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Author Archives: jbpeacecorps
I have two weeks left in site and entirely too many emotions to put together a coherent blog post.
Thus, some bullet points in no particular order:
- I’m mentally preparing myself for the costs of grad school. Mentally preparing myself for the foreseeable future of the cheapest rent I can find and the cheapest food I can stomach. Dave Ramsey makes me want to pay off debts I don’t have yet.
- A few coats of a light pink nail polish keeps me from biting my nails, which I have been doing for as long as I can remember.
- My chababs just kicked butt in the Write On! Creative Writing Competition!!!! Out of the 14 of my kids who participated, 7 won regional awards. Out of those seven, two won national awards. I’m so proud.
- I get to do another library training next week, which will be my last big piece of work.
- It does not feel like I only have two weeks left.
- Over the course of my Peace Corps service, I will have read 134 books, provided I finish one book this week and one book next week. 45 in my first year, 72 in my second year, and 15 so far this year, one to finish this week and one next week.
Some people’s Peace Corps services are based around one or two large projects. They center their work and their lives like digging wells or raising money to build latrines. One volunteer here in Morocco has extended for a third year of service to build a youth-run cafe at her dar chabab. A previous volunteer in T– brought in wheelchairs to distribute to those with mobility issues.
But if you don’t have a big overarching project, that’s also completely normal. Lots of people’s services are a lot of smaller projects strung together. It really depends on what people in your community express a need for.
My service has been in the latter category. I teach English. I organize camps. I help facilitate a girls’ Bollywood-style dance class. I do creative writing and life skills. If I were to come close to having a “big” project, it will probably be one that I only started in earnest in January.
Thanks to the help of a handful of really dedicated young people at my Dar Chabab, we now have a library! Fiction and non-fiction in Arabic, French, and English enough to fill two large metal bookshelves that are available to anyone who is registered at the Dar Chabab and who has taken our library training (more on that in a second).
I had heard about PCVs setting up libraries in their communities even before I began the application process, and my pre-service dreams somewhat included handing out books to the people in my community, however naive that might have been. Because your service is about doing what’s best for your community and when I got to T–, even though I knew that family finances dictate that many kids here grow up without owning books and that reading usually has to be done in a second or third language here because Darija and Tashelheit are both spoken – as apposed to written – languages and that having a library in their neighborhood would be an awesome resource, I realized it does no good to set up a library in a youth center no one attends.
So first order of business became getting a regular population of youth, which I felt comfortable saying I had by the time I spent my second October in site. By then, I was trying out new classes and meeting new kids, and I had largely forgotten about the library idea. But I got put on a list to receive two big boxes of books from the American Embassy’s Regional Language Office and when the books got there I figured I needed to do something with them. I went to talk to the local Ministry of Youth and Sports administrator – my mudira’s boss – and told him I wanted shelves. During that conversation, he also indicated several boxes of books from a previous library attempt. So we had books.
Thankfully, one of my counterparts, Abderrahim, was willing to make the 12 hour trip north to attend a Peace Corps-sponsored library management training where we learned about everything from the Dewey Decimal System to outreach mechanisms. Some people had already developed libraries at their dar chababs. Others, like us, had books, but needed to know how to organize them. Still others were starting from scratch completely.
During the two-week winter break in January and February, I decided to forgo our usual camp extravaganza and rounded up volunteers to come in and work two hours a day to organize and label the books. We started by splitting them into languages, and from there into fiction and non-fiction. Then we put them into categories, stuck labels on them and put them on the shelves. We wrote out signs telling people how to find the books and we made shelf labels of all kinds. All the kids worked hard, but one young woman in particular – Aziza – was there every day and ended up working with Abderrahim and myself to develop a training for those who want to use the library.
For me the training is the real work that will make a difference. The library is nothing if no one knows how to use it, and especially if no one knows how to take care of it. It’s important to me that the work of keeping things organized doesn’t fall just one one person, because there’s no budget and no time for anyone to be full-time librarian. Each patron – can I use that? – needs to know how to put the books back on the shelves.
We did our first training last week with 15 youth. It was a good start and now that they have their library cards, I’m hoping to repeat the training at least once with a different group. Abderrahim and Aziza will also hopefully do the training again in the fall or on an as-needed basis as more people get interested in using the books.
