Have you Ever Tried Tree Watching?

There is not a lot of difference between the culture in Boston and in Chicago, but New England does have a few unique traditions.  Because of the beautiful fall foliage all over the region, going on trips to look at trees is quite popular these days.  Tree Watching might not sound very exciting (though it is sometimes called Tree Peeping, which sounds a bit illicit), but it actually seems to be pretty popular.  I’ve already heard quite a few conversations that go something like this:

“What are you doing this weekend?”

“I’m going up to New Hampshire.  I’m going to look at trees!”

“Wow, have fun!  I heard they’re especially beautiful this year!”

At first, I was a bit skeptical of this tradition, but I did go on a hike last weekend up to an outlook where we saw a beautiful array of colorful trees.

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You can see a tiny little Boston in the background!

I also started taking pictures of the trees near the lake by my apartment to keep track of the change.  What’s more, I have started buying different kinds of squash each week, and put pumpkin spice in my coffee each morning.  I am glad to be enjoying fall again, even if I don’t think I’ll go all the way to New Hampshire to watch trees any time soon.

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The lake in October.  Luckily I walk by here and check almost every day, so I don’t have to just sit and watch the trees change.

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If I go running again, I’ll get hungry!

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Good job, Boston!

I just arrived in Boston a few days ago, and am still getting adjusted.  I have been walking a lot, and everywhere I go I am surprised by how many joggers there are at all times of day.  On Saturday I was walking home at noon in bright sun and 90 degree weather, and it started raining…and there were still people out jogging!  A woman running by herself on the street wearing shorts is already something you would never see in Morocco, but to add being in the rain and heat makes it all the more impossible.  I felt like one of those men who sit in cafés and watch people all day because I could not stop staring at all those joggers.

 

 

 

I’m actually pretty happy that running at all times is acceptable, because that was something I really missed in Morocco.  I’ve been running on a beautiful tree-lined path each morning, and have been breathing in as much fresh air as possible to counter all of the polluted air I took in during the past few years.

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I guess this is sort of pretty

However, the one thing I still have not figured out is where people are getting their food.  Of course, there are plenty of restaurants all over the city, and some major supermarkets along with convenience stores.  But compared to Casablanca, Boston feels like a food desert.  Where are the vegetable stands with all of the fresh produce I could want?  How will I know where I can buy fresh meat if the sheep heads aren’t hanging up in front of the shop?  Where is my neighborhood fig man who yells out what he is selling so I can always find him?

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How it’s supposed to be

My family has suggested using Peapod to deliver groceries, and I was told that there is a good produce store not too far from where I live.  I also found that the man who works at the nearest convenience store is Moroccan, so maybe he has some tips about where to get pomegranates and sheep heads.  But I better figure something out soon, because if I keep going out to run, I’ll only get hungrier!

What Will Boston Be Like?

I have not been out of Morocco for almost two years now.  I think it is safe to assume that I will have some surprises come August, when I will arrive in Boston for the first time, alone, and after a 28 hour trip.  Last time I was in the US, I almost cried when I realized how much less flavorful the carrots, eggs, and olive oil are in America.  I was shocked to see men walking around shirtless or with saggy pants, and I was very confused about the “no gun” signs that popped up around Chicago after concealed weapons had been made legal.  It was not easy to readjust, even after only one year away.

I am trying to predict what will shock me and my husband in Boston, both to prepare myself and because I’m sure it will be funny to look back later and see how far off I was.  Here is what I expect to experience when I move to Boston:

  • I will be invisible.  I get a lot of stares and comments as I walk down the street in Casablanca, but I expect to blend in when I am in Boston.  The challenge will be to stand out, not to fit in.
  • It will be surprising how much people drink.  I’ve gotten used to alcohol being mostly out of the picture.
  • The season changes will be amazing.  There was a drought this year in Morocco, so it barely got any colder.  I cannot wait to see the leaves change color and to play in the first snow!
  • My husband will learn new holiday traditions.  I discovered last Christmas that he is not familiar with Christmas music, other than church songs.  He has also never done an Easter egg hunt.  He has a lot to learn.
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Christmas in Morocco

