March 25, 2015

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.

My mudira with two of my volunteers next to Shelf #1.

My mudira with two of my volunteers next to Shelf #1.

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.

The girls adding some shelf markers.

The girls adding some shelf markers.

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.

Abderrahim leading our training.

Abderrahim leading our training.

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.

Me holding one of our spiffy pastel colored library cards.

Me holding one of our spiffy pastel colored library cards.

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?

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

Jan. 10, 2015

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.

A trip through Marrakesh requires a stop at KFC.

A trip through Marrakesh requires a stop at KFC.

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!).

Our thank you to staff.

Our thank you to staff.

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.

Nom nom nom.

Nom nom nom.

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…

Categories: Morocco, Pre-departure, Training | Tags: | 1 Comment

October 1, 2014

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.

This is how the desert usually looks - sunny. No water.

This is how the desert usually looks – sunny. No water.

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 people in the back seat of a taxi. All wearing similar glasses.

Four people in the back seat of a taxi. All wearing similar glasses.

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.

Liz's first birthday cake. We improved our efforts when we had access to an oven.

Liz’s first birthday cake. We improved our efforts when we had access to an oven.

Stay tuned for next week for an update on 3id Kbir! If you don’t remember what that is, read this –, but only if you aren’t offended by the sight of blood.

Categories: Morocco, Training | 1 Comment

October 6, 2013

Woof. September was a busy month, accented by week-long stretches of having to leave site for various work-related travel.

Sunsets and mosques.

Sunsets and mosques.

So, when you last heard from me, I’d just gotten back from a three-day training on Project Design and Management. I was home for two days and then off again for a CPR training organized by one of my fellow volunteers in the city of Ouarzazate, which is like the Hollywood of Morocco. I missed Brad Pitt by two weeks. But I did get to drive past the Game of Thrones set on my bus.

So I think this is Qarth.

So I think this is Qarth.

And also some Egypt-type stuff. Like from "The Mummy."

And also some Egypt-type stuff. Like from “The Mummy.”

Anyway, the CPR training was organized by the volunteer and her parents, who came over from the U.S. especially to teach us how to do chest compressions. I’d done CPR trainings before, but it was good to have a refresher course and now I can teach people in my community – not certifying them though, just teaching the basics. I walked around Ouarzazate (which volunteers here call Oz) a bit each day and enjoyed seeing volunteers I hadn’t seen in a while. A lot of people were also in town for a longer training on two of the Amazeight/native languages of Morocco, so there were a lot of people in that hotel.

The road home.

The road home.

Work, like actual work involving youth, also began after my return from Oz. The ACCESS Program, which I was working with last spring, started classes again, and it has been lovely to see the kids there again.

In addition, I’ve become the middle man in the transfer of some books from the Peace Corps library to the municipal library of A-I-, a town just to the east of T–. They are a fairly recent addition to the town – only open about a year and a half – and were looking to expand their collection of books. After Skyping with the most recent volunteer there and meeting with the library director, I put in a request to Peace Corps and am now in possession of five large boxes of books and one box of VHS tapes that need transportation to the library. I’m still working out that part of the operation.

After a little more than a week at home trying to get myself organized, my fellow volunteers and I made our way to Marrakech for our regional meeting. Marrakech isn’t actually in our region, but whatever. We arrived and the next day had our meeting, which our Dar Chabab mudirs (directors) were also invited to. It was a chance to sit down at the beginning of the year and do some planning – when to do classes, when to do special events, when will we have to be out of site. We were also treated to a look at the list of possible sites for volunteers from the upcoming stage, and although work still needs to be done to develop the sites (find host families and scope out the Dar Chababs), it will be exciting to have new people in the area.

My birthday also happened to fall on the date of our regional meeting, so we had the chance to go out for some birthday eve ice cream, and birthday dinner, and birthday chocolate tart. What can I say? It was amazing!

Birthday dinner!!!!!

Birthday dinner!!!!!

Then another week at home, during which we celebrated Liz’s birthday!

Two birthdays, two cakes.

Two birthdays, two cakes.

