Eid Mubarek/Happy end of Ramadan! Today I concluded my month-long fast alongside the rest of the Moroccan community. I cannot emphasize enough how profound of an experience it was to participate in Ramadan in an Islamist country, but I would also like to give a MAJOR shout out to all the Muslims living in non-Islamist countries around the world, who fast without the support of an entire country, community, and/or family. So much respect to each and every one of you that find the strength in your faith to persevere as individuals fasting. The sense of community was one of my biggest incentives as well as one of my greatest support systems throughout my fast, and I can only imagine how challenging it must be to embark on the fast without that.
In the spirit of the end of the holiday, I thought it would be fitting to share the five biggest lessons I’ve learned in the first month and a half of my program abroad. While I can hardly believe I’m already halfway done with my entire project, the experiences I’ve had and lessons I’ve learned assure me that though time passes quickly, I am still making the most out of every second.
1) Say hello on the streets!
When I first arrived in Morocco, I was extremely apprehensive about engaging with locals outside of my work. I had been warned again and again prior to my trip about the forcefulness of unwelcome advances that naive foreigners inadvertently encouraged by being too friendly, (particularly from men) and I was worried that I would become a victim. While its always important to be cautious and aware, I took it to an extreme. I never smiled, said hello back, or made eye contact with anyone out on the streets. To be honest, I was downright hostile, which made me feel like a terrible representation of both myself and my country. Over time, I’ve learned how to balance my caution with friendliness: you can tell who is a friend and who is not, and I’ve developed confidence in my ability to differentiate between the two. More importantly though, every person has a unique story to tell... A unique story that could impact your own story, if you choose to let it.
2) Document the special moments.
I’m learning this lesson the hard way, as I continue to struggle with what to highlight through this blogging platform. There are so many victories, failures, and stories to be told that it becomes difficult to keep track of them all, let alone decide which ones will be the most impactful for readers. But ever since I’ve begun jotting things down, I’ve been a lot more capable of synthesizing what seems like endless material into a powerful and accessible narrative for those of you who are so kindly following along on this journey. Beyond that, I’m also creating a better personal record of my adventures that help me keep it all in perspective as well.
3) Never underestimate the power of encouragement.
In executing a project centered on women’s empowerment through education, encouragement is key. But this is a lesson with a much broader application than just that. You may never directly see the immediate effects of your affirming words, but it is crucial that use them generously and authentically to reinforce the strength of the relationships you build regardless.
4) Try to be aware of the time passing.
With new groups of volunteers coming in and out of the house every few weeks, I have become acutely aware of just how quickly my project is moving along. I’ve been so fortunate to get to know a number of compassionate, creative, and motivated volunteers from all walks of life over the last month and a half, and I’m sure that trend will continue. The coming and going of the other volunteers also helps me keep track of my own timeline, which is so helpful in preventing me from ever taking this opportunity for granted. While its going by fast, remaining cognizant of living in the moment is helping me keep track of it all!
5) It’s okay to struggle with change.
New friendships with other volunteers develop, but then they return home. Students are invested in, but later on have to stop coming to lessons. The constantly changing dynamics of both the volunteer house and the classroom in which I teach are easily the two greatest challenges I continually face here. Sometimes I miss my old friends from May. Sometimes I hesitate to get to know the new volunteers for fear of getting too attached when they too eventually leave. Sometimes, I don’t know how to teach my class, which is no longer comprised of contemplative adults but instead with shy teenagers who are much more difficult to engage. Struggle is uncomfortable, but it is absolutely necessary to confront head on. This has not been an easy project, but it was never meant to be. By openly acknowledging the difficulties I’m facing, I’m hoping to overcome them rather than being overcome by them. And so far so good! But the first step is always acknowledging that struggle is as much a part of the journey as success.
Something you may have noticed in common amongst these lessons: they don’t just apply to my project in Morocco. All five of these lessons have a much broader application that, wherever you are in the world and whatever you’re doing, likely bear some relevance. It’s amazing what can be learned from a mere change of perspective!
Thanks for checking in, as always. Check back next week for a post on this weekend’s upcoming adventure... Camping out in the Sahara!