‘I left Ireland because all my friends had left’
I left for a release from missing so many people. My students in Morocco were nurses studying so they too could leave where they are from
Elaine Carney: One day I was living with my parents in Mayo and the next I woke up with the fingers of palm trees brushing a hotel window in Rabat
It is not difficult to find a job teaching English as a foreign language in Ireland. I left because all my friends had left. I left because my relationships had all been ended in airports. My body was in Ireland, but I was walking around with a tight map , divided into Brazil, Japan, England, Austria, Australia and China, in my chest.
I started teaching English because when I graduated from college I was too shy to be a journalist and too inexperienced to be anything else. One day I was living with my parents in Mayo and the next I woke up with the fingers of palm trees brushing a hotel window. I was in Rabat, the capital of Morocco.
Morocco is old. You can feel its age immediately, leaking from the walls and gates surrounding Rabat like an ancient sandcastle. But I felt the age even more so in the people. Moroccans are much like their weather. They know when to be warm and at the same time they know when to build a ceiling for you when you need the shade.
When I went walking around the city my red hair didn’t help with the staring. Equally, I would stare at the women with their hair wrapped in silk and cotton, crossing the streets together, shoulders together, laughing and having secret conversations. I saw their closeness, and it reminded me of home. I felt the map of my friends tighten.
The first day teaching at the Moroccan college was fear, just fear. I was the only female teacher working there, and I started to wonder how I would fit in their minds. I have given some of them Mayo accents; they have given me gifts from their cities and towns, traditional earrings, silk scarves, books on Islam and small biscuits shaped like half moons. I was teaching them, but they taught me a lot about Islam, not to convert me but to help me understand what they felt they understood before they could even speak.
There is a duality there that reminds me of Ireland. There are those still close to the traditional religion and culture and those taking a few steps away. If you walk down Avenue Mohammed V you can see people dressed in traditional djellabas and yellow Berber slippers weaving through younger Moroccans dressed like Grafton Street hipsters. In a clothes shop one day I watched women in hijabs pick clothes from rails to the blare of explicit English lyrics.
You can feel this duality even in the buildings. Across from an old mosque is the new Mohammed VI Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, where you can find progressive work by young Moroccans. One photograph there shows a dirty white horse chained to a barrel outside a block of run-down apartments. It is wearing feather wings, and written above it is “Everything is Sacred”.
I left Ireland for a release from missing so many people. I left so I wouldn’t feel left behind. The students I was teaching in Morocco are nurses who are studying so they too can leave where they are from. They want to travel abroad to earn better money in hospitals and to make a better life. We had that longing to leave in common, and that is where I started to fit into their world.
I recently moved on from Morocco, to work in Genoa, in Italy, for the summer. It’s strange: as the map widens and I travel more myself, I feel closer to my friends and home than I ever have before.