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A year has passed since I returned to the US. This time has been very challenging. Adjusting after living in a completely different culture has been very difficult. I came to the realization that I would never be able to completely readjust to former life in America. I’ve realized that the past is just that, the past. I’m a different person than I was in 2008 when I began my journey as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Many of you may be wondering what I’ve been up to. For the past year I have been working with a US non-profit dedicated to helping those in need. I’ve learned a lot about the bureaucracy of American organizations but also how they really are crucial in aiding lower income Americans. They are like Americas security blanket. Other countries aren’t so fortunate.
After all this experience I wondered what my next step would be. My answer came in an email. I have been accepted to the Master of Arts program at the Heller school for social policy and management at Brandeis University. Even though I will miss my life here in Vermont, I am looking forward to this new challenge and to starting a new phase of my life. It is said that the great aim of education is not knowledge but action. My goal is to use my acquired knowledge to work with an international humanitarian organization dedicated to human development.
So it seems as though my goals in life are taking shape. The goals of this blog have been met. I will say that I am in the process writing a book about my Peace Corps experience. For this reason I will be starting a new blog. This project is 6 months past due.
My new blog doesn’t have a specific subject as this one does. It will be about any and everything I wish to post. I appreciate all of you who followed this blog, commented and shared in one the most fulfilling experiences of my life. I look forward to your possible accompaniment with the new blog.
As many of the 107 campers as would heed my instructions to Zidu! Zidu! ~ crowd in. I like the kid on the left, in the red shirt, doing the Moroccan symbol for “crazy. “
Told you it’d take me time to rest up enough to tackle a proper account of English Camp Taroudant 2010. But I didn’t mean for it to take me nearly two weeks.
I have to admit, I was a bundle of nerves heading into this thing. Who in their right mind willingly signs up to coordinate a camp for 100+ kids who speak English (if at all) as a third or fourth language, armed only with 9 other Peace Corps volunteers, a nearly equal number of Moroccan counselors, an industrial sound system and a couple dozen sheets of butcher paper?
Turns out I had less than nothing to worry about. Sure, the mother of all head colds decided to crash the party just as things were getting started. Sure, we averaged about 5 hours of sleep a night. Sure, we welcomed our maximum number of campers and then some (107, to be exact). Sure, printers didn’t work and schedules didn’t mesh and there was the occasional paint explosion. But if those were the greatest of our worries, all I can say is hamdulilah.
This is the third camp I’ve worked here in Morocco. Previous ones have been blemished by bickering between Peace Corps volunteers, between American and Moroccan staffs, between Peace Corps coordinator and Moroccan camp director, between volunteers and youths, between the youths themselves. There’ve been kids caught stealing, smoking (you name it), drinking, having sex, fighting, vandalizing. There’ve been breakouts and breakdowns and hookups and rumbles between urban/rural factions. Camp funds have gone into unknown pockets instead of such things as class materials or food for the kids. Frankly, my previous experiences had me desperately wishing I never, ever had to work a camp ever again.
But Camp Taroudant was about as good as it gets, and we didn’t even have a beach to use as a bargaining chip. The kids were well-behaved, enthusiastic and actually inquisitive. The staffs got along famously, and we had an angel of a camp director, who worked at least as hard as we did, danced as hard as the kids did, and has a penchant for Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall.”
Our success can only be blamed on the nine intrepid Peace Corps volunteers who signed up to work with me. Ali, Ariel, Joy, Laila, Lori, Matt, Michelle, Nicole and Vish didn’t just do their time. They worked hard, around the clock. They turned on the charm with the kids. They practiced in their spare time. They propped each other up when propping up was needed. They swapped ideas and strategies and kept each other laughing. They made the whole dang thing fun, not just for a boisterous crowd of Moroccan adolescents, but for a middle-aged Midwesterner who came in more than a little dubious and left with new friends, new music and a new appreciation for the possibilities of engaging youths.
Not that we didn’t have any problems; we just managed to, well, manage them. The main one was the number of kids, especially the number of entry-level English learners. We’d organized four English classes ~ two beginners, one intermediate and one advanced. A couple more beginner classes would have made a world of difference; Lori and Matt’s classes were overwhelmingly full. They handled it with aplomb, though, with a lot of help from Ali, Joy, Laila and Vish. As for the intermediate and advanced classes, Michelle, Ariel and Nicole really boosted their students’ conversational abilities … not to mention their rapping skills.
