Tuesday, October 25, 2011

My Mid Service... What Am I Doing Here?

Hey hey, once again it's been a while since my last blog update... looks like I'm not the greatest at blogging. My idea of keeping a journal during Peace Corps has also failed (after the first week or so of being here). Furthermore, I seem to forget to bring my camera to a lot of important events/trips that have happened since I got here (however I asked for a new camera for x-mas with the rational that a newer camera that takes better pictures will encourage me to take more). Oops! I guess it'll be up to my gift of gab to fill people in on the exciting events that happened during my 27 months here. Hopefully, I don't get dementia or something so that 50 years from now even my grand kids/nursing home companions will be able to hear about my adventures in full detail.

So... to fill you in on whats been going on since my last post:

I only ended up fasting for 5 days during Ramadan... I know, epic failure, but it was hot and at least I tried. In Morocco, they start younger kids off fasting by doing only a couple of days at first and then increasing the amount each year. So I've accepted the fact that I did Ramadan like a 14 year old girl, maybe next year I'll up my number of days, or maybe I'll vacation to the South of France so I can gorge on brie and skip the "holiday" all together.

In September several exciting events took place.
1) I helped out with my practically-site-mate Maureen's journalism workshop. She wrote a grant and had the US Embassy and USAID contribute to a workshop to teach local kids about journalism. It was a huge success and a nice productive way to start of the new work year.
2) I worked at the Peace Corps health tent (blood pressure taking and educating) at the Imilchil Wedding Festival in the High Atlas Mountains. Historically the event was a large souk (market) where the local Berber tribes would bring their young to look for spouses. Today the tradition of the bride/groom hunt is somewhat outdated, and the event is mainly a tourist attraction. Which is weird because there were barely any tourists there. I did not find a husband at this event, but I wasn't looking for one, so it's not a huge loss. The area that the festival was in was stunning (unfortunately I forgot my camera, so I'll have to go back) and it was the first place I have been where most people I interacted with didn't speak Arabic (Darija) because they only spoke Berber because of how remote and up in the mountains it is. This was prob one of my favorite experiences thus far during my service.
3) To celebrate our one year in country anniversary and my dear friend Rachel's 26th birthday, a group of us went to Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany. OH MY GOD! What an amazing experience, obviously made better by the fact that I had been living in Africa for a year. The trip was filled with good beer, amazing Bavarian food, and cute European boys who, refreshingly, were interested in casual conversation, appose to asking if I was married and then immediately asking for my phone number (the Moroccan method) and who also didn't believe that I lived in Africa and was serving in the Peace Corps. We also took a trip to see Neuschwanstein castle, Salzburg, Austria and barely made our flight back (after driving 120 mph on the Autobhan!). However, I don't think any of us would have been too upset about staying in Germany for a few extra days if we had missed our flight.

Over the last month:
I've been dealing with post-Europe vacation blues and my, for lack of a better term, mid service "crisis". This has involved a general sense of homesickness, reflection on the first year of service (it went by so fast! but what did I really do? wait I only did that much work...? what??), thinking about the second year of service (oh my god another year of this? wait but now my language is better and I know my community and have a better idea of feasible work options... crunch time! better get moving!).
So, over the last month I've been trying to get my schedule for this year figured out and start sewing the seeds for any projects I want to try and accomplish during my last year. However, one of my best friends from high school is visiting me in about two weeks and I'm going to America (!!!) for Christmas/New Years, so my excitement for that has made it hard to focus on the present.

My schedule of activities for the fall/year looks something like this:
Tuesday: Girls Club at the Neddi Neswi (Woman's center) which involves self-confidence building/educational games, art lessons/activities, health lessons, discussions etc.
Wednesday: An exercise/yoga class at the other Neddi Neswi in my site in the morning, and activity night at the Dar Taliba (girls boarding house) which involves games, arts and crafts, English lessons, films etc.
Thursday: free day! (for now)
Friday: Helping out with blood pressure taking and baby weighing at the maternal clinic, English class at the Neddi, and book club at the Dar Taliba at night.
Saturday: English club at the local high school.
I'm also working on getting some small and one large project started, such as continuing the mural project at the Neddi, doing a breast cancer awareness project in site, and writing a grant for a English Resource Center/Library at the local high school.

