College, Lifestyle, People, Relationships, Study Abroad, Travel


We’ve all experienced the fear of missing out.

Whether we’re watching the snap story of a party we’re too sick to attend, or clicking through the pictures of our ex’s wedding on Facebook, we’re all too familiar with FOMO.

It’s more a manifestation of anxiety than fear, actually. The knowledge that better, more exciting things are happening somewhere that we aren’t. We self-medicate with live-streamed events, corporate conference calls, pre-recorded TV shows because we just can’t do it all.

We develop most of our FOMO through social media, meanwhile making ourselves more isolated from one another. We’re settling for watching concerts online instead of actually seeing it in person. Thanks to Snapchat and thousands of fashion bloggers, it was possible to watch all of New York, Paris and London Spring Fashion Weeks live from the front row.

No, we cannot be in two places at once, and yes, the Internet accommodates our incurable need to feel present, but it’s really not the same.

It’s a vicious cycle, really. The more we miss out, the more we watch online. The more time we spend online, the more we miss out. If we worry about all the things happening in the world right now, we fail to appreciate what is happening in real life in front of us.

I have a very vivid memory of FOMO from this summer while studying abroad. My friends and I took a few days off to run with the bulls at the San Fermin Festival in Spain.

We had just arrived in Barcelona’s bustling airport terminal. I looked up at the screen over the gate, flashing with updates of departures and delayed arrivals. I was overwhelmed. Names of places I had never heard or even imagined I might see. How was it that I could only occupy one small fraction of the world at a time?

We bought train tickets to Pamplona and settled into some empty seats at our terminal. I continued to glance at the closest screen over the next few hours, ignoring the conversation amongst my friends to fantasize about the other places we could have been instead of this cold, dirty train platform.

I thought of other cities, other weekend trips and experiences of people around me, of all the strangers in all these places I’d never get to meet. Stories I’d never tell. My fear of missing our evolved into a deeply rooted need to go and see and touch and hear all the people and places and food I had yet to know and love. I felt like I simply had to have it or else I’d die right there and then.

Until of course, I realized we had missed our train. And then we really were going to die right then and there, at midnight in a cold, dirty Spanish train station, where none of us spoke Spanish and none of us had Wifi.

Except we didn’t die. We rallied.

We made it to our destination and ran with the bulls and experienced a very different emotion than FOMO. It was a blend of Oh-God-Why-Did-I-Do-This and Oh-God-I-Can’t-Wait-To-Do-This-Again.

Whether we call it adrenaline or audacity, none of it would have happened if I hadn’t snapped out of my FOMO-trance.

It is through this experience that I realized how destructive FOMO is, and decided it has no place in my life. I learned how important it is to be present in the experiences I’m currently having, or else I really will have no stories to tell in the end.

You can call me FOMO-phobic, but I’ll be too busy soaking up my last semester of college to care.

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.

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

The Fast and the Furious: The Hanger of a Ramadan Rookie

The month of Ramadan has come to a close, and it’s safe to say that my initial effort to fast was completely dependent on a group mentality. The twelve students in my program attempted to fast on the first day, but have since dropped like the dozens of flies feasting on the garbage outside my kitchen window. Needless to say, the smells of the old medina made fasting a little easier.

Despite the decision of my classmates to eat meals at normal hours after the first day, I found comfort in the fasting companionship with my 13-year-old host-brother, Ameen. On the first day of Ramadan, I came home from school with hanger and a headache without my daily dose of caffeine. Ameen sauntered in and invited me to have a glass of tea, to which I replied, “no thanks, I’m fasting.”

“I’m fasting too!” he said, and proceeded to give me a high five before leaving the room.

This became our daily interaction as Ramadan progressed; we checked in on each other every night. “I fasted today!” he would say to me, and I replied with the same.

Next came our inevitable high-five, but it barely lasted more than a week, because I tapped out relatively early in the Ramadan game.

Iftar is the sunset meal that breaks the daily fast at 7:35 p.m. It is comprised of dozens of small plates, Arabic tapas if you will, traditionally begun with dates and milk, followed by small plates various types of food that depend on the geography, season, and preferences of the chef.

In my homestay, we typically had plates of salad, sautéed eggplant with tomatoes and jalapenos, croissants stuffed with spiced chicken and cheese, an vinegar-laden mixture of potatoes, peas, tuna and carrots, and a main dish cooked in a large tagine.

