Bslama (Goodbye)

With every risk in life, there are unknown consequences waiting to unfold. If you’re lucky those consequences can be an absolute blessing, but sometimes those risks prove to have a detrimental effect on your entire being. One day you’re incredibly happy living in the beautiful Ozarks and another you’re applying to the Peace Corps because you feel like it’s “now or never.” The spontaneity of your youth and the lack of responsibilities (AKA a husband or child) you possess seem like the perfect pairing for an adventure abroad. After all this is your dream – right? The one where you show everyone how you were meant to be a humanitarian, vowing to live as the impoverished do and wow everyone with the life changing projects you implement with locals. You set wildly high expectations for yourself and are determined you’re going to make it past any challenge that’s set forth in front of you – because after all, you dropped everything and moved to Africa. This experience was meant to challenge you physically, culturally, spiritually, and mentally and you welcomed any struggle that was to come your way. Basically – you were ready to be Wonder Woman with a dash of Mother Teresa.

And then – you realize that the best expectations are to have no expectations. It’s only human to have them, but we tend to create an entire fairy tale like world inside the depths of our mind, turning everything that could be a set back into the best possible outcome. We become naive to the real situation around us and when reality finally hits, we act so surprised to be in the environment around us. No matter how prepared you feel – some things in life you cannot prepare for. There is nothing that could have prepared me for the last 3 months. It’s strange because it wasn’t the actual training or the lack of amenities that was a true struggle for me. I loved every moment of learning Darija, until drama in my CBT group caused a somewhat hostile learning environment. It wasn’t showering once or twice a week that broke me and it surely wasn’t from the smothering love my host families gave me in BenSmim or in Taftacht.

I wish I could pinpoint the exact reason for my disdain. Is it Morocco? Is it the Peace Corps? Is something wrong with me? I tried to stay positive and encourage other volunteers to work through their discrepancies, but why haven’t I been able to help myself? Why were other volunteers having the time of their lives since the moment they got here and I’ve felt a level of anxiety since the moment I stepped into Rabat? Every single volunteer knows that it is detrimental to compare your service to other PCVs experiences. EVERY SINGLE VOLUNTEER’S SERVICE IS DIFFERENT. Do I need to repeat that again – because I will if you don’t understand this concept. Every Peace Corps country is set up differently from one another. They all possess different cultures, programs, languages, transportation, relationships, hardships, etc. Just because your friend completed an amazing two years in Sub-Sahara Africa does not mean your experience will be the same. This concept also rings true inside of Peace Corps Morocco. Every single site is different. Some have site mates, some are completely isolated. Some have urban sites, others live in towns of less than 2000. Some have amenities like WiFi, others have to go to the next town over to stay connected. Some live a more Western lifestyle in more liberal areas and some are confined to the cultural bounds of a conservative site. Some have to navigate the intricacies of a brand new site, some have current volunteers showing them the ropes. Some have great host families, and some are counting down every minute till they can find their own place. So, whatever you do – don’t assume every experience is the same – it’s not a fair assumption.

I wish that I could have been the Peace Corps volunteer that everyone says “wow – I want her service.” I wish I could have traveled around the entire Moroccan countryside, photographing the beauty that encompasses this entire country from the enchanting blue city of Chefchaouen to the desert oases in the depths of the South. I wish I could have perfected Moroccan Darija and had successful conversations in Tashelheet. I wish I could have gone back to visit my host family in BenSmim and told them how much I adored them in perfect Arabic. And even though I wish for so many things to have happened, I know without any doubt in my mind I NEED to put my mental and physical health first.

I’ve woken up nearly every single morning in the last two months wishing for the sun to go back down so I didn’t have to deal with another day here. And when you start living your life in terms of wishing entire days away – it’s time to change something. So, I’ve decided to go back home to the United States – for now – to find the happiness that I felt for life prior to this experience. I’ve exhausted what coping strategies I have left and have found them useless. I’ve felt my physical health deteriorating since the first month I was here. You don’t have to google anything to know that having poor nutrition is detrimental to your mental and physical health. For over two months, I’ve experienced terrible headaches, extreme fatigue, and nausea. I’ve complained to the PCMO about this, but their answer was to “have a better diet” and take iron pills (easy to say when you don’t live with a host family). Pair the physical ailments with stress, anxiety, isolation, and exhaustion and apparently, you find yourself trapped within the walls of depression. Despite my ability to perfect smiles, give laughs, and show cheeriness to locals, I don’t want to live my life in a series of fake emotions. I’ve always been a firm believer that you shouldn’t bottle up your emotions or neglect feeling a certain away if that’s how you truly feel. We are all guilty of faking it till we make it to an extent, but if you never allow yourself to feel real emotions how can you can truly recognize and tackle the underlying issue causing the negativity?