  • Not everyone will know where Morocco is.  If they do, they will ask me if I was afraid of terrorists, if I had to cover my hair, or if I was able to access the internet.  And absolutely no one will understand how I met my husband in Morocco, who is not even Moroccan. (Actually, during our visa application process, the National Visa Center in the US asked my husband to send police records available only to Moroccan citizens.  We suspect that the application was read by a machine, because not many humans could confuse “Central African Republic” with “Morocco.”)
  • It is going to be nothing like what we expect.  I would not be so surprised if what shocks me turns out to be completely different from what I’ve written here!

Have you ever experienced reverse culture shock?  What surprised you about your country?

The Land of Opportunities

When I was about to land in Chicago, the TV screens on the airplane showed a video welcoming passengers to the U.S.  It showed green lawns, kids chasing golden retrievers, and people of every skin color.  Despite having lived the majority of my life in America and already knowing exactly what it looks like, the video made me pretty excited about arriving in the land of opportunity.

The photos in this post are of bread I've made.  This is yogurt bread and date-sesame bread.

The photos in this post are of bread I’ve made. This is yogurt bread and date-sesame bread.

America isn’t really as perfect as it looks on that video, although that’s not much of a surprise.  However, after being away for a year, there are several things that have surprised me.  First would be the no guns allowed sign all over Chicago (thanks to the conceal and carry law being passed), which is on a lot of public buildings; it’s odd to think that people need to be told that weapons do not belong in public buildings.  Not that I wanted to take a gun into the library, anyway.  Men wearing their pants so low that their butts hang out is not new, but it is still kind of surprising to see after not seeing it for so long (maybe some of them could use a djellaba).  Occasionally getting catcalls when I’m walking to my internship on the South Side is also not new, but is pretty disappointing – I thought I was going to have a break from that!  It is much easier to go for runs or walks here without worrying about what I’m wearing, but it’s not as different from Morocco as I was imagining it to be all of last year.

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Oatmeal bread

Another surprise came to me at Walmart.  I made my first ever trip to the all-American store last weekend, and only now do I really understand the purpose of giving up sugar.  Walmart is full of packaged foods, nearly all of which have sugar or High Fructose Corn Syrup.  It’s in cereals, peanut butter, bread, yogurt, and pre-prepared meals.  Someone shopping only at Walmart would truly be challenged to totally give up sugar.  And what’s more, the food doesn’t taste the same here, even if bought at fancier stores than Walmart.  The carrots aren’t as sweet, the eggs aren’t as rich, the olive oil doesn’t taste like olives, and the Philadelphia cream cheese has ten ingredients instead of the four in Morocco’s (or Spain’s) version of the exact same brand.  These were difficult discoveries for me when I arrived; I love cooking and baking so much, so I want the ingredients to taste good!

Challah (egg bread)

Challah (egg bread)

I know from working with refugees that new immigrants (and even those who have been abroad for quite a while) have trouble adjusting, unfavorably comparing everything to equivalents in their home country.  It takes a long time to get used to little differences and to both appreciate what is better in the new country and to stop comparing it to the old.  It’s oddly not that much easier when the new country is also where you are from.  I guess I’ve got six more weeks to work on it.  Well, at least my bread loaves are pretty!

This isn't bread!  It's South African Bobotie, a dish made with lentils (or meat), bread crumbs, and egg/milk/banana topping.

This isn’t bread! It’s South African Bobotie, a dish made with lentils (or meat), bread crumbs, and egg/milk/banana topping.

The Confused Expat

A friend of mine recently wrote a blog post on liminality, or the state of one’s identity being suspended due to a certain situation, such as during war or when one gets married. When someone’s surrounding so drastically change, it becomes unclear what is truly part of that person’s identity and what just based on the situation becomes unclear. When I read this, it reminded me of some of the changes that occur when one moves to another country, or even after moving back home again. Expats frequently go through that liminal state.

