We are pleased to have been featured in ProFellow.com's recent article, "25 Alternatives to the 2019-2020 Fulbright U.S. Student Grant." Our application for the 2019-2020 fellowship cohort will open in just a few weeks, and we look forward to reviewing a new round of fantastic candidates!
Since arriving in Amman on June 4th, my time here has been a whirlwind of new experiences and transitions. From starting a new job, finding an apartment (in less than 24 hours), and dusting off my Arabic skills, the last two months have been non-stop and full of new memories.
One of these new experiences happened a couple of weeks ago when a friend sent me a post calling for extras for Netflix’s first Arabic series, Jinn. After a little hesitation, I decided to respond to the request and 48 hours later I found myself on a bus to Petra with 50 other expats. After a 3 hour bus ride we arrived in Petra around 6 pm and were shuttled by jeep to the majestic Treasury. For those of you who have had the opportunity to visit Petra, you are aware that the Treasury is about a mile or so walk from the entrance, so being driven in was an exciting perk.
Upon arrival at the Treasury we were told to go look around the set, which had been set up for “Petra by night.” Within 30 minutes of arriving, we were already being staged and ready to shoot. Surrounded by cameras, producers, actors, and a few stray cats and dogs (who decided to sit next to us), we were instructed to sit back and watch the “show” that was being put on. Our roles were that of tourists enjoying a visit at Petra. Fast-forward 4 hours (during which, every 15 minutes, they promised it was the last shot), we ate dinner among the ruins of Petra. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be eating dinner with the Treasury as my backdrop and the rest of Petra absolutely vacant of tourists.
After dinner we went back to our designated spots and began shooting once again. By this time it was 12:30 am and all of us were exhausted -- sitting on the ground for hours at a time is tiring!! Although all of us were cranky and tired, it was an incredible experience watching how a Netflix series gets made. Finally, at 3:45 am, they called “That’s a wrap!” and we were escorted out of Petra. We received our payment for our time and headed back to Amman around 5:30 am (side note, I had work to be at work by 9 am). When I arrived at work, the past 12 hours felt like a crazy dream. This is just one of the many adventures I have had thus far in Jordan, and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the year has in store!
Final Reflection: Building a Community of “Powerhouse Women” at Reclaim Childhood
As I sit here and write my final reflection for the MENAR Fellowship, it still remains hard to fathom that over a year has passed since joining Reclaim Childhood. Although all words feel inadequate in describing the ways this past year has moved and shaped me, one theme that has pervaded the entire year is the importance of communities of “Powerhouse Women,” something I was able to experience every day at Reclaim Childhood.
The Reclaim Childhood coaching staff is the most important part of Reclaim Childhood. They are the reason why families trust RC; they ride the buses with the girls and they facilitate all of the practices. They have the sense of what makes the girls happy and they advocate for changes that need to be made to make the program a better and safer place for all. They ask for more trainings, attend trainings on their own, and have formed tight bonds among themselves. The RC staff is made up of 10 different women, from a diverse array of nationalities, who serve as mentors and role models for not only just the girls, but also for me.
When I first took this job, the RC coaching staff immediately took me under their wing. They taught me new Arabic phrases, they took the time to walk me through all of the protection concerns that the girls face, and they never ceased to exude positivity for the program and their work. To me, each coach exemplifies what it means to be a powerhouse woman: a woman that drives through all obstacles to advance the well-being of not only herself, but those around her. The coaches are forces to be reckoned with, yet they practice patience beyond what I have ever seen before.
This past summer, RC had a team of female interns to support the coaching staff. My favorite part of the summer was watching the interns grow in appreciation, admiration, and awe of the coaching staff. Starting off at coach clinic, they quickly recognized that the coaches are the ground on which RC is built. Over the course of the summer, the interns and the coaches defied language barriers, built strong relationships, and exchanged information and cultural tendencies. During the interns’ last week, all of the coaches and interns came over to my apartment to have a little celebration and potluck dinner. All the women flooded into the room, filling the table with dishes from their specific cultures, ranging from grape leaves to mac-and-cheese. They spent the night chatting, eating, and, of course, dancing. It was amazing to see the way that a team of 20+ women celebrated the uniqueness and success of the women around them. It was clear that they built themselves a community of powerhouse women.
I was born and raised in the United States of America, to parents who were born and raised in the United States, who were both born to parents who were also born and raised in the United States.
That may not be particularly noteworthy to you, but it is a confounder to many people I have met in Qatar. Whether I’m introducing myself to taxi drivers, students at Qatar University (QU), or other expats, people respond variously with confused looks, shock or outright disbelief when I first tell them where I’m from.
This experience isn’t new. When I was in India, Morocco, and Israel, people were routinely shocked to learn that I was born and raised in the U.S. and on one occasion challenged me to speak American English to support my claim.
During my gap year in Ecuador, news that I was from the United States was met with similar surprise. I lived in a small, rural town, and the first time I told members of the community that I was from the U.S., they responded with uproarious laughter. They were sure that I was kidding and was actually from the coastal part of Ecuador (where the majority of the country’s Afro-Ecuadorians live). To be fair, they had reason to be surprised. As I mentioned, it was a small town, so to get a visitor from another country, let alone someone living there for nearly a year, was rare. Also, I was effectively fluent in Spanish by this point and had nearly eliminated my American accent.
But the context in Qatar is very different. I am not fluent in Arabic, Doha is a sizable city with a considerable population of Americans, and my physical features are noticeably different from those of the various African populations that live in Qatar.
And yet, the surprise persists. Whether I’m speaking to someone from Senegal or Bangladesh or even California, I’ve become accustomed to seeing a look of incredulity when I mention that I am from the United States.
I often respond to the surprise by asking where people think I’m from, and the most common response is Sudan. This response wouldn’t be particularly surprising if it only came up when I introduced myself in Arabic. After all, Sudan is an Arabic-speaking country, and Qatar hosts a significant Sudanese population. Pair that with the facts that relatively few U.S. citizens in Qatar are black or can speak Arabic (let alone both), and the speculation that an Arabic-speaking black man is from Sudan is not unreasonable. But regardless of the language I’m speaking, Sudan is the leading guess. In fact, four Sudanese students at QU have independently (and repeatedly) told me that I look distinctly Sudanese. As far as I know, I don’t have any Sudanese ancestry, but much of my heritage remains a mystery, so maybe they’re onto something.
