People manipulate time in Morocco. Individuals choose if they want to follow daylight savings, so some people live by “lwqt qdim” (old time) and others by “lwqt jdid” (new time) with an hour dividing the two schedules.
When people suggest to meet-up in the afternoon, they usually mean 8 p.m., but anytime between 1 and 9 p.m. qualifies. For someone who spent 23 years on a very strict schedule, time initially frustrated me here in Morocco.
A month or so ago, I broke my phone and lost my watch in the lake which forced me to stop measuring time so intently. I realized the charm of Moroccan time; it’s arbitrary. Here, life is less about tracking and more about existing.
September marks a year of my existence here: a year of me trying to fill, manipulate, erase, speed-up and slow-down time. So here’s a quick overview, season by season.
Fall / a humbling time
Fall felt like summer camp. I was one of six Americans living with host families in a town surrounded by farming fields and filled with sheep stampedes, rooster cockadoodledoos, donkey hee-haws, a few schools, some cafes and not much else. We were supposed to study Darija, discuss culture and practice youth activities for eight hours everyday, but we spent a lot of our time laughing about wacky new experiences instead—mainly related to the absurd amount of food we were expected to eat and didn’t know how to politely decline.
The transition to Morocco was especially interesting since I finished hiking the Pacific Crest Trail just a week before arriving. I spent my summer indulging in epic beauty: snow-covered mountain passes, shimmering alpine lakes, raging rivers and a constant adrenaline rush from hiking a marathon everyday.
Sebt Jahjouh, our chicken-populated, trash-cluttered town, was far from epic. It challenged me to find beauty in overlooked spaces. This simple act of seeking out beauty proved to be just as (or even more) epic and radical than my hike from Mexico to Canada.
I learned from everything and everyone around me. I learned how to shop at the weekly Saturday market, which requires some aggression to get your veggies weighed. I learned basic communication. I learned that there are universes inside every one of us. Especially within my 7-year-old host sister Chaymae.
Chaymae defined my world this past fall. We spent a lot of time spinning (literally) around the house, running “marathons” (10 circles = 1 marathon), styling each other’s hair, washing dishes together while slapping on soap beards, making ugly faces and asking “wash ana zwina?” (am I pretty?), practicing multiplication in goofy voices, dancing to Tom Petty and playing tag on the roof under rose and purple sunsets. Chaymae lives with her heart WIDE open, bursting with creativity and proved to me that the people around me are actually more magnificent than my epic, beloved mountain adventures ever will be.
Winter / a doubtful time
Anxiety and discomfort defined winter. I tracked my highs and lows everyday in my journal. Looking back at them, I realize how low I really was even if I refused to acknowledge it at the time. I scribbled many phrases like, “want a familiar hug,” “where is my self-confidence?” and “I’m lost.”
My first week in Ourtzagh, I went for a hike with some neighborhood boys. They tried to teach me the names of every single plant around me. One of the most abundant ones was called “doom.” I remember thinking to myself, I’m surrounded by doom. The overwhelming changes, initial discomfort and fear of the unknown blinded me.
But eventually I started to seize my own reality instead of dreaming of another. I found joy in days passed in my neighbor’s kitchen, setting the table for breakfast with my host grandma and my newfound love of flossing my teeth. One day, I jotted down “my host mom said I have nice hair” as my daily high in my journal. It’s all about the little things.
I was forced to slow down and be present, to trust in the unknowns and to give up perfection. I broke out of my confiding mental box and started embracing the people around me, even though interacting across language and culture drained me. Eventually, I saw light instead of doom. This is happiness, I convinced myself. Towards the end of this period, I learned the Darija word for lucky: marhadoda. “Ana marhadoda” (I’m lucky), I began admitting, and I haven’t stopped believing it since.
Spring / a turning time
As the world turned green, I too felt refreshed and rejuvenated. I traded in my nerves for gratitude–thankful for my relationships, my work (or lack-thereof) and for what the past seasons had amounted to. The highlight of my week was often a sports club where we’d play American-style active games like kickball, four square, capture the flag and kick the can. It reminded me of the innocent high of running free in Midwest neighborhoods as a young kid, and I cultivated that same freedom as an adult running free in rural Morocco.
I had a lot of picnics, went on many long walks, filled old jelly jars with wildflower bouquets and carved out alone time to eat breakfasts over books before I broke out into the world. I started remembering who I am again as a confident, optimistic woman. I realized home is nebulous, and it has less to do with place than time. Home isn’t where the “doom” plants are, but home is when the “doom” plants remind you that doom is actually far, far away.
Summer / a thoughtful time
Summer was raw. As the temps soared well above 100 degrees, nature bit back. The wildflowers and lush green turned into pokey, yellow brush. “Andiki shuk!” (watch the spikes!), people always yell.
My world was a weird paradox of heavy harshness and inspiring weightlessness. This summer tested me in wonky ways. Without work and with many people absent from my town, I had a lot self-reflection time.
I realized how woven I am into my community. In explict ways, like last week when I was out for an evening stroll and a shepard friend asked me to herd her sheep back to her yard from far off down the road. “I don’t know how,” I admitted. She told me to just woosh my arms at them and yell “baaaah.” Unfortunately, I wooshed her sheep in the wrong direction.
But I’m also tied into this community in more intimate ways. As an outsider living in-between the lines of social and cultural expectations, people confide in me about heavy topics they’ve never shared before. I’m not some lost foreigner anymore. I have a role in this community, but this comes with its own risks. The risk of truly understanding the silenced injustices around me. The risk of vulnerability. The risk of being loved and loving people around me. Some days my emotional and creative energies are depleted from trying to make sense of this complex community and how it’s transformed me.
This summer has tested me to forgive (both others and myself), to empathize, to be kind in darkness, to be honest and to always hold out hope. When I was feeling weighed down with frustration about the realities around me, I found hope in the outdoors. In watching the moon rise above the mountains and the sun dance across the lake. In my calm sunrise morning runs or dusk walks through the forest.
I also found hope in humans. Especially in one young woman who is passionate about leading a girls’ empowerment club and two other women who are willing to challenge social norms and lead an outdoor adventure club this year. They empower me.
Time has stretched and twisted and amounted to here and now. I continue to wake up and fill my time. With silly things, like yesterday when I meant to say, “exercise is important for your muscles (3adalat)” but instead said, “exercise is important for your school supplies (adawat).” With unexpected things, like “bahh”-ing at other peoples’ sheep. With scary things, like accepting that reality can sometimes feel like a world of doomy “doom” plants and that’s okay.
I’ve found that I don’t always have to intentionally fill my time though. Time naturally passes, despite us trying to manipulate it. As it whizzes by, I’m trying to consciously note how magical the ordinary moments are. Kids “baking” mud-cakes outside my house right now. You taking the time to read this (thank you). The little boy who rode his bike with me for two miles of my run last week. Washing blankets with neighbors by stomping on them in big buckets which turned into a water fight and dance party instead. The cream cheese frosting my friend and I whipped up the other day. The sunrise. The moonrise. The sunset. Time is radical in essence.
A year has gone by, the seasons have changed and so have I. So here’s to a second year in Peace Corps. The only thing that’s certain is the uncertainty of time, time beyond our control leading us to wherever we need to go.