So I've been really busy trying to get all of this stuff worked out, lesson planning, making several trips to ministries to get work permission slips, etc.

In my spare time I've been watching way too much TV on my computer (Band of Brothers, Boardwalk Empire, Lost etc.), trying to watch a long list of must see movies that I have on my external hard drive (Escape from New York, all of the Godfathers, Buch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Vertigo etc.) and tackling the big pile of books that I have borrowed from the Peace Corps Library (The Dharma Bums, Anna Karenina, Reading Lolita in Tehran, People's History of the United Sates, Tribe and Society in Rural Morocco etc.)

In preparation for my life after Peace Corps, I've been looking at grad schools and making a solid effort to start studying for the GREs.

Also, when I have enough money, I've been working on perfecting my cooking skills. I made bread and apple pie this week.

While I sit around and dream of things in America, like Chipotle, I've found that cooking and reading are my best coping skills for dealing with tough days in Morocco.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Ramadan: Trials of Hunger and Thirst

So as promised to myself I decided to fast for Ramadan this year. The holiday started 3 days ago, at midnight on Monday. The fast involves not eating during daylight hours, so all eating must take place before sunrise (4:30 AM) and then no eating or drinking until sunset (7:30 PM) 15 hours total.

The first day was the hardest, and the days have very gradually been getting better. I decided to spend my first day with my host family. I pretty much just laid around my host aunt's apartment all day and tried to read to keep my mind off of how thirsty I was. Once the time hit 4 o'clock I felt like I was dying, all I could think of was water. This is one of the reasons that I decided to spend the day with Moroccans, so I'd be less tempted to cave in and just drink water. My host mom and cousin kept on telling me that the first day is always really hard. By the last hour and a half people had generally stopped talking and were just sitting around waiting for the call to prayer at 7:30 that signals its time to break fast. Sometime during the last hour my host mom went outside and came back saying that people outside were crabby because of how tired and thirsty you get by the end of the day. When we finally broke fast, since I am not accustomed to fasting, I quickly stuffed my face with food and water and within two minutes I had the worst stomach splitting cramps from eating to fast. Everyone told me to slow down and that you have to ease you way into eating again. So I kept slowly eating and drinking for the next hour until I couldn't eat anymore.

Breaking fast in Morocco traditionally involves dates (the first thing you put in your mouth), water, harira (soup which can be "red harira" tomato based with lentils, chickpeas, barley, cilantro, and egg or "white harira" which is a milk based broth with barley and spices, usually cumin), and shabakia which is a type of oily, honey soaked cookie that has sesame seeds on it. Other things that I've had for the leftour (breakfast) meal have been hard boiled eggs, bughrir and millwie (both a type of pancake thing), leben (a kind of yogurt/buttermilk), fresh fruit juice (one night I had cucumber and orange, and tonight i had carrot, orange and banana), fruit like watermelon, grapes or fresh figs, and sugary popcorn. The meal is usually finished with coffee and tea.

This meal is prepared by all the women on the household for several hours before the call to prayer. Each day that I've broken fast I've hung out with the women in the kitchen while they are finishing up the food prep, and even after hours of not eating and being around so much food that you cant eat yet, the hunger hasn't been a problem, the thirst has been the hardest part.

After "leftor", the breaking fast meal, typically Moroccans stay up and eat a heavy dinner meal, like a tajine, and then either take a nap or stay up until 4am to have the last meal, another breakfast, before the sun comes up. I've been skipping invites to dinner because I'm so full from breaking fast and I've been cooking my own breakfasts of eggs and a sort of fruit and yogurt parfait. And of course chugging as much water as I can fit in my system before I go to sleep.