After Sudan, the next most common guesses of my country of origin are Kenya and Nigeria. Latin America even comes up every now and then. And even after I’ve assured people that I am a native U.S. citizen, I often get a follow-up question, “But what is your heritage?” When I respond, “I’m actually not sure, since my family has been in the U.S. for a long time,” I only generate more surprise.
I’m not angry or frustrated about this common reaction to news of my nationality. Nor do I perceive it as racist or insensitive or believe that it stems from a considered belief that Americans can’t be black. Rather, I’ve concluded that a black man is simply not representative of the America commonly envisioned by many people outside of the U.S. But I don’t resent having to prove my U.S. origins. To the contrary, I find some satisfaction in changing perceptions of what it means to be an American from the United States of America.
Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about how split I feel between my life here in Jordan and the one in the States. I recently took a trip back to my original home in Virginia. Since I decided to stay on working at Collateral Repair Project after my fellowship ends at the end of July, I took the slowness of Ramadan as an opportunity to go visit my family. And I really loved it. This wasn’t my first time going home, but it was my doing so as a visit, knowing I only had a few weeks to enjoy it. So I used the time at home to really soak up all of the conveniences that I could. I drove everywhere in my old car, ordered things online, ate my favorite niche foods, and wore shorts and a tank top to run with my dog around my neighborhood.
But then I started to feel guilty. Do the desires that I have for my American comforts indicate that I’m not actually acclimating to this life that I’ve built here? Am I not actually cut out for this like I thought I was? I think being at CRP made me feel even more strongly this way. Surrounded by people who were forced to leave their homes, here I am internally complaining about the place that I chose to be in.
What I’ve come to accept is that I’m inextricably pulled between these two places. I love being in Jordan, I love the communities I’ve built for myself at CRP and outside of work. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t still love home too. And as my heart teeters between, it’s only natural that I’ll sometimes catch myself longing for some good barbecue, and maybe I’ll opt to spend hours video-chatting my little sister instead of meeting friends here. Those choices don’t make me a failure. In fact, I think that being mindful about these feelings will allow me to embrace who I am without worrying about the contradictions.
While Surfer Magazine may seem an unlikely place to find profound life advice, in a column a few years author Beau Flemister wrote some very sage words: “School will make you smart, the world will make you wise.” He recounted a series of vignettes from his globe-trotting adventures and explained how the experiences you accumulate through travel can be ultimately much more meaningful that the knowledge you’ll gain attending school. The article deeply resonated with me as I thought about all the funny, awkward, and enlightening moments I had already experienced traveling. But now as my year as a MENAR fellow is beginning to draw to a close, I have started thinking about his article again. So, in an ode to his article and because my mom keeps telling me to write it all down, here a few of my favorite and most educational experiences.
A Most Unusual Conversation
On my way home from the train station one night, I hopped in a cab and per usual the driver was curious about where I was from. I told him I was American, and he immediately asked if had heard about the school shooting. I said yes but was surprised he already knew about the Parkland school shooting that had occurred just hours earlier. He quickly launched into a speech about how appalling it is that these shootings happen so often, yet the media portrays Morocco and the Arab world a war zone when you’re probably certainly more likely to get shot in the street in the U.S. than Morocco. I struggled to explain the hypocrisy of my own country, it would be a difficult task in English let alone in my broken mix of French and Darija. But I didn’t have long to ponder my response as he quickly switched gears and asked if I believed in God. Again, a hard question to answer, and while I am agnostic, I answered Christian to save myself a strange look and more explaining. He smiled, and he said that when you look at all the beauty in nature and the vastness of the universe, how could you ever doubt that there wasn’t some all-knowing being who had created them. I figured that he wasn’t really interested in hearing about evolution and I don’t exactly have the language skills to explain it, so I just agreed that yes, the world is full of beauty and magic.
While we were quickly approaching where I needed to be dropped off, he had more hard-hitting topics to discuss. Next, he wanted to know what my salary was and how much my rent cost. I was stunned and answered a bit evasively, but he wasn’t bothered. Instead he took the opportunity to lament how all the young people in Casablanca now seemed obsessed with money and material things. He offered a piece of sage advice: happiness is not determined by your salary, and a good life requires taking time to enjoy the small things and live at a slower pace. I smiled and adamantly agreed, promising to remember this when work got stressful.
Having already discussed politics, religion, and money in just the first 10 minutes of the taxi ride, I shouldn’t really have been surprised by his next choice in topic. He asked if I was married; I said no and began to get a bit nervous being a female alone a night in a cab, but he did not respond with a come-on like I expected. Instead said he had a daughter my age and he knew that just because we aren’t married doesn’t mean that we “go with men.” But he advised it is essential we always use condoms and that our partners get tested since AIDS is a serious problem in Morocco. To say I was shocked to get advice on sexual health from a Moroccan cab driver would be an understatement. When he dropped me off, we parted with a final reminder to “be safe.”
Politics, religion, money, and sex are not usually the topics we choose to discuss with total strangers. But what took me even more by surprise was that this older Moroccan gentleman, who I assumed to be an uneducated cab driver, was asking informed questions on U.S. gun policy, arguing against materialism, expressing his religiosity, and still showing an acceptance of sex before marriage. This experience was a valuable lesson on the importance of not pre-judging people.
Lost and Found
A second unforgettable story happened as my company was hosting our annual spring break trips for MBA students. While I greeted some of the students upon their arrival to Marrakech, one girl was visibly distraught and told me that she had forgotten her new iPhone on a bus. Unfortunately, she did not realize this until the bus had already driven off; where to, she did not know. The girl did not know the name of the bus company or of the driver. I sent her with my colleague to see if the airline that had arranged the bus could assist; of course they were no help. The best they could do was have her file a missing items report. I said we would keep working on locating the phone, but internally, all I could do was roll my eyes because even in the U.S. if you leave your iPhone on a public bus the chances of you getting back are slim to none. Then, after midnight that night, when she called my cell to “ask for an update,” at this point I lost my cool. I told her point blank the chances she would get her phone back were basically nonexistent, but that we would continue to call the airline and bus company on Monday to see if we could locate it. The next day, I spoke to her group’s guide to explain the situation. He mentioned having a cousin who worked for the airline who he’d try calling. I thanked him and mostly moved on, because we had done everything we could, but at this point I was sure her phone was already being sold on some electronics black market.
Lo and behold, I got a call on Monday from the guide saying his cousin had located the phone and that it was being sent to Marrakech. Turns out his cousin spoke to his friend, who spoke to another friend who worked at the Casablanca airport, who found the name and number of the bus driver. The bus driver had returned the bus and had not seen the phone, so the friend of the friend of the cousin dispatched someone to check the bus, and there in the crack between the seats was her phone. Three days later, she was reunited with the phone and my cynicism was proven wrong.