Although I’m going back home with no job, no car, and basically no money, I know that everything will be okay with the help from my support system. During these last few months, I’ve come to realize that I 100% want to work in international higher education like I did previously. After 6 months of being away from this field, I know that this is where my true passion lies and where I want a long term career in. Maybe the Peace Corps wasn’t exactly what I was intended to do, but it’s comforting knowing I can cross it off my list of what I’m not interested in doing. I’ve come to understand that I value structure in the workplace – which is something that I didn’t realize that I wanted in a job. And though I do not want to be confined to a desk from 9-5, I’ll be searching for positions that allow me travel like I so desperately want to do. To be honest, there is nothing in this world that brings me more excitement then knowing I’ll be home for two of my closest friend’s weddings, getting to spend time with all my family and friends, and enjoying being me again. I can’t wait to show my personality again, to be able to communicate my feelings and frustrations to people who understand me, to gain a better relationship with food and enjoy being vegan again, to drink copious amounts of ice tea, to be able to work out on a regular basis, and to be able to bathe whenever I want to.

My biggest fear is that someday I will regret this decision. That I didn’t try hard enough. That I couldn’t get past the inner fears and anxieties in my own head. I’m over trying to cheer myself up with posting entertaining stories on Facebook or posting breathtaking photos of this beautiful Kingdom – it just isn’t working. Just because the Peace Corps didn’t work out the way I intended, there are PLENTY of causes in the United States that need dire support right now especially with the current political and social climate and I have every intention on becoming an active supporter. There’s a part of me that isn’t ready to have to answer question after question about why I came home and why I failed to complete my full service. And the more I think about it – all I can say is – I’m not living for anybody else’s approval. I’m here to live a life full of passion and full of happiness, doing whatever I need to find that. Tell me – when was the last time you took a risk? For me, the only regret would have been not trying this whole experience. I’m proud of the US Peace Corps and what it stands for and I know that I have over 100 passionate friends there that will do life changing projects to fulfill the Peace Corps mission. Inshallah – I’ll see you again Morocco. You have a piece of my heart ❤

 

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Keeping Fayetteville Funky

 

I won’t lie – I never gave Arkansas two thoughts before I moved to Fayetteville in 2014. The only time I ever heard anything about the state was from proud Arkansans, who I went to Baker University with. Ethan and Evan – take this as my official apology for not believing you when you told me Arkansas was a mini oasis in the United States. I won’t ever doubt you again!

Funky.

Energizing.

Eccentric.

Fresh.

These words only partly describe to you a sense of what the city of Fayetteville is truly like, but one thing is for sure – it has never disappointed me. The city itself is a rapidly growing college town, so it’s persona changes periodically with the seasons. In Autumn, you can feel the excitement of thousands of incoming students becoming acquainted with the city, ready to begin the fall semester. For most here, the beginning of the school year represents one thing – Arkansas football. Now if you’re geographically challenged, Arkansas is located in the South and the only thing that Southerns love more than Jesus, BBQ and sweet tea is SEC football. So if there is one piece of advice I can give any newcomer to the area during football season – DO NOT LEAVE YOUR HOUSE ON A GAMEDAY. Just don’t.

In Winter, the Fayetteville Square illuminates with thousands of Christmas lights and sleigh rides. In the Spring, hikers are out in full bloom experiencing nature in the beautiful Ozarks. There is a reason that Fayetteville was recently named the 3rd best place to live in the USA by the US News and World Report. I mean – who doesn’t want to live in an active, supportive community?

For the past two years, I’ve tried to explain to my friends and family why Fayetteville holds such a vital place in my heart. I don’t think I can ever adequately describe how and why this college town turned me into the happiest I’ve ever been, but I will never stop trying to explain its Southern charm. For those of you who have expressed interest in experiencing Fayetteville for themselves, here is a list of my favorite stores, restaurants, and attractions located in the Fayetteville city limits.

1. Fayettechill

Website: http://www.fayettechill.com/

Instagram: fayettechill

Created by a former University of Arkansas graduate, Fayettechill is easily one of the most widely known brands coming out of Fayetteville. The company caters its outdoor products to the adventure junkie, vagabonding, nature-loving enthusiasts of the world. I personally love the brand because of its engagement with the community as a whole. Whether its a trip to Yellow Rock trail for sunrise yoga or a group bike ride down one of Fayetteville’s many trails, Fayettechill is always looking to spread their positive vibes across the city. You can find one of their essential t-shirts, Kammoks, or hats at the Basecamp store on Dickson Street, the Smokehouse near Mt. Kessler, or online. If you decide to follow their Instagram page, be prepared to fall in love with all of the beauty the Natural State has to offer.

