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Donde estamos

October 5, 2015

I want to make fun of the other people in my generation who care so much about the amount of likes they get on their instagram posts but I think my level of empathy has grown over the last few weeks. It’s not just about vanity (although sometimes that is the motivation) but instead it’s about other people seeing what you see, the way you see it, and enjoying it as much as you do. I think it’s safe to say that outside of a handful of angsty youth, we all want to be understood. Luckily, we live in a time where technology and culture have collided to allow us to reach out to a wide variety of people who can read our words, view our pictures and virtually look over our shoulders, point and say “oh wow! I see what you mean!” So, I’d like you to take a minute and look at these three pictures to see if we can achieve a similar moment.IMG_0505 IMG_0496 IMG_1045

I’ll give you a sec to understand.

Okay, got it? No? Alright, how about I give you some context, then. Each of these photos were taken by moi, on our trip through Spain and Morocco. Two in Morocco and one in Spain. BUT, I bet you can’t tell which one was taken in Spain (it would throw me through a loop if I were you, too). The architecture between the two countries was so similar that as we traveled I had a continual feeling of deja vu. White walls towered over our group everywhere we wandered and there were always windows for people to peek out of (and us to peek into). Laundry was constantly present and strung out to dry on balconies. Cats were always roaming the streets. Elderly people were often hanging out outside. It was this similarity that compelled me to snap these pictures.

So how do I tell them apart? Lighting. The Spanish photo is a little warmer than the other two.

Spain was my summer and Morocco was my autumn. Toledo was history and heat. Granada was tours and gelato. Madrid was wine and late nights. Warm light filtered in through my window when I woke up each morning in Spain. Cool light greeted me every morning in Morocco. It was a welcome light that reminded me of home in Seattle where fall is overcast and blindingly white skies with crisp air is perfect weather for work and play. Tangier was strange and new. Assilah was cosey and breezy. Meknes housed friends who became family and streets that became familiar quickly. Merrakech was busy and pushy. The light around me reminded me constantly of where I was and when I was.

Hopefully I captured that in these pictures.


Thump, thump, thump

October 5, 2015

My phone lit up in the corner from a text. The soft glow reminded me that my friends at home were texting me at 6 pm home-time. In Meknes it was 2 am and I was trying my hardest to cry as silently as possible in our dark room. Voices floated up to me from the street and through the window and I tried to focus on them instead of the ones I couldn’t forget. They kept playing over and over and over in my mind.

High, pre-pubescent voices. Cracking voices whose words crumbled from clumsy lips which weren’t used to English syllables. I didn’t want to hear them anymore. I didn’t want to see their faces in my head anymore. I didn’t want to feel their warm hands clutching mine anymore. I didn’t have the words to express my emotions verbally or written and so they’d just built up and up and up until they were escaping through my eyelashes.


me with the “crowd”

The guilt I felt from being one of “those Americans” who just showed up and said hi, took some pictures in a crowd of brown orphans, then left… I felt guilt. I felt guilt. I feel guilt.

I imagine my own children some day. They are tanned little nuts; silly and beautiful. Their skin is smooth and hair long, dark, and glossy. They’re strong. They climb trees and bike down our tree-lined block covered head to toe in every kind of joint-protecting padding I can buy. They sing and swing my arms when they hold my hands. They call me Mama. They will be perfect.

I remember these children. They are brown just like mine will be. Their skin is flaky in some places, pink and glossy with scars in others. Some of them have short hair that grows in patches and they’re skinny; little for their age. They are so silly. They sing along with me as we waltz, waltz, waltz through the courtyard and they giggle because I hold their hand as we do so. They climb the walls of the concrete play yard and kick around a futbol for hours. We yell hello from atop the wall. We make new friends. One called me Mummy. It hurt. They held my hand. It hurt. They laid their heads on my shoulder. I hurt. They were perfect.

They aren’t mine but they made me feel. That sounds dumb but I don’t know how to describe heartbreak and joy in one word. Are there words for that?

I guess: love. We shared some love.image1


October 5, 2015

The gate to the garden

It’s warm but not hot in the shade. The healthy grass beneath me tickles my toes and pokes its way between my heels and the cuffs of my jeans. There’s a familiar smell that I cannot place. It floats from the house and into the garden where we gather around two large tables pushed together and covered with white doilies and plastic sheets. Some girls sit together, practically on top of each other on the small, driftwood benches. A few of us stand behind others, gently braiding hair in a way that suggests that we care more about our sister’s comfort than the final product of the braid.