This experience highlighted a valuable lesson about community. In Morocco, it is common practice to refer to people, friend or stranger, your “brother” or “sister.” I thought this was just to be polite, but the story of the lost phone proved to me that it is also because Morocco has much tighter bonds of community than I’ve experience in the U.S. When a friend of a friend of a friend calls to ask a big favor, my expectation would be that this person would say, “Sure, I’ll try,” but never actually do anything. But in Morocco, of course you go out of your way to help a total stranger because ultimately, they too are your brother or sister.
A Difficult Repair
An iPhone was also involved when I learned another powerful lesson. Several months ago, my iPhone’s charging port ceased to function. I knew it would be a challenge to get it fixed as there are no Apple stores in Morocco, but I found a place on Facebook that said they repaired iPhones. When I brought them my phone, they turned me away since it was less than a year old and repairing it would break my warranty. I explained that I didn’t care about my warranty, but they still said they couldn’t help. I tried a second place but was turned away there too because my phone has an American service provider. They said that I could only get my phone fixed in America. I was pretty desperate at this point, especially because I wasn’t going to be returning to the U.S. for several months.
Later that afternoon, while explaining the sad saga to a coworker, the courier for our office jumped in the conversation. While he doesn’t really speak English, his understanding of the language is pretty good. He told me in Darija that he had a friend who could fix my phone. He said that he would take my phone over there and get the guy to look at, and it should be as good as new in a few hours. I was hesitant to give him my beloved and very expensive phone to take to a total stranger to fix, but I didn’t really have any other options. So, I took a leap of faith and handed my phone over.
A few hours later, he returned with my phone that had miraculously been fixed, and even better, he had videoed the entire repair just to give me confidence that he wasn’t ripping me off. When I asked what I owed, he said only 300 dirhams, or 30 bucks – definitely less than what I would have had to pay in the States. For me, it was an important lesson about trust. While I tend to always have my guard up, strangers in Morocco have proved to me time and time again that they will to go out of their way to help me, if only I show them a little bit of trust.
A Chance Encounter
The most recent enlightening experience happened while surfing this past week. I am regularly the only female in the water, and at least during my pre-work surfs, I am often the only person in the ocean. But on this occasion, shortly after I paddled out, another woman did too. We smiled and said “bonjour.” She was probably in her early forties and looked vaguely familiar. When a set rolled though, she called me into a really good wave and when I returned to the lineup, I thanked her. You never know how friendly other surfers are, as many, myself included, like to use surfing as a time for solitary reflection. But when she asked where I was from, we struck up a conversation in a mix of French and English about surfing spots in Morocco. She was easily one of the best surfers I’d ever seen at the beach and I was so grateful as she consistently helped me pick the best waves to ride.
It dawned on me, as we sat in the line-up together, that she could possibly be the pioneering female Moroccan surfer I had read an interview with earlier that year. She was about the right age and clearly had the talent, but I couldn’t remember the woman’s name. I made a point of asking her name before I went in, and she said Fatima. As soon as I got home I pulled up the article I’d read about female surfers in Morocco and lo and behold, the woman I’d remembered was named Fatima. I looked at the pictures and sure enough, it was the same woman. I really couldn’t believe it. Certainly, the surfing community is pretty small in Morocco, but I never expected reading that article before I moved here that I would end up getting a surfing lesson from none other than the most decorated female Moroccan surfer of all time. This experience reminded me of just how small a world it really is and about how the most memorable moments are often those you haven’t planned for.
There have been countless other funny, excruciating, challenging, and instructive experiences this year. Beau Flemister’s words have never rung truer. The lessons travel imparts come with far greater risk than those given in classroom. You risk not just a bad grade, but offending people, humiliating yourself, and getting very lost. The world won’t just hand you the right answers; your wisdom is hard-earned through many moments of cultural misunderstanding and making a fool of yourself. But you’ll come out the other side with greater humility, a stronger sense of wonder, and confidence in your ability to adapt to whatever obstacles are thrown your way.
Essential Arabic Phrases from Om El Donia (Alexandria)
Arabic is one of the top five most common languages, with many dialects spoken throughout the globe. Among these, Egyptian Arabic is the unofficial lingua franca of the Arab world.
Despite walking into my year as a MENAR Fellow in Egypt with what could be described as a nearly impenetrable language barrier, I dedicated myself to absorbing as much as I could of Egyptian Arabic.
As I picked up new techniques in teaching language fluency and literacy in my role as a classroom teacher, I also saw myself undergoing a parallel journey of language acquisition.
Learning Arabic has been one of the most rewarding decisions I’ve made this year. I owe what I know in large part to my sharp-witted tutor, and also to friends and colleagues, as well as a multitude of endlessly patient and good-humored neighbors, shopkeepers, street vendors, and passersby who all played the role of circumstantial conversation partners.
Throughout this journey, I’ve found a new appreciation for the great meaning carried by minute details. I’ve found myself listening more closely and growing closer to people around me in the process.
Often the smallest details convey the most significant meaning. I recently made the mistake of telling someone, “Ana bakelem araby micaserat,” instead of “Ana bakelem araby micasr,” and just that one single mistakenly added syllable changed the meaning from, “I speak broken Arabic” to “I speak Arabic nuts.”
While I do sound admittedly nuts speaking Arabic, I’ve learned that letting go of perfection and my inhibitions has been as essential to learning the language as it has been to embracing life here in Egypt.
Communication promotes understanding. A little has gone a long way towards genuine moments of human connection. I’ve come to believe more than ever that intentional communication is one of the most sincere forms of care. It demonstrates a willingness to enter into new situations with curiosity, humility, and commitment to meet people on their level. Learning Arabic has opened many doors—sometimes literal ones—I’ve been invited into more people’s homes than I ever could have imagined.
Language plays a significant role in shaping people’s lived realities, and can say so much about a culture. After nearly a year of trials, tribulations, and triumphs with the Arabic language, I wrote this post to give some insight into a few of my favorite Egyptian Arabic phrases that I feel give unique insight into Egyptian culture.
Come, drink tea!
You might hear this condensed version of the phrase “ta3ala eshrab shay” from a number of different people. [Note: "3" is often used in writing to denote the Arabic letter "ain," which does not have an equivalent in English.] The bawab on your street. The neighbor you pass in the stairwell. The person you just asked for directions. Regardless of whether they actually have any tea or not, the important part is that they thought to invite you.
