365 Days. I have officially lived in Morocco for three new and sixty-five days. I’ve called both a small North/Central rural town and a mid-sized Southern city home. While calling these places home, I have also called three other U.S. towns & cities home. Home is where ever I find my people. My people consist of many different types of personalities, and they can be found in many different types of places.
I find home in the Hudson Valley with personalities I’ve known and loved my whole life; I find home on the shores of Lake Champlain with those I’ve danced and laughed beside; I find home in the middle of the cornfields of Illinois in the embraces of a supporters who push me and others to be better.
I find home in the olive tree groves of Morocco where televisions are blaring the woes of a soap opera, and bellies are filled with bread of love; and I find home in the Sahara, with people whose willingness to help is as warm as the sun.
The school year has just begun, and with that comes a full year of work! This passed first year included three months of I-don’t-understand-anything-except-khobz(bread), then three months of what-the-heck-am-I-doing, thankfully leading into three months of OK-I think-I-got-this, but then interrupted by the last three months of everything-is-closed-and-it’s-too-hot-to-move. I’m looking forward to what this school year will bring. I have begun planning a women’s health class, as well as a girls’ and boys’ leadership camp with a fellow volunteer. I also plan to continue my aerobics fitness and yoga classes. Being a volunteer in the youth development sector, especially in Morocco, I feel confined to work during the school year. The summer, and summer in the South specifically, is difficult to work during because a large amount of families travel, and due to the closing of schools, majority of women’s centers (my workplace of choice) are closed as well. This means then that I really only have this coming school year to achieve my personal work goals. Thankfully I’m ready to take them on!!
Over the weekend, a close friend and I hiked/climbed/crawled to the top of the highest mountain in Morocco, N. Africa and of all Arab nations; Mount Toubkal. Standing at 4,167 meters (13,671 ft) in the sky, I felt… Hungry. But other than hunger I felt an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. The full hike took us two days, let me describe it for you now.
After a winding 90-minute taxi ride from Marrakech, Chems and I began our ascent to Toubkal in the mountain town of Imlil. Filled with trees and fresh mountain air, we felt invigorated and read to begin out 5-mile hike to the Toubkal refuge. Naturally, we had no idea where we were going and after backtracking a few times, we met up with a donkey caravan and made friends with the Moroccan men riding them.
Ghadi ntb3ukum wakha (We’ll follow you ok)? We asked.
Merhaba bikum (Welcome)! They responded.
The hike to the refuge was gorgeous! It was also much more challenging than I expected. We met up with a large group of hikers lead by 4 Moroccan guides. I was proud of myself, and Chems as well, in our ability to communicate so well with the guides. Through much code switching between Darija and English, we got to know the guides and they got to know us. In true Moroccan hospitality fashion, they made sure on the group’s lunch break that we had a plate of food as well. During our lunch break we sat overlooking the shrine of Sidi Chamharouch. At this place we saw many guides leading donkeys with women sat atop into or out of the shrine. We learned that it was at this place that many women came to pray for good fortune; praying for fruitful marriages, and healthy children.
Continuing on for another 2 hours or so, we eventually found ourselves at the foot of the Toubkal Refuge. Hamdullah!!! With weak legs and sore shoulders, we through off our backpacks and asked for two beds in the cold and dark stone refuge. Not too long after arriving we had a delicious classic Tajine dyal Khodra u Djaj (Vegetable and Chicken Tajine), and some tasty fresh melon for dessert. Immediately after dinner, we hit the sack knowing we had an early start to a long day ahead of us.
We awoke at 3:30 am, climbed over beds and shuffled into the bathroom. The electricity was off, and we had to get ready for the climb all in the dark. After a quick breakfast we headed outside only to be stunned by an open sky filled with more stars than I have ever seen in my life. Surrounding us were eerie jagged black walls we soon recognized as the mountain peaks enclosing the refuge. Off we go! But wait… we didn’t know where the trail began! We asked three men who were starting alongside us if we could follow them, since we were unsure of where the trail began. This was a big mistake. I got to the top of the stairs and I was out of breath! I honestly was unsure if I could make it to the top of the mountain, since clearly, I couldn’t even make it a small flight of stairs without wheezing. I pushed that idea out of my head, and Chems and I fell back, with those three men hiking out of sight.
Up and Up and Up we climbed. Every few steps we took was partnered with a pause to catch our breathes. While I never felt truly exhausted climbing to the top, my legs sure used a lot of energy to perform each step. Some sections were harder than others. At times I was convinced I would slip, and roll down the mountain side! About an hour into our ascent, our phones lost enough battery that we couldn’t use their flashlights anymore. We didn’t even think about head lamps! We pulled over and sat on a boulder, waiting for the sun to rise. During this time, I just looked up in constant awe of the sky above me. I thought of how long it took the universe to create these stars, and just how many of them are all burnt out, but whose light is just now arriving on earth. I don’t even remember how many shooting stars I saw, but I know for each one that passed my eyes, I accompanied them with a wish. Some wishes were work related, others were more personal.
