Mid-service crisis: A period of time between 12-14 months of service in which volunteers thoughtfully examine their challenges and successes from the previous year and the set goals for the final year of service. In other words: volunteers get fed up by frequent calls to the medical staff about ‘diarrhea that just won’t stop,’ abandon their sites and instead go party with friends in big cities where they can wear tank tops and sing loudly in English. After drinking too much, volunteers cry for several days about how much they miss free tortilla chips at Mexican restaurants and that they sometimes barely recognize the person they see in the mirror. No, that’s not the homeless woman down the street; that’s what happens when you don’t pluck your eyebrows for ten months. After several weeks of bitch sessions and eating peanut butter on everything, volunteers realize they actually enjoy Morocco and might be able to look past Ramadan to the good things that lie ahead in the next year. They wash their hair, spend all their money on a trip to the Morocco mall to buy Starbucks and give each other a caffeinated kick into the next stage in their service. But first, everyone to fake Spain!
My mid-service crisis was jump started with my first solo time in Rabat by myself since the assault. My clever subconscious prepared me with cathartic tears well before my arrival, but it wasn't till I woke up alone at the familiar hotel that everything came together. Fresh from the departure of my father and relaxing times in Agadir, it was an unpleasant reality to be truly alone for the first time in nearly a month. The next three weeks challenged my desire to stay in Morocco. My emotions were stable, but not in a positive way. Constant illness, surprising bouts of food poisoning and endless colds kept me once again from physical well-being. Despite the consistent presence of my best friends and the exciting opportunities afforded to us, I couldn't shake the darkness. Overwhelmed with vulnerability and insecurity, I shied away from those closest to me and lashed out irrationally instead of listening patiently to loving criticism. I feared that after everything that had occurred in Morocco, I had become fundamentally different. I didn't recognize the person staring back at me in the mirror and worried that I had lost myself completely.
Luckily irrational fear is just that: irrational. A perfect storm of circumstances and timing put me in that dark place, but that doesn't make it reality. Men can look at me like I am a prostitute, but that doesn't mean that I am. An old woman can tell me that I should convert to Islam and remind me that speaking Darija means nothing, that doesn't invalidate my religion or language skills. I may still need friends to hold my hand when we walk down the street where I was attacked, that doesn't mean I am not an independent and strong woman.
The Chinese character for ‘crisis’ has the double meaning of danger and opportunity. Instead of letting the darkness and danger control me, I am turning my nightmarish experience into a positive tool for healing and prevention. With the support of my friends, I decided to present a training session for the newest group of volunteers on ‘Trauma in the Peace Corps’ loosely entitled ‘When shit gets real.’ I spoke about my assault, causes and symptoms of serious trauma and coping strategies. For me, this presentation was just the beginning. I have been unimpressed with callous response volunteers receive from staff when they express mental health challenges. If you have a broken ankle, you will see the doctor the next day. If you can’t leave your site because you are terrified to travel after a trauma, the response is ‘why do you think you need a counselor’ and may be followed by several uncomfortable conversations and fear of medivac before you are able to speak to a trained professional.
My opportunity is clear and I am finally emotionally prepared to take on the challenge. I hope that through my actions, there will be a safe space for trauma victims and anyone struggling with mental health issues in Morocco. We are often told to be advocates for ourselves, but in some situations volunteers desperately need a helping hand and a kind word. I can live for another year without the free tortilla chips and regular showers ; mid-service crisis be damned, I've got work to do.