When you leave a somewhat essential, daily medication 3,804 miles from where you are, you are ripped out of your comfort zone pretty quickly. Your focus shifts entirely to this lack of something you need. You plow through web pages, propose ridiculous solutions, apologize repeatedly, and then start back again at the top.
I’m not saying I recommend doing this. I do not. Not for my father’s sake who went to the post office to see about “overnighting” (in five days) my pills to Marrakech for $190, not for our friend Greg’s sake who poured over google learning the intricacies of Moroccan healthcare while we flew over the Atlantic, and certainly not for Chas’s sake who had to join me on my quest. But.
On Saturday afternoon when Chas and I traversed Djemaa El Fna in Marrakech, one of the world’s busiest commercial squares, we hustled past the snake charmers, didn’t acknowledge the bubble blowers, and completely eschewed calls of “Hola,” “Hello, sorry,” and “Mademoiselle! Masseur!” We had a mission to fulfill and that mission inculcated us into Moroccan life faster than most normal tourist activities possibly could have.
Well outside of the comfort zone of 8 hours of sleep in a fluffy and familiar bed, beyond English and even spotty Spanish, on the fringes of some semblance of a recognizable way of life, we set out for the singular Marrakeshi pharmacy with Saturday evening hours.
Arriving via taxi, we fumbled through our request with the pharmacist, showed him a picture of the bottle of my medication from home and a printed copy of my pharmaceutical history which I’d embarrassingly printed at the riad where we were staying, all in an attempt to place our order. “You need to go to a generalist,” he said, as if I already had a PCP in this country I’d been in for exactly four hours. “How?” we asked. We received his Frenglish directions with nods of understanding and misunderstanding and set out to meet my new Maroc doc. After a few loops and several encounters with feral cats, we found the clinic, its outside dotted with ambulances. We rushed inside, asked to see the doctor, and for some reason, within minutes and for the equivalent of 30 US dollars, we found ourselves seated with one. Chas typed into google translate and showed the doctor our predicament: “I have general anxiety. I left my Cymbalta in the US. I need a prescription for Cymbalta.”
He read the translation then his face fell into a look of concern. He picked up his phone and started tapping. And as he googled my medicine on his phone, his face suddenly settled into a smile. “We have in Maroc!” he said. Chas and I practically high fived him. We went back and forth about dosage and needs and he wrote me a prescription in Arabic. Four hours in Morocco and I already had a prescription. Try doing that in the US!
We paid our medical bill and headed for the cats, though cats are quite literally everywhere. Chas took a photo of me outside of my generalist’s office and back to the pharmacy we went. I handed over the scrip and the pharmacy assistant, who spoke no English on our first visit, said “It’s here!” as she tore open their latest package, arrived via pharmacy delivery bike. We all laughed at the celebration—maybe the most boisterous Marrakech’s #1 pharmacy had ever seen. A little lighter on our loafers but certainly more drained than ever, Chas and I headed back for the snake charmers, the bubble blowers, and the “Hello, sorry” people.
Now that’s a hell of a way to be ripped out of one’s comfort zone and again, I do not recommend it. But it worked. And in general, living on the edge of one’s comfort zone is exactly what I recommend.
When Aub and I were young teenagers, my family took a cruise. On that cruise we did a cave-tubing excursion in Belize and all bought matching T-shirts that read, “When was the last time you did something for the first time?” While I am hardly a dare devil or a stunt double, I love that motto. And it’s lived in the back of my head for a while. I’ve also heard—likely through the yoga circuit—that life begins at the end of your comfort zone. So, I started thinking about how uncomfortable it made me to be without my medication and so far away from home and then how exhilarating it was to actually figure that shit out. In all my idiotic mistake cost me about $80, three hours, a big dose of feeling badly for taking Chas through the journey, and then on the other side, we’d gotten through it, we’d gone through the process of the Moroccan medical system, and we could both rest easy. That feeling of coloring just outside the lines, of skirting just beyond what’s comfortable, that’s something I revel in.
We’ve all got our non-negotiables. Maybe the need to be in bed by 9:30, no more than one beer on a weeknight, only so much ice cream (emphasis on much), eat in a restaurant just three times a month, don’t work past a certain hour, and so on. Everyone’s non-negotiables are different and I don’t know if most of us consider them often or even ever because they become innate parts of our decision making without us realizing that they are. But, are there ever non-negotiables or zones of comfort that hold us back from doing something great? Sometimes all it takes is a suggestion from another person to put something into our heads.
When I was in high school, I remember Ms. Yanson complimenting me on my writing, catapulting me to take Creative Writing with Sarah. Then a highly respected publication (hehe) called Teen Ink published two of my stories about running cross country—must’ve been short on sports pieces that month—and I was hooked. I wrote throughout college, got a degree in writing, and here I am. Before Ms. Yanson’s and Teen Ink’s encouragement, it was well outside of my comfort zone to write for an audience.
Last spring, I had gotten really into yoga, joining CorePower and taking class about four times per week. Two teachers suggested I try teacher training and here I am, heading into training #2 and teaching three classes a week.
Maybe I’m just gullible? Or maybe the cusp of my comfort zone has been just close enough that a quick suggestion is enough to send me over the edge to the land of the unknown.
Observing Moroccan life over the past week, I’ve seen the visible parts of the comfort zones that exist here. It’s mostly a dry country because of its status as a Muslim nation. You greet others by saying, “Peace be upon you.” For women, chests, necks, and certainly all views of limbs are a no-no. In the more remote spots, almost all women wear hijab. Touts have no problem trying out several languages on you and then following you until you’re stuck with them and feel an obligation to pay them. Personal space is not a consideration. Smells and sights that would be completely off the table in the US are omnipresent—fish guts and pig legs and cow heads and chickens with tied feet and meat hooks, totally exposed and in-use and poop. Just so much poop and such a variety of poop.
On Wednesday night, we ordered dinner in a streetside cafe by just saying yes and having absolutely no idea what we had ordered. A Mario look-alike in an adorable little outfit complete with matching hat, hacked off a piece of meet from an unidentified leg (?) hanging from the awning and 20 minutes later we were eating. And it was delicious. And cheap.
A shared taxi this morning cost us $1 each to take a thirty minute ride–seven people in an old Mercedes cruising through absolutely gorgeous countryside. The interior of the car was lined with what looked like an old shower curtain, fish-themed and shiny. And we all got there safely and efficiently.
This is their comfort zone. I can’t imagine what an American street would seem like to a Moroccan who’d never left here. Uncomfortable for sure. Confusing. And to them, maybe it would smell even worse.
In the hammam, you’re naked or almost naked and a stranger pours water on you repeatedly, rubs you with amber colored spa, scrubs you, like really, really scrubs you then puts you in a steam room, and finally oils you up for a “massage”. Now that is out of a typical American comfort zone. It was totally new to me. That said, my back broke out in a rash the next day so maybe I could’ve skipped at least the scrub. All that for 270dH or roughly $27.
The space outside your comfort zone may not always be guaranteed or rash-free or easy or get you in bed by 9:30, but it promises to be more exhilarating, different, challenging, boundary-stretching, and enlightening.
At the risk of sounding didactic, I ask you, when was the last time you did something for the first time?