That’s a pity
There’s no direct translation in English for ma3lesh, but the meaning becomes clear when you hear it in use. You spilled coffee on your shirt? Ma3lesh. Car broke down in traffic? Ma3lesh. Don’t have any change? Ma3lesh. It’s an incredibly versatile phrase that acts as the verbal band-aid on all sorts of day-to-day wounds.
A story goes that generations ago when farmers wanted to sell their produce, they had to wait in long lines under the sweltering sun to have it weighed by distributors. Farmers who grew kousa, or zucchini, were allowed to cut to the front of the line because zucchini withers quickly in the sun. Today, somebody with kousa is the kind of person who is always at the front of the line, a person with a lot of influence.
It would not be uncommon for a street vendor to make your foul [fava bean] sandwich and then refuse to take any money, replying “khally,” which comes from the word for “keep” but means something more like, “no need to pay.” It is a gesture of goodwill that essentially means, “this one’s on the house.” When someone says this (after paying the right amount, of course) the appropriate reply is, “robena ykhaleek,” or “may God keep you.”
Sabah al kher
When you say good morning in Egypt, it is always more than just good morning. It is the "morning of blessings." Alternatively, if whoever you are talking to is really going above and beyond, it could also be the morning of any number of flowers (sabah al fol… sabah al yasmine… sabah al ward…) Sometimes the exchange goes long enough until you’ve named the whole garden. Mornings in Egypt give new meaning to the phrase, “Wake up and smell the roses.”
Somebody who is sousa is a bit too clever for their own good, and uses it to cause all kinds of trouble. If you are also a primary teacher, like me, you definitely know exactly what I’m talking about.
The key to many of Egypt’s most delicious desserts is cream, or eshta. It makes sense, then, that if we agree that something is cool we’d also say it’s eshta.
You light up the world
Egyptians aren’t afraid to let you know that you brighten their day. More than that, you’ve just brightened up the whole world if you hear someone tell you minowar. It’s no wonder that Egypt has among the highest number of sunny days in the world.
Baylor University has posted a great feature article about our 2018-2019 fellow Hannah Byrd, who will be teaching English at ClubAnglais in Tunisia. Read the article here: "Recent Baylor Graduate Awarded MENAR Fellowship to Serve in Tunisia". Congrats Hannah!
The Middle East and North Africa Regional Fellowship Program (MENAR) is pleased to introduce the organization’s fifth class of fellows.
The Middle East and North Africa Regional (MENAR) Fellowship Program was founded in 2011 with the objective of offering one-year post-graduation fellowships to top graduates of American colleges at leading organizations across the Middle East and North Africa region. Since then, 11 fellows have had the opportunity to work and live in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. This year, for the first time, MENAR Fellows will also be located in Tunisia and Israel.
The MENAR Fellowship Program facilitates intercultural exchange by coordinating fellowships for recent American college graduates with both businesses and non-profit organizations in the Middle East. The MENAR Fellowship Program screens partner organizations; provides the organizations with a guarantee of excellence from fellows; allows fellows to access a range of opportunities through a single application process; and supports fellows and partners through the intricacies of international placements.
The fifth fellowship cohort consists of 11 recent college graduates from different universities across the United States, with majors ranging from International Studies to Film & Media Studies to Biology.
Fellows will depart for their placements this summer. Some MENAR fellows will spend a year with previous partners, including the Collateral Repair Project, Bayt.com, Experience Morocco, and Elm International School, while others will work with new partners, including Cosmos Organization, ClubAnglais, and the Eastern Mediterranean International School. They will share their experiences on MENAR’s website throughout the year.
The fifth class of MENAR fellows are:
- Hannah Byrd
Education: Baylor University
Placement: ClubAnglais, Tunis, Tunisia
- Mushfiqur Chowdhury
Education: Harvard University, University of Southern California
Placement: Cosmos Organization, Tunis, Tunisia
- Eliza Davis
Education: Tufts University
Placement: Collateral Repair Project, Amman, Jordan
- Madeline Ewbank
Education: Northwestern University
Placement: Cosmos Organization, Tunis, Tunisia
- Bryce Feibel
Education: Dickinson College
Placement: Bayt.com, Amman, Jordan
- Madison Fisher
Education: Georgetown University
Placement: Eastern Mediterranean International School, Tel Aviv, Israel
- Hazlett Henderson
Education: Swarthmore College
Placement: Elm International School, Alexandria, Egypt
- Lisa MacKenzie
Education: Bowdoin College
Placement: Bayt.com, Amman, Jordan
- Jessica Miller
Education: University of Wisconsin – Madison
Placement: Collateral Repair Project, Amman, Jordan
- Madeleine Minke
Education: Pomona College
Placement: Experience Morocco, Casablanca, Morocco
- Aiesha Savage
Education: Williams College
Placement: Elm International School, Alexandria, Egypt
Read more about the fellows on the Current Fellows page of our website.
Confessions of a Reformed Skeptic
I think as humans, we’re very compelled by the idea of martyrdom. We love characters like Harry Potter and Frodo Baggins -- the ones willing to carry a great burden and responsibility for the good of all. Now I don’t always mean martyrdom in the fullest, most complete sense of the word -- we generally aren’t keen on seeing our heroes fall, so don’t misunderstand me. But we are all, in our core, drawn to the idea of an individual willing to make sacrifices for the preservation of ideals like goodness and justice. I mean it’s why Avengers Infinity War just broke so many box office records, right?
Probably, like you, I have many family members and dear friends who chose teaching as a career path. And probably, like you, I didn’t really get it. I felt like teachers were and are the forgotten martyrs of American culture. Sure, we have a teacher appreciation week and every once in awhile I wrote a thank you note growing up. But really it seemed like somewhere along the way, the educator’s impossible task -- to teach, mentor, coach, parent, model, and everything else in between -- had become normalized as reasonable for what is often an underpaid and under-resourced position. I looked at my friends and family who became teachers and sort of shook my head, impressed by their nobility, but very skeptical of their decision.
And then I entered the classroom.
And this is where I want to shake my head at myself. After all those years of swearing to myself I would never be a teacher! Here I am, actually enjoying the job. Sigh.