The final night of camp is traditionally the SPECTAC! Short for spectacular, very much in the spirit of an old Andy Hardy flick (“Hey, kids! Let’s put on a show!” … and yes, I know I’m dating myself here. Wikipedia it, kids.) Much of the last two days of camp were spent practicing our performances for Friday evening. Each class and each club prepared a number, and American taxpayers should be pleased to know that a select group of youths in Taroudant province are now fluent in the Black-Eyed Peas’ “Where Is the Love,” the Maori haka war chant, K’naan’s “Wavin’ Flag,” the Maasai jumping dance, “Hello Goodbye” by the Beatles, the enduring classic “B-I-N-G-O” and a taste of Bollywood dance. We wrapped it all up with a mock Berber wedding procession and an official Peace Corps performance (“best part!”) of “Thriller” that came off well enough despite my stumbling in the back row.
We kept 107 kids pretty well entertained for seven days, and if they came away speaking a little more English via the Banana Song and Chick-A-Boom ad nauseum … well, who could ask for more?
7:30 a.m.: Wake up, get dressed, make beds
8 a.m.: Morning activities (national anthem, a few wake-up songs, announcements, Stars of the Day
8:15 a.m.: Breakfast
9-11 a.m.: English classes
11:15-12:30 p.m.: Sports/recreation
1 p.m.: Lunch (followed by much-needed naptime)
3:30-5:15 p.m.: Country Clubs (we divided kids into a cross-section of Anglophone countries to practice English while learning history, culture, music, art and more about their assigned nations ~ Canada, Jamaica, India, Kenya and New Zealand
5:30-7 p.m.: Activities with Moroccan counselors ~ or ~ outings in which we inflicted all 130 or so of us upon the unwitting streets of Taroudant
8 p.m.: Dinner
9-10:30 p.m.: Evening activities (these ranged from talent show to crafts, games, movies and of course the SPECTAC!
11 p.m.: Lights out (inch’allah)
Campers’ best quotes:
“Becki is a vegetable. Are you a vegetable?” ~ asked of a fellow vegetarian
“WHAT FROM YOU?” ~ urgent query put to Laila during a game where students were trying to guess our national origins
“I want power. All I need is money, guns, and the love of my parents.” ~ aspirations of a student in Ariel’s intermediate class
300+ more camp photos here, if you have the interest/patience: http://www.flickr.com/photos/71994606@N00/sets/72157623679130607/
As my second summer in Magrib continues the festivities of the season begin. This year I was comforted by the presence of my family that came all the way from Vermont to visit me. It started in Rabat after my entire stage met up for our yearly medical check up. It was good to see them all as we now are second year volunteers. Many of us have changed. We’ve grown. They say that you volunteers change and that we do not end up the way we started. I felt this way when at the airport upon seeing my family for the first time in 15 months. They noticed it to. Being well adjusted has its benefits. After a long trip I arrived to my village with my family. They were very well received in the tamazirt. After visiting with my host family I decided to have a tea party. This was a lot of fun. Local women came over and we had a celebration. The singing could be heard as my house has an echo. I was very content that my family could share some of my experience here. It’s comforting that now when I have a skype call and mention community members that there is a face with a name. After my family left I felt renewed and ready to begin my final year.
As its summer I began to reflect on last year this time when I was new and not yet adjusted. All the weddings and naming ceremonies were difficult for me because I didn’t yet understand the language and culture of the tamazirt.
The second time around has been a completely different experience as my familiarity with language and culture is deeper. Also I have very special relationships with many families. It’s beautiful when everything comes together and you can not only experience something but actually be apart of it. When you go to a place and know all of the people there and they know and understand you. The cultural exchange can be facilitated when this happens. The one thing that hasn’t been great the second time around is the heat. Summer heat here is usually +100 degree weather everyday. The only way to stay sane is the wet your sheets, sleep on the roof at night, drink lots of water, and sleep during the hottest part of the day.
Upon attending the latest wedding I was very excited to wear local clothing. My site mate joined me and we made our way to a local douar. The bride is a friend of mine and giving her congratulations was an honor for me. After her wedding she will be moving to her grooms’ families’ house.
This is my community now and my second summer is filled with bitter sweetness just like my friends wedding. The singing and dancing lasted all night long. The women formed an unclosed circle like a horseshoe and local men sat in the center drumming as the women sang songs. The songs are of sadness as the bride will enter into a new stage of life as well as community. However they are also songs of happiness. The women slowly dance in a circle around the drumming men. They can be heard all around.
I hope to see the bride again before returning and the realization that I won’t is a reality and a sad one for me. I guess this is what happens when you become apart of a place. Its goes below the surface and into your heart. As they say everything is better the second time around and that’s very true for me.
I desperately need to review the past few weeks in order to gain insight into my experience. This past week I looked at my calendar on my kitchen door and blinked repeatedly. My ever expressive eyebrows crinkled together when I came to the realization that it was not only May, but that more than half the month was over. In that moment the most reoccurring thought was, can it be? The quick answer is yes it can be and is May.
