Live in the Layers
I am standing here before you humbled to have been entrusted by my Clemente peers to be one of their voices.
I would like begin by giving thanks first and foremost to God for crossing my path with that of so many amazing people. I also thank my husband for his support and my daughter Maya for reading to Meriem while Mama was finishing her assignments. A special thank you to Joybel, Lucy and Faith who showered my girls with presents after my baby was born and helped me catch up with my missed classes. Glynda Benham, board member at Mass Humanities for her fabulous sense of humour. My teachers for their dedication, Worcester State Students, Elizabeth Bacon, Frank Kartheiser and Uncle Larry who are now my daughters’ best friends.
In addition to the amazing academic experience, attending the Clemente Course in the Humanities 2016 has been a very powerful human experience.My husband, my daughter and I moved to the US in December 2011. We first went to DC, then to Boston. We stayed there for two weeks. Our budget was tight and it was extremely difficult to find a job. Rent was out of our reach and we didn’t have any credit score. It was a very frustrating situation.
We came because we seized an opportunity, but nothing prepared us to what we experienced. Both my husband and I are educated, we both worked for a long time at the US embassy in Algeria. I hold a BA in commerce and finance, and I worked in logistics, managing incoming and outgoing diplomatic shipments. My husband holds a BA in English, he worked as a political and economic specialist. He coordinated joint programs between the US and Algeria. He worked with Government agencies such as USCG, USCBC, met Department of State officialslike Collin Powell and Condolezza Rice, and attended trainings at the Foreign Service Institute in Washington DC. Yet, none of this mattered. Our degrees and experience seemed useless.
My husband found a job in a grocery store in a city called “Worcester” and we moved to an apartment we found on Craigslist. Coming to Worcester in January 2012 was a horrible experience to me; we didn’t have any family or friends, slept on the floor for a while like so many immigrant families before us. The city was dark, gloomy and so depressing. We were freezing while everyone rejoiced for what they called the mildest winter they had in a long time.
We didn’t understand what they meant until the winter of last year.
I had difficulties loving this city. Little did I know that Worcester was a treasure chest in the heart of Massachusetts, full of gems that make people’s lives brighter.
I first discovered the Worcester Public library, then the Worcester Family Partnership through which I met what became my “Family”. Every gem connected me to another gem. I started attending events and workshops and met Ann Bureau from the WCCC through whom I heard about the Clemente Course in the Humanities. This is precisely what I love about this city. There is a connection between people in doing the good. I now understand why people decide to stay. Once you know, you cannot pretend you don’t, so you just go out there and help.
The Clemente Course meant different things to each one of us, and to me it meant opening a door I closed on myself. It meant that what I thought impossible was within reach. I was excited and motivated, but it was challenging. I was surprised by the teaching style. It was not lecturing. We were actually asked for our opinions, and we had to articulate them. It took a while to adjust, but we were respected and our opinions valued and validated. In our first US history class, professor Power-Green made it clear: We were in a “Judgment free zone”. His class was captivating and eye opening.
Professor Beall empowered me in so many ways. She listened lovingly and smiled at our worst comments. She helped me rediscover the beauty of the delicate and intimidating subject that is Art history.
Professor Rogers was always pushing our limits and challenging us with writing assignments I never thought myself able to produce.
Professor Smith allowed us to see how philosophy was relevant to our lives. She trusted our ability to understand difficult texts and helped us articulate our understanding of them.
Professor Cocola made me doubt every word I said, until I learned not to doubt anymore.
Aristotle would say that my teachers are the best friends one can have. They helped us and taught us because it brought them joy to see us reach our full potential.
And Elizabeth Bacon, watching over us like a protective mother, answering our questions, taking care of our children. She understood when I was too scared to drive at night after the Paris attack and Trump’s visit to Worcester. She understood that I needed a break after I gave birth when she took my daughters out so I can rest. She knew Clemente was important to me when she brought me the handouts for my missing classes. The Clemente Course in Worcester has a spirit, and Elizabeth embodies it.
In his first class, Professor Cocola introduced us to the poetry of Worcester’s acclaimed Stanley Kunitz. In a poem called “The layers” he says: “Live in the layers / Not on the litter”
In the beginning, I thought that these verses resonated in my mind just because the words layers and litter summed up what my life with a toddler and a newborn looked like. But it was not an easy year, and so often I thought of quitting. I felt discouraged, tired, I thought I was too old, and my children too young. Some days it just seemed impossible then I realized that this is exactly why I should keep up with it. Clemente is for people like me. It is my good and bad experiences and my
understanding of life that made this course so relevant. Clemente helped me embrace my layers because these layers are what make me the person I am today. Because of Clemente, I stopped looking at the litter, and realized that the beauty is in the layers.
I would like to conclude with the last verses from Stanley Kunitz poem “The Layers”:
In my darkest night,/when the moon was covered/and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice / directed me:
“Live in the layers,/not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art/to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter/in my book of transformations/is already written.
I am not done with my changes.