I try to stray away from being in the “using the internet as a journal” party because of the absolute groans I can hear omitting from my journalism professors but also because sharing feels…personal. And scary. And not like the fun stories most people are interested in. But I also think there is a certain power that comes with the vulnerability of a published diary. We eat it up and crave this amount of human honesty. Its as though someone gave us permission to finally consume relatable content that eases the irksome voice in the back of our head that says we are the only ones to think these things and act these ways. We are not.
So, I have decided to experiment with this post — it is an experiment with vulnerability. In the last week of my study abroad program, I did a lot of self-reflection and decided to compile the rambles into a post to remind my friends abroad and their friends at home that travels can really throw us into a tornado and spit us out on the other side just wondering “what the hell just happened?”
So without further ado, my thoughts on leaving a country after three months of trying to integrate:
APRIL 19, 2019
“I lived in countries where I could at least mumble through the languages, English and Spanish, and nothing more. I was hoping to create a gap between myself and my American tourist counterparts. Once I arrived in Morocco, I was that tourist. I might live here, but I do not speak Darija, Arabic or French. I suddenly had to rely on others to translate for me and guide me through this city I call home. I felt lost without my autonomous status in my host country.
I suddenly felt a reliance I had never experienced before, I needed a translator to go with me to the doctor and I have a Moroccan woman cooking and cleaning for me in my home. I think this is difficult for me to do because while I have been in Morocco, I have only been living among Moroccans, assimilating under the guise of integration. But the reality is, I did not need to seek a job, my school was already set up for me, I have an in-house chef and most people I have been introduced to speak English. It has been, in a way, easier than any other situation I could have imagined…I am uncomfortable with the fact that I know it would take me a few more months away from ISA to actually get to know Morocco, not just know it as a well-seasoned tourist does. I have been accepted and taken care of by Meknes, but I have not integrated in a way I would boast about.”
APRIL 20, 2019
“Are some stories meant to be kept? Held close to the heart and only mumbled about afterward when prompted? I feel like this is a little closer to the grouchy old man than I would like to be. Who knows.
What I do know is the question many responsible travelers ask themselves often while on the road: Would I still go there if I didn’t have my camera?
And I found, organically, myself adapting this question to my adventures: Am I doing this for the story or to actually do it?
And so in the past few months, I stopped experiencing things as a story to come and let them be a joy in the moment, a precious gift to myself.
This isn’t only the Sahara and Toubkal, mind you. This is for seemingly tiny moments like singing songs around a fire, too. This is an experiment of “Okay so, what if I take a photo of the fire instead of a video to show the singing and the stars?” What’s the point of one and not the other? What’s the point of both? The point of neither?
What if I don’t try to memorize details to share later? Why do these people care? Aren’t you only supposed to show 10 vacation photos? What’s the cap on travel stories? On mountains hiked and boats missed? Do we have a duty to ourselves to enjoy things at the moment? Or a duty to hide away these gems in our memories for when life is shitty? To relive and smile about the better days?
I don’t know. I really don’t. But I do know I took a hell of a lot fewer photos in Morocco than I would have a year ago. I know I have barely any images from when I was in Lisbon and a fairly okay memory of the things that happened while I was there (it was only last month, also holla, I was in Portugal last month).
Do we have a duty to hold onto every precious privileged moment we live in honor of those who do not have the opportunities we have been blessed with?
Don’t I want to continue traveling? Most people who are paid to travel are paid to travel and talk about it. What if I don’t want to talk about it!! What if I want to burrow these stories deep into my brain and peek back at these moments as a secret between myself and the people/camels/oceans that were there?”
APRIL 21, 2019
“I was able to talk through a lot of the technical aspects of leaving Morocco today. My final for my Migration and Transnationalism course was to write a self-reflection on ourselves as migrants and discuss our reflections for two hours in the last class. We arranged the desks in a circle and opened up, topic by topic. First, we tackled friendships: how it was to make friends in Morocco, our friends at home, what we do with friends in Maroc versus what we do with friends at home. It was a nice jumping off point, not too personal, easy.
We merged into conversations about staring and catcalling, about host families, language struggles, how they all intertwined with and outshone one another. It was nice being able to speak about the things we noticed and our worries about reverse-culture shock. Speaking with this Canadian migrant [our professor] in Morocco about our journeys validated them in a new way. While I love speaking to Moroccans about my time here, I fear speaking out of turn about difficult points for me while I have been here. Speaking with friends and family back home is difficult too: how do you talk about your life abroad when they have not experienced this country? There are too many stereotypes to be aware of, too many “not everyone is like this, mind you” comments necessary to fully be understood. So speaking to her about our processes these past three months was helpful. She reminded us that for only being here three-months, we did a good job. Our goal was not to fully integrate as a migrant of 15 years must, our goal was to semi-temporarily situate ourselves in a new country and take classes through a third party company.
And so the guilt we harbored about not doing a good enough job integrating slowly melted away and the excitement we felt to return to reliable wifi and solidarity while walking on the streets felt like something we could finally admit.”
April 27, 2019 (Departure day)
“I didn’t cry when I left. I felt sad, but it took until my plane landed in a new country for me to feel deeply sad to be gone.”
The more long-term travelers I talk to, the more common a lot of these thoughts seem to be. But I rarely find people talking about them. It is okay to feel emotions that are not expected of the kid who got to live in a new country for 3 months.
I should also mention that the stories are coming! There have been amazing stories and adventures that have unfolded in the past few months and soon they will be curated and ready to consume. These stories will have the adventure and excitement we all have fun reading about, but will also have the truth and vulnerability I’m working to publish as well. I’m just going to need a minute to be ready to share them as I come down from the whirlwind that was Morocco.