Monthly Archives: March 2013

March 27, 2013

As of this morning, I am officially a Peace Corps Volunteer!

Ta-daa!

Ta-daa!

And let me tell you, it’s taken quite a bit of work to get that PCV status. Technically according to Peace Corps, from when you arrive in country to when you do your official swearing in, you’re a Peace Corps Trainee, which is just not quite as good as the real thing.

What it has taken to get the PCV attached to my name:

  • My parents planting the idea of Peace Corps in my head when I was still a teenager
  • Nine months study abroad in France, which convinced me I liked traveling and experiencing new cultures
  • My initial Peace Corps application in 2008, the process of which convinced me I wasn’t ready for the adventure just yet
  • Four years of working at The Mining Journal, which helped me become a functional, confident adult
  • Roughly nine months of applications and medical processes from October 2011 to June 2012
  • An initial invitation to the country of Tunisia in July of 2012, which was cut short a month before my departure due to political unrest
  • Three months of substitute teaching, waiting to be able to leave for my new post here in Morocco
  • Ten weeks of training from January until now, in which I began learning a new language

It’s no joke of a process, but now that I’m actually a volunteer, it doesn’t feel all that different.

This morning, we were bused from our hotel to one of the Ministry of Youth and Sports buildings a few minutes away. In the auditorium there, we listened to speeches from Peggy, our country director, a representative from the Ministry, the American ambassador to Morocco and three of our own top Darija speakers. The speech giving is the price you pay for having the best language skills. I scored in the “intermediate-mid” language bracket, so I was happy with my progress, but wasn’t expected to talk in front of a large audience.

Following the speeches, we watched a touching slide show of pictures from our training process and then took our oath, where we promised to uphold the values of the United States and discharge our posts faithfully, which I think is actually the same oath the president says when he takes office, maybe.

We got pinned...

We got pinned…

Swearing in was also a chance to see everyone decked out in their new jllaba finery! So many of us had them, we ended up taking a “jllaba rainbow” picture, with all the colors spread out in a spectrum. It’s quite the picture, however, one was not taken with my camera, so I’ll update this as soon as I get a copy.

After the ceremony, we took a short walk over to the Peace Corps office. It was the first time I had seen it, and it is super beautiful, surrounded by a nice garden. Most of my visit to the office, however, was consumed by a visit to our friendly Peace Corps Medical Officers. My left eyelid has decided this week would be an awesome time to develop some sort of infection. The doctor says its a stye. I’m kind of convinced someone implanted a hot, itchy, painful golf ball into my skin. Don’t freak out, that’s not how bad it looks, but it’s certainly what it feels like. I’m now in possession of some cream and some medicated eye drops to help it clear up. It is somewhat appropriate though, as it makes my eye tear up like crazy, so it just kind of looks like I’m crying all the time, which is fitting for the end of training, I guess. Mostly I just want it to go away, but I’m trying not to complain to much, because as we all know, I could have an eye infection AND diarrhea.

Yesterday was also a big day as we got the opportunity to meet with the directors of our dar chebabs. It was a chance to introduce ourselves and find out more about what we are going to be doing. Many of them were bused in to meet with us, and I was impressed by how many of them showed up. Mine was not there, but his supervisor, who oversees several directors in the region, came and he was super nice. My site mate and I area already invited over for tea.

Anyway, we have our train tickets for tomorrow’s big move. Our train trip might about eight hours long. It’ll be an adventure. Hopefully the next time you hear from me, I’ll be in T–!

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Categories: Swearing In, Training | Tags: , | Leave a comment

March 24, 2013

Community-based training is officially over and we are back in Rabat at the same hotel from when we arrived in January. It’s strange how foreign everything seemed when we first arrived and how scared we all were. Now going out into the city and wandering around are no big deal and we can actually communicate with shop owners and such. I feel so grown up!

After our site announcements (still FREAKING excited), we had about a week back in our training communities, during which time we tried to study and soak up as much time with our host families as possible.

