Thursday, January 8, 2009


I’ve missed this blog. For the past three weeks, I’ve been restlessly agonizing over what I could possibly write about, so geographically separated from my official topic of discussion. Then, last night, as I found myself in the air once again, on my way from Chicago to California this time, I decided I could write about how I’ve been experiencing this separation. This won’t be a post recounting my observations and imperfect theories about anything pertaining to Moroccan society – but bear with me…

It’s been wonderful to be home. It’s been great to see my parents, my sister – even my brother (plus wife and unborn child) unexpectedly drove the 8 hours to Chicago to come see me – and my friends. I’ve been reunited with the things I missed, and it’s been heaven: a shower every day, a private room, sole command of the remote control, my father’s cooking, my own cooking, quiet & solitude, indoor heating, being easily understood when I speak.

But at the same time, I have been unable to shake a sense of restlessness and general-state-of-unsettled-ness. Given the fact that I only have six weeks to enjoy being ‘home’, I am trying to make the most out of my time here. Ever making things more difficult than they need to be, I’m making too much of an effort out of relaxing and having fun. I’ve submitted a list of my favorite dishes to my father, hoping to be served each one at least once before I leave. I’ve (finally) called most of my friends in hopes of seeing them all a few times before my departure, am trying to visit all of my favorite spots in both Chicago and San Diego, want to catch up on whatever good new books and movies have come out since September, catch up on Obama-mania, and revel in the general sense of familiarity here.

On top of that there is so much in terms of practical matters that needs to be done. There are loose ends to be tied up, important other ties to be tightened – in other words, there is business to be done. The business of grants and IRB approval, most importantly. Then there are the dentist, the doctor, the salon, Target, and all those other routine items on my to do list, to prepare myself for another sojourn on the other side of the world.

But while I am thus severely preoccupied with my presence and responsibilities here in the United States, there is simultaneously nothing I dream of more than my return to Morocco. Not because I’m not happy to be home, don’t get me wrong. It has more to do with my sense that I left Morocco at such a strange moment. Do you know the expression “to strike the iron while it’s hot”? I feel as though I left Morocco right at the moment that the irons I had put in the fire were finally beginning to heat up. I was just beginning to find my way, to enjoy myself, to establish interesting new relationships, both professional and personal – and right at that moment, right when I first began to notice the tips of my irons turning that shade of red that indicates it’s ready to be molded, it was time for me to leave.

And so I think constantly and impatiently about going back, and striking my irons. As much as I have been trying to focus on being here and enjoying that being-here, I am at the same time laboring to keep at least a part of my soul in a state of Moroccan-ness, linguistically and culturally. I’ve cooked Moroccan food for my parents. I make sure to study some Moroccan Arabic every day. I get my news from Le Monde and Menara rather than CNN, read Tahar Benjelloun before I go to bed, and listen to Jalal el Hamdaoui and Gnawa diffusion on my iPod.

I think my subconscience hopes that by keeping myself connected to Morocco in this superficial way, perhaps Morocco will remain connected to me, as well. I think that deep down, I am impatient to return primarily because I am afraid that these six weeks of absence will have cooled my irons down again; I worry that in these six weeks the place I had begun to carve out for myself in Rabat will have filled up again with something else, and that I will have to start all over again. I am afraid, most of all, that the high hopes I have for my return will blossom into nothing but a set of anti-climaxes. The prospects just seem too good to be true, sometimes – a fabulous internship, my own apartment, my new friends, free Arabic classes, research at the hospital… How could some of that not blow up in my face?

The problem is that I am simultaneously an optimist and pessimist. I am a hopeless dreamer, and I spend hours of excitement in fantasies about how perfect and fun these next four months are going to be. But at the same time I am always wary, always a little incredulous that anything so seemingly perfect will ever work out the way I want it to. I am convinced that things never turn out the way you imagine they will and can never quite get myself to shake the cynical feeling that any good developments will always be balanced out by something bad.

Though of course I also know that usually, the fact that reality never meets up to the expectations of your dreams doesn’t mean in any way that things don’t turn out fabulously anyway. If a certain dream doesn’t come true, you will usually find another beautiful reality in its place – surprising and exciting in its unexpected pleasantness. And so what I think I’ll try to do for these remaining three weeks (three weeks!), is to be the realist and keep an open mind. The next four months will be what they will be, and I’m sure they will be fabulous. In any case, I’m going to do what I can to make that happen, trying all the while to remain flexible enough to let it come as it is… Bring it on.

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