Friday, February 8, 2013

Just Chillin' in Morocco

I turn my head longingly towards the brilliant sun streaming in from the terrace door. Out there, the sun would warm me so thoroughly that after awhile, I would actually want to come back inside. But where I sit working at my computer, on the low sofa and table in our salon, I huddle in multiple overlapping layers to ward off the penetrating chill created by our cinderblock walls. This contrast has the effect of making me feel silly for – and frustrated by – the needless suffering of being so desperately cold only 10 feet from the possibility of being enveloped in warmth. What’s the point of the sun being so warm if it doesn’t heat the inside of your house?
Though despite being unnecessarily cruel in the winter, this odd architectural ability to somehow collect and hold in cold from wherever it finds it is a miraculous blessing in the summer. This common feature in Moroccan homes serves to mitigate summer but, inadvertently and unfortunately, magnify winter. Being indoors is the only way to escape the heat in the summer, but being outdoors in the sun - which, even in the winter, is relatively warm - is the only way to warm up when it’s cold. They say Morocco is the coldest country with the hottest sun. This is the closest I have come to getting an explanation for the thermal confusion Morocco seems to be beset with. 

In learning how to adapt to extremes and confusing manifestations of temperature – in a similar way to how I have had to adapt to other intersections of nature and society in Morocco – I have realized the extent to which it affects my life. I have never had, on a day-to-day and season-to-season basis, such a naked unmediated relationship with the sun. In the States, if it was cold in my house, I would turn up the thermostat. This was made possible by the energy of the sun but indirectly, through a long chain of events. Here if is too cold in my house, I go outside on the terrace and warm up directly in the rays of the sun. In the States, in order to dry my laundry, I would put them in a dryer powered by energy coming, again, after a long chain of events, originally from the sun. Here, if I want to dry my clothes, I hang them outside to be dried directly by the rays of the sun.

One might consider such integration into and direct dependence on the outside world to be an inconvenience, one that epitomizes the disadvantages of living in the developing as opposed to the developed world. Is the definition of luxury the extent to which one’s everyday life is removed from the effects of nature? Since living here, moreso than ever before, I understand and appreciate – at a visceral level – the advantages of being insulated from nature. When I come home from a muddy slog in the cold rain, there is nothing I want more than a warm apartment and a hot bath. But when this is not possible – when your indoor reality reflects or magnifies the outdoor one rather than provides a contrast to it – you realize the inescapability of your own powerlessness over your environment. 

But living at the mercy of nature – engaging in this intimate dance with the forces around me – has been a different kind of luxury. It has taught me humility, patience and gratitude. I have learned to disconnect my happiness from my physical comfort. I have had to adjust my expectations of the potential to compensate for unpleasantness in my circumstances, but have also discovered the satisfaction of innovation to mitigate the loss of creature comforts I used to enjoy. I have let go of the illusion that I can control my environment to suit me. But in return, I have been forced to notice the inherent adequacy – often bounty – of nature to provide for my needs. When I have to go out into the sun to warm up, it doesn’t feel like a quaint and fleeting antidote to inadequate indoor heating. Rather, it strikes me that that is what it is there for.

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