Leaving my family was a mix of being sad to not be around them anymore and really really really excited to be moving to my final site. As a thank-you gift, I gave them some Michigan souvenir-type items (everyone needs a moose key chain, right?) and a pretty ceramic bowl I found in the medina in Fes. They then blew my gift out of the water by giving me a jllaba.

Jllaba!!!

Jllaba!!!

 

Jllabas are pretty much a long coat/robe with a hood that both men and women wear almost all the time here, particularly in the communities we’ve been in so far. Men’s jllabas are usually more subdued, sometimes a solid color, sometimes with stripes. Women’s jllabas can be any color, any pattern and for any occasion, from going to the souk to going to a wedding.

Mine is bright yellow with super pretty green trim and I love it love it love it. I’m going to wear it for our swearing-in ceremony, which is coming up on Wednesday. And I have matching pointy-toed shoes. I’m almost Moroccan, as my family told me.P1090785

In addition to the jllaba, they also gifted me a henna session, so my hands are currently decorated with a very intricate flower pattern that I kind of wish would stay on for ever.

My henna!

My henna!

On our last day in our training site, my CBT group hosted a party for our families with all sorts of candies and cakes and sweets. We argued for making guacamole, but our teacher said no one would have liked it, so we stuck with the sweets. All of us girls wore our new jllabas and we looked pretty zwin (pretty).

Liz, Me, Rebecca and Anna

Liz, Me, Rebecca and Anna

Now, of course, we are in Rabat, the capital of Morocco, for a few last-minute sessions before our swearing in and our departure for our final sites.

Today was an atypical day because we had our language proficiency interviews. This “test” is a baseline for our language levels. We take a second one just before we leave our service to see how much we have improved. Technically you need to reach the level of “novice high” to pass, but even if you don’t make that level, they just require you to work with a tutor and then retake the proficiency in a few months.

I feel like mine went pretty well. The test works pretty much like a conversation, where the tester asks you questions and you give your answers on whatever the topic is. Mine ranged from my family to what I like to do when I’m not working to my time living in France to my CBT experience. The whole thing took about 20-30 minutes, I wasn’t exactly keeping track. We don’t know our results until tomorrow at the earliest, but I think I made the required level. I hope so at least.

As a post-LPI celebration, I went on a long run, something I haven’t been able to do at all for the past couple months. For 40 glorious (and sweaty and out of breath) minutes, I ran with another soon-to-be PCV from the hotel to the beach and back and we loved every minute of it. I am so tired right now I might go to sleep right after dinner, but whatever. Totally worth it.

Also, my camera, after spending three straight weeks in a bag of rice, has decided to rejoin the land of working electronics and I have been greatly enjoying having it back in working order.

Categories: Training | Tags: , | 1 Comment

March 19, 2013

I’m not sure anyone who hasn’t been through the process to really understand the enormity of these words, but I HAVE MY FINAL SITE!!!!!!!! I’m not sure it’s been quite so hard to wait for anything in my life, but we made it and we all know where we are going, and for the most part, I believe everyone is excited, encouraged and looking forward to getting to our new homes.

A group of us went into Fes on Saturday because we had the weekend off and we had to be in Fes on Monday anyway for our site announcements. A lot of us stayed at this hostel called the Funky Fes, which caters a lot to tourists but is fairly cheap, located just at the edge of the old medina area of the city. I’d recommend it if anyone is going to be in Fes – nice and clean, free breakfast, beautiful rooftop terrace to sit on. The hostel is built in an old riad, which is an old city house situated around a courtyard. The courtyard is now covered with a permanent tent so that it can be used as the lobby area and all the dorm rooms come off the sides of the courtyard. A group of us trainees took over one of the rooms and enjoyed the weekend. Mostly we walked around the old city area, which is all super tiny winding streets and shops and things. You can’t bring cars in there, but a lot of people bring donkeys, so sometimes you have to jump out of the way when you see a horse or something coming toward you. It’s pretty crowded and you have to watch your stuff because it would be easy for pickpockets to get you. No worries though, we were all super vigilant.