It turns out it’s not really my project anyway. I’m leaving (in a month!!!! ack!) so it needed to be planned and carried out with other people being in charge. Maybe it’s better that the library only got off the ground in the last part of my service, because there was no time for me to take over major responsibility for it. Either way, I’m happy it’s beginning to function and that people are using it. And by “happy” I mean “SUPER EXCITED.” Makes me wish I could come back in five years and see how things are going. Time to start saving for that plane ticket?
COS emotional wellbeing update.
Last month: euphorically happy at the though of returning to America, land of burritos and movie theaters.
Yesterday: Liz walked into the kitchen to find me sobbing over a halfway made salad for trivial reasons.
Feelings are hard. Blogging about feelings is hard. Leaving is hard.
71 days until I have to leave T– and be in Rabat to close my service. That’s two months and 12 days. I’m continuing on a pattern of being ridiculously excited to return to America and also ridiculously heartbroken at the thought of leaving Morocco. Currently I’m in the heartbroken stage (like almost started crying during my girls’ Hindi Dancing Club yesterday because the time is coming when I won’t be able to hang out with them anymore), so I figured I’d cheer myself up by thinking about one of the biggest things I will NOT miss about Morocco.
And that is doing laundry by hand.
Because of my tendency to let laundry pile up for weeks until I have no clean clothes left – which is definitely a habit I had in the US – laundry day has always been an all-day process for me. In Morocco, however, instead of taking over four laundry machines and sitting on the laundromat’s free wifi for a couple hours, I’m glued to the house for pretty much a full day.
Our laundry machine here is a bright pink tub and a wooden washboard.
First step in my laundry process is to remember to buy detergent the day before. Tide (called “teed” here, the word for any sort of laundry soap, not necessarily the brand name stuff although that is what I usually end up buying) usually comes in packets that cover one of my laundry days, and since I never have the foresight to buy two packets at once, I always need to buy more so that I can start laundry early.
Laundry in the summer isn’t bad, because it’s so hot that I don’t mind being up to my elbows in water for the day. Also the sun dries everything in like an hour.
In the winter, however, the water is cold. The soap dries out my hands. And the sun, while still shining, doesn’t dry things nearly as fast, which means available clotheslines limits the number of loads that can be done.
The struggle. It is real.
So today I am doing laundry. My first load is soaking. I’m too lazy to provide the amount of agitation a laundry machine would, so I settle for letting things soak in soapy water for about 45 minutes, then scrubbing each thing on the washboard. Then rinsing everything twice or three times, which doesn’t get all the soap out, but most of it. Then wringing everything out by hand. Then hanging it upstairs on the roof while the second load soaks. If I’m lucky and it’s a warm day, some of the first load dries in time to make room for the second. Today is not a warm day.
The rest of the dirty water goes down the toilet,hopefully without socks or other small items.
The one good thing about this method is over time it basically destroys your clothes – I don’t think I have anything that doesn’t have holes in it – making it much easier to decide what not to take with me in April.
Stuff with holes is going to be used as rags in a thorough deep clean of the apartment. Stuff that is still wearable will be offered to volunteers in the area or to my host sisters. My plan is to leave T– with a week’s worth of clothes, many of which will then be retired to the trash once I arrive home.
It’s exciting stuff, getting rid of things you don’t need anymore. Also, counting down the number of times you have left doing laundry by hand before you get to a real washing machine. One down. How many to go? Not sure, but the light at the end of laundry tunnel is in sight.
America, I’m coming for your appliances.
So I have 100 days left in T- before I have to be in Rabat, 104 until I fly away from Morocco (as in on a plane, not fleeing). And since I just got back from our week-long close of service conference and there is no food in the house except for plain yogurt and a giant city-wide shopping trip has to happen to get more of everything, I’ll just have to blog about my feeling instead of eating them.
Feeling #1 – Transitions are the worst. Change is hard. If I could somehow time travel myself forward to whenever it is I will be feeling “at home” again wherever that I, I might consider it. Goodbyes are important. Closure is important. Most of my stage (training group) I won’t see again. We all leave the country at different points between March and April, some of us are staying longer. And to top it off, unless I become fabulously wealthy at some point in the near future to be able to afford travel back to Morocco, I will probably not see my chababs or my host family or Mounia again for a very long time, if ever. That’s heartbreaking and I wish I didn’t have to say goodbye to them at all.
