Monthly Archives: April 2013

April 24, 2013

One of the most helpful pieces of paper I was given during Peace Corps training was a line graph that charts the emotional ups and downs Peace Corps Volunteers typically experience in relation to their time in country. Thanks to this chart, I can look at a specific time period of service and see if that is typically a time when PCVs find themselves feeling overall happy or overall depressed.

Courtesy of Peace Corps - the volunteer adjustment cycle in one of its many derivations.

Courtesy of Peace Corps – the volunteer adjustment cycle in one of its many derivations.

For example, right in months 1-4 of service, there’s a big low period, thanks to adjusting to your permanent site, work being slow to start and general homesickeness.

Guess who is just finishing month one…

Now, it’s not to say that every single Peace Corps Volunteer follows the exact pattern described by the graph, but since arriving in T–, I’ve definitely hit a much more defined low period than I have since arriving in country in January. While I was out of my mind excited to be in my final site, I was also experiencing feelings ranging from “Holy crap what am I doing here” to feeling like everything was impossible to get started to just plain frustration. Not every day of the past month has been bad, but there has been a definite overall down feeling. And on top of that I have been recovering from not one but two epic infections that I will not describe here, suffice it to say today was my final doctor’s appointment in Agadir and he says I’m good to go!

Luckily, I remembered my chart and realized this was a normal part of my adjustment process. Often knowing that I feel bad for a reason is enough to keep me from getting too down on myself. I’ve heard lots of stories from other volunteers who described feeling bad about themselves just because they were feeling low, and since Peace Corps service was a long-time dream of theirs, felt they should just be happy because they were actually doing it. So I’ve been taking things one day at a time and just trying to do something positive every day.

I’m not sure if it’s too soon to say I’m coming out of that slump, because it’s definitely possible I’ll continue my slump for a bit, but the past two days have been amazing.

Since spring camp ended, Liz and I have been attempting to set up our lives here in T–, a process which can take a long time in the United States, but takes even longer with a much greater reliance on other people if your language skills still do not rival those of a four year old. So we’ve been attempting to get our residency papers, attempting to find an apartment, attempting to mail stuff at the post office without waiting 2 hours in line (I still haven’t succeeded in this), and attempting to set up a schedule for ourselves at the Dar Chebab and women’s club.

While I haven’t conquered the post office yet (I guess the trick is to go really early in the morning and get your number like at the Department of Motor Vehicles), we have recently started making process with the other things. The authorities have our residency papers paperwork and tomorrow we are getting our potential apartment checked out by a Peace Corps representative. Our first day of language tutoring is also tomorrow.

The biggest news, however, is we have happily stumbled on a counterpart – a host country national who helps PCVs accomplish projects. In our case, she is one of our fellow counselors at camp, speaks excellent English and is really excited about working with youth. Plus she’s someone who can be a friend here in T–, which may be the most important thing of all in this situation.

Thanks to her help, we had a great meeting with the director of the women’s club today and are set to start teaching English lessons to the ladies there. And we’ve also set up a time at the Dar Chebab to start some activities there, so suddenly everything seems to be moving forward.

It might be that everything will fall through once again, so I’m not anticipating trouble-free days for the rest of my service. That would be a ridiculous expectation, because you can’t anticipate a trouble-free life anywhere. But progress has been made. And I am content with that.

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Categories: In site, Morocco | Tags: | Leave a comment

April 19, 2013

A little less than a week out from Spring Camp and Liz and I are kind of itching to get down to work. After the hectic week of teaching and doing activities and singing and talking, it feels a bit weird to have time to sit down and relax. But we’re getting a lot of that. It’s still technically spring break in Morocco, so there isn’t much going on at our Dar Chebab, and we’re really hoping to start doing some activities.

Luckily (or unluckily?) we now have time to concentrate on the ever-important tasks of securing an apartment to live in and taking care of our residency paperwork, called the carte de sejour. After a semi-heart-attack-inducing encounter with our local police (in which we were told we were late with our paperwork and might have to pay a fine), we now have a list of papers to photocopy and turn in, which is priority no. 1 for next week and should be well on our way to being legal residents.