Moving to Egypt has been full of unexpected discoveries. Of course in many ways, moving abroad, we come expecting the unexpected. But learning to love education this year has been among my biggest surprises. If I had never entered the classroom on this fellowship year, I might never have discovered the satisfaction I find in a fast-paced and reactive day-to-day work environment. I might never have fully realized how much I enjoy being surrounded by kids on a daily basis. And I definitely never would have opened up to teaching as a reasonable and fulfilling career path.
I never wanted to be a martyr for the classroom, and I still don’t want to be. The American and many international education systems need reform, and I hope my generation will pick up that torch. But in the meantime, reflecting on this year, I’m genuinely and joyfully surprised by the direction I’ve found looking toward a future in education. And if that makes you want to shake your head and sigh . . . I get it.
But then again, maybe you should give the classroom a chance.
Here’s a video of one of the many moments I’ve loved this year with my students, from our STEAM Week and Future City projects. Check it out!
When I decided to major in Middle East Studies, I had no idea what I was going to do with my degree after graduation. I knew that I loved the subject, but was clueless as to how I could turn that passion into a job of any kind. A few years and many classes later, I had developed a slightly clearer focus – I knew I wanted to live in the Middle East and work in politics in some way – but concrete career goals eluded me. Luckily, while finding ways to avoid studying for finals, I noticed an advertisement for the MENAR Fellowship program, which seemed to offer just what I was looking for.
My official title is Policy and Research Fellow at Qatar University’s Social and Economic Survey Research Institute (SESRI). SESRI conducts surveys of Qatar’s population on topics ranging from political concerns to charitable giving to attitudes towards gender equality. It then analyzes the survey data and distributes its analyses with the goal of informing governmental policy-making with quantitative data.
SESRI employees carry out the interviews by phone or in person and record survey responses in an electronic database. Once the survey has been carried out, SESRI analysts perform statistical analyses on the survey data to identify patters and draw conclusions. Finally, the analysts write reports and policy briefs on conclusions that may be of interest to policymakers in Qatar. In addition, since the majority of SESRI researchers are academics, they also use survey data to support articles in peer-reviewed journals.
My work focuses on data analysis and report/academic paper writing, with about 30% of my time dedicated to statistical analysis, 40% to researching for papers, and 30% to actual writing. Because I am free to choose the projects I work on, I can immerse myself in topics that most interest me.
For example, one of my first projects was to author a report on data collected for the political opinions and attitudes portion of SESRI’s annual Omnibus survey. This survey gathered popular opinions on trust in the government, the importance of democracy, Qatar’s rapid socioeconomic change, and many other topics. Working on this project allowed me to familiarize myself with Qatar’s political landscape, which is one of my professional goals for my time here. I’ve also authored a policy brief on the public attitudes towards – and potential economic benefits of – water conservation efforts in Qatar. This project allowed me to develop expertise on water scarcity mitigation techniques, one of the most urgent needs for Qatar and other countries on the Arabian Peninsula, and indulge my longstanding interest in natural resource management.
Working for SESRI has also given me opportunities beyond the specific projects I’ve worked on. Through the Institute’s onboarding program, I received training in STATA statistical software and, as a result, have greatly improved my quantitative analysis skills. Because SESRI is part of Qatar University, I have been able to audit classes in the University’s Arabic language program as well as the Gulf Studies program (an international relations graduate program that focuses on the Gulf region). In addition, my position at SESRI has allowed me to attend many conferences, lectures, and panels where I’ve made great professional connections.
One reason I came to Qatar was to continue learning about an area of the world that I spent so much time studying in college. Working for SESRI has allowed me to do that to an extent I would have never expected. I look forward to what the next few months will bring.
My Grandpa is the Coolest Guy I Know
Right before I left for Egypt, my 91-year old grandfather and I sat down and looked at pictures from his earliest explorations of the world, some of which dated back to the late 1930’s. Pictures from when he taught in Istanbul with my grandmother in their earliest years of marriage, his traipse through Central America back when a Jeep was not a stylish accessory but the only practical means of crossing the terrain, meeting my grandmother in a coffee shop in France, and time spent in Egypt on sabbatical. My grandfather is one seriously adventurous guy, and was always years ahead of his era when it came to photography. His lifelong passion for documenting his experiences has been a brilliant blessing in my family, because it has helped give us a sense of our history and the legacy he and my grandmother have left for us.
I vividly remember leaving that day thinking to myself that my grandpa might be one of the most adventurous people I’ve ever met. How many people can say that? But I was beginning my life of adventure in a very different era than my grandfather. His travels across the Atlantic involved a multi-week boat ride -- mine would be a less-than-24-hour plane commute. To communicate with his family, he would use an international telegraph, write letters, and perhaps in the most necessary circumstances might access an intercontinental phone call. On the other hand, I can Skype my family less than 15 seconds after the idea crosses my mind.
In a world of digital noise and with his legacy in mind, I was left wondering: How am I going to document my experiences in a way that, 70 years from now, will be meaningful for my potential grandchildren?
Like my grandfather, I have always loved the craft of storytelling, but have never felt the same pull toward photography that he has. In an internship after my sophomore year of college, I was introduced to the world of videography, and have been captivated ever since. I love the way it challenges me to take the setting I’m in and figure out the story it’s trying to tell, rather than the other way around. Much like photography, it requires a creativity of its own -- authentic storytelling requires a willingness to look at our daily moments through a new angle and lens. I’ve found videography helps me to make sense of my experiences, and offers insights I didn’t notice in real time. It’s my way of reflecting on where I’ve been and what it meant to me.
In my October blog post, I talked about how strongly I wished I could capture the sights and sounds of Egypt to share the brilliance of daily life here. There really is no way of capturing what life anywhere looks like through a medium beyond memories and the human experience. But living and working in Egypt over the past 6 months has given weight to my videography endeavors. Shooting footage and creating features isn’t only a way to reflect on my memories anymore; it creates pathways for sharing and documenting the world we know in a way that did not exist 70 years ago. What started as a desire to document my life in Egypt for something to show the grandkids has become much more. Now I see video as a way to build bridges and take down walls between the East and West, through adding to the narrative. And frankly, I think that’s an adventure my grandfather will be quite proud of.
Here’s a video I recently made from my trip to Fowa, Egypt, a small village in the Nile Delta with a rich history of artisans, trade, and agriculture, and a brilliant passion for sharing their city with visitors.
