I take a breath, close my eyes and try to walk on water.
Sitting cross-legged on a rocky outcrop over the clear, blue Atlantic, I empty my mind. I focus on the glorious sunlight warming my exposed skin and the simultaneous feeling of chilliness, as my body is buffeted by ocean winds. I focus on the rocky crevasse I’ve chosen as my seat, both rough and comfortable on my rear end. I focus on the salty sea spray peppering my face, as waves crash against the shore twenty feet below.
The words of my professor run through my mind: “What we are going to do is very simple,” he tells our class. “For the next ten minutes, you are going to try to walk on water.” But he’s wrong. It isn’t simple. I imagine my bare feet standing at the edge of the ocean, water lapping my toes. But before I can ever step forward into the water, intrusive thoughts enter my brain.
I’m trying not to think about that car ride up to Marrakesh, listening to Pink Floyd while my Islamic Reform professor grills me on topics ranging from the Afghanistan War to the Western Sahara. I’m trying not to think about the eleven-page grant contract I’ve been assigned to translate from English into Arabic for my volunteer placement. I’m trying not to think about pulling my friend out from the hazy fog of a Moroccan discotheque, as she suffers an allergic reaction. And I’m certainly trying not to think of Fez.
Maybe an ocean is too much of a challenge. The first time I walked on water, I initially pictured myself at Lake George in New York, where I used to spend summers with my family. But every time I stepped off the dock, I would sink instantly, bobbing below the lake’s choppy swells. The instant my feet touch the water, they pass through the surface. After several minutes of repeated frustration, I realize the key is examining the place where solid and liquid meet. It’s not about floating, it’s about suspension. Later on, Jake describes it as the feeling of when you place your palm on the surface of water.
Walking on water takes total serenity, something difficult to come by here. My days are chaotic, starting at the roundabout in Bab el-Had, imploring taxis to take me to the “MacDo Agdal,” near AMIDEAST. I scurry from class to class, from class to volunteer placement, from l’Ocean to Agdal and back again. I’m navigating traffic, deploying Darija and always, always discussing Middle Eastern politics. I do my best to take an hour in the evening just for myself, whether that be going to the local “Fitness Musculation Gym” (literally “the Association for the Lifting of Weights and the Formation of Mass”) or reading a book at the café by my house.
Meditation has been helpful in situating my thoughts and placing them in a larger context. After over seven weeks here, the dramatic departure from the world I knew has given way to a comfortable, yet busy, routine. I’m still affected by culture shock on a subconscious level (as my friend, Maxine, can testify to following my emotional diatribe regarding menstruation and Islamic divorce law earlier this week), but my concern isn’t really the adjustment anymore. Now, I am trying to figure out how to make the most of the time I have here and how to understand the changes that are happening to me.
Every Sunday, I go for a run by the shore. After an exhausting whole fifteen minutes, I typically give up and find a nice rock to sit on by the water. This is the first time I’ve explicitly tried meditation. I relax and let go. Let go of crowded streets and shouting shopkeepers. Let go of all the people the ocean reminds me of back home. Let go of a tangerine sun dipping beneath the horizon.