The medina has different areas, like sweets and candies, metal working, leather working, clothing, all different stuff and it’s like a maze so you either just wander around and see random things or you go with someone who knows what they’re doing. A lot of times you run into kids or guys who offer to show you to someplace, but then they just end up wanting money in return or just getting you lost and then demanding money to get you unlost.. We got pretty good at avoiding them though. I was really tempted to buy everything, but I’m going to have to come back to Fes at some point before I go back to the States so I can get everything I wanted.

Ok, so we got there on Saturday afternoon and walked around a little bit and then walked around even more on Sunday, although we got caught in a huge rainstorm Sunday afternoon, so we were all kind of soaked for the next day, because we didn’t really bring a lot of clothing to change into. It was still awesome though.

Monday was the big day – site announcements!!

We got to the training center, which is another Dar Chebab, on the other side of Fes early and everyone kind of milled around for a while getting breakfast at local cafes and such. Once we got started, they got us all together in the main Dar Chebab room and told us a bit about the process of getting us all sites, which we had all heard before . They get the list of places that have requested a volunteer from the Ministry of Youth and Sports and then the list of volunteers. We all got interviewed and then the regional managers for Peace Corps sit down for a three-day meeting to fit the volunteers with their sites. The married couples get placed first because Peace Corps has to make sure there’s enough work for two people to do. Then the guys get placed and then the girls.

First we were each given an envelope and at the same time we had to open them and inside was the number of our region. Peace Corps splits Morocco into eight regions, and my envelope said I was in Region 5, which is the furthest south along the Atlantic coast.

Anyway, then we got into our region groups and got to meet our regional managers, who are all Peace Corps staff who are our supervisors.

Then we had to take a coffee break. It was just like waiting to open presents on Christmas. So we had our coffee and then we got back into our regional groups. My group is pretty small. There’s 95 trainees in my group, but only 9 of us got sent to region 5, and all of us girls. At first I didn’t realize how far south Region 5 was, but then I looked at a map and was like, oh man, that’s south. Once we were back in our region groups, the regional managers did the big reveal for our final sites. Ours was done on a powerpoint, so the manager had a map of the region and then when he pushed a button, a person’s picture would show up next to their site. Mine was like the second or third, I think, I don’t remember. Anyway, right after my picture showed up, so did the photo of one of the other girls in my training group! We’re sitemates!!! I totally wasn’t expecting to be sharing a site with someone who has become a friend over the last few months.

Our new city is called T–, inland from Agadir, which is the closest biggest city and is a huge tourist beach area. T– is a community of anywhere from 30,000-80,000 people, which is a huge range, but I guess that’s because a lot of people have country houses they go to, so it’s hard to pin down the exact population, according to the most recent volunteer who had worked there.

T– is in the Souss Valley area, which is really far south, but it’s also a big agricultural region. Part of region 5 is also the desert, so there’s a lot to see there. Apparently the markets are supposed to be phenomenal in the region because so much is grown there. Like all the oranges we’ve been eating here in training near Fes come from the Souss Valley. It should be really pretty.

My site mate and I are supposed to be living with the same host family for a month and we will be working at the same Dar Chebab, which also has a Nedi Neswi or women’s club attached to it. It’s supposed to get super hot there, like 120 degrees isn’t the highest temperature I’ll be experiencing this summer. I guess the key is to drink a lot of water.

All of the new arrivals to the region will probably travel to Agadir together and then all the other volunteers in the region – there are 18 and only 2 of them are guys – are meeting us in Agadir for the night before going onto our final sites. The region of volunteers seems really really supportive. We were told Region 5 is the region in Morocco with the lowest rate of early terminations for volunteers, which is great. It’ll just take me a bit to get used to the temperature, which is I guess the easiest thing to adjust to.

The city last had two volunteers in 2011, both guys. The Dar Chebab has a lot of associations and groups that meet there, but no one is currently offering regular classes for the kids, so it will be fun to start developing activities and stuff for them to do.

Our new host family is a mom and a dad and they have two daughters, ages 17 and 12, and a nephew who lives with them, who is 15. T– I guess is famous for its ramparts, which are red. It’s about an hour and a half from Agadir and an hour from the High Atlas Mountains and three hours south of Marrakech. While people do speak Darija in T–, they also speak Tamazight and Tashelhit, both of which are Berber languages, so I guess I’ll be learning some of those as well.

