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Between Rivers

Before and after are words that define a thing relative to another thing. Two events or objects, sequential or spatial. These words are powerful because they limit. But their limits are incomplete. They leave an open end in what is at least a two-dimensional world. Much more powerful is a related word: between. Yes, now, assuming there are only two dimensions to our subject, we have real limits. We have contained an idea. Now we can wrap our minds around the possibilities, see the whole potential spectrum, as it were.

Anal retentiveness and indecisiveness are inconvenient bedfellows, but both seem to sleep comfortably within me. It's frustrating. I get very frustrated sometimes. And this is why the idea of between comforts me. Ah, I can control this more easily. There are parameters. It's manageable. Maybe I'll even come to a decision.

This last week, I took a trip to a place called Bin El Ouidane, "Between the Rivers." The Bin (pronounced like "bean") is the result of a damming project completed by the French in the 50s. Although it undoubtedly flooded a lot of good land, the resultant lake is a sight to behold. A group of us descended upon Leah's site up in the the Atlas mountains, which we used as a base of operations for the kayaking trip and the election party thereafter. Allow me to biograph each of them briefly:

Leah: Our hostess is actually the first PCV I met. I ran into her and her older sister in a hotel in Philadelphia. We rode the elevator together and chatted briefly about what we were getting ourselves into. The next day, we sat in adjacent rows on the plane to Casablanca, and discovered in each other our mutual love of books. Later, we stood in line at customs together. For one reason or another, I was at first somewhat nervous in front of Leah. Perhaps this was due to her obvious intelligence and quick-ticking alertness. Perhaps because she is a beautiful woman who evinces control and confidence. In any case, ever since our first elevator chat, I've been drawn to her personality, and I've found in addition to these qualities, she's also quite sweet and laid-back. I hope our friendship continues to develop and that I get to spend much more time in her company. Oh, I should also mention that she makes terrific cinnamon rolls.

Evan: I'll talk about Evan and his wife, Carly, a lot over the next year and a half, partly because they're my closest PVC neighbors, and partly because they're just really cool people. Evan and I didn't know each other very well until our first regional meeting, shortly after site placement. Immediately, I felt I could trust him. Few people have won my trust so quickly and easily, but everything about Evan reinforces my instinctual trust. He's a man of great character, a man who proves his mettle. On top of this, Evan has a terrific sense of humor. He speaks candidly, sincerely, and with just the right kind of perspective and humor that you'd expect of a really good guy.

Carly: In many ways, Carly reminds me of my dear sister, Whitney. Both are wonderfully thoughtful individuals. What I mean is they devote more time to considering everyday experiences and decisions more than most people. If I ever needed a mediator for a situation between PCVs, Carly would by my first call. She genuinely cares about understanding all sides of a situation, and she never rushes judgment. Carly is a invaluable friend, and I can see myself relying on her for advice whenever I find myself at a difficult juncture, somebody to speak her mind and to give me pause, to remind me to fill myself with consideration. I am extremely fortunate to have two such wonderful individuals living so near.

Melanie: Let me mention it up front and get it out of the way: Melanie has a fantastic blog recounting her experiences in the Peace Corps, and in that blog, she posts many wonderful, beautiful pictures of her experiences in country (the pictures of the Bin are hers). There is, of course, much more to Melanie than these things; these are just manifestations of some really beautiful qualities that Melanie embodies. First, she is a true pilgrim, a seeker -- roles which dovetail with her boundless and innocent curiosity. Melanie gives me the feeling that she experiences the world with the type of fascination and wonder that most people foolishly cast off in adolescence, believing it to be a "childish" trait. The fact that Melanie still embodies this spirit - well, it fills me with hope and optimism, as tacky as that sounds. Creativity and curiosity coalesce in a magical, infinitely charming way in the person of Melanie.

Lizzy: The first time I got to know Lizzy, we danced. Well, it was more of a group dance. You see, we were staying with Evan and Carly and to celebrate the end of their summer camp, the kids put on a talent show. We wanted to show off talent of our own, so we learned the choreography to "A Million Ways" by OK Go. We pulled it off marvelously, by the way. Anyway, Lizzy is a fellow Kansan, and if I had to reduce her essence to one word, it would be "fun." It is just impossible to be bored when Lizzy is around, so uplifting and entertaining is she. I was fortunate to see her interact with Moroccan adults during my stay in Leah's site, and I was surprised and impressed by her willingness to insert herself into situations with Moroccans. At Leah's host family's house, Lizzy jumped right into the kitchen to chat with the ladies and help out with the mlwi. The women were immediately endeared to Lizzy, and it's not hard to see why, what with the strong pull of her magnetic personality and the living energy that is her laugh.

Ted: I've written about Ted before, but I want to reiterate the strength of his character, because I've grown even closer to the man since CBT phase. First, he is easily the most knowledgeable PCV I know, and if I were ever to place a bet on a Quiz Bowl competition, I'd put all my money on whatever team he was on. Ted has been my confidante on several occasions, helping me talk through my own difficulties and anxieties, setting me straight when I needed it (often), and making me laugh when I don't expect it. If I were to somehow find a way to alienate every other PCV in Morocco, Ted would still be there for me, reassuring, offering amusing anecdotes from his life, and baffling me with his esoterica.

In short, these are just the kinds of people who need to be serving as role models. On a less important note, they also make some wonderful synergy for an election day (night) party. I don't know if I've had that much fun since coming into the country, and I can credit that completely to the quality of friends with whom I was surrounded.

They say that PCV friends will be friends for life. Our shared experience is enough to maintain that bond (and what an experience!) for life, so they say. Still, there will come a day when we all split and go our separate ways. I am no stranger to the process. It happened the first time for me when I worked at Yellowstone National Park. Especially traumatic was this fracturing, because most of my friends lived in far-flung parts of the world, like Beijing, Helsinki, Chișinău, and Bogotá. It happened again with the end of my work in Wind Cave National Park. A third time, it happened with college graduation. (They also say college friends will be friends for life, but this didn't minimize the violence of the separation, including that of me and my last girlfriend, Jennie).

Some astronomers think the universe is in a constant state of expanse and collapse. Each cycle ends with a massive explosion that throws off matter in every direction; all things begins anew. How like the universe are our social lives! How violent are the fluctuations of human relationships! The dark augury of the explosion to come matters far less than what exists in between: that stretch of time in which stars ignite, planets form, life appears, and relationships give us meaning.

One of these days, the dam at the Bin will fail, and a massive wall of destruction will tumble through the Atlas mountains. In the meantime, the between-time, let's enjoy the beauty of the lake.

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