Finding an apartment here, however, is nothing like finding an apartment in the United States. In the U.S., you have handy things like classified ads and Craig’s List. Here, you have to know a guy who knows of someone who may have an apartment to rent. It’s all in the networking, and luckily we’re living with a very well-connected family. Our host dad used to work for the local electric company, so he can’t walk down the street without someone saying hello to him.

Liz and I are planning on living together, which will help keep our costs down as housing is a bit expensive here in T– thanks to a recently-opened university. Still, we’re on the hunt for something with two bedrooms, a kitchen/living area, bathroom and shower. We’d also love to have access to a roof of some sort. So far we’ve seen two that we liked, although the second which we saw today is just a bit too expensive for our budget. Undaunted, we carry on.

Second on our list of priorities is to do some initial activities at the Dar Chebab and women’s club. Peace Corps advises volunteers to begin by doing something called Participatory Activities for Community Analysis, or PACA. We had practice doing them during training, but now we get to do them for real. They’re basically a set of activities that allow us to learn more about our communities and what people are looking for from volunteers. They include cool things like having your target population draw a community map, so you can see what places are important to them, and writing up collective schedules, so you can see when people are busy throughout the day or year. After we have those done, we can start setting up activities, which will likely be English classes until the school year ends.

All the advice we got during training was to not be disappointed if things start out slow, and that definitely seems to be the case for us. It’s easy, coming from an American life of working for a full day, to feel like I haven’t accomplished much in the few weeks I’ve been here so far. I’m trying to stay upbeat, however, and accomplish something each day. Besides my big goals of finding an apartment and finishing my residency paperwork, I have smaller goals, like learning five new words each day or exploring a new part of the city. We might also get to start working with a language tutor soon, which would be amazingly helpful.

Behind this all, we’re in the middle of a week of hot weather. I’m not sure if this is unusual for this time of year or if we’re not going to see cooler weather until the fall, but for the past couple days it’s been around 90 degrees, which in Michigan is like the hottest day of summer. In addition, it’s not culturally acceptable to wear clothes that don’t fully cover your body – so no shorts, no skirts that don’t at least somewhat reach your lower shins, even short sleeves I’m careful about. Mostly I sweat a lot. Moroccans here are amazing because everyone is still walking around with sweaters and jackets on. I don’t know how they do it. Summer temperatures are supposed to get into the 120 degree range, so I’ll let you know how I feel then.

I will keep you all updated on the house/apartment hunt. We’re also supposed to get a post office box soon, so hopefully I’ll be able to get more regular mail! I hope everyone at home is well!

Categories: In site, Morocco | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

April 18, 2013

This week I have found myself spending a lot more time on the CNN website with my feeble Internet resources than normal. I saw my first news about the Boston Marathon bombings through Facebook, thanks to the status update from my hometown newspaper, The Mining Journal. Not just because I have family members who live in the Boston area, but also because I started referring to myself as a runner while I was in living in the U.S., I’ve been trying to follow what has been going on.

Last September I ran my first half-marathon, and although I was not fast, I finished with a time I was happy with. Running became a way to de-stress, a way to feel better about myself, a way to take care of myself, not just “exercise.” I know running represents a great number of things for a great number of people who love the sport and the way it makes them feel. Although I’m not quite to the point of contemplating doing a marathon myself, I know the Boston Marathon for a huge number of people is a life-long goal, and I was sorry to see an event that represents so much be scarred by something that makes as little sense as trying to blow up other human beings.

It doesn’t make sense, and I’m not inclined to try to make it do so. But I feel like it happened to “my people” both because I am now a runner (or was before coming to Morocco) and because I am an Amerian.

But seeing the outpouring of grief and outrage over this act of violence from here in Morocco is different from simply seeing it on the news in the U.S. Now more than ever before, I’m realizing that bombings, shootings, horrible things that human beings do to each other, they always happen to someone’s people. It was easy in the U.S. for me to not dwell on explosions in places like Pakistan or Iraq, because there was little connection for me. But that didn’t mean that people there were not feeling the same grief Americans are feeling now.

