Monday, October 20, 2008

Today's Egg is Better than Tomorrow's Chicken

I heard today that my application for a Wenner-Gren grant was rejected. This means that I cannot come back to Morocco in January and will have to postpone my research until March at least, when I hear back from the second grant I applied for – and in which I have now lost a little faith.

Perhaps needless to say, I am disappointed and sad. Because I am beginning to feel, for the first time since I first formulated this project, that it might actually be possible to do this research. I am finding leads and making my first inroads into the worlds of psychiatry and traditional healing. I am afraid, now that I don’t know when I can come back, that there is no use investing in anything here now. Even if I make contact with psychiatrists; even if they are enthusiastic about my research; even if they want to actually help me; even if they give me permission to observe treatment – what will they say when they find out I don’t actually know when I can start doing all this? That I don’t actually have anything organized on my side of the practical matters – money, research permission, and such? Will they completely forget about me and my project, once I leave? Will I have to start over when – whenever – I can come back?

I am also disappointed and sad because I feel as though I failed. I explained the situation to Amma this afternoon and felt it boiling up in me. When she heard I couldn’t come back to Rabat because I didn’t get the money I had hoped for, her response was that in Morocco, no one gets grants. People pay for things themselves. Couldn’t I just do that? I tried to explain to her that research costs too much for me to pay on my own – that it would take a lot of time working and saving to be able to afford that. But what I couldn’t explain is that it’s not even just the money. Secretly – apart from the worries I mentioned in the previous paragraph – a part of me is a little relieved that I get to take a break for a few months. However, apart from money a grant is also (maybe even more so) about endorsement of your research. It’s a CV-booster. And being rejected – it feels like a committee of anthropologists decided my research wasn’t good enough, not interesting enough to invest in. And that makes me feel as though I failed. Failed at precisely the thing I have everything invested in.

I know it doesn’t work that way. I know it’s not the project per se – I know the issue is probably mostly that I haven’t found the right way to formulate the project, the right words to sell it with – though I need to keep reminding myself of this.

But it’s no use dwelling on disappointment, or on sadness. And when I take a step back and assess the situation, it’s really not that bad. As much as I always run, run, run, focusing on the next step on my to do list, I am not actually in a hurry – to do this research, or to get my PhD. Why rush it? What actual deadline do I need to meet? What lies ahead of me after the PhD that cannot wait?

And when I begin to picture the short-term alternatives, it doesn’t look that bad at all. At this point, my applications can only get better, right? I need to see this rejection as constructive criticism – they gave me detailed enough comments to actually be helpful. And other than that, the immediate future suddenly lies wide open. For a job, a project – anything interesting. And it could be anywhere. Chicago? San Diego? Maybe even Amsterdam…

I’m taking this as a reminder to stop rushing ahead and focus on what I have right now. And that’s what the title of this post refers to. ‘Today’s egg is better than tomorrow’s chicken’ – “beida diyal l-youm hsan min djaja diyal ghda” – is a Moroccan proverb, and it means something like “it’s better to rely on the little things you have today than trust in the large promises of tomorrow.”

And one thing I can rely on for now is a very sweet Moroccan family that tells me that there will be other grants, “in sha’llah.” They even had some Zem zem water for me to wish on.

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