.
This absurdity is one of the beautiful things about the Peace Corps though. All familiarity is stripped away. You have to find out who you are without your support systems, without clear communication, without a wardrobe you feel confident in, without structure and routines, and sometimes even without being able to flush your toilet (which, by the way, is just a hole in the floor). You’re stripped to your core. Stripped raw. You’re left to figure out who you are without all these things. It’s both scary and empowering. I don’t want to spew all the personal things I’ve learned about myself on the internet, but I’ll tell you one thing I’ve learned for sure:
Life is absurd, but so am I. (And so are you).