Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is a writer and activist.

Homeless but happy

Yesterday – August 19 – marks three years since I arrived in Meknes to live.  I remember the anxiety I felt as I got on the airplane, and the sense of being so lost in the world the first few days I was there.

I arrived at the airport in Casa and was picked up by a fellow teacher at the school where I would be working.  We took the highway home, stopping for a smoke once or twice, and arriving in Meknes a few hours later.  We went directly to Marjane, the giant supermarket, before he dropped me off at my new apartment – I picked up a SIM card for a phone I did not yet have, a cooking pot, two bottles of beer and some snacks.  When I got to my apartment, I showered, changed, and almost immediately headed to the school where I would spend the next two years as a teacher (though at the time, I thought I’d only be there for one).  There, I was fed (couscous, it was Friday), and loaned the school’s cleaning lady to give my new digs a thorough scrubbing.  As Saida cleaned, I fell asleep on the couch-bed.  She would tease me about that for the next two years, as we got to know each other and learned to communicate in each other’s languages.

The first week was hard – I was given the wrong lesson plan for my first day of class, I was proscribed to teach an “intensive” session which consisted of two straight weeks of two classes per day – 9-12 and 3-6.  Intense, indeed.  During the first week, I had a lunch out with two co-workers that included a beer or two – shortly thereafter the director informed all of us that we were not permitted to ever consume alcohol before coming to work (obvious, sure, but it was mid-summer and we had no real breaks!)

I quickly adjusted and as summer gave way to autumn and the leaves changed and Ramadan began, I felt at home.  It took only a few short months before I could go shopping without paying too much; I traveled alone and frequently, and relished every opportunity to see something new.  As time passed, I became more involved in life there, starting a library at the school, becoming involved in Global Voices, and writing a book.

I returned to the U.S. nearly one year ago.  It’s been a long, tough year.  It took me longer to adjust to the insanity of life here than it did to the slow dance of life in Morocco.  Although it’s easier to find escape here when times get tough than it was in Morocco, I miss how at home I felt there.  My apartment was a sanctuary – shining white walls, red velveteen banquettes, Moroccan tchotchkes everywhere.  Here, one year in, I’m still struggling to organize my living room; my furniture is half-broken and mismatched; I can’t seem to get it together.  My bedroom walls are still bare; plans to decorate them have given way to life, which moves so fast I can hardly catch my breath.

Three years later, and I’m homeless.  I’m still looking to find my place in a world where my own country has turned out to be less welcoming than my adopted one; a country where Homeland Security harasses me in my own homeland, and I have more in common with my friends from abroad than with those born and raised here.  I don’t mean to imply that I am in some way poor; I am not now, not monetarily, or in terms of family and friends, or emotionally.  I am simply homeless, nomadic, destined to wander around, never to feel truly attached to one place, or one place in time.

I’m not the first person to feel this way, and I surely won’t be the last.  This is not a uniquely American phenomenon, but I think it’s more common for Americans to feel this way; Americans who experience life in another culture are more apt to latch onto that culture, to adopt it as their own, to reject their own homogeneous society for one quite possibly even more homogeneous (but where exoticness ultimately trumps homogeneity).

Fortunately, travel satisfies the urge for now.  In no way am I hatching an escape plan now; I am blessed with a wonderful job here, and with the U.S. on the cusp of change (hopefully), it’s a great time to live here.  I also must remind myself why I came back; the truth is, until I’m established in my career, there’s little opportunity elsewhere for me to build it.  And I’m happy.  I like it here.  Boston is a wonderful city, filled with people from everywhere…

And really, surrounded by people from everywhere is where I feel the most at home, anyway!

4 Comments

  1. Nice post!
    I’m interested that you describe US society as ‘homogeneous’, when you were very vocal at the GV summit that there were other voices, other communities, in the US that needed to be heard. (Which I agree with.) So what do you mean by homogeneous here?

  2. What I meant is that I think a lot of Americans see their own society as homogeneous.

    There are certainly other voices, but it’s not easy to find or hear them! US media silences and oppresses them, mainstream society the same…so if you look at the US as an average American, all you see is other people – regardless of their race/ethnicity – buying, wearing, and doing the same things as you.

  3. I like this post ! I can relate to what you say. I also was a teacher in Meknes for two years, it was very intense. And going back to France was unsettling; I had the same problems with my appartment, so impersonnal – even though I chose to live in a “Maghrebi” street of my city.
    The feeling was so strong that I packed my stuff and went back to Morocco…
    — and now I understand why your cat is a Moroccan… it took me a while, the Internet connection in my house is very very bad !

  4. Thanks, Marie! I didn’t realize you’d taught in Meknes, too! Not a great city, but it really grows on you. I want to move back, but there are also so many other parts of the world I want to try. And yes, my little kteta, plucked from the dirty streets of Meknes!

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