It's been the most painful week of my life; insanely busy, full of tragedy, some great highs and deep lows. I had some of the best meals, last tea dates, and introduced the new volunteer (I hate calling her my "replacement") to Ait Hamza and tried so hard find a way to say goodbye without it hurting so much. Well that proved to be impossible. On top of it all, the evening of November 16th, while sitting at one of my favorite families house for the last time, Natalie and I got news from Peace Corps that So Youn Kim, a fellow PCV, had passed away. I had only met her once, and it was horribly shocking and terrible to hear one of our peers had passed away. I don't have any details except that it was an unexpected illness and left her no time. My heart goes out to her family for I can't even imagine their pain. When Natalie and I told the family we were sitting with they were deeply saddened as well and voiced many phrases having to do with God helping her parents.
In such a family-oriented society, Moroccans are always asking about our families and how we can possibly spend so much time away from them. I have spent over two years in Morocco without my family, so when So Youn passed away, they understood that her parents had not seen her for some time before it. It was just so awful, and I had no idea how to deal with it on top of the emotional rollercoaster I was already on. Natalie and I headed back to my house and we tried to keep things light while I packed my bags and spent my last night in Ait Hamza.
The next morning we headed to my host families house where I was given nearly two kilos of homemade shabakia and a beautiful pillow before heading to my favorite woman's house, Khalti Khshu's. I kept my composure at her house, and she accompanied us to the Cooperative. We took some pictures, made promises of reunion, and then I made it through approximately three goodbyes before I totally lost it and became a heaving ball of tears. The women fell into the same shape and I felt like my heart was being completely torn open. I could hardly look at half of them, and just hope they know how much I love them.
(last moments at Cooperative Atma)
My mom and sister accompanied me back to my house and I continued to weep as I said goodbye to my mud abode and went to wait on the road for transport. Normally getting a ride out of Ait Hamza takes no more than ten minutes, but this morning, when I needed it most, it took nearly an hour. With the help of Natalie and Emily (the new PCV), I managed to mail a giant package in Ifrane, and get into Azrou in one piece. My transport luck only worsened that day as the bus I planned to take to Rabat was full, so another PCV and I had to pay nearly double and take taxis the whole way, it was awful.
(my ma and me)
The next morning, Wednesday, November 18th, my entire staj met at the Peace Corps office for our "72hour checkout". COS (Close of Service) is normally a sad and exciting time, but this morning we were all quite solemn. With the unexpected loss of So Youn, our wonderful Country Director, David Lillie, kept the meeting simple and talked about plans for her memorial service a couple days later. Many PCVs began to arrive that day and the next for the service and general volunteer support, including one of my best friends, Moira. Though I wish it were under more positive circumstances, it was great to see her again. She's one of those people who makes me happy every time I see her.
(this is our dear Moira here)
On Thursday I finished all my medical stuff and Natalie arrived with my baby boy. Around midnight Casey flew back from Cairo, and by morning we were all together again. After some last signatures, around 2pm I stamped out and became an RPCV (which stands for Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, not Retired a my mom thought). All wobbly, we headed back to the hotel and had a nice time at a big restaurant with most of my staj. Lots of hugs and goodbyes, none of it seeming very real, and completely drunk after one beer, we went to bed around midnight to prepare for the long trip ahead.
(Qasiminu d Naimanu)
Not going to the Memorial service for So Youn Saturday morning was a difficult decision, but it went very well and I hope everyone is grieving and healing as best possible. Instead Nat, Casey, Bu and I kept our plan to head down to Essouira for our good friend's birthday and my last night in Morocco. I felt like a real adult as I rented a car and we headed south. Essa was beautiful and keeping all the pain and tragedies at arm's length, we had a fine evening of dancing, music and drinking. It was wonderful until late in the evening the awesomeness of my friends got to be too much for me and I hid away with the water works flowing again. But Casey and Nat are just too wonderful; they found me, we hugged, soon curled up on ponjes and I fell into a short but comfortable sleep knowing my best friends were near. Sunday we explored Essa a bit, ate some good food, and bid goodbye in the afternoon and began the long drive back to Casablanca for my late flight out.
