Sunday, March 20, 2011


Salam walekum! Thank you for your interest in my travels in the Kingdom of Morocco. As the first post to this blog, I’ll try to recap everything I’ve gone through very briefly. I’ve been in country for approximately 5 days, with two days of Peace Corps orientation in Philadelphia and travel to Morocco. Orientation was a bit awkward, as expected, but everyone has been pleasant and our group of 60 invitees has been getting along quite well (it would appear the Peace Corps attracts a certain type of personality that is not terribly unlike myself).

Travel to Morocco was stressful and tedious, as travel generally is. We arrived in Casablanca on Wednesday morning and immediately took buses to a hotel complex on the outskirts of Marrakech. Peace Corps familiarized us with various aspects of Peace Corps work and policies, and of life as a Westerner in Morocco. We only made it into Marrakech for a short trip to the sukh, a large central market full of shops, performers, and peddlers. We were obviously foreigners, walking with our eyes frantically scanning the sights of the market and our mouths agape. For this reason we were called to enter all shops and try every kind of food and product. It wasn’t harassment, instead it was actually rather fun. The market workers would try to guess our nationalities, and when I said ‘American’, they returned with “Tiki tiki Slim Shady”, and “That’s what I’m talkin’ bout!”

After Marrakech we came to Ouarzazate. The drive through the mountains was beautiful; the only thing I can approximate is if you were to mix the Rocky mountains with Tatooine (Lucas shot the Tatooine scenes in Tunisia, so not that far off really). The roads were narrow with plenty of traffic in both directions. Our buses were tearing ass up these mountain roads, aided by a police escort clearing the way ahead.

Ouarzazate is a rather affluent city, with millions of dollars being pumped into the economy by the shooting of Hollywood blockbusters nearby. Gladiator, Lawrence of Arabia, and the Mummy series have all had scenes shot in or around Ouarzazate, and the Hollywood aid is visible in the quality of the infrastructure and general cleanliness of the city. The residents are pleasant- I played soccer in the main square outside out hotel for a couple hours last night with a bunch of local kids until the cops told us to stop. This was well after, and thus hopefully unrelated to, I had a couple close calls including a small child and a baby carriage (they were fine).

I finally learned the specifications of my in-country training today (Peace Corps likes to play these kinds of things close to the chest). I’ve known that I’ll be in the Environmental sector since day one, but beyond that I had no idea where I’d be doing my homestay/community based training (CBT), what dialect of Arabic/Berber I would be learning and using during my service, and what my actual project and site assignments would be. Well, now I know where I’ll be doing my homestay and with which other 4 trainees (we’re not technically volunteers yet- we take the service oath at the end of our CBT) I’ll be learning with. The CBT will be held in a small town near Ouarzazate where we’ll be learning Dirija, which is the Moroccan dialect of Arabic. There are several dialects of Berber (tribal languages) which could have also been my assignment, but I’m pumped to have been selected to learn Dirija. The way I see it is that the chances of me ever running into someone who speaks Dirija outside of Morocco may be slim, but running into someone who speaks a Berber dialect would be even slimmer (the Berbers are mountain folk- they don’t have much of an international community). PLUS, learning a branch of Arabic will make it easier to understand Arabic in general and will look pretty killer on a resume. The hipster in me was attracted to the exclusivity of Berber, but the pragmatist in me is ecstatic to learn Arabic. Our first lesson with our Language and Culture Facilitator (LCF) was this morning, and our group of five covered more practical phrases and pronunciation in two hours than an entire month of an introductory language course in high school or college.

My host family, who I’ll be meeting tomorrow, has 18 members living under one roof. Most other trainees have 4-6 (although one trainee has 22). This is a bit intimidating, but I’m seeing it as a great positive; I’ll always have someone to talk to and learn from, and the way I see it my presence in their household will only represent 1/19th of their entire goings-on. A family of 4, for example, will probably be entirely enthralled with their guest at all times- I feel like I may be a less central part of the dynamic in my huge host family.

That’s about it, for now. The wi-fi in this hotel is crap (and is only slower with 60 volunteers trying to grab a slice of the signal), so I don’t expect I’ll be able to upload any photos or videos at this point. My CBT will last for two months, at which point I’ll swear in as a volunteer and go to my service placement site. Between then and now y’all should expect at least a few more updates, hopefully with some accompanying pictures.

OH! I had a couple trainees cut my hair today. It’d been since September 2009 since I’d had it cut, so it was probably the longest it’d ever been. I’d grown tired of maintaining it and wanted to cut it for a while, so now it is and I can stop worrying about it! It’s not super short but definitely manageable. Think ‘Wesleyan graduation 2009’ length. Sorry, Demakos.

Goodnight, everybody! I love and miss you all.