So far I've broken fast with three different families in my community, my host family, my friend Esma's family and the family of two girls that I am bringing to summer camp with me. Each experience has been somewhat different in terms of the food that we break fast with (minus the mandatory dates, harira and cookies). But all have been the same in nature, I arrive an hour or two before its time to break fast, (the second two days of fasting I've pretty much just laid around my apartment watching movies trying to ward of feelings of hunger and thirst until around 5:30 when I go to the house where I will be having leftor). I hang out while the food is prepared, then help bring the food to the eating area, and then we all sit around staring at a table of food waiting until we hear Allahu Akbar from the mosque, say Bismila and dig in.

Each day fasting is somewhat easier. The hunger and thirst pains aren't as intense and the after break fast food comatose isn't as painful. However, I and all Moroccans agree that Ramadan is "werera" extremely difficult. Tomorrow I leave to go work at a summer camp in El Jadida. I plan to continue fasting but we shall see how it goes.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Summer in the Sahara

So it's summer in the Sahara and it's HOT!!! It's a pretty consistent 100 degrees F in my site every day, some days it pushes 105.

All of my places of work have closed for the summer, and a lot of the people in my site have left to go spend the "vacation" with their families, or traveling to other cooler and usually ocean side cities. People here often asked me if I was going home for the summer, home to America that is, and when I said no they usually responded with why are you staying here its so hot! Daily conversations with locals consist of hello, how are you? and then a back and forth on how hot the day was.

During the day it's nearly a death sentence to go outside during the hours of 12-7 because the sun is so hot. A five minute walk will result in your body dripping sweat and a feeling of such substantial thirst that you feel like you haven't drank and water in days. Plus most things are shut down between those hours so there is really is no point in going out anyways. So recently I've been spending a lot of time napping, cleaning my apt, watching tv shows on my computer and other general things to try and pass the days.

I've also been traveling out of site a lot to not only get out of the heat but also to feel useful helping out with projects that other PCVs in different sectors are doing. In the last month I've traveled to the city of amazing city of Essaouira twice. The beautiful city is located on the Atlantic coast, is about 30 degrees cooler than the rest of Morocco, harassment is low and it has rare treats like Thai and Italian food and restaurants that serve real coffee (imported from Europe).

That's about all that's been going on for the last 2 months. Ramadan starts in about a week and I plan to fast, I am both excited to experience the holiday and scared shitless about how difficult fasting will be. No water all day.... during summer in the desert... AHHHH! Apparently you are just suppose to sleep all day... exciting! Other older PCVs who fasted last year said that the first 3 days are the hardest and then your body adjusts. However, this year the first day of Ramadan is suppose to be the longest day of Ramadan in 26 years. I'll report back to let you all know how it goes. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The insh'allah and mashi insh'allah of working in Morocco

Today marked the success of my first completely organically created project during my Peace Corps service. Here's the very long process of how it happened.

So, about 2 months ago before my parents came, I suggested to the Moudira of my Neddi Neswi that we do a "decor" (decoration) project which would involve painting murals on the walls of the classrooms. She said "inshallah" after the construction work (that had been going on for weeks) had been completed in the Neddi.
I came back, two weeks later, and probed the idea again she said, okay, yes, insh'allah after the work was done and then showed me paint and brushes that I could use in her office. Supplies! A step in the right direction.
Then I successfully convinced the girls that we should have a "girls club", first session of which was a nutrition class that was held about two weeks ago. Then last week after I came back from my IST (In Service Training) with Peace Corps, I mentioned to the girls that maybe we could do the painting for the next session of girls club. They were mildly responsive and I insisted that if they didn't want to do it we could do something else, but then they said that they did really want to do it. So I said okay on Thursday (of last week) we'll start and in the mean time they should find a few girls that can draw well to do the outline for us.
I came on Thursday and asked if we were going to do the painting and one of the sewing teachers said the girls really want to but Bouchera (the girl that draws well) wasn't there. They said insh'allah she'll come tomorrow or maybe Monday. With only a week left of the Neddi being open until summer vacation (during which the Neddi is closed until mid-way through September), I felt kind of hopeless and thought that it probably just wasn't going to happen (especially since Bouchera isn't a regular attendee of the Neddi).
So on Friday I come about an hour later than normal to the Neddi just to check and see if anything had happened... and as soon as I walked in to the classroom all the girls asked me why I was late and pointed to the wall to show me two giant outlines of flower designs that had been drawn there. (I was almost at tears at this point, actual initiative being taken by the teacher and the girls when I hadn't been there it was great).
So today I went and got them the paint from the Moudira and helped them prep the colors by showing them how to mix paint and held a short lesson on how to mix the primary colors to make other colors such as green, purple and orange. Then about 10 different girls participated in painting the mural at various stages and the sewing teacher helped them with painting techniques.
While this was happening they started talking about how they want to do a larger one on the adjacent wall and in the other class rooms. THEN the preschool teachers came in and asked if I would help them in the fall to do paintings in their class rooms.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The last... errr 6 months?