Being Intentional While Working Abroad
My job has changed significantly since I first came into the office -- way too early for Ramadan hours. (Hint: If you start a job during Ramadan, don’t show up before 10:30 am.) I feel really lucky to try out so many different roles and be part of a company that recognizes strengths and adapts opportunities to meet those strengths and interests. I tried my hand at marketing, UX design, content writing, and everything in between. I thought I had finally settled into a role as a product manager for a new B2B product that we’re launching, but after one seemingly random 2:00 pm email, this changed. The sales team found out that I was actually pretty good with data analysis. For the next week, I became the go-to person for data analyses and sales presentations for some of our big client meetings in Saudi Arabia and Dubai.
Maybe that sounds boring to some, but for graduate students in International Economics (including me), it’s everything we’ve been preparing for. Still seems boring? Yes, sometimes staring at an Excel sheet for hours and making various pivot tables to try and find trends isn’t the most exciting. However, throw in the fact that I’m compiling data from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, and Kuwait, then it gets pretty interesting. When you can actually see where the economic downturns occurred because of decreased spending and hires or you have to factor in Saudi nationalization for data analysis, it becomes an enthralling puzzle for anyone interested in economics and the Middle East.
For most expats coming to the region, they don’t imagine working for a private sector company. In fact, the looks of surprise and following intrigued questions when I mention that I don’t work for an NGO or English school are always amusing. Some of my Jordanian friends have even referred to me as a unicorn for being one of the only “white girls that doesn’t work for an NGO.” Perhaps that can be a harsh way to verbalize it, but the statement truly covers a myriad of dynamics that expats need to be prepared for when moving to another country for work. Whether you’re working for an NGO or a private company, you have to understand the underlying tension behind both of these spaces, as not only does it exist but the concerns are 100% valid.
Sitting in a taxi once, the taxi driver exclaimed harami, or “thief,” when finding out that I was employed here in Jordan. He followed it up later with imzah imzah, “I’m kidding,” after offering a cigarette. I had responded to his cigarette offer with, ana harami tathaker, or “I’m a thief, remember.” I learned early that sassy comebacks in Arabic will immediately ease any tension and create a forever friendship between you and the taxi driver. So, he insisted that he was kidding and that I take the cigarette as a token of his apology, but the sentiment of harami remained.
When you come to work in another country that’s facing high rates of unemployment, especially when you’re coming from a country that’s viewed as the epitome of work opportunity, there will be tension. What are your intentions here? Do they justify your time here? Are you really bringing added value in your position or is there someone local and more qualified to be doing this? Are you hired here because you’re white? These are questions that you’ll be asking yourself at some point or answering from others. I found that my time should be intentional and not a lackadaisical entrance into the workforce as an excuse to live somewhere different and foreign for a while. I’ve felt the need to prove my value of being here -- that I can help as an individual, whether it’s bringing a new idea into my company based on my specific qualifications, or spending weekends working on water management projects to revitalize local farmland. I’m not just taking up valuable space here, but trying to give back more than I’m taking from the place that’s letting me call it home.
I love my job and have found more and more satisfaction as I’ve become more intentional about my reasons for being here. I’m not just here because it’s fun and I want to live abroad -- a common trope of expats in the Middle East that can create tension based on the juxtaposition of living and employment opportunities for Jordanians versus expats. I’m here to do a job, provide value to my company, gain experience in a tech company that works across 13 different offices, and learn as much as I can to ensure that I don’t take my work opportunity for granted in a region that has some of the highest rates of youth unemployment. It’s a humbling, gratitude-inducing experience that will truly pave my career path from this point on.
It may seem odd that a girl raised in the mountains of Colorado loves surfing, but starting a few years ago surfing became one of my greatest passions. While I lived in landlocked Washington, D.C., I was constantly planning my vacations to places where I could surf and I was often staying up odd hours to watch competitions happening half-way across the world in Hawaii or Fiji. Surfing was more of an obsession than just a hobby; it consumed my dreams and was a major impetus for my taking the position at Experience Morocco. Moving to Casablanca meant living next to an ocean and the chance to surf every day.
Now living in Casablanca, surfing does in many ways dictate my day-to-day schedule. Lucky for me, my role at Experience Morocco allows for flexible work hours, so I can shape my schedule to allow for trips to the beach when the waves are at their best. But surfing in Casablanca has also posed its challenges.
The first being how get my surf boards from my apartment in downtown to the beach, a 20 minute drive away. I don’t have a car and my surfboards don’t easily fit inside taxis. This often meant strange looks and hard bargaining in order to convince taxi and Careem [the Middle Eastern version of Uber] drivers to allow me to strap the board to their roof or let it poke out the back window. Now, my friendship with some of the instructors at a local surf school means I can keep my board at the school. I also bought a special rack that allows me to carry my surfboard on my bike. I am really looking forward to summer to actually use this. Right now, I get so cold biking to the ocean, I lose my motivation to then dive in the freezing Atlantic waters.
Another challenge is that the ocean conditions this winter have not always been conducive to surfing. The beach in Casablanca is a long stretch of sand that faces north. As winter storms barrel south from the Arctic regions, they create huge swells which translate into big waves. Unfortunately for me, the beach in Casablanca does not handle these big swells well. The beach becomes unsurfable with two and three meter waves crashing on the shallow sand banks, and the wind blows from the ocean to the land, further deteriorating the conditions. But, since I will be taking a surf instructor qualification test later in February, I still need to practice. This means going to the gym.
Some of my favorite memories of this year will actually be interacting with local women at the gym. Three days a week the gym’s pool is open for women. On these days, if I can’t surf, I will go to swim laps. Moroccan women though don’t really use the pool to swim laps; instead it is like a big pool party. Women of all ages floating, splashing, and laughing in the waters. It can be a challenge to find space to actually swim as I dodge other pool users. At first I was getting lots of funny looks, like, "Who is this white girl swimming swimming back and forth?" But soon, women were approaching me to ask where I was from, where I learned to swim, and if I could teach them. It is a challenge to explain in my broken French and Darija the basics of swimming, but I do my best. Mostly, I mime the movements, showing the women how to hold on to the edge of the pool to practice kicking or giving pointers on arm positions. Slowly but surely, I have noticed more women joining me as I swim laps. I never thought I would need to know the words for stroke, kick, and paddle in Arabic or French, but these impromptu swim lessons are growing my vocabulary and connections to the community. I can’t say that these swim sessions have improved my surfing, but they do provide a bit fun and laughter on those days I can’t make it to the ocean.
Compared to where I was just one year ago, I’ve come to realize that my life these days is reflected in a near perfect mirror image across the other side of the Mediterranean.
