Soon after I had first started living in this town down here in the Sahara, one of the boys who frequents the dar shebab (Darija, or Moroccan Arabic, for "youth center," where I do most of my volunteering as a Youth Development PCV here in Morocco), expressed his concern to me about how I live alone. He said to me in English, "You go home, and you are by yourself. This is very bad."
Here in Morocco, one's family is central to one's identity. Typically Moroccans live with their families until they get married, unless someone gets a job far away from one's family, perhaps as a teacher. Indeed, often a Moroccan continues to live with his or her family once he or she gets married. In such a case, his or her spouse is welcomed into the family not just with warm gestures and platitudes, but is further, literally welcomed into the home as he or she starts living there.
If one lives alone, at times one is called "meskeen," which, in Darija, means "poor thing." It was in this context that the boy from the dar chebab was expressing his concern for what he saw as my unfortunate plight of living by myself. I had a hard time trying to convince him that I was glad to be living alone. Facing the psychological challenges of life in a foreign country, I'm glad to go home and escape for a little while!
Living here in Morocco, I face challenges which many PCVs face, not only here in this country, but in other foreign countries. Even at this relatively late stage in my Peace Corps service, in my everyday life I encounter a lot of stimuli which still seem foreign to me. I certainly don't understand a lot of what's said during conversations. In many other ways, the modes of operation here are not only not the ones to which I was originally accustomed; furthermore, they're ones which still don't come naturally to me. When I'm trying to have a conversation with someone, and someone else arrives and interrupts, it still seems disruptive to me, and jarring. While I've adjusted somewhat to the lack of lines, including when I go to shop at corner stores, I'm still not entirely used to the practice of an unstructured mass of people waiting to be served at a store. So all of these customs can get to be a bit much to process at times. Of course, they don't seem that way to Moroccans. To them, it would be better to use the term cultural norms: such behavior is normal, and therefore not a source of stress for them. Thus with this gap of how acculturated they are to life here, as opposed to how unadjusted I am, one can start to better appreciate why they might not realize how life here can be difficult.
Thus at times here, as is often the case for me when I'm in the US, I feel that I have to recharge. To do so, sometimes I feel like I need to retreat into solitude. Or at least I need to be with people who aren't going to be too demanding of me in various ways, who won't be expecting me to make a lot of conversation with them, who perhaps will be OK with me being alone in the next room for a little while, who are comfortable separately and quietly doing our own activities in the same room for part of the day. Sometimes I feel that I just need to gather my thoughts without being asked to engage someone else.
I could go on, but I think that you get the idea. Sometimes it all gets to be a bit much, and I feel like I have to retreat.
However, I don't think that I take a better approach to spending time with people than Moroccans do. Sometimes I just happen to need a little time by myself, or at least with a little less social stimulation. It's just a personal need I have, and in taking some personal space at times, I don't intend to be implicitly making a value judgment on Moroccan culture. Rather, as I think about the matter of personal space, which leads me to think about the importance of family, I feel that I have some things to learn from Moroccans. In the US, often people don't take care of their family members, and even fall out of touch with them. Here people seem to cherish their family members. Perhaps one of the ways I can learn from life here in Morocco is how Moroccans value family as highly as they do.