So... I took a temporary leave from the blogging activity. However, recently I decided to get back into it after realizing a blog would give me material for the book that I plan to write about my Peace Corps experience if all else fails later in life. So, now I'm back, and am insh'allah here to stay.

Life in Peace Corps Morocco has been well... very Peace Corps-y and very Moroccan. The terms that are often used to coin our experiences here are "if it was easy it wouldn't be Peace Corps" and "if it made sense it wouldn't be Morocco." Those two sentences pretty much sum up my life for the past 6 months.

While still going through the "adjustment phase" (I think the chart that PC gave us when we first got to country says that ends at about the one year mark?). I've spent about half of my time here super motivated, trying to integrate and trying to get work done in site and the other half adventuring across Morocco and relishing in time spent with other PCVs who seem to be the only people who can properly empathize about our shared experience.

Work wise... things have been interesting. So, my Dar Chabab closed, which was suppose to be my focal point of work as a Youth Development volunteer. The question of whether or not there was enough work for me here and if I needed to change sites was on the table. This was a bit frightening since I had spent the last 4 months in site getting comfortable, integrating, and adjusting (harassment had been going down and names and faces were becoming familiar). The thought of having to do that again was daunting. However, the Dar Chabab closing was pretty much a blessing in disguise because it forced me to put more effort into finding work elsewhere. I ended up finding work at my Neddi Neswi (woman's center) and Dar Taliba (kind of like a boarding school for girls from more rural sites). Even though I am still doing a bit of English teaching/tutoring at both of these locations I am also doing work that I find a lot more enjoyable like a girls club at the Neddi in which I've done nutrition lessons, art projects and will be doing a "spa" day. However, it's about to be summer in the Sahara, which means EXTREMELY hot and everything shuts down here, so I'll be out of work until September, which is okay because I plan on traveling.

I've also been able to explore a lot of Morocco in the past few months, including visiting other PCV sites, doing work related things in other major cities across the country and just being a tourist and enjoying leisurely travel to many of Morocco's popular tourist destinations. Also, my parents came to visit so I was able to show them a bit of my life here.

It's only June and already 100 degrees in site, so if I don't write again for a while just assume that I've melted.

Thursday, January 27, 2011


So basically I have been running around Morocco for the last two months trying to get my life here in order. This most recent phase is what the Peace Corps calls "adjustment," which has been officially dubbed by volunteers everywhere as the most difficult phase of service, and I wholeheartedly agree. It has been and will continue to be really difficult.

My own particular situation has a number of difficulties. Even though there are actually other Europeans who actually live in my town, I still stand out like a sore thumb. People aren't used to seeing me yet, and where ever I go people stare at me. Often I leave my house and check one, two or three times that I am actually wearing pants, or a shirt, because I feel like I must have something horribly wrong with my appearance by the way people are looking at me. My biggest problem so far has probably been harassment. My site, and especially neighboring Ouarzazate gets a fair amount of tourists who pass through on their way to go down south for camel treks, so everyday I encounter at least one person who I have to convince that I am in fact "mashi touriste" (not a tourist) and yes, "kan arf l'arabia" (I know Arabic). When go back to my site I still often get asked what hotel I am going to, or when I am trying to get to friend's sites to go visit for the weekend I have to deal with the taxi drivers who jest at me by saying that the village I am going to is "mashi bahel Marrakech" (not the same as Marrakech) because they wonder why the hell I'd be going there. Also, since my site isn't small I've been getting a lot of attention from men, that isn't really culturally appropriate in Morocco, and is pretty much absent from smaller sites. I can't walk down my main street without a number of men ranging from age 14-50 trying to talk to me in English, French, Spanish and Italian. I've also gotten a few invitations from drunken men to go "see their apartments" which is basically an invitation for sex and is one hundred percent "shuma" (shameful) in Moroccan culture. However, since my site is big, and not everyone knows about the actions of others all the time, like in small sites, men in my community can get away with it. What's particularly frustrating is when this happens in the middle of times when I am trying to form relationships with members of my community like store owners and vegetable vendors and I end up just getting angry and embarrassed about the situation.