My fingers slide through healthy locks of dark hair and I can feel the eyes of the older adults as they observe our show of love through physical touch. We aren’t too loud, we aren’t dead silent. We are enjoying each other’s company. We have only been a family for a couple of weeks. Under normal circumstances, we wouldn’t already be koombayah-ing and braiding hair. Under normal circumstances, I would feel silly showing this much physical affection.

I don’t think these are normal circumstances. A 12-hour plane trip. Hours napping together and chatting softly on the bus. Silly voices during dinner and secrets whispered in hotel lobbies. Concerns and cracking voices.

I think of us as sisters. I think 
this is not normal, but definitely okay. It’s beautiful, in fact, that we’ve decided to embrace each other so fully and so quickly. There’s a distinct lack of competition or rivalry and we find comfort in one another. This feels so different from what we’re taught to feel around other women. I’m not intimidated by their intellect, independence, ability, or courage.

What did I do to deserve the blessing of living with them?

This garden feels like Eden, the trees laden with fruits and the air saturated in love. I finish the braid and rest my hands on her shoulders until it’s time for Moroccan second-lunch.IMG_1092

Afaak, Don’t Disturb the Birds

October 4, 2015

“Shnoo?” I ask.

More words dart over my head. Syllables sounding like humming birds; quick, efficient, and beautiful.

“Shnoo?” I plead. I want to be involved in the conversation but I only know a handful of words and phrases in Darija (some of which are swear words so I don’t think they count). More words flit around my ears. They hover near my eardrums, threatening to be understood, but flying away before I can catch each individual phrase.

“SHNOO????” Danielle and I are all but freaking out at this point. We sit side by side in the taxi/across at the table in the cafe/walk parallel down the street.

“Shnoo? Shnoo? Why do you always ask ‘what’ when we are speaking Darija? We don’t yell ‘shnoo’ at you when you speak English to each other,” Yahya says. “I promise we are not talking anything bad, we are just talking Darija because it is easier for us to make plans and tell stories that way. We will translate after.”

My cheeks heat up as I take in his words. He was right. Even though we just wanted to be included in the conversation, we were acting like greedy children. Every time the birds came out, we would reach out our chubby little palms and try to snatch them out of the air to get a better look. It would be far easier to practice patience and wait for the birds to land before attempting to get close to them. Our new friends understood that we were curious and only wanted to feel included, but there is more to inclusion than just understanding someone’s mother tongue. We were so completely reliant on them for everything. They deserved a few moments to give their brains time to recover in Darija. Weren’t they already including us in everything they did? Weren’t they taking us into their homes and feeding us? Didn’t they help us scrub in the hamam, plan henna and tea parties, and take us on late night excursions to the tallest building in the city? Didn’t they guide us, joke with us, and protect us from getting hit by speeding taxis? It was a full-time job, babysitting us. The language barrier was frustrating, yes. It felt like there was a wall a couple meters high between us at all times, but it grew shorter every day as we learned more and more.

I thought about his words all night. The next time they spoke in Darija, I chose to observe
so I wouldn’t break up the birds with my “shnoo”s.

Striking a Chord, Struck a Chord

September 16, 2015

“This is so familiar,” I think, “I have to capture this on film.”

I whip out my phone so I can save this moment. I’m sure that once my friends from home watch this video, they’ll experience the same deja vu that’s currently making my fingers tingle and causing nervous laughter to escape my chest through my lips.

This is so familiar.

Over three years ago, I sat in the auditorium of a rival high school as we awaited the results of our district choir competition. I never really felt that I had a strong singing voice but I’ve always loved the feeling of my own voice joining with dozens of other voices. That desire to meet others who just loved to sing together is what pushed me to audition for my high school’s concert choir. I was elated to be accepted. After months of working hard as a group, we gave the performance of a lifetime. When it was all said and done, we were left sitting and fiddling with the ends of our cardinal-red robes while we waited to find out the results.

As a sophomore, I was one of the youngest members of the group. My frizzy, biracial curls were struggling to stay in the style I’d straightened them into and I had (maybe) one friend in this group of 54. I loved my choir but I felt out of place. I barely knew any of them and I was too nervous to try and make friends with the bored-looking senior sitting to my right so I just sat there pretending like I didn’t want to talk.

Luckily, I didn’t have to be quiet for too long. The magic was about to begin. First, the other choirs left so that they could go back to their schools and make it to their last classes of the day (our director had already excused us from our last class so we didn’t have to go straight home). Then, the judges left to deliberate in an undisclosed location (it was the library). Finally, our director was feeling ultra anxious and decided that the halls needed a good pacing, so he left to go take care of that. All was silent for a few minutes.