Moroccan news focuses much more heavily on the news in the Middle East, because Morocco, after all, is an Arabic country, although it is not located in the Middle East itself. Here nightly newscasts show footage of the conflict in Syria much more graphically than anything that would be shown in the U.S. and the connection is much stronger, because the people there, are in a way, Morocco’s neighbors, the same as I feel a connection to people in Boston I will probably never met. It strikes closer to home, and I intend to remember that. Everyone belongs to someone else, everyone is someone’s “people.”

Categories: In site, Morocco | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

April 14, 2013

Moroccan school kids get a two-week spring break holiday in April, and that means one of two things – you enjoy relaxing at home or you go to spring language camp!!!!

Liz and I, of course, went to camp.

Best photo of Spring Camp 2013? I think so.

Best photo of Spring Camp 2013? I think so.

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T– is actually the host city of the largest spring camp in the country, so we spent the past week teaching, talking to and running after 160 kids, aged from early teens to early 20s. It was exhausting and amazing, usually at the same time.

The Ministry of Youth and Sports here in Morocco sponsors week-long language camps in either English or one of the Amazieght (non-Arabic native) languages that is spoken here to help kids keep up on their studies even while on vacation (and to help them from being too bored). The camps are held in Dar Chebabs all over the country, and are usually day camps that provide either a full or half day of activities. The kids usually get lunch and snack, as well as classes and other activities to participate in.

In T–, however, you’ll find a different kind of spring camp. Our camp is one of the few overnight camps, with kids staying in the dormitories of one of the local high schools. Liz, myself, four other Peace Corps Volunteers and about 10 Moroccan counselors were running the activities for the week, and it was intense.

The camps are organized with a director (a Moroccan) and usually have a volunteer coordinator, who for us is an amazing PCV who lives near T– and who has been awesome at helping Liz and me get on our feet in our new town. She was in charge of coordinating between the Americans and Moroccan staff and organizing our activities.

Basically each American was responsible for teaching an hour and a half of English every day and then leading an hour and a half club activity each day. We each had a permanent English class that we taught, but the kids were split into groups for the clubs, so that each group rotated through the clubs and we just taught the same activity to a different group every day. The second week would have been run in a similar fashion if all the kids hadn’t signed up for the first week, resulting in the cancellation of the second.

My English class was made up of Beginning-Mid students, so they had some experience with English, but not much beyond greetings and numbers and such. Liz and I worked together for our club activity and did a bunch of team-building games, like the human knot and a lava cross, for anyone who has experienced those activities before. The first day of camp, which was last Monday, we spent most of the afternoon giving the kids language proficiency interviews, which sounds intense but really just means sitting down and talking with them one-on-one to find out their English level. Lots of great kids and lots of good English being spoken here.

The rest of camp consisted of English and sports activities in the morning followed by clubs and more activities in the afternoons. Moroccans love music, so most meals involved the kids forming giant drum circles by pounding on their tables, and most of our evening activities involved an on-going week-long talent show that stretched until at least midnight every night. That plus trying to communicate in my very broken Darija made for an exhausting but exhilarating week. Liz and I got the chance to meet a lot of the awesome kids who live in T–, and we hope to see many of them at the Dar Chebab in the weeks to come. In addition, the director of our Dar Chebab helped out at camp, so we got the chance to work with him a bit as well.

This past week brought a lot of great memories for me, but I think my favorite overall was doing the team-building games with the kids. After each game we would stop and talk about why teamwork was necessary to accomplishing the goal of the game, which we did by speaking in English with the kids who had advanced language levels and with one of the Moroccan staff translating for those who did not, as my Darija is still quite limited. Whether you’re talking about American or Moroccan kids, it’s crazy awesome to be able to hear their ideas about the world and their own lives. I can’t wait for next year when I’ll actually be able to talk…

Categories: Camp, In site | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

March 31, 2013

Hello from my final site/new home for the next two years (hopefully)!