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Photo by: Rush Urschel

2. Arsaga’s Coffee Roasters

Website: http://arsagasdepot.com/

Instagram: arsagasdepot

If you’re ever in town and looking for a local coffee shop to fulfill your needs, look no further than Arsaga’s Coffee Roasters. While the business boasts several locations around town, my favorite go-to spot is the Depot located right off the Frisco Trail and Dickson Street. This location is known for their sweet and savory crepes, live music, and thirst quenching drinks. In the mood for toast instead? Visit their newest spot at the corner of Church & Center for a taste of their homemade sourdough toast variations.

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3. Dickson Street Books

Website: http://www.dicksonstreetbooks.com/#dsbs-set

Instagram: dicksonstbooks

Looking for a good book to read this summer? Do you enjoy spending long walks through a maze of bookshelves? Or love the smell of dusty old books? Go visit Dickson Street Books for the best and most versatile selection of used books in the heart of Fayetteville. Whether you’re a history nut, a sci-fi addict, or enjoy the Classics, this store will not disappoint. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to browse through the shelves when you stop by!

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4. Fayetteville Farmer’s Market

Website: http://www.fayettevillefarmersmarket.org/

If you’re a veggie lover like me, more than likely, your Saturday mornings will be spent at the award winning Fayetteville Farmer’s Market. Voted Favorite Large Farmers Market in 2012 and voted #5 in the nation in the 2011 American Farmland Trust’s America’s Favorite Farmers Market Contest, this weekly event is a favorite amongst thousands of locals every April through November. If you’re a fan of fresh produce and flowers and want to support your local farmers, stop by and interact with this lively bunch.

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5. Alchemy Macarons and Tea

Website: http://www.alchemymacarons.com/

Instagram: alchemymacarons

If you have a sweet tooth while shopping around Town Square, go check out the new dessert boutique, Alchemy, for the best French macarons in town. Make sure to get there early though, this popular spot sells out of their delicious macarons quickly on a daily basis. FYI – their fine teas are as good as their sweet treats! Try the ginger peach green tea and the lemon or honey lavender macarons for a summer treat worth every penny.

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6. Mount Kessler Greenways

The Fayetteville community certainly embraces living amongst the Ozark mountains through the beautiful trails located throughout the city. One of my personal favorites, based on the foliage and scenic views, runs though Mount Kessler right off MLK Boulevard. This easily accessible trail boasts more than 1,500 acres of forest within Fayetteville’s city limits. This trail in particular is a popular route for many mountain bikers and trail runners in the area. Be sure to schedule a hike up Mt Kessler in the Fall to see the beautiful leaves turn amber.

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7. Lake Fayetteville

Lake Fayetteville provides local families with countless outdoor activities. Whether you’re interested in playing sand volleyball at Veterans Park, want to take a shot at Frisbee golf, or decide to challenge yourself with running or biking the 6 miles around the lake; Lake Fayetteville is a popular destination for the outdoor and fitness lovers of the community. If you’re an early bird like myself, put it on your bucket list to wake up and watch the sunrise over the lake for views that don’t disappoint.

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8. Mount Sequoyah Overlook

What I can only imagine has been the location for many high school dates or the best spot for romantic marriage proposals; the overlook at Mount Sequoyah is a hidden gem that grants full views of the city. You’re not a true member of the Fayetteville community until you capture a breathtaking photo of the sun setting behind the mountains in the distance.

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9. George’s Majestic Lounge

Website: http://www.georgesmajesticlounge.com/

Instagram: georgesmajesticlounge

George’s Majestic Lounge is one of the longtime music venues located on Dickson Street. It’s unique charm has brought in talented musicians from the local and national stage for over 40 years. Whether it’s Dirks Bentley or Fitz and the Tantrums, there is no artist too big or small to hit their stage. As the oldest and longest-running club  in Arkansas, you can always count on George’s for great live music.

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10. The University of Arkansas

Website: http://www.uark.edu

Instagram: Uarkansas

International Admissions Website: http://international-admissions.uark.edu/index.php

UARK International Admission Instagram: uarkintladmit

Now I might be a little biased, but the University of Arkansas is undoubtedly the main attraction in Fayetteville. Founded in 1871, the U of A continually boasts the Carnegie Foundation’s highest research classification among U.S universities. When you visit campus, be sure to snap shots of the iconic Old Main, the newly renovated Chi Omega Greek Theatre, the Fulbright Peace Fountain, and of course the Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

The University of Arkansas is also home to over 1,500 international students from over 113 countries. If you’re an international student looking for a place to study in the U.S, please seek out guidance from the Office of International Admissions for any questions you may have. The staff is highly knowledgeable and caters greatly to the needs of their international students.

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If there is one piece of advice I can give – don’t judge any city before you get there. You never know how charming it may be.

Other notable places around town:

Hammontree’s Gourmet Grilled Cheese – http://hammontreesgourmet.com/

Savoy Tea Company – http://savoytea.com/

Riffraff – http://shopriffraff.com/

Puritan Brew Co – http://puritancoffeebeer.com/

Little Bread Company – http://www.littlebread.com/