This is still me, just upside down.

This is still me, just upside down.

When I first arrived in Morocco, I went to an orientation meeting where we discussed how our identities will stay the same or change in a new environment, and how we can accept that in order to adapt to life in Casablanca. I remember telling my partner during group time that part of the reason why I like living abroad is that it helps me think more carefully about who I actually am. Now that I’m at the end of a full year in Casa, I definitely have thought a lot about my identity, but I’m not entirely sure that it’s become clearer!

Using chopsticks for the first time might make you think that you don't really know how to eat, after a lifetime of thinking that you do.

Using chopsticks for the first time might make you think that you don’t really know how to eat, after a lifetime of thinking that you do.

There are some things about a person that will always be true. For me, I know that I am quiet, that I like to read and to run, and that I prefer having one very close friend to having many friends.

Some things, though, change just slightly depending on my situation. In the U.S., I went to a top university, I didn’t wear extremely revealing clothing, and I spoke English with every one of my friends. In Morocco, no one has heard of my university, the knee-length skirts that I consider to be modest draw a lot of looks, and I speak another language on a daily basis.

And then there are the details that totally change when you enter a new situation. I was once a vegetarian, but now eat meat nearly every day. I never studied education or worked with children, and now am a teacher. I once had never been out of my country, and now live outside of it.

I like hiking anywhere in the world.

I like hiking anywhere in the world.

As time goes on, identity starts to take on aspects that depend on your environment. Who I’ve become this year is slightly different than who I was when I left, but at the base I am still the same person. My coworkers and I will be returning to the U.S. for the summer in the coming days and weeks, and we’re bound to feel that loss of identity all over again when we realize that we may no longer quite fit into what we consider to be our homes. But no matter what, I’m going to take a good book with me and go for a lot of runs.

For Where your Treasure is, There Will be Your Heart Also

The idea of “culture shock” is often discussed among those who go abroad, particularly for the first time.  I’m not sure I agree with the idea that people become overwhelmed by new customs and ways of life, because I think any new situation can be stressful, whether in a new country or not.  It can be very interesting, though, to think about what truly is home, and what matches your own culture.  Culture is composed of a wide variety of experiences, values, and interactions, and even changes over time.
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My sister and I have the same culture, whether we’re in London or Casablanca.  Also, we’re good at matching our outfits.
In my workplace in Morocco, there are a lot of teachers who grew up overseas as missionary kids and then went back to the US and attended Christian colleges in small towns, where they studied education.  Many of them talk about how they don’t consider the US to be “home,” and that they feel more comfortable in places that remind them of their childhoods, in most cases in Africa.  Some of them even consider themselves to be from countries such as Ethiopia or Togo (the difference, though, is that if they were really from those countries, they would never be able to get such a good job at an American school.  But that’s another issue!)
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Probably not very many missionary kids have fond memories of crossing roads.
I would say that the biggest shock for me here in terms of culture is the fact that my coworkers are American, same as me, but didn’t grow up with my same values and culture.  I grew up in the United States, but always had friends from all over the world; in grade school most of my friends had parents who had immigrated to the US, from Germany, Italy, China, Canada, and Taiwan, and in college I lived in an international dorm and had friends from Egypt, Pakistan, and Japan.  I’ve grown up with a liberal point of view and a willingness to accept other beliefs and ways of life. I think of the opportunities I’ve had to meet people from many countries and many religions as the most valuable aspect of my education, and think of America as a country where every nationality and religion can be represented.
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We’re diverse, and we take photos at cool angles.
Identity is surely a confusing thing for those who grew up as “third culture kids.”  But isn’t identity confusing for everyone?  I’m always happy to learn about ways of life different from my own, and find it fascinating that my workplace is such a home of missionary kids.  I don’t always feel at home with that particular group of people, but I’m trying to see it as another opportunity to increase my understanding of the world.  And to my MK friends, don’t forget that you don’t have to grow up in Africa to have interesting experiences!
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This elephant grew up in Africa (and he’s not afraid of crossing the road!)