Feeling #2 – AMERICA IS AMAZING. I get to see my family. I get to go camping. I get to eat an inadvisable amount of any kind of food that I want and I don’t even have to cook it myself. I get to hang out with my sister!!!!
Feeling #3 – America is terrifying. Get into grad school. Find a job to support self. Answer a million questions about being in Peace Corps and Morocco and wanting to represent both things well because I feel tremendously positive about both, but also wanting to give accurate answers without helping to feed any sort of negative stereotype people may have about either, and probably I should figure out how to do that in like a one sentence answer because it’s awful to talk about something that’s important to you and then realize your listener has glazed over a minute into what you’re saying. Health insurance. Moving to a new place. Making a new community for myself. Luckily that’s one skill I’m pretty dang good at now.
Feeling #4 – Yay new things are fun! New school (to be decided), new city (to be decided), new transportation (I’m not buying a car, if I can help it), new life goals (Peace Corps rounds 2-5? yes please!).
Close of service conference is one of the few things that is common to PCVs worldwide. It’s your closure, your chance as a stage to sit down together and think about what you have accomplish, what you need to do in your last few months, and what you need to do to readjust to life in America. Out of our group of 95 that originally arrived in country, 77 of us are left, and with two years of a somewhat shared experience like we have had, it’s a sad thought that we’ll never be together as a group again. There has always been another training or something coming up, but not anymore.
This past week we did everything from learn about the final medical examinations that will happen just before we leave to choosing our dates to leave the country to sharing memories about our service. We said thank you to our PC staff that has supported us. We threw a bachelorette party for one of our girls who is getting married shortly after returning to the US. We took pictures and ate good food that is only available at big city restaurants and took multiple hot showers and tried to come to terms with everything and realized we couldn’t.
But before all that leaving and saying goodbye, I have a library to set up, camps to run, kids to hang out with. Food to buy…
I know what you’re thinking: sheesh, Johanna sure isn’t as dedicated to updating her blog as she was when she first arrived in Morocco.
I will grant you that, however, look on the bright side! What was once such a new and overwhelming place to live that regular blogging and journaling were necessary to help my brain process everything is now a normal life with routines and things that can be expected and so forth. My classes began just after 3id Kbir – which was the topic of my last post – and have thankfully left me quite busy with a schedule that comes pretty close to the Peace Corps recommendation for volunteer work hours and with so many kids wanting to come to class we don’t have enough space to fit all of them.
So really, no blog updates probably means I am finding everything so routine it doesn’t bear mentioning. Huzzah! I’ve only been waiting for that to happen for a year and a half.
On that note, something truly exciting just happened!!!
My mama came to visit!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Yes, I was pretty much making that face the entire two weeks she was here.
Mom, being the good, kind, wonderful, amazing mother that she is, promptly began saving for a trip to come see me as soon as we knew where I was going, which amounted to giving me the best Christmas present ever. She stayed for the two weeks before Christmas and we had a lovely time doing a bit of traveling and doing a bunch of relaxing and sitting in the sun in T–. She got to meet my host family, as well as several other families that have become like my families here. My dar chabab youth were the cutest ever and decided to throw her a top secret surprise welcome party, complete with jumping out of a classroom en masse and shouting “Surprise!”
We ate lots of couscous, wandered through the souk, did impromptu carpet buying, and played Scrabble. For Christmas Eve dinner we made French onion soup and it was delicious.
Almost as good as being together was the chance for Mom to see what life in Morocco is really like. As much as you try to explain things, you really don’t understand it until you’re here and I think Mom came away with a very positive impression of Morocco, which makes me happy, because this place has been my home for the past two years.
Now that she has successfully arrived back home, I have a week of class before I have to head up to Rabat once more for what is called our Close of Service Conference (COS Conference), which I am dearly hoping will include information on how to leave Morocco without becoming a sobbing mess (who am I kidding, that’s a given) and how to readjust to life in America. We also find out exactly which dates we will be leaving Morocco, so that will be exciting and terrifying.
And since it’s New Year’s, maybe my resolution should be to blog once a week? Let’s try that and see how it goes.
Happy 3id to everyone!
Today and yesterday Moroccans are celebrating 3id Kbir, which celebrates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son and God’s subsequent substitution of the boy for a ram. Much of the Muslim world celebrated the holiday yesterday, but as with Ramadan, it all depends on when the moon is seen. Each Muslim family celebrates by feasting on an animal of their choice – usually a ram, but could also be a goat or camel or cow, depending on their tastes and budget. The animal is typically slaughtered at home by the head of the household with a quick slice to the neck and then butchered if he has the proper training or a hired butcher comes to make sure things are done the right way.