After reflecting on the surprise feeling that arose from within, I decided to have “awozwi” or afternoon snack between lunch and dinner. This didn’t make me feel better so I grabbed by plastic “cursi” (chair) and headed out to the local douar where the women sit out until dark. Not many were there as the majority has been working very hard trying to harvest all the barley. A very big bundle of barley was on the makeshift soccer field that the local children play on everyday. A tarp material like blanket covered the ground barley that was separated from the stems. The women were very happy to have this done because there was mist a few days ago and many feared the hay would be ruined. The truth is that after the fantastic wet season this would have been truly a shame. Many families in this douar couldn’t afford to rent the machine that is used to do this work for the hours this can take. However as I learned here the community really unites to help everyone. Since all the families can’t afford the cost they pooled the money everyone could contribute and decided to rent the machine for a few days and do the labor themselves. For two nights I heard the roar of the engine of the machine grinding the fruits of Mother Nature’s care. When I sat out with the women at the end of the week I was happy to see that many were catching up on their rest. Unlike the process familiar to me, the women awoke at the crack of dawn to go to the fields and collect the barley then pile it. Many women harvested till the very last speckle of light erased from the sky. Imagine the work in all of this!
I look up to the women of the village that I call home for two years. They are the foundations that keep the houses from falling. I hope to learn much more from them.
As I was looking forward to harvesting I was sad when, for circumstances that occurred, I wasn’t able to participate much. Out of this something positive happened. I recently visited Essaouira, one of Magribs ports, and purchased a drum from carved from Thuya wood, which the area is known for. This really made me very happy to have an instrument from Magrib that I could possible use in the work that I do as a volunteer. My very first time playing in public was for a very special event.
Last fall the first year health volunteers in my province and I decided that we wanted to plan an even around the International Aids candle light memorial. As with most events for large groups working with others is key to success. The event was also a way to help newly arrived volunteers adjust to the area, meet other volunteers, see volunteers in action, and hopefully encourage future plans. The first day entailed the local doctor giving a presentation on Aids specifically in the area. The second was focused on education with activities. Over 120 + showed up and everyone was involved in the event. This was uplifting for us volunteers and really was a great way to facilitate dialogue with adolescents on a topic not often discussed.
These recent activities bring me back to where this entry starts, with a feeling. In a few days I will be a second year Peace Corps volunteer. This past year I’ve had many ups and downs, and many first times that have offered me the richest experiences had in my short lifetime. I’ve learned more about my self through learning about life in a rural southern Moroccan Berber village. The feeling I have been experiencing is an emotion I’m not familiar with so i can’t give it a name. I am very adjusted and feel very comfortable in my life here, yet at the same time I’ve been hit with a double edged sword. The reality of the progression of time has hit me like a ton of bricks. The realization that my time here is counted in months came to me as the newest volunteers official beginning came to be. Emti Zaina or Auntie Zaina as she is referred to by everyone said to me that I will return to my own tamazirt soon. I’m no longer in the “first year phase” and as with any transition this can be hard to accept. The Peace Corps experience is all about stages but when your are so accustomed to one and are put into another the impact can have you in a vulnerable position. This reminded me of a local girl Mariam who walked me through the maze of the douar. When I neared the path that lead to the main road towards my house, she grabbed my left hand with her right and pulled me down to her ear as if she was going to tell me a secret. She says to me is the sweetest small voice,”Rihab, hemlagh km, rbi, miyargh km.” I looked down on her 11 year old face and saw a smile with sad eyes. Her words of, “I love you” and “I’m used to you,” really struck something in me. She hugged me tight and I said in a solemn voice, “ula nki Mariam, ula nki.” (Me too)
According to Peace Corps I’m having a mid service crisis yet I like to call it mid- service crazies. My head is full of everything all at once of images and thoughts of past, present and future colliding on a slew of topics.
So yes, it is May and yes time is running in a one way direction stingingly, but I have decided to take this one day at a time. In this moment I feel overwhelmed by all the feelings but I am comforted to know that the majority of people of my host village feel very similarly to Mariam, and I know that I will get through this phase along side the people who touched my heart and taught me how to enjoy the simplicity of life.
Just as my village is turning into the lush green season known as spring, I too have been developing and blossoming as I reach middle of my service. As the barley inches higher and higher toward the sky I feel more and more adjusted I my village.
Spring is a time of growth and not just for the land. I had the pleasure of visiting the Neddie this past week. The neddie is a center for women. The women produce crafts and textiles to sell. This center is also a place where the women’s literacy classes are held. This place also serves a source of pride for the women. It’s a place they call solely their own outside of their homes. I sat in on a literacy class of eight women learning Arabic. I was seated next to Fatima, a woman in her late seventies who appeared to me to be very determined. It may have taken her ten minutes to finish one page squinting her eyes to see the script well, but she was eager to continue reading even after the teacher told her she had read enough for the day. Witnessing this can surely motivate anyone. At the end of the class the women packed their books and headed home to retrieve their baskets and harvesting knives to head to the fields.