Tagines are comprised of two terra cotta pieces: a wide, rimmed plate and a tall cone with a hole at the top, which lets out a small portion of air while cooking. Every night, our mother cooked a different meal; I never ate the same tagine twice. Chicken with couscous, meatballs with eggs and tomato sauce, fried fish, lamb with rice and peas, I could go on and on.

I was amazed at my host mother’s ability to cook for hours in a kitchen with no air conditioning while fasting in 100-degree heat. Those who think men are stronger than women have never witnessed this month-long feat.

On day ten, I explained to my host-mother that the temperature for the following week was going to pass 105 degrees, but my elementary Arabic textbook hadn’t prepared me to convert temperatures into Celsius yet. She slapped her hands on the table in a way that made all the tea glasses shake as she looked up at the ceiling and yelled, “God help us, everyone is going to die!”

This went on for several minutes before I realized my mistake, and continued until I stood on the couch for enough Wi-Fi to convert the degrees on my phone.

It was about this time that I decided to stop fasting. Allah help me, I thought, I don’t want to die.

Since then, I have gotten in trouble twice for eating in public on accident. Because Morocco is a Muslim nation-state, it is illegal for citizens to eat in public during the month of fasting. Explaining to a local who berated me for drinking water on the sidewalk that I am not, in fact, Muslim or Moroccan caused more harm than good. I began the habit of drinking water in the confines of my bedroom.

During Ramadan, shops and restaurants are closed until after Iftar, so non-Muslims and non-Moroccans are still forced to cope with the hanger that comes from hours without food or water. Locals have figured out that the best way to beat the heat and hanger combo is to sleep all day until roughly 3 p.m.

A Moroccan siesta of sorts, this became my excuse to nap every day after school.

On the last day of Ramadan, I tried to nap for the few hours before Iftar. I awoke around 7:15 to the sound of thunder and people rushing about outside my window.

A blanket of clouds that had hovered above Fes throughout the day had turned into a dark, angry mess. I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing: thunder, lightning and heavy rain in the middle of Morocco.

Water poured down the outside of my open windowsill like a long-awaited blessing at the end of a hard month. I could see my host brothers splashing around in the street before their mother called them inside to help set the table.

I continued to watch the street with my face pressed to the iron window frame as mist rose from the hot street up to my parched skin.

Donkeys trotted by carrying makeshift palettes of gallons of water, splashing with every step in the cobblestone path. Children shouted as they finished their games of soccer in between women carrying huge trays of bread and cookies from our neighborhood’s public bakery. Groups of teenage girls hurried home through the rain with linked arms, whispering and stealing glances outside of their little circles of gossip.

By 7:25, people broke from a swift walk into a brisk jog, hoping to make it home in time to pray before dinner. I heard shouts of “Eid Mubarak!” as doors opened to let rain-soaked loved ones inside.

After a few more minutes went by, the streets were empty, except for the occasional tardy person, who ran as they held up their floor-length djellabas to keep from tripping.

At 7:33, our family was gathered around the table; each of them had finished their prayers and we were poised in eating position. It had been a very long last day.

We waited for the sound of distant cannons through the window of our medina home, which announced the official moment of dusk.

“Bismillah,” or “thanks be to God” echoed among our family members as we all reached for the plate of dates to break the very last fast together.

After 20 minutes of vigorous eating, the members of our household settled back into the couches as our hanger subsided, and I tried, for the 30th night in a row, to explain the American concept of a “food baby” to my host mother in Arabic.

For the 30th time, it still didn’t make any sense to her. “Americans are crazy,” she said.

I figured she was right, as I went out into the street to drink my water just because I knew that now, no one could stop me.

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

Moroccan Duty-Free

I have always loved people watching. Even in my childhood, I have sought a social education by observing others, their mannerisms, their fashions, whether they pick their nose in the car or what they buy in the grocery store.

My parents used to berate me for staring at people in public, so I’ve learned to conceal my curiosity by darting my eyes quickly, or hiding behind a pair of polarized lenses. In this case, it’s a pair of golden aviators i bought in the souk for $4, with dark green lenses and a small white logo in the corner that says, and I kid you not, “Ron Bons.”

