Mid-June already? A few days ago, June 16, was my “five months in country” mark, which got a passing cheer from me and three of my friends as we rode a bus back from our In Service Training in Marrakesh. It both seems like we’ve only barely arrived here in Morocco and at the same time like we’ve been here forever. We’ve passed so many milestones – host families, swearing in, moving to site, finding our own homes – that it’s hard to wrap my brain around all that we have accomplished in light of how much we still are expected to accomplish before two years from now.
Speaking of milestones, however, we just passed a big one: IST. Peace Corps volunteers get three big chances to be with their entire stage or training group during their two years of service in Morocco after our Pre-Service Training – IST, Mid-Service Training and our Close of Service conference. The rest of the time we are scattered around the country, but those three times are when all 95 of us get to be in the same place, so it’s a pretty big deal.
Our IST was held over 10 days in the beautiful city of Marrakesh, which in Arabic is pronounced more like “Mrraksh.” Peace Corps put us up in a nice hotel outside the city that provided individual bungalows for groups of five volunteers to live in. There was also a soccer field and a large swimming pool, which we all greatly appreciated. Each bungalow included a kitchen and fridge, so we were able to do some cooking for ourselves, if we didn’t feel like going out for dinner.
Liz and I took a bus north from Agadir along with one of our other volunteer friends and arrived just in time to get fleeced by the taxi drivers of Marrakesh. The drivers there are notorious for not using their taxi meters and you either have to be prepared to wait for a driver who will or be prepared to bargain the price down. Our bargaining not being quite as successful as we hoped, we ended up paying quite a bit more than we should have. Don’t let that discourage you from visiting Marrakesh. Just be prepared when you do go. Or take the bus, which we ended up doing much more often.
Anyway, IST is a great training period because we’d all been in our sites for three months and actually had some concept of how the training related to our service, which was something I was missing from earlier trainings. It’s hard to retain training on how to fill out your Volunteer Reporting Form when you have no idea how to even carry out activities at your site. No big deal. We have a lot figured out now.
Most days during IST were much the same – in the morning we would have about 3.5 hours of language training, going over technical language for filling out grants and things like that. After lunch we’d head back to the conference room for training sessions – information on the national spelling bee Peace Corps volunteers organize, how to be a resilient volunteer, more safety and security information, meeting with a representative from the Ministry of Youth and Sports, how to work with a counterpart, basically anything that might be helpful to volunteers.
The best part of the training, however, were the two Youth Development Fairs. Peace Corps brought in eight or so successful volunteers to talk about their various projects. In small groups we would rotate between volunteers to get a quick introduction to their project and then have time to go back for a longer session with the volunteer of our choice. People have done a lot of cool projects, everything from building toilet facilities for rural schools to organizing women’s empowerment conferences to doing exercise classes at their women’s clubs. Lots of amazing people are working here in Morocco.
And just being around those volunteers made us all energized to start thinking about and preparing for our own projects. I’m not entirely sure what mine will be yet, but I intend to make it great.
Besides all the training, we also had plenty of time for some fun. My amazing stage-mates organized not just a pool/water Olympics (complete with synchronized swimming, a chicken fight and relay races), two separate rounds of Assasins (I died within five minutes of each game starting) and karaoke night, but also a full-out prom and skills auction to finance said prom. My auction contribution was a batch of cookies, but other people sold haircuts, editing skills, paintings, basically anything we were able to do. We raised enough to have pizza, ’nuff said.
Although I spent a lot of the time at the conference center, I did get two chances to go into Marrakesh, where I wandered around the main square, called the Jma3 l-Fna. The square is famous for being filled with street food vendors, snake charmers and henna artists. It’s also connected to the market area, where you can buy just about anything. I bought two pairs of what I affectionately refer to as “Aladdin pants.” I wear them shamelessly.
Now that I’m back in site, it’s on to thinking about the rest of the summer. I’ll be working several summer camps, which I get to travel for and I’m quite excited about. There’s also a training I want to attend on designing and financing projects. Stay tuned. Also, I miss my family, so if you’re near them, give them a hug for me =) Hope everyone is well!