The other most frustrating thing has probably been the language. I’ve been dealing with a number of problems with my apartment that have been next to impossible for me to express in or understand the response to in Arabic. So normal things like officially registering my electricity meter in my name with the city electricity office or getting my leaky pipes fixed are a several hour-long activity in which a lot is lost in communication and I usually leave more than slightly confused about what exactly is going on or what I am suppose to be doing. For example, the night before I needed to leave for Rabat (where I am currently) I discovered that the pipe going into my water heater was leaking and since I was going away for the better half of this week I knew I needed to get it fixed before I left. But alas, I had no idea how to say leek, and I knew that all I really needed was a wrench to tighten a bolt where the water was leaking but I didn’t know how to say that either. I tried looking both up in the giant Georgetown dictionary that Peace Corps gave us, but neither words were in it. So I sat around for about an hour trying to figure out a way to tell someone about my problem, it was also at night so I knew that the chances of me finding someone to fix things was pretty slim. So I ended up going to my local tool shop with a picture of a wrench that I drew and told the guy that there was a “muskil” (problem) with my water heater and then used hand gestures to communicate that there was water dripping. He ended up coming back to my apartment and fixing it for me without a problem, so it ended well. But things like these seem to happen on a daily basis; you think you’ve finally got some things figured out but then something comes up out of no where and you’re like wtf how am I ever going to be able to communicate this and you walk into the situation knowing that you will most definitely embarrass yourself and you probably wont understand a lot of what’s going on. Welcome to the next two years of my life.

Language is often complicated by the fact that in addition to Arabic most rural or small town Moroccans speak one of the many Berber dialects, a regional variant on Tamazight or Tashleheit. So people are always like “nte kat arf l’arabia… u wesh kat arf Shilha?” (you know Arabic but do you know Shilha/Berber) and unfortunately have to respond with no I do not, and say I’ll learn later, after I master Arabic. This is even further complicated by the fact that a lot of my new PCV friends (Heath and Small Business Development volunteers in my area) do speak Shilha, so often Moroccans ask me why don’t you speak it, your friend does? Its also hard because were living in the same country but speak different languages, so we’ll be at a post office or restaurant and I will be speaking Darija and they will be speaking Shilha and whoever were speaking to will respond in a mix of both and we (the PCV’s) don’t understand what each other are saying.

On the positive note, work is going well, and unlike some of my other fellow volunteers I actually have work to do right away. There is a strong demand for English tutoring/teaching in my site and I have the solid structure of the Dar Chabab to work in so it’s really easy to start working on that right away. Volunteers in my sector are lucky because we do have work right away to keep us busy when most of the other sectors, especially those who get put in Berber communities where people cant speak Arabic let alone English, usually have to wait 6 months to a year before they can start working. So, I’ve been doing a lot of English tutoring with the Baccalaureate high school students, I’ve been helping out at the maternal clinic in my site, and I’ve been easing my way into the women’s association and a literacy group that meets at my Dar Chabab. I really don’t want to spend my whole time here teaching English but until my language is better it’s the easiest thing to start doing right away.

