Tuesday, October 16, 2012

What Happens in August, Stays in August

It's taken me over two months to write this blog entry. It's not because I didn't have access to the Internet or the ability to talk about my experiences - it's because I couldn't stand the thought of spending one more minute dwelling on my distracting, painful and lonely ten days in Rabat. Rest, tears and time have finally given me the energy to delve back into this moment in time. Here goes nothing.

I arrived in Rabat with mixed emotions. A close friend had permanently returned to the U.S., I was drained from reaching the halfway point in Ramadan but I also had spent the last five days with an amazing Moroccan family and felt that my prayer life had grown exponentially during this period of hardship. My right knee had been a source of constant pain since my arrival in Morocco and I looked forward to discovering the culprit and continuing on with my summer of camps, travel and general avoidance of the heat.

Monday morning at the radiologist came and went, Kyla's first MRI! I celebrated my success with a trip to the Rabat American school swimming pool to forget about the lack of food in my stomach. After an invigorating afternoon of swimming, reading and napping, I decided to stroll through the suburbs of Agdal on my way back to the hotel (the best distraction just before I broke fast). Soon I became lost in my thoughts; humming and thanking God for allowing me to be in such a beautiful place. Believe me, these are moments of scarcity in the first few months of Peace Corps, let alone Ramadan. Around 6:30 pm across from the National Library, a young Moroccan man approached me from my left side, grabbing my arm and attempting to steal my purse. We played a violent tug-o-war for nearly twenty seconds before a few cars stopped and good Samaritans chased the assailant away. I dropped my purse, realizing that blood covered my arms, knees and was coming from my chest. I hadn't seen a weapon, I hadn't seen his face, I had simply fought.

The crowd herded me into one family's car where I tried to explain what I needed in a garbled mess of Darija, French and English. Holding napkins to my arms, I tried to control my breathing and speak while tears cascaded down my cheeks. The family spotted a police car on the way to the Peace Corps office and decided that would be the best place for me. I said my thank yous, called Peace Corps in a panic and waited impatiently on the busy street corner for help. The Moroccan police wanted to escort me to the station to file a report, which I firmly declined given that I was still bleeding excessively. We all have our priorities. Pedestrians passed me on the street inquiring if I was okay and assuring me that not all Moroccans were like "this." My actions elicited a mixed response; it was clear the police thought I should have let the assailant take my bag while Moroccan women cheered me on, "you are a strong woman!"

Eventually a Peace Corps staff member collected me from the mayhem. The rest of the night included a failed stop to the local clinic where the doctors and nurses were unavailable to provide care since everyone was breaking fast, a lonely walk back and forth to the tram around 10:30 pm and a difficult conversation with my mother. I collapsed into bed around midnight, exhausted from the trauma and devastation of the last twelve hours.

The rest of the week was unrelenting. As the shock wore off, I came to realize that the assailant had a plastic knife and razor blade which he used to try and cut my bag off, cutting my arms and chest in the process. My physical pain was constant. Ramadan fasting was no longer a possibility since I had to consume a steady amount of pain medication to fight off the inflammation. Bathing and basic care out of the question. I struggled to get out of bed but couldn't sleep due to anxiety and nightmares. My days were spent in a daze at the Peace Corps office or police station giving statements, trying to identify my assailant and having my wounds cleaned. I felt like a zombie; never fully awake or asleep, just stuck in a never-ending nightmare.

The week unfolded with more bad news - Thursday afternoon I learned that I had a torn meniscus in my right knee and needed surgery. I was the victim of a small and public sexual assault Friday evening while trying to relax with another volunteer. By the weekend, I was past the point of no return. I had gone from a daze to full-blown anger and anxiety. I stopped consistently eating and sleeping. Most days were spent on the phone with my parents and friends, simply crying. Did you know that you can dehydrate yourself when you cry that much? I felt trapped, alone and completely helpless like the walls of my hotel room were collapsing in on me. It was a period of intense darkness and I needed someone to pull me out.

Through a series of teary eyed conversations, the staff and I agreed that I needed family, support and home.  Less than ten days after the initial assault, I was on a plane back home to Michigan. Dazed and confused, I had 45 days to have knee surgery, therapy and recover before returning to Morocco. I closed my eyes on the trans-Atlantic flight, knowing that I would wake up somewhere safe.

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