Simple Thoughts

I remember being in my early teens and complaining to my father about something I had learned about the American political process (if I remember my 13-year-old self correctly, it was probably the electoral college).  His response?  Your typical American one – that there’s no where better in the world to live.  One friend of mine will appreciate my reply: “Denmark!” (Admittedly, all I knew at the time, aside from Hamlet, was that it consistently rated high for quality-of-life).

Since that young age, both my father and I have discovered that our home country, the U.S., really isn’t the center of the universe.  Although I knew at the time that life somewhere else might be more interesting, I doubt I knew the subtle (and not-so-subtle) difference between American and European health care, for example, or in which countries women had the most rights.  As I grew older, I developed an “anywhere but here” mentality, complaining loudly to whomever would listen that life in the U.S. was just “the worst,” particularly after 2000, when George W. Bush was elected.

Now that I’ve lived abroad, however, everything has become much more complex.  Our health care is of great quality, but we pay so much for it, whereas in Britain, for example, it’s mainly free but getting what you need taken care of is chaotic.  Or in Morocco, where you can get anything done easily and for free, but if you want care up to “Western” standards, you have to pay out-of-pocket (although my insurance there covered 80% of everything, which is wonderful and more than I can say for my insurance in the States).

Of course, health care is just a simple example, but one that’s easy to articulate.  Where it gets more difficult is trying to put into words quality of life.  When I lived in Morocco, I found many things frustrating – the catcalls, the amusement with my appearance, inner-city public transportation.  There were also so many things that I simply took for granted – lingering in my neighborhood cafe, the ease of just dropping by someone’s home for lunch, lunch itself (a pb&j scarfed down in 20 minutes doesn’t hold a candle to my mother-in-law’s tajines and 3-hour

languorous lunches that I used to despise but now would give anything to have again).  I miss the freshness of the vegetables (and the price!), I miss my joyful students, and I miss my family.

But there were also so many things here that I missed and that I now struggle not to take for granted – a hot mocha at Starbucks, soy milk (it exists in Morocco, but at over $7 a liter), cheesy pasta dishes, sipping a beer in public without being stared at (that actually took some getting used to, believe it or not), my own family here.

I can’t even put into words which life is better.  Sure, I enjoy the chaos that comes with American urban life, but Moroccan cafe society is such a joy.   I know that I was less stressed there.  I also know that here, I have more opportunity for career growth.

There is no simple answer, and a full life cannot be quantified, nor can quality of life be judged by simple standards.

2 replies on “Simple Thoughts”

“I can’t even put into words which life is better.”
“There is no simple answer”

Mm, my own answer? Well, read, if you wouldn’t mind:

As a kid I was told of a good place called «Heaven» and a bad place called «Hell». I was taught that good people would go to Heaven and bad people to Hell and that it was God who would decide who should go where. As I grew older, I came to realize that not all people believe in Heaven and Hell. Now I believe in Heaven and Hell still. I wish to go to Heaven because there is nothing more than Heaven I can ever dream of.

I know that if I like sightseeing, I can’t see all the parts of the world. If I love animals, I can’t see all the animals of the world. If I love money, I can’t have all the money of the world. If I love flowers, I just can’t see and smell all the flowers of the world. If I love beautiful women, I can’t meet all the beautiful women of the world.

I know that if I had a palace, I would wish to have more. If I had ten beautiful women, I would wish to have more. If I visited a thousand wonderful places, I would wish to visit more. I know that if I had thousands of horses, camels, cars, houses, I would still wish to have more and more. I know that if I lived a thousand years, I would wish to live longer. Only Heaven could quench my thirst.

But is Heaven fact or fancy? Why do people not believe in Heaven? Maybe because it isn’t a place that tourist operators know of and where they can send their clients aboard their planes and ships. Maybe because it hasn’t yet been «dicovered» by NASA. Maybe because it’s only a place described in the Bible and the Koran.

From my blog, Faith for Life.

About that America out there, here’s a poem I wrote in the Summer of 2006:

Qu’elle est curieuse cette fameuse Amérique !
Elle est belle quand ses Boeings tendent leurs ailes
Dans le ciel.
Dans certains cas,
Comme sur Voice of America,
On est devant une Amérique plutôt biblique.
Mais cette même Amérique devient vite diabolique
Quand ses flics dansent au rythme
De la musique venue d’Afrique
En passant par la Jamaïque.
Puis vite –Hop !– elle est islamique, cette Amérique
Quand ses imams parlent d’islam
A Washington Square
Et de la guerre
En même temps elle distribue des condoms.
Et charme des gens de tous les coins
Avec un certain « Welcome »
Et les fait venir de loin.
On la craint, cette Amérique, mais on l’admire ;
On ne la comprend pas, mais on ne peut que finir
Par l’aimer :
Surtout quand on voit ses travailleurs, ses bâtisseurs,
Ses génies et ses penseurs
Comment ils meurent
Pour rendre ce monde beau comme une fleur.
Bref, on est pris de stupeur
Quand cette Amérique-là nous fait peur.

All the best, Jillian.

Hey, that was a great poem. Not Neruda, but really nice and thoughtful…How nice to get poetry from your commentators, Jill. I went through some of the same reasoning -now imagine being an only kid in a military family- about wanting to live “anywhere else” but the U.S. But when I lived in France, I realized how many great things were to be had and experienced in the U.S. and the Americas in general. We aren’t as rigid as the “Old World” -for better or for worse, it depends on the context.
Like you, there are things in Morocco that I never would have thought of twice in the States but have to be so careful about there. As a teenager I worked weekends in a cafe and part of my duties was to set out the big glass & metal tables and chairs for outdoor dining; I was used to it. In Morocco, as my husband’s friend’s cafe was closing and he was stacking the chairs and tables to turn in and go home I got up to help him, picked up a chair and immediately set it back down when he gave me this look. Nothing hostile of course, just totally befuddled about why a girl would pick that up. And I asked him: “girls don’t do that here, do they?” and he just smiled and shook his head. Just an example. We both laughed.

I think the best policy is to take the best of all your many cultures and try to bring them into your life. You leave behind what you can of the worst and what you can’t get around, you just deal with it.

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