Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Sworn in!

We swore in as Peace Corps Volunteers today. I'm heading to my site tomorrow. CBT is over and I'm looking forward to my two years in TOWN. Saying goodbye to my host family was hard, but I've promised them I'll visit. That's about it. Wooo!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Site Visit

I’ll kick off this post by acknowledging the recent bombing of a cafĂ© in Marrakech. I’m fine, obviously, as are all other Peace Corps Volunteers in Morocco. I won’t delve into my sentiments of, or reactions to, the events surrounding but I will say my sympathies go out to the families of all those affected.

Three weeks ago, the Peace Corps sent us on our site visit. I got to see the town where I’ll be spending two years (beginning in two weeks) and meet the PCV, Brian, who was wrapping up his service there. Brian showed me around town and introduced me to a lot of his friends and counterparts. Everyone was incredibly welcoming, likely due to the precedent Brian had set by his many accomplishments, friendly attitude, and dedicated integration into the community. It was great having a knowledgeable guide and an appreciated forerunner, but also very intimidating considering the standard of excellence Brian has portrayed. I will do the best I can, but it may be hard to distinguish myself from Brian- both in terms of personal ideology and integrative potential- to the community that may expect quite a bit from Peace Corps Volunteers. Who knows! It’s going to be interesting regardless, and I guess given the other two options (disappointing precedent or no precedent), I certainly don’t think I’m in the worst position.

About the town itself: the name of the town is TOWN. The population is around 5,000 but there’s no official number and asking around will give you a wide range of guesses (depending on what’s being considered the town limits and which neighboring villages are being included). The town sits in a box canyon, surrounded on all sides by short mountains. Beyond the mountains is a vast plateau that extends far to the south and rocky plains to the north. The entire town is on an incline and people are always walking around outside; with the exception of ski resorts, overpriced stores, and yuppies, the appearance of the town is not entirely unlike Park City, Utah. The roads are paved, all buildings have electricity, there are multiple cyber cafes, and the tap water is the best I’ve drank since leaving the states. I think I’m going to fit in just fine in TOWN.

TOWN is in the province of Taourirt in northeast Morocco, around 100 km from the Algerian border. It’s close to the Mediterranean Sea, also. The climate in the surrounding plains is near-desert, but the kind of desert you’d see in New Mexico or a spaghetti western. Sergio Leone could have shot The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly here and the only difference would be all of the extras would have spoken Darija instead of Italian. In the valley of the canyon it’s lush with vegetation, and there are many olive and date groves to be found. I understand that it gets very hot in the summer and very cold in the winter (although I think the Moroccan standard of cold is around 50’F). TOWN is a souk town, which means that once a week local farmers and merchants flood the streets with their goods and people come from miles around to buy a week’s worth of fresh food and household products. This is great for two reasons. First, I get to explore the market every week and meet new people. Second, I don’t have to travel to a different souk town to buy my fruits and vegetables every week. I guess this could be a downside if I was looking for an excuse to get out of town, but I’m glad to have that scenario as an option rather than a necessity.

The geographical location of TOWN is great, in my eyes. It’s isolated, for sure, which will mean long stretches of not seeing Peace Corps staff, volunteers, or other Americans. I’m happy about this, as I think I’ve equilibrated isolation with ‘genuine experience’. I’ve met a few solid PCVs in nearby areas that if I ever need a slice of Americana it won’t be hard to arrange. TOWN is a 30 minute cab ride from a small city that lies on the main Rabat-Oujda train line. Thus, travel to and from northern Morocco’s big cities- Rabat, Fes, Meknes, Taza- along this train line will be uncomplicated and reliable (hopefully). Two hours north of TOWN is Melilla, a Spanish enclave city on the Mediterranean and a perfect place for European getaways if and when they are needed.

OK, enough about TOWN; I’m sure I’ll have plenty more to say and show (sorry, no pictures this round) when I head there in a couple weeks.

Community-based-training has been going well. The language is coming along well, and I understand a whole lot more of the casual dialogue between my host family members than I used to. Our 5 person group designed and implemented an environmental education lesson in the local elementary school. It was basic education about trash and proper waste disposal, but we included a bunch of fun activities and taught it completely in Darija. The kids enjoyed it and I felt we did a good job using the language we’ve learned to communicate some stuff we know.

My 24th birthday passed without much of a bang. I concluded that, of all my birthdays, it was the least unlike all of the days surrounding it. Well, we did watch a movie that made me nostalgic for many things America [fuck yeah!]

This is not to say that all my past birthdays have been extravaganzas or that this one was especially disappointing, but it was certainly boring and a probably a good indication of what most birthdays as an adult will feel like. Thanks to everyone who sent e-cards or facebook posts, although the intermittent void of internet access has introduced a comical new interpretation of receiving belated birthday greetings.