Saturday, November 23, 2013

About that 10-year High School Reunion...

In less than a week my 10-year high school reunion will take place. Of course the first thought was, “has it really been 10 years?” According to a recent Buzzfeed article I will be entering the best year of my 20’s next month, 28.  Several people have told me this is the best age as you are no longer considered young but also not considered old. Alas, societal fixation on age and its nostalgia. Instead of focusing on the obvious 10 years after high school, I did valuable research by watching the film, Romy and Michele's High School Reunion.

Spoiler Alert: The premise is two-tortured bff’s from high school turned party girls, receive word of their 10-year reunion. They quickly realize that their lives aren't as impressive as they'd like them to be since their days of being picked on by the popular crowd in high school. Instead of staying home they go to the reunion with business outfits, cell phones, and a huge fake success story. It’s a very funny flick. 

Circa 2002-3 Junior year of High School
Overall the film gave me insights on how I feel about my reunion. I will not be able to attend due to being outside of the country for work, but I have been thinking about who I am now compared to my 10 year ago self. It is no secret that I was never fond of high school and that I went to 4 different high schools in various states. I started as a timid 13 year-old and much of my time in high school was similar to Romy and Michele’s.  I can’t bear to actually tell the stories here of how I was picked on. I was quite sullen during most of those four years. I remember half way through my grandmother passed away and the profound affect it had on me. I was depressed for months and suffered from insomnia. I never fit in at any school I was at and I never really wanted to. I remember looking back that all I was thinking is, “I need to get out of here” even though I had no idea where in the heck I was going. I do not look back on my time in high school with fondness, but rather as ‘my lost years.’

Without realizing it I have sort of reinvented myself since my reunion and done things and visited places I never thought I would. If I were going to my reunion there would be no need to embellish on my post-high school life like the film. I am content with my progression. Also, I don’t feel the need to compare my life with my former classmates, popular or not, or get back at people for how they were in high school. This natural curiosity and comparison of others is typical, especially when thinking of high school. Funny thing is I am not the least bit curious as majority of my classmates probably do not even remember me or know I went to school with them.

I am more focused on the future than the past me, especially the high school me. When people refer to their high school years as the best in their lives, I can relate via my undergraduate years of college, which I consider the best of my life in terms of self-realization and growth. So while I am not interested in going to my reunion this time around and catching up with my former classmates who probably do not even remember me, I wish all those who are attending find what/who they are looking for and remember to be themselves. Everyone I am sure has changed drastically since his or her high school days, and I can only hope that it has been for the better.


Saturday, November 9, 2013

Café au lait

The following is a story I submitted to the Minority Peace Corps Association for their collection of stories written about RPCVs of color.
Center Stage Taking The Peace Corps Oath
The reality of being a PCV of color had not hit me until well after the swear in ceremony. Even though I had been only one in a handful of hopeful PCVs of color in my 60 plus stage, I was distracted on making such a change in my life. I joined PC for the same idealistic reasons many others do, I wanted to make a difference. After my research on Morocco I figured that being of mixed ancestry would be easy considering the Arab and Berber mix of the country. I was inspired by RPCVs growing up, I remember my family and I opening the invitation package together after I had trekked out to the mailbox to get it on a cold Vermont winter night, and the happiness I felt. My family has had Peace Corps in its DNA (4 served to date).  Growing up I was brought with my brother to RPCV events in my home state of Vermont for years and I came to love RPCVs. They were very different compared to other Americans, either it was their dress, speech, eating habits, etc. I had great experiences living and working in Latin America and thought PC was naturally the next step. I was used to being different growing up in a mostly white state and family. I wasn’t even fazed anymore at noticing being the only person of color in a room. I was reminded from time to time of my otherness from people staring at me, getting pulled over for no reason multiple times (I’ve never had a ticket before), or people being so bold as to ask, “what are you?”  So the Peace Corps did not present a completely brand new paradigm for me. It was a novelty hearing my mostly white stage talking about the reverse for them, and now being the “minority” after just a few days in country. I never understood that being white was difficult. I even tried to ignore the comments some made saying it must be easier for me since I looked “Moroccan,” which in my opinion is a broad statement to make since Moroccans vary in looks drastically.
My host siblings Amina and Brahim during 1st year in site.
I remember my first week in site and the first look on people’s faces when they saw the new supposed PCV and the disappointment in their faces. I quickly learned that the residents in the small Berber town in southern Morocco were clearly not expecting a brown person. They did not have one before me either so there was no buffer. Many flat out told me I was not American, especially when I explained my family’s heritage. I was not hurt by the fact that people did not recognize my birthplace but by the fact that I had to explain myself to them, which was no different than being in America. Fact is to most Moroccans and with the whitewashed standard of beauty promoted in the country, I was not exciting/acceptable and it was a hard pill to swallow. White PCVs seemed not to have that issue as they gained celebrity status immediately. Then again I was used to this when having to explain my unique linage, in the U.S. or otherwise. This is what it is like to be in between. 

Dressed as a Berber Bride
I often had experiences where I was not given the same attention as white PCVs while in town. Apart of me was happy with this but on the other hand a small piece of me took this to heart and felt like something was wrong with me or I was not enough. If a white PCV friend was hit on or engaged in conversation and I was not, I felt snubbed. I would not call this jealousy but for a person who has had to come to terms with being different their whole life it is difficult to not internalize situations like this. 

Teaching my weekly health class.

Reality is there are so few global women that look like me that are considered “beautiful” in the public eye. Also I would say that during my first year of service it affected my confidence and self esteem a little. It seemed the only time someone was interested in what I had to say was if I was explaining my background or trying to speak in the local dialect - Shilha. I drove to improve my Shilha in the hopes of meeting common ground with people and make up for not getting the blond hair blue eyed genes from my family.

In village, people eventually got used to me and I believe some came to terms with me being different. I also think my experiences as a person of color in the U.S. and Morocco really helped me understand my identity more.
Finished World Map Project at the local school.
Ultimately the experience of relating those in my village and helping them to realize their own goals, like improving their health, helped me to realize that development was my calling and I had a knack for being able to relate to people quickly. I didn’t have the experience that my relatives had, as I was a ‘modern PCV’ and one of color, but like all Peace Corps volunteers I was changed for the better by my close of service time. 

i:  Café au lait was the name a cab driver gave me while I was passing through the cite of Marrakesh. It means coffee with milk. 

To read more on my experience check out my Peace Corps Blog.