Mnin ntiya f mirikan? Ach mn wilaya?
Where are you from in America? Which state?
It’s an easy question. Immediately following how-are-you and what’s-your-name. It’s basic getting-to-know-you courtesy.
But for me, it’s the hardest question. It’s the answer I’ll only save for certain people, for friends. For people who will listen.
Because how do you tell people who have lived their whole lives in the same house that I don’t feel like I’m from any one particular place? How do I tell people who are expecting a simple, one word answer my whole story instead?
I’m from Massachusetts-Illinois-Connecticut-Texas-DC-South Africa-DC-Texas-Morocco.
All of those parts are parts of me.
“Lwalidin kaysknu f Texas,” I usually reply.
It’s not a lie. My parents live in Texas.
But the innocent interrogator never realizes that that’s my indirect way of dodging their question. It’s not a real answer.
How do I say that just in the past six years I’ve barely lived in the same place for more than six months? In three different countries, in fact.
Growing up I was always the new kid. I never had a shot of being in the “Kindergarten to Senior Year” picture in the yearbook. That faded away at the end of first grade, before I even know what yearbooks were.
Growing up I always had to re-teach people how to spell my name. “Abbey-with-an-E” became the way I introduced myself. Maybe because teaching people how to spell my name correctly was easier than telling my whole life story.
It’s hard making friends with people who have known their classmates since they were all babies. People who lost their first teeth together and went to CCD classes together, whose moms were friends even before that.
And now, at the age of nearly-twenty-five, I feel like I’m a part of a community for the first time in my life.
For the first time in my life I can’t walk down the street without seeing someone I know. For the first time in my life I’m invited over people’s houses for lunch more often than I prepare my own at home.
People ask about my family and they’re worried about me when I’m away. Every week I’m scolded by several of my Moroccan mommas for not eating couscous at her house.
I have found people in my community who I love dearly.
People who call me bnti (my daughter) and khti (my sister). And I believe them.
A few days ago my Moroccan family and I were all sleeping together outside under the stars, each of us side-by-side with me squished in-between my brother and my sister, exhausted from running around and from tickle fights and from splashing water at each other and from the Saharan heat.
And it felt so good. So normal. Like home.
Some Volunteers talk about how they can’t wait to get back to their “real lives back home.” They miss their families and their friends and their dogs and their roots and their homes and their favorite foods.
And I miss those things too.
But for this girl, this transient girl who never settles down, the sentiment isn’t quite the same.
Peace Corps is only a 27-month (or possibly more) commitment. There will always be an end date.
In the scheme of things it’s a quick blink of an eye. At some point I will have to leave this place and move on to the next. It’s inevitable.
But right here, right now, I can’t tell you how good it feels to call this place “home”… and mean it.
(Here are some thoughts I wrote on a similar topic three and a half years ago. Looks like some of my predictions came true!)