In the beginning
Two summers ago, my aunt was in Saudi Arabia with her four kids to visit my uncle who was stationed there. They spent a good part of June in Saudi Arabia and then went to Jordan to see friends before returning back to the United States. I clearly remember being in Louisiana at a family reunion, fighting of mosquitoes and saying to my mother, “Dang it! I want to go there! Can I go there, Mom? If they said it was okay, can I go with them next time?”
She just quirked an eyebrow and gave me the signature look that indicated I wasn’t thinking reasonably. “No.”
At that single word, and the few more that followed, I automatically felt betrayed and threw a small-scale fit and whine session. How could she say that?!
If Aunt Trish could go with her kids, surely they needed SOMEONE to help carry their luggage! She would need help looking after the kids. She would need someone to hold the camera and take cute family photos. It was an adventure. I was nineteen years old! Independent! Resourceful! I had survived and prospered through thirteen years of public schooling and was going off to college. Obviously, I was ready to take on the whole world.
My mother is a very reasonable and cool-minded woman. She had a different perspective that she presented: I had never been out of the United States, didn’t have a passport, didn’t know any Arabic, had little money saved up, had graduated only about a month and a half before, and by all intent and purposes, was still her little girl. Did I want to have to burden my Aunt Trish when she had four other people to look after? I wanted to major in music performance and English literature. College is expensive. Plane tickets are expensive. And by all means, we were at a family reunion and it was silly to be raving about this when we were technically on vacation already.
She was completely correct about all of it, so begrudgingly, I put the thoughts away and proceeded to continue trying to remember the names of first cousins and their kids who I saw for only a few weeks two years before.
Fast forward to a random Sunday nearly four months later when a missionary couple from Niger visited our church and gave a presentation during Sunday school about Islam and Christianity and the interfaith dialogues, life, and work they were involved with in rural communities.
They spoke French and the local languages and traveled to different villages to share the Gospel and pray with people. They had their own house with a toilet and shower area in the backyard and taught the local children English and Bible stories.
I always loved it when missionaries came to talk at our church. Their international tales always sparked my imagination. Before this particular presentation over Niger, I hadn’t fully grasped the idea that Northern Africa was a slightly separate entity from the rest of Africa, and was predominately Muslim. I always thought of the Middle East and the Arabian Peninsula, Turkey, Pakistan. North Africa wasn’t really on my radar of awareness at all, but the missionaries spiked my curiosity about the region and possible future career paths.
By that time, I was in the last quarter of my first semester at Missouri Southern and I was thinking about dropping my music major and pursuing International Studies instead. I love playing my French horn and there is nothing wrong with wanting to be a music teacher or a musician. It took the first three months of endless practicing and music theory classes and marching band and concert rehearsals to realize that music was a hobby and not something I desired to make a foundation for my adult life out of.
Studying English literature and writing has always came natural to me, so I never had doubts about that particular path. That first fall semester, I entered a freshman writing contest over our international themed semester and won first place with an essay contrasting my experiences as a freshman in college with a Turkish novel’s main female character and her own journey of self-discovery. By my second semester, I dropped my music major and opted to double major in English and International Studies with a minor in French.
Fast forward again to the next year’s fall semester with my new major and my Intro to International Studies professor has uttered two very intriguing words. Peace Corps. I’m sitting next to my dear friend and at the same time, we glance over at one another with the same idea. When class is over, we immediately start talking about it how cool it would be. Humanitarian work! Volunteering in foreign lands for two years! Wouldn’t that look good on a resume? That seemed made for an International Studies major! Where would you want to go? Who knows? I wonder if they have a Peace Corps in India… India would be amazing!
So I went home over the weekend and did some research, the thoughts of busy Indian traffic, elephant gods, and catchy Bollywood songs inside my head.
Only the U.S. discontinued its Peace Corps branch in India a while back due to some conflicts with Pakistan. Darn.
I was still very optimistic about this Peace Corps thing. Really, the best thing in Peace Corps is just to go where they need people the most, but I saw it on the map. North Africa and the Middle East. They didn’t have Niger as an option, but what was that there? Morocco? Huh. I couldn’t remember if I had ever heard of that country before.
After obsessively researching Morocco, I was hooked.
While exploring Peace Corps options, my dear friend (Mika) and I were throwing ideas around for a study abroad. She had just got done with a six-week photography program in Sweden through Missouri Southern and was itching to study abroad again and we thought it would be cool to try and go somewhere together. We liked the idea of India, which was what brought us to Peace Corps India in the first place, but her grandmother wasn’t nearly as fond as the idea as we were. After looking up things about Morocco for Peace Corps, I mentioned it to her and somehow convinced her it was a good idea.
That is the retelling of events that may or may not have influenced my decision to study abroad in North Africa for nine months.