2019 Spring Amideast External Programs Gwen Jensen Morocco

50 Shades of Homesick

Pull-click-turn-push. I pressed my bodyweight against the dense iron door, my sneakers click-click-clicked across the concrete entrance, then I pull-click-turn-pushed my way through the nestled wooden doorway. My host mother’s cooking greeted me before my tired body flopped on the stiff mattress, layered with a mishmash of patterned blankets and quilts to keep out the night’s chilliness. To my left is a mirror image to my own little bed, and to my right is the towering black wardrobe, encasing the contents of a single checked suitcase that travelled with me on through four airports, three planes, two trains, a bus, a subway, and a taxi to find ourselves in our home for the next four months in the concrete Moroccan apartment I share with my host parents, six year-old host sister, and American roommate.

Orientation week came and went, accompanied by a million greetings and introductions. Each time “I’m from Maryland, but I go to school in Philly” left my mouth, I was reminded of the homes I had left behind for the next four months. My suburban row-home with its big, white, unfinished, popcorn-ceilinged basement that had hosted years of birthday parties, Secret Santa exchanges, movie nights, and sleepovers. My 22nd floor view from Morgan Hall, which gifted me with a semester worth of awe-inspiring sunsets and a few sunrises that made waking up early to cram for finals a little more bearable. Each day I spent in Morocco, I was gifted with views even more spectacular than those pink clouds kissing the Comcast building good morning. Standing beneath the crumbling, ancient, clay ruins of the Chellah, getting swallowed by the winding pastel alleyways and mouth-watering fragrances of the Medina, or watching the same pink clouds kiss a different city skyline from the top of the Kasbah. I was surrounded by beauty, but instead I longed to be standing beneath the towering windowed skyscrapers of Philly, or get lost in the winding brick alleys on the way to friends’ apartments. Everyday I asked myself why I couldn’t feel more at home here.  

This weekend, I settled into the cushioned seat of the first of two trains, zooming out of Rabat, watching the stout concrete buildings became fewer and farther between, until all that flew past me was fields and fields, occasionally dotted with brightly colored concrete homes. “It’s funny how towns just appear out of nowhere here” my friend remarked, as we turned the corner and the fields suddenly transfigured into closely stacked concrete homes, intersected with bustling streets. With each of these sudden appearances, I was surrounded by more homes, catching glimpses of a million little houses filled with rooms for people like myself.

After a seemingly endless uphill trek, toting our stuffed overnight bags through the blue and white streets of Chefchaouen, we finally reached a small door in the wall, which led to a beautiful villa that we would call home for the weekend. That night, sitting out on one of the villas two terraces, surrounded by new friends, all away from our new homes and our old ones, I I noticed the absence of the unsettling feeling of not belonging which had loomed over me the past two weeks. I finally had come to peace with the reality of the ever-changing concept of home. It wasn’t the white basement I missed, it was my friends crammed shoulder to shoulder on my L-shaped couch. And it wasn’t my big windows at school I longed for, it was watching the sunset with my roommates. And in a few months, this home is one I will also be missing. But it won’t be the stiff twin sized mattress I’ll miss, it will be my roommate next to me sharing stories late into the night, and my host mom’s couscous, and this moment sitting on the chilly terrace in the Moroccan mountains, with blue and white walls forming never ending alleyways.

As I stood shoulder to shoulder with a few of my American classmates, local Moroccans, and various tourists, my ears buzzing from the woosh of the tracks and the exchange of different languages, I peered out the window at the homes dotting the countryside, and as the buildings became closer together to form the city of Rabat. Two trains, a bus, a taxi, and a short walk later I was grateful for the comforting and familiar  pull-click-turn-push that brought me home.

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