Walking through the markets with my Ron Bons, I feel somehow invisible as I dart between donkey carts and salesmen, trying not to step on the beggars selling used toys and their mothers’ salt shakers on placemats by my feet.

I’m careful not to look too long at any one place or person, because allowing my eyes to settle implies my interest in cheap Moroccan souvenirs, as well as cheap Moroccan husbands, God forbid.

I pass by thousands of people every day on these winding streets, noticing behaviors and avoiding stares, but how many of these people have I actually seen? How can I learn from them if I’m not really looking and taking in the senses around me?

It is here that I have learned the difference between noticing someone and paying attention to them.

One morning on the way to school, my roommate and I were hastily walking to up to the street to hail a taxi. The old city in Fez is the largest carless urban area in the world (shout out to UNESCO), so we actually have to walk half a kilometer from our house to the edge of the medina in order to get a cab.

Upon exiting our neighborhood street, we continued to walk with our heads down, partly because it was already 90 degrees at 9 a.m., and partly because we were passing a high school where young men like to propose to us. A small voice from below offered up “Salaamu Alaykum!” We continued to walk as if we hadn’t heard the greeting.

“Salaamu Alaykum!” We heard it again.

I made eye contact with Ashley before we silently agreed to turn around and address the persistent voice. To our surprise, a woman had stood to greet us, but we hadn’t even looked at her face when we walked by.

It was the host-mother of one of our classmates, who had invited us over for dinner the week before.

With only two hours’ notice, she had cooked an incredible spread for Iftar, the evening meal that breaks the daily fast for Ramadan. She fed five students with the utmost kindness and hospitality, and responded to our gratitude with “la shukran a-la wajib,” which translates roughly from the Moroccan dialect to “don’t thank me, it’s my duty.”

This little phrase is almost always the response when I say “thank you.” I hear it from teachers, from taxi drivers, from shop owners, even from my 13-year-old host brother when he helps me hang my wet laundry on the clothesline.

As a mother who only agreed to host one student, it was definitely not her duty to spontaneously feed four extra mouths at dinner, yet she spent the entire meal on her feet, bringing plates of second helpings to the table and asking us about our studies in Fez.

Such a warm personality was lost so quickly in the heat of the morning when I passed by her without paying attention. I definitely noticed that there was a woman on the sidewalk, but my inclination to avoid eye contact must have been demeaning as she tried to send me off to school with well-wishes.

As soon as I smiled in recognition, she clasped my hands and kissed both cheeks – once on the right and twice on the left – as is customary here. We exchanged greetings and she made sure that we knew to come visit her again before we leave. “Don’t thank me,” she said again, “it’s my duty.”

We promised to return and I honestly can’t wait. I’m really looking forward to getting to know her better, as well as drinking the orange juice that her husband makes from scratch.

He owns a juice stand at the medina entrance, and I swear to Allah its the best juice in all of Africa.

Even before I knew him personally, I bought juice from him every day. For almost two months now, I walk up to his stand, ask for one cup, and make casual conversation as he peels three oranges to squeeze into a tall glass.

Now that he recognizes me, we have diverted our topics from “Yes, this is my first time in Fez” to  “No, I’m not fasting anymore because I’m really thirsty.”

We’ve graduated from noticing each other to paying attention to each other’s lives. It’s really nice to have familiar faces on my way home, going out of my way to see local friends is the perfect excuse to avoid the proposal-parking lot that awaits me if I take the short cut.

As far as paying attention to people I don’t know, there is a balance between learning from people’s behaviors and mannerisms and maintaining the unmarried status on my passport.

Maybe I should just buy mirrored sunglasses, and watch people without turning my head.

On another night this week, I ran into a friend who works in a restaurant near the souk entrance. After catching up for a few minutes, he offered to take my friends and I up to the terrace of the closed restaurant next door.

He brought us chairs and turned off the terrace lights so we could see down to the vibrant, bustling street below. Ten minutes to midnight, amidst the natural A/C of a rooftop in the desert, I was finally able to people-watch in peace. I could hear the rapid clapping of traditional gnawa music from the hookah bar nearby, as smells of street food and bakeries wafted from down below. I watched children clinging to their mothers in the wake of crowds, teenagers hurrying towards the fair on the next street, French couples ignorantly paying full price for magnets and necklaces.

