By WorldTeach Morocco volunteer Shaalini Ganesalingam, 2016
“Oh honey, you ain’t gettin’ on this plane.”
I laughed. When the woman checking my luggage said this I thought to myself that this must be some silly airport joke. But her visible irritation made me realize this was not, in fact, some silly airport joke.
“You shouldn’t come here with less than an hour before your flight. You need to get here three hours ahead of departure,” she snapped at me.
But I had. It wasn’t my fault all the kiosks malfunctioned, causing the ridiculous lines for the person-administered check-ins. Before I could argue-
“You don’t have time for nothin’. Now you go on and race over to security. Make sure you don’t put any liquids in your hand luggage. Hurry now!”
That’s how I was reintroduced to air travel for the first time since second grade. I hadn’t even had time to say goodbye to my mother- a thought which didn’t pop into my head until hours later as I lay wide awake in my hostel bed in Casablanca, Morocco.
After the hullabaloo of landing, meeting all my co-volunteers and the coordinators, dropping off luggage at a hostel, and navigating Moroccan currency to buy some familiar McDonalds french fries, I finally got a moment.
And I was terrified.
What. Was. Wrong. With. Me?
I had signed myself up for this. I had signed up to ship myself overseas to a land I had no connection to, to teach English to Moroccan children for eight weeks. I didn’t speak a word of the local language and not a soul was familiar to me. Surely I had to be insane. That night I lay awake listening to the sounds around me, the voices of people talking outside of the hostel, the occasional pitter patter of footsteps making their way to the bathroom, and the huffs of my own erratic breathing. All of these sounds were perfectly accented with the deep trembling snores of my roommate.
I clung to my phone, messaging my friend when wifi permitted it. That night she offered me two bits of sagely advice. First, she advised me to go to the local store and purchase ear plugs. Second, she reminded me that I had chosen this adventure because this was my passion. She encouraged me to recall all the times I had rambled on about how I was interested in Morocco’s culture, a French, Spanish and Islamic fusion induced by trade and colonialism. She also reassured me that I could and would, in fact, make friends that I would cherish well after my eight weeks.
Looking back I cannot help but smile. It’s been more than a month since my time in Morocco, and I still keep in touch with my host sisters, co-volunteers and friends. I miss my Moroccan mint tea, the fried sugar donuts sold at ten dirhams apiece and the streets lined with palm trees that took up the span of sidewalk.
I miss my students who taught me the true definition of “patience is a virtue” and provided me with tips on how not to get ripped off by the women doing henna on Jamal Efna Square. I miss my host mother who allowed me into the kitchen knowing full well that I was a culinary klutz, hoping to instill enough skill in me so that I would not starve. I miss my friends that raved with me about the glory that is chwarma poulet with a side of Moroccan salad.
Most of all, I miss the grin of my youngest host sister, tinged with puckish mischief.