Then another week at home, followed by a trip back to Marrakech for another training, this time on how to teach the International Youth Foundation’s Passport to Success life skills program. This curriculum is intended to help youth develop skills in decision making, self esteem, and communication, much of which isn’t taught in schools like it is in the United States. The training was mainly intended for our Moroccan counterparts, who will be actually teaching the curriculum in Darija. Because the idea of me getting up and trying to communicate in anything beyond basic conversation is a bit laughable at this point still. Anyway, Mounia, my counterpart, rocked it and I can’t wait to start working with her.

Our hotel also had a pool, and I took major advantage of swimming every day.

So now it’s October. Three months until we hit the one year in country mark. One year until a new stage arrives. Two weeks until my Dar Chabab classes begin. Two weeks until IYF classes start. There’s so much to do before then. So excited.

Categories: In site, Morocco, Training | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Sept. 1, 2013

Home again, home again, jiggity jog.

I’m in the middle of a brief 48-hour layover in my apartment in between a mini-camp session, an awesome training in Rabat and then busing of for another training in the east. It’s been a crazy 10 days or so, and I’m feeling really excited about work starting up again this month. It’s nice to be busy, really really nice.

Anyway, a week or so ago, just after getting back from the big summer camp, my friend Leah (here’s her blog: and I traveled slightly south from Agadir down the coast to arrive in M–, where another two volunteers live and work. One of them, Eva, had organized a mini-camp at her Dar Chabab: two hours a day of activities focusing on English and nutrition.

Me, the kids, and our art project - a paper quilt.

Me, the kids, and our art project – a paper quilt.

Leah and I arrived on time to observe the Thursday session, then came back Friday and Saturday with activities of our own, including measuring out the total amount of sugar found in a typical diet here. It’s a lot. We talked about food-related vocabulary, did an art project, hung out with some amazing girls. It was pretty fun.

Eva’s site is unique because her town is situated on a river. With actual water in it. And that’s weird, because we have a river in T—, but I haven’t seen water in it. There’s a road running down the middle of ours. Anyway, M– has water, and that means it’s very very green all of a sudden.

Just a guy pulling himself across the river.

Just a guy pulling himself across the river.

Three Moroccan ladies out for an evening walk by the river.

Three Moroccan ladies out for an evening walk by the river.

The river is actually part of a big wildlife/bird preserve and national park, and one of my ulterior motives for going to help out at the camp was the find out how to get to the park and then entice my bird-watching relatives to come visit. Because why visit your favorite niece/cousin if you can’t see a bald ibis as part of the deal?



The last day of the camp, we set out on a nice walk by the river, but ended up making it all the way through the park to the ocean, which ended up being a three-and-a-half hour hike. Unprepared as we were (no one thought to grab money for our “quick” walk), Eva talked a taxi driver at one of the coastal towns to drive us back to her site with the promises of payment upon our safe arrival.

After recuperating slightly, we all piled into a taxi and headed to Agadir for the night to celebrate a fellow volunteer’s birthday.

Which language would you like to karaoke in?'

Which language would you like to karaoke in?’

Then Liz, Kirsten, and I went to Leah’s for a night of homemade Pad Thai, shooting star sightings, and grad school application discussions before I caught a taxi on the side of the road the next morning to take me back to Agadir where I caught a bus/train up to Rabat for the Project Design and Management training.

My counterpart, Karim (second from left) with our awesome Peace Corps training staff. Love the staff. Love them a lot.

My counterpart, Karim (second from left) with our awesome Peace Corps training staff. Love the staff. Love them a lot.

Counterparts being awesome.

Counterparts being awesome.

Our project planning timeline.

Our project planning timeline.

PDM is three full days of awesome training, and if you’re a PCV who has the chance to do this training, I would highly recommend it. You bring a counterpart (a Moroccan volunteer who is interested in working with you) and a project idea. The training has you take that idea through the entire project design process, like a recipe for organizing yourself. Basically I just want to spend my life talking about visions, goals, objectives, and indicators for success. Lots of ideas, lots to do, lots of lists to make.


Categories: Camp, Morocco, Training | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

June 18, 2013

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.

Elizabeth, Monika and I, out for lunch!

Elizabeth, Monika and I, out for lunch!

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.

The Jma3 l-Fna!

The Jma3 l-Fna!

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!

Categories: Morocco, Training | Leave a comment

March 27, 2013

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



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–!

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.




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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