Last new years, I made a “2017 map” for all my goals of the year. It was a pretty ambitious mess that included taking several online courses, starting new initiatives, becoming skilled at multiple things, and of course, working out every day. The map was a lot—and so was my new years night, which I spent on zero hours of sleep, on a beach in Agadir with fireworks and dancing.
Fast-forward one year, and I present to you, the first 24 hours of my 2018.
On December 31st, 2017, I fell asleep at my host family’s house by 9:30 pm. My 2018 map, too, looks much less ambitious than last year’s. I want to cope with my anxiety better by writing things down, I want to stop drinking milk, to think more positively, and to be nicer to strangers and myself. My overall theme was to have enough optimism to keep me from freaking out about, well, everything.
I came home and made said map with a close friend in site who also is trying to focus on reducing anxiety. I left for a run, and two things happened. First, the same friend texted me that our neighbor’s grandfather had passed away, and we needed to go visit them to bid our condolences. As I neared home, “Son of a Son of a Sailor” came on my music shuffle – the song that reminds everyone in my family of my maternal grandfather, Papa, who would be 87 years old by now. The song ended--
I'm just a son of a son, son of a son
Son of a son of a sailor
The seas in my veins, my tradition remains
I'm just glad I don't live in a trailer
I traded my headphones for a scarf and entered my neighbor’s house not knowing the deceased but instead with a vivid memory of my own Papa’s shiva. My friend instructed me to say “Baraka f r3ask,” which means, “blessings be upon you.” We walked into a huge crowd of people, sitting together, being together. Some were silent, while others were in the kitchen cooking. My friend mentioned that everyone comes and brings food, “Sedaka” so that the family of the deceased doesn’t have to cook.
I got that small, humbly awestruck feeling I get so often when I’m here—a reminder that, no matter how many times I feel different, the painful and profound stuff that’s essentially human, like anxiety or loss, makes any cultural divides pale in comparison. I told my friend that in my religion too, we say barucha, we give tzedakah, and everyone brings food and sits with the family of the deceased so they don’t have to cook or be alone.
It seems strange that I’ve repeatedly thought about loved ones lost when I’m reflecting ahead for a new year. Their quiet wisdom gives me permission to let faith and personal growth, rather than pragmatism, guide my choices. This year was tough, but it did turn out okay. I came to Sidi Bouzid with no friends, no work, and no confidence. I live here now with lifelong friends, projects I’m proud of, and the knowledge that, even if not everything I try succeeds, I still have value.
I came to Morocco with a focus on professional growth, sense of competition, anxiety, and a denied American arrogance. I spent the first year chipping away at these barriers—I’ve grown more personally than professionally, and I’m fine with that. I’ve seen that patience can be even harder than productivity, and that loneliness and isolation, like happiness, are passing feelings rather than permanent conditions.
I recently finished a book that talks about Americans going abroad as “not an escape,” but potentially a “project of remembrance…where we may also discover that the possibility of [American] redemption is not because of our own God-given beneficence but proof of the world’s unending generosity.” No matter what baggage, anxiety, or arrogance Peace Corps Volunteers come in with, they will all experience unending generosity in their country of service. This undeserved chance can humble even the most aware and conscious American.
The author of the book, Suzy Hansen, was supposed to write about Turkey; instead, she ended up writing about the U.S. I was supposed to write this blog about Morocco. Only now, I realize I don’t write about Morocco, but instead, myself. I write about how my past colors my present, and how my own view is being expanded to push out blind spots I didn’t even know I had.
I came here seeking something shiny, new and foreign, but I feel my multi-layered past and identities—collective points of pride, shame, and responsibility—even more keenly than I did at home. Maybe it’s a physiological phenomenon that happens when you’re away from the familiar.
Or maybe it’s because, by going out on the sea for adventure, I’m closer to home than ever. Maybe it’s because my Papa was a sailor at heart, and so am I. If that’s true then I no longer need to be a “new me” to find some elusive fulfillment. Learning to be more comfortable with myself—as I am—is what prepares me to keep seeking new adventures in 2018; stormy as the waters may be.
Where it all ends I can't fathom, my friends
If I knew, I might toss out my anchor
So I'll cruise along always searchin' for songs
Not a lawyer, a thief or a banker
But a son of a son, son of a son, son of a son of a sailor
My name is Julie, in Turkish it's Jülide. Right now I'm serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco, and I'll write my thoughts here!