Another good thing is that no matter who I talk to, from my Peace Corps best friends to other people in my stage, even the guy who did best on our initial language exams, everyone is having a difficult time. You ask people how things are going and the first words that come up are difficult, challenging and frustrating. All of our experiences have been really different but they all involve their own problems. In comparison to my situation I have friends who are girls in small sites and don’t get any harassment at all but they also don’t have work because the moudir of their Dar Chabab is missing. In contrast to my somewhat lack of community in my big site, other’s have too much community in their sites and everyone constantly knows what they are doing and the volunteers are having to work on their diplomacy by rotating houses at which they eat dinner at so they don’t offend anyone in the community by leaving them out. I can leave site for a weekend or week and maybe my host family or work counterparts will know but not the entire community.  Others have to deal with defining their role as volunteer money wise. I have a few friends who are constantly telling me about problems they are dealing with that involve members of their community, their host families or their work counterparts constantly asking them for money, or asking Peace Corps for more money. Again and again we have to tell people that we are volunteers and that our jobs are not to just give people in our sites money or pay for supplies or projects. Others, including myself are also dealing with the challenge of replacing a volunteer, trying to communicate that the work we want to do may be different from the past volunteer, or in some of my friends cases that we are here to do work and help facilitate projects not to just sit around for two years, which unfortunately it seems like a lot of volunteers ended up doing.

This has also been the period for community assessment, which is a time of observation and analysis about our community and the needs and wants of the people we will be living and working with. I am suppose to have a long and detailed report of everything from my site’s history, to gender issues, to the major health problems, education statistic etc. I haven’t really started my report and have only been doing basic observation of my community. I plan on diving into this assignment when I get back and finding specific community members that I can talk to about these topics when I get back. This is also going to require long tutoring session in which I can get all of my questions translated into Arabic. Much like final papers I had to write in college, I am kind of avoiding getting started and also dreading the task but alas it will help me figure out a lot more about my community and help me build the much needed “relationships” that I need to successfully do work in my community.

Peace Corps says, and I admit this is extremely corny; that it is the toughest job you’ll ever love. I don’t know if I love it yet but it’s definitely the toughest job I’ve ever had. However, even though it’s only been a short 4 months out of the long 27 month stint that I am suppose to be doing this for, I am definitely in no way ready to end this experience. The main reason why this question is even on the table for contemplation right now is that for the last week or so Morocco has been hosting about 100 PCV’s that were just evacuated from Niger because of the recent kidnappings. Some had been there for a year, some for six months and some had only been in their final sites for a week or so. A lot of them are going home, for good, some are going to try and reenroll for a later date and some are opting for immediate transfers, a lot are going to Cameroon or Rwanda (I’m super jealous, every day I still whish I had gotten placed in Sub Saharan Africa). So based on the situation of these other volunteers some friends and I have asked ourselves, if there was some conflict in Morocco and we all got evacuated tomorrow what would we do? Despite all of the challenges of Peace Corps I am definitely not ready to go back yet, I have yet to accomplish a lot of the personal goals I set out to achieve by leaving, plus I’ve already invested too much time and effort in the whole challenge that is being a Peace Corps volunteer.

All of this contemplation on challenges was further analyzed over the past day or so that I’ve been in Rabat. During my time here I paid a visit to the Peace Corps Morocco headquarters and got to talk to not only my Moroccan staff but also a lot of the American staff, a lot of who served as Peace Corps volunteers (Zaire (DRC) and Togo) and have worked in various Peace Corps countries (Botswana, Malawi etc). Even though they may have served 20 or 30 years ago, they expressed that they had had the same feelings of frustration and the same challenges, and also were able to offer a perspective of the different challenges that arise from different regions and cultures across Africa. The adjustment phase is incredibly universal and I don’t think its easy for everyone, but even though it feels like I arrived yesterday and still know nothing about what I have gotten myself into, I’ve been here for 4 months already, and by March I’ll have been here half a year, so In’shallah it’ll just keep getting easier as time progresses.

