Saturday, January 10, 2015

Burnout and How To Fix It

When the medical officer from DC called the day before I was due to fly back to Morocco after Christmas, she didn't beat around the bush. I want to be honest, she told me. We're not willing to have you return yet. We're concerned about your health, and we're not sure Morocco is the best place for you.

Then she asked me, "Is your goal to return to Morocco?"

Then she added, we want you to be prepared for the possibility that you might not be allowed to go back.

I hesitated. I'd forgotten how lovely it was to catch a cold and have access to hot showers and instant soup and cable TV, oh my! A job speaking English, with higher pay. A life closer to my family, in a country where I don't constantly feel off balance. A tap that constantly has water, knowing I'll have electricity when I wake up, not having people leer at me everywhere I go, not having trouble breathing on a fairly constant basis. This year has been a tough one, medically and emotionally and everything-else-ly. And on top of everything external, I've been battling my own expectations. Various incidents left me jaded and bitter about the people I was trying to help, more and more sure that there were too many problems for me to fix. Too many problems for us to fix, for America to fix, and why are we doing it anyway? Grassroots change is the best kind, and I'm not doing enough  to make a difference, and I don't speak the language/know the culture/understand the problems well enough to address anything anyway, and especially not in only two years. Why should I stay? What was the point of going back for another year of frustration and disappointment?

And yet. I have an outdoor leadership program that just got final approval and will start the moment I get back. A counterpart who is so excited about teaching first aid, and another who has spent a month meticulously planning the lesson she and I will co-teach on Leave No Trace. Five ballet classes who groaned when I told them I was going home for Christmas, and a three-year-old student who has spent six months just learning to march but has had a grin on her face the whole way. Family after family who feed me. A girls leadership camp in the works, a writing class I finally have students for, an all-men soccer game that, after three months, has finally stopped trying to convince me not to play with them. A karate class that after six months still draws an audience of wide-eyed little girls. I have friends who've asked after me constantly since I left, in three different languages. I have a town that has just learned my name, just started to trust me, just started to trust that females can take care of themselves and white foreigners might actually keep their word when they say they will.

What about them?

I spent today wandering around the national monuments in D.C., and with every stop, I could feel something growing inside me. Resolve. Desire. Determination, pushing away the burnout. I wandered the memorials, ate a hot dog, went ice-skating, chatted with a wide-eyed three-year-old ice skating near me. I saw the Washington Monument, towering over the DC horizon. The Gettysburg Address etched on the wall beside Lincoln. The place where Dr. King stood when he had a Dream. And the resolve grew.

I may disagree with some American politicians and policies. With some laws and procedures, some biases and prejudices and ignorances. I may disagree with some Americans.

But I agree with America. With Washington's leadership, Lincoln's honesty, King's passion. With Jefferson's intellectual curiosity and Kennedy's approachability and Reagan's willingness to admit mistakes. I agree with the WWII nurse in the statue, looking to the sky in a symbol of hope. I agree with the promise to remember the names inscribed on the Vietnam War Memorial, the three ethnicities in the Three Soldiers Statue, the free expression of the Sculpture Garden. 

I agree with the quote I found today:

Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work...Remember that our sons and grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us.  Think big.

Daniel Burnham

"Is your goal to return to Morocco?"