The weather has already turned into summer as temperatures are reaching the upper eighties. The days are longer. As time is inching closer to summer so has my work which slows down a bit during these months where the heat can be unbearable at times. The good news is that my family is visiting me next month and I will be able to introduce them to life in Magreb. So happy Harvesting to everyone!
Happy New Year to everyone. With the beginning of a new year I began to feel a rejuvenated and renewed commitment. Its like having a new energy or a pep in my step. I celebrated three different new years. The first was the beginning of the Islamic Calender or Moharam. The second was the beginning of the Gregorian calendar or the new year celebrated back home. The last was the Berber new year or Asugas Amazigh. They all are different dates but the feeling three times over was good for me. Its not that I’m down, its that every Peace Corps Volunteer knows that life, in our contexts, has its highs and lows. Its hard to feel over- excited or jovial when our loved ones back west are together and celebrating. We celebrate the holidays of our host country and send happy holidays greetings. We spend time with our surrogate families who welcome us with open arms. For me it has been exciting to celebrate holidays in Magrib and experience them with Moroccans.
The Berber New Year of was interesting. A man from my village told me of the tradition in my village. He said that people eat afullus asuga. A rough translation is country chicken. In Magrib we have two types, umlil or abildee or asuga. Umlil means white and asuga black. The difference is more with how the chickens are raised I believe. In my village they are prepared for a New Years Eve meal with bread. Not just any bread though. The bread is baked with tini or date in it. The person who gets the piece of bread with the tini is said to receive luck for the new year. I was informed that only older people get the tini and not to get my hopes up.
Unfortunately I didn’t get the tini but the year is proving to be hopeful. The relationships that I have developed with people in my village are growing and getting stronger. I feel apart of my community. I go to the igran or fields often to reflect or go on walks. In the fields I often see the women using the asumouz or harvesting hook to krz or harvest the grass for the animals.
One day I saw Fatima in the igran. I cant express how much this woman means to me. She is always friendly to me and treats me like her own daughter since I arrived and could only say hello. She stands about four eleven less than one hundred lbs. her hands are rough from harvesting, her face widens into a smile when I approach. I kiss her hand, she kisses mine. Then her shoulder then forehead. She has been in the fields all day and I see her exhaustion reflect on her aged face. Fatimatells me her back hurts. The tagalagouz or basket that she carries on her head appears to be bigger than Fatima. I offer to carry it. Fatimasays no. I insist. The two of us get the tagalagouz on my head and we head to her house. I was nervous on our walk because we were headed near the argan tree where the women sit every afternoon and I was nervous they would see me. As Fatima and I made our way around the path I saw two of the women’s eyes widen then all erupted in laughter. When we returned to sit I said that Fatimawasn’t feeling well and I wanted to help her. The women said God bless your parents Rihab, and that I was miyar and called me tabudraut. As they said these comments I was less embarrassed and felt happy inside. I also made plans to partake in the harvest in may.
The igran makes me happy just as walking in my village does. This week I walked with Mariam and we picked wild azukuni, oregano. It is soooo good smelling and fresh. My village is well known for its azukuni. Many people have it in tea, with milk, or make a dish with azukuni, flour butter salt to dip bread in. As Mariam and I made our way back to the center of town waving at local children walking home the new year made me feel hopeful three times over.
Since last fall I have been teaching health in the local schools. Every month has a different topic. This months theme is nutrition. Mariam and I acted a scene and then talked about healthy eating habits to the children. After the lesson we had some students act. This really helps to reinforce the lesson. Some students like the classes so much they show up when its not there classes turn. The video is of students performing the skit.
As December looms ahead it was important to take some time to reflect on my Peace Corps experience in Morocco thus far. Reflection is very important and there have been many ups and downs since I boarded a plane an ocean away with 58 other future PCV’s. I can say that being here has already transformed my persona and I feel that Morocco is embedded in me. I will never be the same again. This is to say when I my service ends in 2010, Morocco will not. To feel this so early makes me afraid abit because I wonder if I will be able to face that day in the future when I have to kiss my host Jdda(grandma) good bye and say these words in her ear, “I will never forget you. I love you, Thank You, God Bless You, Goodbye.” I know now that my ending will be like a Moroccan greeting, long and through.
Looking back, all the hardships weren’t really all that bad. All the cultural adjustments were more like stepping stones to get me to the other side. This other side is the point were me and my host country nationals reached the middle ground of understanding. Being here, we cannot turn back. Only more mutual understanding can happen.
Looking ahead at the next 17 months I hope to continue to learn more about the culture and people with whom I share a sense of community with. This may include Peace Corps projects and education, but it will definitely include ahawsh’s (celebrations), tea, smiles, laughter, tears, a most importantly a sense of belonging.