We leave our training sites on Saturday and then meet in Fes where we get bused back to Rabat where we have to do our language proficiency interview, hopefully meet our Dar Chebab directors and then swear in!

I’m really really excited to go to my site. It’s not anything like what I had said I was interested in, but it so doesn’t matter. It’s going to be awesome. I was sure I was going to be in some teeny tiny town up in the freezing cold mountains all by myself. But I got pretty much the opposite of that. I’m really excited to be able to see a different area of the country, and even though it will be super hot, I think it will be ok.

My friends from training are all kind of scattered around the country from the north to the south, so it will be a good chance to travel around and visit them and get to know more about the country. It’s hard spending two months getting to know people only to be separated again, but it’s good knowing everyone is excited about where they are going. I’m feeling really positive about the whole thing and I hope it will be an awesome two years. I just can’t wait to get there!!

Categories: Morocco, Training | Tags: | Leave a comment

March 6, 2013

So, it’s March. Time is going by weirdly fast. I leave training on March 23, which means there isn’t a whole lot of time left until my real Peace Corps experience begins. Before my thoughts on the process of getting my final site, a few brief updates:

I dropped my camera into a river while hiking. It’s currently sitting in a bag of rice and I’m hoping that after sitting in there for a week or so, it will magically revive itself. Until then, no more pictures.

  • I’m getting over a cold, which turned my voice into a raspy mess and made it even harder than usual to communicate. Having a cold is still preferable to diarrhea.
  • I’ve developed a nasty addiction to sunflower and pumpkin seeds. I rationalize eating them by telling myself at least it isn’t chocolate.
  • My belt has been let out a notch, thanks to 1) eating a ridiculous amount and 2) no exercise besides walking to and from class every day. One of the things I’m most looking forward to in my final site is establishing a consistent exercise routine.
  • I saw two of the most beautiful rainbows today.

Anyway, things are fairly normal here – we can now communicate in the past, present and future tenses, continue to acquire vocabulary and can sometimes carry out conversations in broken Darija, depending on the patience of the person we are talking to.

And all that is good, because our move to our final sites is quickly approaching. Site announcements will be made on March 18. That’s when we find out the communities we will be placed in for the next two years. Even waiting for my country assignment last summer wasn’t this hard, because I had a fairly solid idea of where I would be going. Now I have absolutely no idea where in this country I might be going and it wouldn’t be a lie to say I spend most of my time thinking about it.

As far as I know, the basic process for placing a stage of trainees is this:

  • Peace Corps gets a list of potential sites from the Ministry of Youth and Sports.
  • Peace Corps regional managers and staff pair that list down to a number close to the number of volunteers that need placing.
  • Trainees are interviewed by the regional managers to discuss their strengths, skills and interests.
  • The regional managers hole up in a room for three days and try to fit each site with a volunteer who meets the needs of that site.
  • The entire stage comes together for site announcements.

I’m sure there are a vast number of intermediate steps that go into this process, but I think that’s the basic idea. We had our site placement interviews last Saturday and I thought mine went pretty well. One of the regional managers from the south of Morocco came to see us and sat with each of us. During my interview, we talked about my previous experience with summer camps, journalism and English teaching. We talked about what size community I’d be comfortable living in and what types of activities I was interested in leading.

As of right now, I don’t have any super specific requests for my final site – I’d like to be in a smaller town where the weather isn’t too hot. And even if my final site ends up being neither of those things, I don’t really care. I’m just excited to be finding out where I’ll be.

While I have loved my training community and my host family here, there are certain things I’m especially looking forward to for my final site:

  • Being able to plan out classes/activities for the long term instead of for a few short weeks
  • Getting to know my permanent community
  • Having my own apartment
  • Being able to cook for myself
  • Being able to set my own schedule to some extent

It’s nice to be trained to do something (versus being tossed out into a situation to fend for yourself), but I think the entire group of 95 of us is ready to get to work.

 

Categories: Morocco, Training | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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