While in Morocco, we were privileged to have an amazing guide, Nate. At the end of the trip, he let us in on a little secret. Although he had been living in Morocco and partly China for almost a decade and had taught and worked the whole time, we were his first group solo. I could never have guessed. I would have thought he’d been leading groups for years. Anyhow, he had some great opinions on many things. One resonated with me more than the rest, perhaps because I share it most days. It goes like this: ‘Morocco is an incredible country; Europe likewise as is nearly any place one would travel to. The people, food, culture, history, everything! It’s unbeatable. However, despite all the world’s merits and differences, he had never been more proud to be an American than when he was abroad. Never been more grateful of his blue passport and citizenship then when abroad.’
The opinion resonated with me, as I have to say, I agree. Everyone is proud of their homeland, but I really feel like I won the birth lottery. Abroad, and especially in Morocco, people love Americans. Americans are adaptable. We are taught from birth of our Bill of Rights and particularly our first amendment right to free speech. I have seen that translate to Americans abroad who are willing to adapt. To hear differing opinions and experience different cultures respectfully. To simply roll with the punches. It’s something that one wouldn’t think of at first, but it’s true. It’s easy to take a shot at the big guy on the playground, but at the end of the day, people truly respect and like Americans when they meet them abroad.
But at the end of the day, I have to reaffirm that I have never been more grateful to be an American than in my last 30ish days abroad. From our freedoms to our hamburgers. I miss it all and as they say, you don’t know what you have until you don’t have it.
The other thing that I have found myself to be grateful for in my time abroad is my youth. In Morocco, we met with a former Peace Corps volunteer who told us about being in the Corps and the Corps in general. She did let us know that there is no age limit and as we spoke, there is an 82-year-old volunteer serving in a rural village in Morocco. I was thoroughly impressed when I heard that. While I would love to meet her, I’d think it’s a safe bet that she is a rare case. They say youth is wasted on the young. I think I misunderstood that phrase up until now. Remember, I only have 18 years to go by, but here is my assessment. I’m sure the idea of being 8 years old and responsibility-free is a common thought of my parents, but for me, the “youth” referred to in that saying is the youth I am in now. 18 to about 30. Good health, energy, for part of it at least, parental funding, college, a high tolerance, etc. As I enjoy my gap year, I feel more and more grateful for all of those things. To date, these have been the best moments of my life, and I’m trying to remember to stop and appreciate them, because I know they will be gone before I know it. I’d like to share a song to this tune I found on my Spotify Playlist this week – give it a listen if you’d like. (Fair warning, it’s explicit). It’s called ‘Feels Great.’
The next thing I’m grateful for goes hand in hand with my citizenship. My wealth as an American. America has poverty. A lot of it. But American poverty looks pretty good alongside poverty elsewhere. Our poverty line ($24,257) for a family of four lies well above the average annual income of an ordinary Moroccan family ($14,175). We have no idea what we have. Free, decent, education for all. Reliable, quick and uncorrupted police across the nation. Planned Parenthood. Accessible emergency health care. Plumbing, electricity, heating/ac, internet access, etc. A single bottle of water at a corner store in Morocco cost me the equivalent of 35 cents. I later found out that I got the tourist price, and that was quite high. A decent meal at a decent Moroccan restaurant would cost no more than 2, maybe 3 dollars. The amount of wealth and opportunity that we have in the States is incredible, yet we have no idea it’s there and take it for granted.
The next thing I’ve found myself to be grateful for is my language. English is the gold standard. (And on this continent, outside of England and Ireland, American English is taught. I’ve been stopped more than a few times by new friends so that that could tell me how much they prefer my American accent to the English one they usually hear.) About 25% of the Moroccan economy is made up of tourism. As such, much like Portugal, many people spoke English. First, comes Moroccan Arabic, then in elementary school, French and at the end of middle is English. While I am disappointed that I was never made to learn two or more other languages in school, it’s blatantly obvious that the world accommodates to us and England. I have yet to meet a Dutch or German person (and I’ve met a lot) that wasn’t fluent. I had a very hard time finding Portuguese people that weren’t, and I’d say about 35% of the Moroccans I met were fluent and the other 65% knew enough to give directions or haggle. It’s a gift to have English as my first language, and I will never forget it. Hand in hand with that, in many parts of the world literacy is not a given. Luckily this reality is being tackled across the planet, but it is still a major problem.
Lastly, I’m grateful for this opportunity right now. In the last 30ish days I’ve seen three countries and next week I’m seeing two more. I’ve already made friends and contacts in a more than a dozen countries (check out my Facebook friends list). And I’ve barely begun. I try to remember every day how lucky and grateful I am to have the ability to travel. Something like 50% of Americans will never get a passport and in many parts of the world, like Morocco, not only will people never leave their country, but they will never leave their village. My blue passport allows me to visit most countries on the planet without a visa or with a visa on entry and nearly every other will issue me a visa without to much trouble. Between the birth lottery giving me my citizenship and putting me in a position to be able to travel, I could never fully express my gratitude!