3id reminds me so much of Thanksgiving. You have a traditional meal based around a certain animal. Family tries to come together to celebrate. Relative strangers (or the poor Americans who live next door) are invited over to share in the meal. You share what you have with people who aren’t as well off and are grateful for what you do have.
My day started off (relatively early) with a breakfast at our house. After scarfing down some yogurt, Liz and I dressed ourselves in our limited collection of traditional clothes and ran up to the roof where we found not one, but three sheep awaiting their fates. Each belonged to one of our various neighbors, including the cutest family ever who live directly next door to us. We wished them happy 3id and offered apologies on not being able to join them for breakfast because we were expected at host family’s house in time to see their sheep.
Halfway there, we were flagged down by another of our neighbors, and we ran up to her roof quickly to see their sheep and drink a quick glass of tea and some cookies before offering apologies again and making it the rest of the way to host family. We met host dad on his way back from the mosque and after greeting him, headed up to their roof to see the rest of the family.
Last year there were three sheep to be done at host family’s house – one for them, one for our host uncle, and one for the family that lives downstairs from them. This year, we arrived just as the downstairs family was finishing theirs, and since host uncle was celebrating 3id with a different branch of the family this year, we only saw one actual slaughter.
We sat down for another breakfast, took pictures while host dad and the butcher took things apart, and spent several hours chatting with our three host sisters, punctuated with kebabs of sheep liver and lungs for lunch.
We also saw the partial preparation of the sheep’s head for a tajine tomorrow, however, our host aunt is the one who likes to eat it, so we expect it will be going to her house for consumption.
After slinking home in a food coma, we were delivered about a kilo of mutton from one of our neighbors, which is now residing in the fridge while we decide on an appropriately delicious recipe to use it in.
This morning, we were summoned to another neighbor’s house for breakfast – which included tea, meat kebabs, bread, and cookies. They make their kebabs into sandwiches with yummy chopped onions and spices, which were super good. After several games of Uno, which is my favorite game to share with Moroccans, we got up to leave and were told to stay for lunch, which was the yummiest eat and prune tajine I have ever had. Sweet and savory has never been so good. They also sent us home with a plate of meat, which went into the freezer this time.
3id this year is teaching me a new definition of the word full. For much of Morocco, meat is an expensive luxury. Meat included in meals is usually a small amount for each person, bolstered by bread and vegetables. 3id is a chance for everyone to bulk up on protein, which is why it’s eaten for several meals straight. I have felt pretty honored this year to have been invited to share the meal with multiple families. It’s a nice feeling to be a stranger and to be welcomed.
Now, time to research curry recipes and not eat anything for the rest of the day.
One of my non-youth-related jobs here in Morocco is to act as one of the wardens of my region. Although that sounds like I stand guard over jail cells, my role is to act as an additional safety feature for the volunteers here (at least I hope it’s more like that than the jail cell bit). Wardens can act as a go-between between volunteers and the safety and security staff, and thank goodness, most of the job really entails doing house checks. Every volunteer’s house needs to pass a safety inspection for them to be able to move in, and because there is usually direct transportation, I decided to head south to complete a few before going from there to our required Regional Meeting in Ouarzazate instead of making a separate trip at a later date.
The volunteers needing the house checks live in the south of my region, which means they live in the desert. In a curious twist of fate, Liz, Leah, Dani and I (who were planning to travel to Regional Meeting together) arrived to their sites in the midst of a lull in a five-day rainstorm. In the desert. First our bus wasn’t able to get through all the way to the city where we would change to a taxi. The river was full (which never happens) and the rest of the road was littered with rocks and sand. The sun was shining, however, and we were able to pay a guy to take us the rest of the way.
We successfully got into a taxi and made it over to the volunteers’ site, did the house checks and then began panicking slightly when we were told the bus line we had been planning on taking to Ouarzazate the next day wasn’t running because of the flooding. Not great.
Quickly coordinating with three other volunteers in the region, we decided to all meet the next day, buy out two taxis and make our way north to Ouarzazate together.
Four volunteers in one taxi and five in another was pretty comfortable, considering we are used to taxis fitting six passengers into the same amount of space. So, with sun shining and puddles dotting the ground, we set out through the mountains to the north.
