College, Education, Lifestyle, Morocco, People, Spirituality, Study Abroad, Travel

Out of Africa

As I board my connecting flight out of Casablanca, it occurs to me that my ten-week journey through Morocco without donuts, or air conditioning, or two-ply, is coming to a close.

I have goosebumps. Did I mention that I spent ten weeks without A/C?

I stuff my bag in the overhead compartment and settle into my seat by the window. A young man seats himself in the chair beside me after assisting other passengers with their suitcases. He is on the phone for several minutes, moving fluidly between Arabic, French and English. A standard set of speaking skills for most Moroccans.

He hangs up as the flight attendants prepare the passengers for takeoff. Minutes pass as I practice my Arabic salutations before blurting, “How many languages do you speak?”

I nail the pronunciation, and imagine myself high-fiving Allah as the plane takes off the tarmac.

“Three,” he tells me. “And you?”

“One and a half.” Those of you who speak or understand Arabic will find great humor in the fact that I seriously said “wahid wa nisf.”

He chuckles, and I marinate in the validation of successfully navigating a conversation in Arabic with someone who isn’t my mother or professor. We continue in Arabic for a little while; he corrects my grammar and I use too many hand gestures to explain concepts beyond my vocabulary repertoire until he lands on the question I had been so tactfully avoiding for the past week.

“So, how do you feel about your time in Morocco?”

I don’t answer as honestly as I want to; partly because I don’t know all the words, and partly because I don’t have the emotional composition to address it just yet.

The truth is, my time in Morocco has come to an end, and I feel utterly at peace. I’m not talking about the kind of peace that comes from relief, or the kind that is so quiet and calm that it lets you fall asleep at night.

I’m talking about the kind of peace that is so loud and powerful that it gets you out of bed in the morning. The peace that I feel is moving; it propels me forward, and I don’t intend to leave it behind in Morocco.

I once read somewhere that “peace is not the resting heartbeat of humanity. It is the heartbeat, but it is not resting.”

For me, peace is very much alive, and chaotic, and vibrant, because these are the attributes of my life in which I thrive and feel at home. I feel that when I am moving and feeling and really living, I am at peace.

Peace is growth at the speed of life. 

I don’t mean the speed at which I upload a picture, or how fast I break glass ceilings. I’m talking about real speed of my real life. My movement is peaceful because it involves mindfulness and purpose. And yet, the purpose of peace is peace itself.

Peace is the result of movement that is productive, that has intention, that makes real change possible.

When I think of peace, I think of running with the bulls in Pamplona, dancing with Sufi mystics in Fez, riding camels under the sunrise in the Sahara. I think of moving for the sake of growing and learning and sharing and being. I make a mental note to pursue this feeling constantly, not because I want to run with the bulls every day, but because I want to move through every day as if it is that important, that amazing, that peaceful.

By the end of the flight, I realize that I do, in fact, have the words to express the way I feel about my experience. Peace was the first word I learned on the first day of my Arabic class last Fall.

I am reminded of this by the young man next to me, as he helps the other passenger in our row with her bags one last time. He turns to me and offers the most fundamentally integrated phrase in the Arabic language, “asalaamu al-aykum,” which means “peace be with you.”

This phrase is the alpha and omega of the Arabic language. It begins and ends every conversation, every meeting, every sendoff and every homecoming. It dawns on me that this incredible language has fostered a culture that is not only rooted in, but propelled by peace, the kind of peace that ebbs and flows between handshakes and running hugs and happy tears.

I reply with the traditional response, “al-aykum asalaam,” as he hurries off to his next destination. “And also with you,” it translates.

I am reminded of the millions of times I have heard “peace be with you” in church, and I am delighted by the cultural connection. I realize that I have traveled halfway around the world to find that human beings in an entirely different lifestyle can be found saying the exact same words. I mentally high-five Allah again.

We’re all human. We’re all growing. We all have peace that comes from within.

As I exit the plane, I am swallowed by the humidity; I did not miss this. I tuck my frizzing hair behind my ear to hear the last bits of Arabic conversations behind me. Cries of “peace be with you” fade away as friends and families kiss each other goodbye, and I hustle into the line for baggage claim. I am thankful that my newfound peace is not something that can be lost between connecting flights, or confiscated by TSA, although they definitely would if they could.

I wait for my family by the exit and in the meantime, I settle into my favorite habit of people watching. I lose my train of thought as I soak in the hustle and bustle of hugs and families and greetings in every language imaginable.

I realize that this is not the end of my global experience; this is simply the beginning.

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One thought on “Out of Africa

  1. David DeVries says:

    Haleh,

    Welcome back to NC! And thank you for keeping me on your mailing list. In this essay you helped me explore what “peace” can mean, at its richest.

    I agree with you. Peace is not inactivity, lack of any tension. For me it is a state of purposefulness, when you have a deep sense of being in the right place at the right moment and contributing through your actions or simple presence. I had that sense over the past month as I was with a 92 year old friend during her last days.

    I look forward to your future postings. I inevitably learn important lessons from your notes!

    Peace to you, David

    Sent from my iPad

    Like

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