Btw my mini vacation to Rabat via Marrakech has been great. I’m going through somewhat of a culture shock within Morocco. So many girls are unveiled here, there is highlighted hair, makeup, skinny jeans and heals. Also, a fair amount of public display of affection, adds for iphones and a lot of people speak English. This is not the Morocco I’m use to, its crazy how much the cities contrast to the smaller towns, and especially the countryside. When other PCV’s come to my site they call it “being in civilization”, but even my site feels like a completely different world compared to the big cities. All of a sudden I feel self-conscious about the fact that I haven’t showered in a few days and I’m wearing countryside appropriate clothes and not the latest fashions from Europe. But its not just me who is suddenly out of place, the older Moroccan women who are veiled and wearing jallabs on the train or walking around Rabat with their modern looking children look just as out of place, its like they are holding on to their traditions from the countryside that don’t really have any place in the modern cosmopolitans like Rabat. Its nuts, because being that I am a PCV working in the “bled” (countryside) its exactly that old time traditional that I’ve been trying to adapt to. Its like you spend so much effort trying to fit in at your site and then as soon as you go into a city you stand out again, but not for being a foreigner, but for looking somewhat like a country bumpkin

Everyday I feel like I am “wllf” (accustomed) to something and then all of a sudden there’s something entirely new to wllf to that I never could have imagined even existed.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

And so my life begins

So I’ve been in Morocco for three months now. Some things have become familiar, some Darija has become second nature and my cultural integration is progressing. However, everyday there are new unfamiliarity’s and new challenges. Nothing has quite yet become routine and I have learned that I can’t expect anything out of one particular day. My days are filled with highs and lows successes and challenges. Within five minutes I can go from feeling confident and assured about what I am doing here to feeling completely defeated and lost and wondering how I am gong to survive the next two years (23 months). Everything continues to be a whirlwind as I get accustomed to my new site and I am exhausted all the time.

Since I have arrived I have been immensely busy, hence the reason I haven’t posted in a while. In the last three weeks I’ve had to do a ton of stuff such as:

1) Get my Carte de Sejour (legal residency in Morocco) which over the course of a couple days required, 30 photocopies, 12 pictures, 30Dhs worth of notarization and an hour-long visit with the Chief of Police while he filled out my form. After receiving my receipt I became an official legal resident of the Kingdom of Morocco and cant be deported for staying past the 3-month visa that I was issued upon entering the country.

2) Visiting my local officials. When I first got here, I was avoiding doing this until on about my third or fourth day a man showed up at my host family’s house demanding a photocopy of my passport and my Carte de Sejour saying that he was from the government office. So I decided I needed to get on that asap. The next day I visited my Belidia (gov office) to go introduce myself to the government people. It took me about 10 minutes to communicate that I was not there to get something notarized and instead that I was the new Peace Corps volunteer working at the Dar Chabab. After this was finally understood I was told that they at the office were happy to meet me but that I was in the wrong place and needed to go to the Quaied’s (kind of like the city Mayor) office, which was 2 km outside of town. Luckily, they told me to return the next morning so that someone could drive me there and introduce me to the Quaied. The next day everything was taken care of, I successfully introduced myself to everyone considered important and they had the copies of all the various documentation forms that they needed. Thank god there have already been Peace Corps volunteers in my site otherwise I would have had to explain to them what I was doing there and what the Peace Corps was. Also, my knowledge of the French language helped a lot with this whole process.

3) Find Work. The three major places that I have decided to split my work between for now are the Dar Chabab, Netti Newsi and a women’s health clinic that’s in my site. I hope to expand later to maybe include some environment or agricultural activities. Beginning work at the Dar Chabab and the Netti has basically involved me going to these places and introducing myself in broken Darija to the Moudirs of the establishments and them telling me what they do and asking me when I would like to start teaching English. So far I have only been tutoring a fairly decent sized group of seniors in high school and helping them prepare for their Baccalaureate test. This has proved to be extremely challenging since my formal knowledge of English grammar is pretty nonexistent and thus it is hard to explain things like the passive vice and future progressive. This group has been meeting twice a week since my first week in site and with every meeting there are more and more students who show up from different levels of English asking when my other classes will start. Next week is my Moudir is going to formally introduce me as the new volunteer and I plan on making an official schedule which includes beginning, intermediate, and advanced English as well as Bac. I really don’t want to just be teaching English for the next two years but it’s in high demand, so I plan to start with that first, then do other stuff like health and environment sessions and maybe an art club. As far as the Netti, I’ve basically been too intimidated to go back to since I first went because my Darija isn’t very good yet, and most of the women there speak Shilha (Berber) anyway. But thanks to my grandma I now have knitting needles and yarn so I have something to bond when the women about and I plan to go back soon. And lastly the woman’s clinic… the former PCV here told me about the clinic, and one morning I asked my mom to help me go find it, after about a 30 minute walk and asking a dozen people we finally found it. The clinic has been around for about 50 years, is run by mostly women from the UK and serves the local women of Tejda village, which is part of my site. The clinic does pre-natal care on Wednesdays and post-natal care on Fridays. I have decided to go on Fridays and help out wit baby weighing. Last Friday was my first day and in addition to weighing about 20 adorable newborns, I also learned how to treat a severe burn and that hanush, a darja word I already knew meant snakes, also means worms (the kind you can get in your stomach…)

