By WorldTeach Morocco volunteer Lisa Bobst, 2016
I was in the middle of some things when I packed up and left for Morocco in early June. Some of these were not so little things, like packing up and selling my home of twelve years, building a new home, raising a teenager. It was challenging and complicated, at 53 years old, to step out of my life and live a different one for two months. But it was so extraordinarily worthwhile.
I definitely felt like the oddball in our band of volunteers as we settled into our youth hostel during training week in Casablanca. Because I am a mom, I travel with Benadryl, band aids, and a lot of Tylenol, not to mention antibiotics and an extra of almost everything. I dispensed them as needed. A veteran teacher, I carried my years of classroom teaching experience with me, along with a lifetime of travel experience, problem solving, and trouble-shooting. I didn’t blend in with the volunteers, most of whom were younger than my children. I didn’t go to the clubs with them. I snored in the hostel bedroom. I was not a big fan of communal showers. But while I had arrived with a different skill set, I greatly admired my fellow volunteers and their ability to put themselves out there in ways that were clearly not comfortable for any of us. Their enthusiasm, intelligence, and good humor kept us all connected.
My contemporaries (my middle aged friends) thought I was crazy when I told them I was volunteering in a Muslim country, in a culture so different from our own. The biggest sticking point for them was not Morocco, but living with a host family for two months. After our training week in Casablanca, our volunteers split up and another volunteer and I headed down to El Jadida. As ready as I thought I was to immerse myself in the Moroccan culture and get to work, I found myself surprised by the family and the community I lucked into.
I had not expected to be living with a two career, middle class family with two kids, a four-month-old baby, and aunts, uncles, cousins and grandmas visiting on a regular basis. To be fair, I don’t think my host family was expecting to be hosting a middle aged teacher either! But we found out rather quickly that while maybe this wasn’t what we had anticipated, we all got along and enjoyed ourselves. My host mother was the Moroccan example of a woman who does it all – runs her own business, runs her household, and cooks like a boss.
My host dad, a chemical engineer, had projects in other countries and commuted by plane, leaving Sunday night and returning Friday. My host kids were open, interesting, and always fun to talk to. And babies! There were always babies around to snuggle and play with. It all felt very familiar and so similar to my own life.
And yet there were differences. My host dad visited the mosque almost every night for prayers. Ramadan affected every part of their lives for a month. There were hijabs and jilabas. There was a strong sense of shared community, of shared faith, of shared values. One of the classes I taught was a group of women who were involved in a women’s business association. I got a glimpse of the strength of their commitment to empowering each other and all Moroccan women. Another class I taught was a group of teenagers who showed up every morning during their summer vacation so they could practice their English, learn about American culture, and teach me about their culture and their heritage and their beliefs. In all these instances, I was met with an openness and a willingness to share culture and belief.
It hadn’t been simple for me to pull myself out of my life and to get on a plane bound for Morocco to live a very different life for a couple of months. It hadn’t been easy to explain to my friends and family why I felt compelled to do this.
But in the end, my Moroccan summer feels like a tremendous gift. I was welcomed into a community of extraordinary people who shared their homes, meals, and lives with me for a few months and who encouraged me to share mine with them. Our focus was learning a shared language, English, but what we shared was so much more. The connections I made, the family I have gained, will stay with me always.