When it became light enough for us to continue, we started off slow. After starting of slow, we continued… slowly still. Marveling at Chems’ speed and endurance since she was much further ahead than me, I continued pushed myself, knowing that each step brought me closer to the top. A song came into my head, and I played it on repeat…
‘Cause I’m on top of the world, ‘ay
I’m on top of the world, ‘ay
Waiting on this for a while now
Paying my dues to the dirt
I’ve been waiting to smile, ‘ay
Been holding it in for a while, ‘ay
Take you with me if I can
Been dreaming of this since a child
I’m on top of the world
(On Top of the World, Imagine Dragons)
At 4,000 meters we stopped for a quick break and breather. I took out my phone to snap a photo of the view- dead. No worries!! I opened my pack and took our my DSLR camera. Two photos later it died! While as frustrating as it was, I allowed myself to take it all in, and look around at the progress I made, and the trail I had yet to climb. It took anywhere between 45 minutes to an hour to climb the last 167 meters. I didn’t feel sick from the altitude, but I felt my muscles weaken from the lack of oxygen. At one point, I looked up and there it was- the summit!
With a pang of hunger in my stomach I found a not so comfy rock to sit on and I ate a few handfuls of barbecue Fakiat (taste like Fritos!), a granola bar, and 5 pieces of sliced deli turkey bought from the Marrakech Marjane. Looking out onto the tops of the High Atlas Mountains was more magnificent than I could have imagined. The mountains looked as if they had hues of red and purple within them, matching their intimidating and regal demeanor. It was a perfectly clear day, with not a cloud in the sky. Our lips were chapped, and faces were wind and sunburnt as we tried to smile and laugh congratulating each other on making it up to the top.
We did it. I’m so proud of us! Chems and I repeated to one another.
Wow, wow, wow.
It is recommended not to spend more than45 minutes at the summit due to the altitude. After we spent 30 minutes atop of the summit, we began our descent. This should be quick and easy, we thought. We thought wrong. Going down the mountain was slippery and dizzying. Both of us slipped and fell a few times but we’d bounce back up quickly and continue our descent back to the Refuge. Everything looked different in the light of day. The last leg of the descent, which we made previously during the dark, was completely unfamiliar to us. Apparently, we had crossed a stream in the beginning of the hike that morning. We were completely unaware until we found ourselves hopping from rock to rock as we arrived back at the mountain house. Only allowing ourselves enough time to change out shirts and refill our packs with clothes and items we left at the refuge, we begin our next leg of the trip back to Imlil.
Naturally, we had a hiccup in the beginning of our return trip where we found ourselves on the wrong trail. Unwilling on backtracking completely to the refuge in order to start on the correct trail, we saw a way to short cut through a would-be stream, climbing down on large rocks until we met with the trail. When we finally found it, it was like nothing wrong ever happened and we swiftly continued our way. This trail back felt like it was never ending! Every landmark we met felt like hours and hours in between when in reality we were making great time. Eventually we made it to a large riverbed where we knew Imlil was close! About to pass a man and a woman in front of us, the man turned around and smiled at Chems and I. As I was about to ask her why this man looked so familiar to me, He quickly whipped back around and greeted us with a big smile and a big congratulations on our trek. Turns out, he was the man who took our money at the Taxi stand in Marrakesh the day before! What are the chances?! He offered us a ride back into Imlil, and even helped up find a place to stay for the night.
As I think back on my Toubkal adventure, and even larger Moroccan adventure, two concepts stick out to me, and I find that these concepts are two of my core values. These values got me both up and down Mount Toubkal, they are what’s getting me through Peace Corps, and ultimately what will guide me through life. Perseverance, and Trust in myself. Without perseverance, I would not have made it to the Summit. Pushing through the pain and the exhaustion and trusting my body’s strength to get me there. Trusting myself, in both my mind and body guided me back down. As I gave into myself, and trusted that my body would catch itself, I made my way back down to the refuge and to Imlil.
I have written about working through tough times before. Looking back, I know that what has gotten me through is perseverance. To have perseverance is to push through; it is to have persistence in doing something despite difficulties and despite delays in achieving success. To persevere is to know that there will be difficulties and delays, but that success WILL come! I WILL reach the summit of this mountain! Summer was tough for me. My work slowed in April and completely stopped in June. When your purpose and your life revolve around work, as it does in Peace Corps, it is easy to sink into low mental valleys when you have that taken away from you. With perseverance, however, I was able to make it through to the other side of Summer and now have optimism and hope for the new school year. This issue is the same for life.
Trust in myself got me down the mountain. Trusting my body to catch itself and trusting that my mind knew where to place my feet below me to carry me back to the refuge. I’ve heard that descending steep mountains is like “controlled falling.” You must allow yourself to fall downwards, but trust and control your body so that you don’t faceplant! As I was “controlled falling” down Toubkal I thought of how I feel like I am often “controlled falling” through my life! So often I feel that on my way to achieving my goals, life happens TO me, rather than from me. This makes sense though, since life isn’t a culmination of only my actions but truly of the interactions of my actions and the actions of others. Life isn’t happening TO me, nor FROM me. Life is happening WITH me and I need to have trust in myself that I will do what it takes to achieve my goals. I must trust in myself that I am the intelligent, strong, bold, daring, loving, and caring young woman that has already made it so far, despite difficulties and delays in achieving my successes.
I’ve been a part of Peace Corps and lived in Morocco for a full year now. That is kick-ass!! I feel that right now I am at my summit. No, I haven’t “peaked.” Instead, I’ve summited. I’ve persevered through the unknown of this past year and can look back on the progress I’ve made. Now, I must trust in myself to do what I need to do to finish my goals and achieve success.
12 months down, 15 months to go!