A year ago, in Thessaloniki, Greece, I would wake up each morning to the smell of the sea and wander sleepily down apartment-lined streets to catch a city bus to the outskirts of the city. I would disembark at an abandoned cement factory, the inside converted into a refuge for families displaced from Syria and Iraq. I would enter the building, ascend the stairs to a room overlooking the former factory floor, and greet a room full of youth who were part of the first ever education program in the camp. For some, it was their very first experience in a classroom, even a makeshift one. For me, it was my first experience as a teacher.
The beginning of this month marked the start of my second term as a class teacher at Elm International School in Alexandria, Egypt. These days, I wake up each morning to the smell of a different sea. I wander a short ways down a tree-lined street to reach the gates of a historic villa converted into a school. Once inside, I walk up the stairs to a sunlit classroom, its green-shuttered windows looking out onto a canopy of fluttering leaves.
Reflecting on where I was a year ago has allowed me to trace an unexpected connectedness within my own life, as I look across my journey in international education. I’ve seen that learning can occur in the least expected places, from former factories to converted villas. Along the way, I’ve picked up skills, practices, and frameworks that I can adapt to any new environment.
Teaching is the first job I’ve had that can be described in a single word. This role has enabled me to tap into a more creative side of myself, to extend my patience beyond what I imagined myself capable of, to appreciate spontaneity and allow myself to be surprised, to expand my capacity to care, to be dynamic. Thinking of the ways that I’ve already grown within the space of a single year, I feel more focused, capable, and excited about my path forward.
My experience in Greece taught me that learners with different needs, aspirations, and life experiences—those who don’t look like traditional students—are typically relegated to realms of the education system that offer limited pathways forward. My experience in Egypt has shown me that a student-centered model can effectively provide meaningful pathways to advance education, while also valuing each learners’ unique next steps.
One year ago, I was working against severe resource constraints, policy barriers, and lack of political will to design meaningful learning opportunities for displaced youth. Now, I teach at an international school that draws learners from a wide variety of backgrounds and life experiences. While the education model I’m currently working with isn’t without its own unique challenges, teaching at Elm International School has certainly expanded my perspective. It has allowed me to see that challenges can push educators to think more creatively about what education means in the most fundamental sense.
My journey over the past year has reaffirmed my commitment to expand the opportunities students can have, regardless of their circumstances. For a generation of youth eager to learn, grow, and make change for a better world, this could be my greatest impact.
Over the past few months, the weather in Jordan has been changing from heat that causes sweat while you sit to cold that causes you to shiver while you run. Originally coming from Minnesota, the land of cold and ice, I thought I was braced to fare any type of cold the winter throws at me. Little did I know that the winter in Jordan is an entirely different breed of cold. A key difference between homes in Minnesota verses homes here in Jordan is that homes here are designed to stay cool in the summer heat and are therefore not equipped with central heating. This changes the way you play the winter game.
When preparing for the winter, I’ve been grateful to rely on the knowledge of my Jordanian friends to transform my perfect-for-summer breezy apartment into a fortress against the cold. There are three main steps to take when fighting the cold: change your furnishing, change out your fans and change your clothes.
When transforming your physical apartment space, it all starts with making sure there are as many materials in your house as possible to line the floors and the windows. Starting from the bottom moving up, we lined our house with carpets from the local market. Not only are they beautiful, but they provide the insulation we need to sustain any warmth within the apartment. Next, we moved to the windows. One key feature in my apartment are the floor to ceiling windows we have in our living room. Just as they generate natural light, they also let in the cold from outside. Therefore, we invested in thick curtains to block out any wind that might seep through.
The next step to keeping your home cozy involves making the financial investment in space heaters. In our apartment, we use two different types of heaters: an electric heater and a gas heater, commonly referred to as a “soba.” The electric heater, although easier to manage, requires a lot of electricity to function. Although they are strong (you can even cook on them! See picture), many heat-experts opt for the “soba,” a gas heater. Although initially frightening because they require opening a tank of gas similar to the one used for a grill, they quickly light up and project heat throughout the room (with three different heat settings!). Just remember, when you turn on your heaters in the main room, make sure to shut all of your bedroom doors.
Finally, adapting to the cold requires an outfit change. One essential piece required for everyone’s wardrobe is the “farwa” (see picture). The “farwa” is a coat commonly used by local Jordanians to protect against the cold. It is a thick leather coat lined with fleece that even the cold from my home in Minnesota can’t penetrate. Making the investment makes a world of a difference.
All in all, even though winter in Jordan has presented new challenges and changes, I’ve taken the above steps and, when in doubt, rely on hot chocolate to warm my body and soul.
Rafael the Pet Tree, the Trash Cats, and Other Signs of Home
Before embarking on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, the most common advice I received from friends, family, and colleagues was to “make the most of it.” When I tried to apply that recommendation into my daily life, however, it felt like an obligation: I should be going to events, building my professional network, continuing to study Arabic, learning new hobbies, hanging out with Jordanians, reading the news, cooking local foods, exploring new places, and any otherwise “productive” ways to fill every moment of time outside of work.
However, five months into the fellowship, I’ve found myself spending a lot of my free time watching TV, beautifying my apartment, and just… being. On the surface, maybe that seems as though I’m not successfully "making the most" of my time here. Working at CRP is meaningful and rewarding, but between all of my various responsibilities, there’s rarely a calm moment.
After work, I walk down the hill to my building, say hello to the kittens playing in the dumpster, water my plants, and settle down on the couch with some tea and my knitting. In that routine, I put all of the day’s stresses to rest. I create a space where I’m able to approach the next day renewed and energized.
Practicing self-care helps me in the day-to-day so that I can be the best version of myself during and after work. What I’ve been reminded of in the past week particularly is that having this secure space is also a tool for when I feel overwhelmed by events beyond my control. A few days ago, President Trump decided to relocate the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, a decision that outraged many Jordanians. Protests erupted across the country, and I began to see videos taken only a few kilometers from where I live with protestors chanting anti-American slogans and burning the American flag. After dedicating so much time finding my place in Jordanian culture and society, it was a hard reminder that my own nationality was a lot of baggage to bring into a country still struggling to assimilate hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees. Those protests -– and the decision that led to them -– were upsetting, but they were also outside of my control. My oasis of calm gave me space to reflect on the unrest without being consumed by it.
“Make the most of it” isn’t bad advice for someone taking on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. My work at CRP has been a deeply rewarding experience so far, and I know I am making a positive difference in the lives of refugees who have all too few opportunities to grow. But that work involves knowing my limits, and part of this experience has been learning what those are. Sometimes, making the most of it involves knowing when to step back, sit down, and be at home.