About an hour into the trip, our drivers (God bless their parents) were carefully making their way around places in the road that were washed out. About two hours into the trip, it started to rain again. Simultaneously, we got our first flat tire. Shortly after, we came to another standstill as a flash flood covered the road. We waited for the water to go down, drove across, and promptly got another flat tire. It was relatively smooth sailing from there until we had to stop at a repair shop for an hour to have the tires hot patched.
We got to Ouarzazat somewhat later than expected that day, but we had fun and got to see some of the more uninhabited parts of our region. We tipped our drivers, thanked them profusely, and slept at our zwin regional meeting hotel.
Regional Meeting in Morocco happens usually twice a year and is a chance for volunteers to gather together and talk about work. Our first day of meeting was just for volunteers – we talked to the newest arrivals about what to expect in their first year, did some reflection activities, heard from committee representatives, that sort of thing. The second day our mudirs – our direct supervisors at the dar chababs – arrived and we had mega planning sessions with them to plot out the year. Well, everyone else did. Liz and I both without mudirs as both of ours moved on to other employment in the spring and summer. So we just did our own planning.
While at the hotel, we had a small birthday celebration for Liz, whose birthday is exactly one week after mine. Before regional meeting, we celebrated with homemade eggrolls. At regional meeting, we celebrated with watching Bridesmaids (the poop scene is pretty great after you’ve been in Peace Corps). Upon returning from Regional Meeting, we celebrated with enchilladas. Cake was had, fun was shared.
Stay tuned for next week for an update on 3id Kbir! If you don’t remember what that is, read this – https://jbpeacecorps.wordpress.com/2013/10/17/oct-17-2013-fair-warning-theres-blood/, but only if you aren’t offended by the sight of blood.
It may be Labor Day and the end of summer for you guys in America this weekend, but summer is still going strong here in Morocco. The weather in T– decided to get hot this week, which is an unpleasant turn of events, but as the rest of the summer was much more bearable temperature-wise than last summer, I won’t complain too much.
This summer, as it turns out, was nothing like last summer. Last summer, work was non-existent, the weather was hot, and I spent a lot of time in the house. This summer, as much as I was looking forward to getting wrapped up in some personal projects (like getting ahead in my 2014 reading challenge on Goodreads), I had work. Ramadan was taken up by Dar Chabab activities (not successful) and a superamazingletsdoitagain trip to Italy with my friend Leah (very successful). Most of August was spent at a Moroccan-organized day camp. September will be full of meetings and planning and doing grad school applications. And some paperwork for Peace Corps (can’t forget about the VRF – our twice-a-year required reporting).
Moral of the story – much of this summer was spent doing work that wasn’t successful, which after a pretty successful school year had me in a bit of a slump. No one in my site wants to do activities during Ramadan. One person can’t change basic/rampant flaws within an organization in a 20-day period. Even with a year and a half of speaking Darija, people still have trouble understanding me/attempt to converse entirely through mime, which is frustrating because I know they’re not trying to understand me even a fraction of the amount I am trying to be understood.
Good news is, the school year starts mid-September, which means my regular awesome Dar Chabab kids will be back and I will be in control of the activities I undertake (for the most part). Huzzah!
The high point of my summer was definitely going to Italy with Leah. It was 14 days of eating every type of cheese we could find, getting a crash course in Catholicism, and taking lots of selfies. We started with 5 days in Rome, then hit Matera, Naples (and Pompeii), Siena, Orvieto, and then a last day in Rome before our early flight back to Marrakech. Although I loved loved loved every part of the trip, I think Matera was my favorite by a slim margin, just because it was so old feeling. Like more old than Rome, which is pretty old. The pizza in Naples was so good that one night we went to two different pizza places for dinner. We met awesome family friends of Leah’s and ate gelato with abandon. Sometimes twice a day. No regrets in that department. Except maybe that I didn’t have gelato three times a day.
The strangest news is that we have the dates for our Close of Service conference. COSing is the end, you’re done. The conference comes roughly three or four months before we leave the country, and for us will be in January. My next week is going to be dedicated to filling out grad school applications. I have about twenty grand schemes for awesome things I want to do in my site and feeling more and more like I need a third year to accomplish them all. But seven and a half months is all I have left. It’s weirdly time to start thinking about returning to the US.