4) Find an apartment… Finding an apartment in my site has been the most wild goose chase my short life has ever been on. Even though I am replacing a volunteer, I still need to find an apartment because she was paying 300Dh more a month then was given for rent by the Peace Corps. Thus, I need to find something cheaper. The hunt has basically included me walking around with various members of my community like my host mom, my new friends a British woman and her Moroccan husband who own a hotel in my site, a random girl who I started talking to one day in the library who is now probably my best friend in site and has basically made it her duty to help me find an apt, and going up to random people and shop owners and asking them if they know of any apartments for rent. Then being directed to go to another place, find another person, ask them about the apartment, find the key to the apartment, find the owner and get a tour of the apartment, many of these steps have included coming back at a different time or on a different day. I have looked at about 10 apts, or semi apartments so far which include two hotel rooms that were trying to be passed off as apartments which were priced at 3,000Dh a month (I was given 700 for rent), a mud house, and a woman’s first floor living room and bathroom which she tried to convince me was an apartment. Most of the apartments have been too expensive and the ones that meet my price range have been run down and dirty and thus would require a lot of time and money to fix up to a point where I would feel comfortable living in. HOWEVER, I have fond one jem, a beautiful modern second floor apt, that is decked out with tiled walls, a kitchen with built-in cabinet space and counters, molded ceilings, a private roof, separate toilet and shower, salon and bed room. The building is also very conveniently located near the Dar Chabab, library, market, hammam and taxi stand. I want it! The girl who was two volunteers before me use to live in the building so the landlord likes/trusts Americans and knows the Peace Corps, thus the rent has not be subjected to price gouging, even though it’s the nicest place that I’ve looked as so far. Trouble is that he landlord lives in Marrakech and it took me about a week to track down someone who had his phone number and could call to inquire about the place. The key for the apartment was supposed to arrive last Monday but didn’t and now is supposed to be coming next Monday, insh’allah it does and I can stake my claim on the apartment.

5) Throughout all of this I have been becoming familiarized with my site, which encompasses about three major douars (village/town/neighborhood) and is a couple miles long from one end to another. My numerous missions to find things, people and places has given my quite the tour of my site and little by little people are familiarizing themselves with my presence in site while I am familiarizing myself with everything.

6) Last step has been staying sane, dealing with culture shock and coping with missing my Peace Corps friends. The move to final site has by far been the biggest culture shock I’ve been trough. I finally had to start doing things on my own and was left schedule free with a few memories and phone numbers from site visit that were suppose to help inform me about what was what. The first week was really hard, I didn’t want to leave my host families house because I felt like I had lost my ability to speak Darija and I didn’t know where anything was or know anyone. But each week things continue to become tremendously easier. Each day I feel like there are small and sometime large gains. When I go outside I see people I recognize, the taxi drivers have stopped asking me which hotel I am going to, I remember where things are and have favorite places. I am taking care of things that I need to be done; I am getting thrown into work, hopefully will have an apartment and am making friends. The calls to (and from) other PCV’s expressing anxiety and desperation are growing fewer and far between.

All in all I am being rapidly acclimated whether I like it or not and am falling in love with my new home.