Just as I started to get antsy, a junior boy with a storm cloud of hair and wire-framed glasses came out from stage-right carrying a guitar. “Does anyone want a jam?” he asks. Despite the thick Korean accent, we all know what he means. He wants an old-fashioned, jam-sesh.

“What do you know, Jai-Moon?” someone behind me asks.

“Uhm, how about this?” Jai-Moon answers, playing the opening chords to “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz. We all murmur our approval and pick our way over the rows of seats to get to the stage.

“Open up your mind and see like me…” Jai-Moon starts us off with the first line of the famous tune, and from there a few of Jai-Moon’s fellow tenors hop onto the melody, giving the verse its bones. Soon the women jump in. Altos are bringing in the harmony and add some flesh to the next few lines and by the chorus, sopranos are ooing and ahhing wordless descants, making the song feel alive. The chorus hits and we all sing the melody. There’s clapping and drumming on the stage. Some bass’ are giving us some vocal percussion and we’re all swaying and moving together. Blissed out faces surround me and nervous laughter escapes my chest because I’m nervous and happy and have never felt a community like this before. When the song ends, we clap for ourselves and sit knowing that we will forever be family after that day. We shared something special.

Come back to today and I’m an incoming sophomore, again. I’ve left my first community behind in search of a new one in college. I’m no longer in choir but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the wonder of a good jam-sesh.

Where I sit, I’m surrounded by people that might have been strangers my whole life, had I not signed up for a study abroad program that would push me from the nest and plop me in Africa. Like the day of the competition, I’m nervous. Today I’m not competing but instead I’m representing. I am in Morocco and I am an American and I’m nervous because I have no idea what that means to the Moroccan university students that sit with FullSizeRender (2)me and my classmates at this bulbous, make-shift banquet table. What will they expect of me? As an American, as a woman, as someone who is biracial? I fiddle with the end of my shirt while we make halting small-talk.

The guy sitting two seats over reaches behind him and pulls out a guitar. He scratches his beard with the pick and then asks in a thick Moroccan, “What would you like me to play?” A few half-hearted suggestions come from different parts of the table but no one can really think of a song we’d all know all the words to.

“Uhm, how about this?” Oussama asks, playing the opening chords to “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz. Smiles break out across the table and we all whoop our approval; we all know this one, for sure. “Open up your mind and see like me…” Oussama starts us off with the first line of the famous tune and from there we waste no time to all hop in. This isn’t a group of singers, like my choir, but people are harmonizing, drumming on the glass patio tables, and belting the melody without shame. I make eye contact with the girl across the table and we serenade each other for a moment before bursting into hysterics. The tension has dissolved and we all sing the line that will have me remembering this moment for the rest of my life:

“Listen to the music of the moment, people dance and sing, we’re just one big family,
And it’s our God-forsaken right to be loved, loved, loved, loved, loved.”

I mean, come on. This is basically a scene in a cheesy coming-of-age movie. This kind of a moment should have only happened once in a lifetime but here I was on the rooftop of a cafe in Meknes, drinking mint tea, singing Jason Mraz, and this moment wasn’t entirely unique.

Do I feel like the moment was diminished in any way? Hell no! Can you imagine how happy I was to pull out my phone and share this moment with the friends who I shared such a similar moment with years ago? How could such a moment surpass any fears I’ve ever had about my age, my race, my gender, and my nationality, twice? Through music that had traveled across the world, I could connect with people who’d grown up somewhere thousands of kilometers away. We were not Americans or Moroccans, but instead we were this weird, transnational, mix of the two. We shared a song and a language and not only did it free me from my inhibitions but also freed the Moroccan students of theirs. I saw from their point of view, too. It’s hard to be young, adhere to gender roles, traditions, standards of race and nationality. This moment negated all of those things, though. We were family, now.image1

How does one experience a culture in a week (or three)?

August 31, 2015

At the beginning of this summer I was promoted from the ever-fascinating job of “hostess” to the more challenging and lucrative job of “waitress.” In a city like Seattle, servers are a big deal. The bustle and over-populated charm of this big city draws people in and promises them a great time full of great service and great food and the people here must also be great because living somewhere this gorgeous must be great, great, great! It is therefore my sole purpose in life to take my small piece of the corporate pie and make it great, as well. People from all over the world sit in my section on those same booths and tell me the same stories about how they rode “The Ducks”, went to the Space Needle, and Pike Place.

FullSizeRender (1)For 40 hours a week, I smile and say “Yes, aren’t those things so great?” and pray silently that they stay downtown where we keep the tourists corralled so that we don’t accidentally step on them when they inevitably stop in the middle of the sidewalk to look at their GPS. I rarely tell them about all the things they’re missing when they ride around in their rental cars and focus only on their photo ops. They don’t care. They’re focused on “the Seattle experience,” not “experiencing Seattle.”