I had the idea somehow that saying goodbye to my American friends would be less painful than my Moroccan friends because I was sure to see them again sooner, oh how very wrong I was et again. I don't think either was more painful than the other, and I really thought there was no moisture left in my entire body for tears, but in that darn airport, having to say goodbye to the two people I love most in Morocco, it all became real and this time my heart, already torn open, was now being pulled completely out of my chest. I have made so many incredible friendships in Morocco, and will hold onto them, but knowing we will never live alongside one another as we did there, ever again, is what hurts most. I'll never come into my ferno room with a big pile of yummy food to Casey and Natalie's happy, waiting faces. So, snotty and soaked, and with the deepest hugs ever, I went through the most difficult goodbye of my life. I did want to see my family stateside, but I couldn't want to see America less. After they left I crumpled, tried to calm Bu as the tranquilizers took effect, and wept until I somehow managed to make it on the plane.
Completely exhausted by grief and lack of real rest, I slept through most of my flight to Rome, and the next to Paris. I even slept the first seven of my 11 hour flight from Paris to LA. Bu did so well most of the way, it wasn't til the last ten minutes, as we began our decent into LA that he finally lost it and emptied his entire bladder in his carrier and onto my lap. Reeking of cat piss, depressed and exhausted, I got through customs in about a minute and spotted a gigantic figure crossing the street outside. I couldn't believe it was my brother, but sure enough it was. He grew at least a foot since I left, my god. Being probably the worst version of myself I greeted him and mom with deep hugs and we spent the next couple hours in the welcoming traffic of LA.
We went to my grandparent's house for a bit, and I had some amazing broccoli despite my terrible plane-food stomach cramps and then headed off to Costco. Costco is certainly not the first place of business I felt comfortable entering upon return to the states, but it was as good a time as any to get on my mom's family plan and a new phone. I have absolutely no idea how to use the thing. My favorite and only fancy aspect of my beloved Moroccan phone was a flashlight on the top. In my opinion, a phone needs nothing more. The phone I have now was free with the plan, but comes with all sorts of shit I'll never need or want and opens up into a whole other computer like gadget I don't understand. Ugh.
Feeling worse by the moment, passing billboards and so many white people and so much concrete, we finally arrived at my mom's new place. I got Bu settled in and soon headed to bed with the awful ache of change. Like some huge beak-up, this awful ache you feel will never subside, of being back in this world that you had left so long ago, been completely changed, and never wanted to return to. The ache of not wanting to get used to it all again, of not wanting to become tolerant of the American way of life I so despise. I've got to get back to the soil soon, and I will.
Jet-lag woke me up around 4am because it was noon in Morocco and I felt like smiling may forever be impossible. A few hours later mom and I got up, got the horses ready and took off for a ride downtown. It was the best way to spend my first morning back. It was a fine, crisp morning. I looked around at the beautiful mountains surrounding Ojai and my eyes welled with tears as the first thing I thought was, "I gotta get Nat and Casey over this weekend to go hiking". My heart wrenched again and I felt sick. But on a horse, surrounded by beauty, and alongside the woman that gave me life, I really could not complain.
We arrived at the sweet little downtown coffee shop and mom held the horses while I went in. The cute young girl behind the counter couldn't possibly understand how insane I felt holding a $20 bill and about to make my first purchase in America. Eyes wide, I managed to order (in English it felt so weird) and fumbled with the change like a three year-old. It was a delightful breakfast. I ordered a small mocha, but it was the size of a soup bowl in Morocco, and a cheese-ridden bagel with cream cheese on top. I tried to not feel guilty for enjoying it.
We hopped back on the horses, and as we rode back home I felt an shwiya bit of comfort and faith that I might one day feel ok here. Now I'm hiding out in the house and chattin with Bu in Tamazight because I miss speaking it aleady. I'm organizing my trip next week to Massachusetts and this afternoon I'll see my sister and practice driving in America. I love you all; can't wait to see everyone at Thanksgiving, others sometime soon and my beloved ones in Morocco, know that I miss you like lost limbs already.