Princeton Alumni Weekly magazine has selected three of MENAR's Board of Directors members to feature as "Tigers of the Week" on its website. The article profiles Adrienne Clermont, Zach Ruchman, and Colleen McCullough, who graduated from Princeton in 2009, 2010, and 2012, respectively. Read the article here!
Three weeks into my time in Qatar, I heard what has become my favorite description of the country.
The comment came from an Australian expatriate who has been living in Doha for several years now. When I told her that I was new to Qatar, she proceeded to tell me what it’s like to live here, how to get involved in different communities, and so on. She summed it all up by saying “Qatar is like an outpost, like Mos Eisley in Star Wars.”
Being a huge Star Wars fan, I instantly recalled the scene. But at that point, I didn’t have enough time in-country to assess the accuracy of the comparison. Now, three months in, I know exactly what she meant. This obscure reference captures one of the most defining aspects of my experience in Qatar so far: the stunning diversity.
In the Star Wars universe, Mos Eisley is a major trading center and spaceport on the desert planet of Tatooine. Spaceships from across the galaxy stop at this commercial hub during their travels, making Mos Eisley home to a dizzying array of creatures. As the camera pans across the busy streets and marketplaces, viewers see creatures of every shape, size, and color. Some have spent their entire lives there, some visit regularly, and some are one-time visitors. The whole scene is a rich display of diversity.
Like the crowds in Mos Eisley, the communities I’ve encountered and become a part of in Qatar are highly diverse. I live and work at Qatar University (QU), so many of my friends are students with whom I live in the dorm and researchers with whom I work at the office. I also attend a church, and have made several friends in that community. Taken together, my friends and colleagues at QU and church represent 36 different countries, spanning every inhabited continent (though there is only one person from South America). The full list of countries can be found at the end of this post. What’s more, their reasons for coming to Qatar are almost as diverse as the community itself. Some came for higher salaries, some out of a desire to travel, and some to escape a lack of opportunity in their home country.
Qatar’s demographics are somewhat unique. Native Qataris comprise about 12% of the population, expatriates from India make up about 25%, and the remaining 63% is composed of expatriates from a highly fragmented mix of countries. So, I knew there would be many nationalities represented here. I also knew that Qatar University attracts students from a wide array of countries. But even with this background, I’ve been surprised by the diversity of Qatar’s population.
In addition to making for interesting “where are you from?” small talk, this wide range of nationalities has led to some memorable experiences. Last month, for example, I stumbled into a conversation in the QU dorm comparing the benefits of English vs. French colonialism. The students with whom I was talking were from Ghana (an English colony until 1957) and Togo (a French colony until 1960), and the conversation was initiated by me asking about their time in high school. Before I knew it, the question “what language did they speak in your secondary school?” led to statements like “it was much better to be colonized by the English than the French.”
While I was aware that colonization has many modern-day consequences, I still saw colonialism as a relic of the past. However, as I listened to my friends’ conversation, I realized that my one-dimensional view contrasted sharply with their multifaceted perspectives on colonialism – born out of their personal experience – as a potent, active, and oftentimes tragic force in their lives. Their discussion was strikingly candid, even light-hearted, and reflected the ways in which colonialism continues to shape their experiences at home.
The impact of this diversity was on display again last week, when Robert Mugabe resigned as president of Zimbabwe. While people across the globe recognized the magnitude of the event, there was something special about seeing my friend from church, who is from Zimbabwe, react to the news as it first broke. We were gathered together for Tuesday evening bible study, and upon hearing the news she became overjoyed. Her face lit up as she excitedly called family and friends back home. Her joyfulness filled the entire room and reflected the significance of Mugabe’s resignation in a unique and powerful way.
Importantly for the Star Wars fans among my family, friends, and anyone else reading this blog, there are also major differences between Qatar and Mos Eisley. For example, the former is welcoming and exceedingly safe, whereas the latter is famously dangerous and described as a “wretched hive of scum and villainy.” That difference (and many others not germane to this post) aside, both destinations are home to an incredibly diverse array of people (and aliens), and that’s enough for me to hold on to the belief that Qatar could be a real-world Mos Eisley.
Now, the full list of my friends’ and colleagues’ home countries:
- Burkina Faso
- South Africa
- South Korea
- The Netherlands
- The U.K.
- United Arab Emirates
I expected returning to Morocco would feel like coming home. The four months I spent studying abroad in Rabat were some of the happiest of my entire life. I was welcomed wholeheartedly by an incredible host family, my Arabic proficiency skyrocketed, and I developed a new passion for surfing. When I returned to the States, I made it my mission to find a way to move back to Morocco.
So when my start date in October for the fellowship at Experience Morocco finally rolled around, I was undeniably thrilled to be returning to the land of syrupy-sweet mint tea, year-round beach weather, and incredibly hospitable strangers. What I didn’t expect was for Morocco to feel so different the second time around. Sure, I was moving to a new city as a young professional, not a student, but Morocco is Morocco. Or not.
Turns out Casablanca could not be more different than Rabat. Where Rabat is quiet and maybe a little stuffy, matching the lifestyles of its mostly politically and diplomatically employed residents, Casablanca is chaotic, crowded, and runs on a frenetic energy. Everywhere you look is wild traffic and construction cranes. This isn’t to say Casa doesn’t have its charms, it just didn’t feel homey.
Now, as I end my third week here, I am still feeling a bit discombobulated and unsettled, but I also am determined to adapt. Of course, it is not just Morocco that is different, it is me too. I am no longer a student or part of an organized group. This time around I am an expat, a working professional, an individual who must craft her own community.
My priority now is to get to know my new home, instead of pining for the one I left at the end of study abroad. This week, I have managed to find a burger joint better than any of those in Rabat and nearly as good as my favorite back in Washington, DC. Another welcome observations is that I receive significantly less street harassment here than Rabat. Maybe it has to do with Casa’s more “cosmopolitan” identity or that everyone is always busy going to somewhere so they don’t have time to make a little comment here or there, but it is a development I won’t complain about.
Periods of transition personal, professional, or otherwise are never easy and to have one of these while also navigating language barriers, cultural differences, and wild traffic patterns only adds to the challenge. But in the little moments like surfing at sunset, understanding something a colleague says in Darija, sipping some mint tea, I am finding that same happiness I experienced my first time in Morocco. Everyone at work tells me that Casa is a city you either love or hate; I am still hopeful that it’s a place I’ll come to love and make home.