But, these tourists are the blood of the city during this time of year. Without them rushing around all summer, Seattle’s economy would flat-line. Low-level service workers, such as myself, rely on these people for our livelihoods. Despite my sarcasm, I don’t hate them in the slightest; they help me pay my bills and I’m grateful for that. My issue really is that they come to the city just to say that they did it. Rarely does anyone ask me what I do for fun or where to get the best latte. I want them to go home understanding how perfectly beautiful my city is but all they want is surface-value. Again, I don’t hate them. I feel bad for them.IMG_1423

As I read Dr. Segall’s Performing Democracy in Iraq and South Africa, I thought about how different a city looks between when you visit and when you live there. It’s hard because, like the Seattle tourists, you want to see the things everyone else has seen. You want to gape at the glories everyone has written about and make judgments about those things, for yourself. But, you aren’t really experiencing the culture the way the people who live there experience it.

Segall asks us in her book to notice what should be considered as “important signs to illuminate what is less noticed: gender locations, social contestation, and artistic revision (xvii).” These “three correctives” should help make navigating parts unknown a bit easier. When we leave for our trip, we should notice how men and women interact with each other in each setting. Gender roles are hotly debated anywhere you go, so observing interactions between men and women in other countries can allow us to understand their culture as they see it. We should not go somewhere else and expect or judge people based off of the roles they would normally play in our society. Instead of looking at them and thinking “wow, that’s an odd thing for a man/woman to do”, we should instead think, “hmm, how does this behavior work in this society?” By putting people in our little American boxes, we are making who they actually are invalid. Looking at a woman in a hijab and immediately assuming that she’s oppressed is like taking a bite of an orange and thinking “this apple tastes funny.” It just doesn’t make sense and we should be aware of that as we interact as visitors. We should also be wary of thinking that everyone has a political agenda or that everyone’s reasons for protest are the same. Many people can fight for the same thing and have different reasons as to why they are fighting. Also, just as there are people willing to talk all politics, there are many people who want to enjoy their lunch without some tourist girl asking them all about their political opinions. Lastly, to experience a culture we should be mindful of how the people within that culture see themselves and the events in their lives. The view our media gives us as outsiders is entirely different from the view of the people themselves. Artists such as painters, poets, writers, actors, and musicians all give a new side of the story and if we pay attention, we can understand them all a bit better.

All in all, the word “tourist” brings out mixed reactions from me. While I don’t hate tourists, I would hate to be called one and I hope that I can be myself and appropriately connect with other people while I visit their cities. Although, I’m sure some Spanish or Moroccan waitress will roll her eyes at me at some point.

The Jittery Feeling in My Legs

May 28, 2015

Lately, I’ve been struggling with every English major’s worst nightmare: writer’s block. I feel defeated every time I crack open my journal or notice the Word icon lit up at the corner of my laptop’s screen. I know there’s a blank page waiting for me but it’s not comforting; it’s intimidating. Writing used to be my absolute form of release and it was my crutch through years of loneliness and depression. Every thought and emotion that would stick to the back of my throat during intimate conversations could later be peeled off and laid out neatly onto a page. But now, I feel like my writing isn’t me. I feel like the tiny voice in my head who knows who I am, is silent. Without the tiny voice, I feel anxious. I can’t sit still and I walk around aimlessly for hours just praying that my thoughts will sort themselves into something easy to comprehend and fix.

I feel disorganized. I feel off-center. I feel homeless and without purpose for the first time in a long time.

My mind is silent but my legs are screaming at me to go.

I want to go.

I can completely understand how poor little Ali Zaoua felt when he dreamed of being a sailor. To sail away to a new place where you could be anyone and be free of responsibilities and stereotypes for just one summer- can you imagine? And the jittery feeling in my legs won’t stop until we go. I can’t wait for Morocco.

This week, I wrote a paper on the US welfare system and why it is inherently beneficial to American children. The required narrative had me thinking of every sacrifice my parents have ever made just so I could grow up to be the person I’m supposed to be. That paper had me crying for every child born stateside who would never be able to reach their full potential just because of the circumstances they were born into. Ali Zaoua had me crying for every child born outside of the US who would also never be able to reach their full potential just because of the circumstances they were born into. But, cry as I might, what will that do to help those children? What will me being aware of their poverty, being aware of their existence, change? Maybe this will be a turning point. Maybe my jittery legs and quiet mind will lead me to a nation whose people I can listen to.

Maybe this isn’t about finding myself, but about finding them.

Feet, don’t fail me now.