No one could see me, but I could stare freely at the crowds enjoying the last few hours before beginning the next day’s fast.

We thanked our friend for the chance to relax in the empty space with such an incredible view of the city. “Don’t thank me; it’s my duty,” he replied, as he left us to our privacy on the rooftop.

If karma is real, i thought to myself, I’ve either done a surprising amount of good, or I have a lot of duties to make up in my lifetime. 

We sat on the roof for a while, but it wasn’t long before I needed another orange juice.

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

The Sun Also Sets

I sat at the top of a dune, panting with my mouth open, involuntarily collecting sand in my hair with every gust of wind, but I didn’t care. I was overwhelmed by both the amount of exhaustion from climbing as well as the incredible sunset burning before me, disappearing as each second passed.

“Dear God,” I prayed, “if you can hear me, please remind me to go to the gym more often, okay?”

I pulled my feet together butterfly-style as I wished away the soreness from the 2.5-hour ride I had just completed on a camel, whom I named Marvin Gaye. He was proof that there most definitely is a mountain too high, because he offered no help in climbing it.

It took me roughly 45 minutes to climb to the top, and I apologized to my Nikes with every step that flooded my shoes with sand. The power of natural beauty staggered me as I fumbled for my phone, trying to capture the view around me. It finally dawned on me that this was an experience that would exist beyond the realm of Facebook likes, blog posts, or even any possible explanation to my family back home.

Inshallah the next iOS update will include the ability to capture the sunset over the Sahara, this waterless ocean of sand flooded by darkness with hues of orange and yellow racing to meet the sun at the horizon.

But in those few minutes with the failed shots of the sunset, it felt as if a spiritual presence was begging me to just put the phone down. I don’t even care how cheesy that sounds. In that moment, I finally overcame the desperate need to digitally document every moment that has plagued me for the past three weeks. Really, I just wanted to own the magnitude of this moment for my viewing pleasure only, so much so that I felt a pang of selfishness.

Since I began by trip, I’ve entertained myself with new friends by asking them for five things they miss about life in the United States. This little game is a fascinating way to get to know people; it provides insights to creature comforts, guilty pleasures, little facets of personality that bring people out of their shells.

My five things change pretty much every day, but are usually within the realm of Netflix (which isn’t available in Morocco), binge eating, driving a car, feminism, watching TLC with my roommates, and ice cubes. No, I don’t miss peanut butter because I brought a jar with me.

As I sat on top of the world with sand in my pants, I couldn’t think of a single thing that I missed about the United States. Not Wifi, or Cookout, or hot showers, or set prices in a store. All I had on this sand dune were my heart, my soul, my mind, and whatever strength was left to climb back down. I didn’t need anything else but this quiet conversation with God, which I spent thanking Him for this trackless desert sea, the perfect breeze, the richness of Berber drums echoing from the camp below me, the helping hand that pulled me further up the dune just as I was about to give up.

The view was obviously the point of the entire trip, and it was as satisfying as it was fleeting. Never had I witnessed such an expanse of no-man’s-land, space and time that belonged to no one and everyone simultaneously.

Beneath the riot of diamond stars I began to consider the magnitude of this space as well as its lack of ownership. It was nothing like I had ever seen in the United States; it was a place where land and animals and people thrive without the imposition of ownership and regulation. I felt comfortable knowing that the oases flourished without human involvement, that plants and animals belonged to Mother Earth alone, as opposed to a Berber tribe or a government institution.

It was in this moment that I, too, felt I belonged to the earth, but also that none of it belonged to me. Humbled, I was overwhelmed by the people and experiences that had helped me get to Morocco, to the desert, to the top of this very mountain of sand. Yet the only thing of which I could take ownership was the memory of this experience.

As much as I wanted to have the moment to myself, I inevitably shared it with the group of people around me. I didn’t actually own the view, or the moment, or the sound of panting students fumbling for a camera. None of it was mine, because all of it was God’s. I realized the only thing that was really mine was the sand in my underwear, and that’s only because I know Mother Nature didn’t want it back.

I laid back onto the sand, soaking in the last few minutes of sunshine, and I noticed two or three stars standing their ground in the fading light. I watched as they began to dominate the skyline throughout the next hour. It was as if the early stars had gone unselfishly home and invited all of their friends, telling them, “you have got to see this.”