Although we encountered relatively few problems on our journey down to the south, it was still two long days of travel and I am more than happy to not be hauling my worldly possessions around with me anymore. I did manage to lose one of my beloved flip flops at some point during the journey, but that’s just a reason to buy new shoes, right? Of course right.

T– is just as beautiful as everyone I talked to told me it would be. It’s an old city, still mostly encircled by its original walls and the streets small, winding and maze-like. The countryside around it houses many orange orchards, not just oranges, but also clementines when then are in season. Orange trees are shorter than I was expecting, but beautifully green.

The city itself is set against what I believe are the High Atlas Mountains and we can see a range of snow-capped peaks in the distance if we are at the right place in the city to see between buildings to the north. To the south we can see the Ante Atlas Mountains, so it’s pretty beautiful.

On the ground, however, the weather is hot, like Michigan summer already. I’d guess the temperature mid-day is at least in the 80s, although in the morning and evening it is cool enough to need a sweater. The summer is going to be hot, but apparently people here sleep on their roofs during the hot weather and the stars are gorgeous – super clear, although they seem to be in slightly different positions from how I observed them in Michigan. Liz, my site mate, and I are planning to find ourselves an apartment with a roof.

We’ve only been here about 48 hours so far and most of our time has been spent trying to figure out how to accomplish simple tasks – buying Internet time for Liz’s modem, finding a good hanut (corner store), finding where the dar chebab is located. I think having a mental map of your surroundings is an important part of feeling at home, so we’ve been trying to get out and walk each day, just to wander and see if we can find our way back. We’re also working on planning for two weeks of spring language camp, which should be a ton of fun!

When you join Peace Corps, they tell you to not have any expectations because when your expectations aren’t met, you set yourself up for disappointment. I tried pretty faithfully to not expect anything coming in, but I never thought I’d end up in a city like T–. If anything, I thought I’d be in a small town up in the mountains, the only person in town who looked like me. T– is almost the opposite of what I thought I would end up with: it’s fairly big, I have a site mate (who I can’t wait to work with because she is awesome) and there are tourists everywhere, mostly European, if I can judge by the various languages I’ve heard.

I’ve only seen small parts of town so far, but there are numerous mosques, including one that dates back to the 1500s, I believe. There is also a Catholic church, an Arab market and a Berber market, and a weekly souk where you buy vegetables/fruits.

It is strange to go from my job in the U.S. where I always had a pile of work to do to training where we were learning all day long to here at our site where we have to begin building our work from the ground up – work like meeting people, building connections, finding out how to live. It’s a different kind of work and it’s easy to convince myself I haven’t accomplished a lot because my main tasks for the day have been to buy Internet and toothpaste. Slowly it starts and I know once I get going it will be fine, but they warned us about this in training. Don’t beat yourself up if you feel like you’re not getting much done. It just takes time. It’s just an exercise in patience. That’s what I keep telling myself, at least.

These next few weeks are going to be busy. Starting April 8, we have two weeks of Spring Camp, then we have another week to find an apartment and then we’re supposed to be out on our own.

First things first, tomorrow (Monday) our job is to set up a post office box, which means we will finally have a regular mailing address, and get some papers notarized so we can begin getting our residency papers, two more things to check off our lists.

And finally, happy Easter to everyone who celebrates it! This is my first major holiday in Morocco that isn’t really celebrated here by a large majority of people and it makes me miss my family something dreadful. I did buy myself some dark chocolate today and I am currently writing this post to the songs of Jesus Christ Superstar, which has been my Easter tradition for some time now, so at least I am keeping that part of the holiday up. Being away from family, however, knowing if I was there we would all be going to church together and then making a big dinner, maybe coloring eggs, it’s no easy thing and I knew it wouldn’t be when I signed up for Peace Corps. So, if you have the chance to hug someone in your family today, please do it, and for all my fellow PCVs in Morocco and around the world, I am thinking of you!

Categories: In site | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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