Thursday, May 24, 2012

Journeying to the Desert

My whole being has been consumed with joy these past couple weeks. Everyday has brought something new. Everyday has brought insights into another’s life experience. Everyday has brought me into closer relationship with Moroccans. I am living so outside myself, and I feel liberated.

These past couple weeks were filled with many great memories with my family. My host brother, Sufian, took me on a day trip to the town of Sefrou outside of Fez, where we hiked and saw a beautiful waterfall. We took lots of pictures and shared a great afternoon. I will never forget the moment when I gave him a printed copy of a picture of us together. He said with a huge smile “I am so happy now, but I am sad you have to go.” I will always consider Sufian my brother.

I cooked pizza for my family, which they LOVED! They had never had pizza the way I made it..lots of fresh veggies. They said they would always make pizza like this from now on. I also helped my mom cook lots of great Moroccan lunches.

I continued to participate in Miriam’s preparation for marriage. I had a “girls” night with Miriam and my cousin, Bassma. I also stayed the night at her apartment with my other sister, Hudda. Bassma took me out in the city with Hudda, where we ate pizza and rode a horse drawn carriage around the city. Such a fun night! During my last night with my family, we danced and took lots of funny pictures.

Saying my good-byes to my host family was sad. My Mom cried as I hugged her and waved goodbye. My brothers gave me one final hug as they went off to school. I consciously stored Humza’a awesome smile in my long-term memory. Miriam and Bassma walked me to the taxi stand, where I gave them hugs and said my usual expressions (it became a daily ritual to exchange these expressions with one another)…Eziz Eliya (you are precious to me), hbiba kul nhar (my love everyday), and xti kul nhar (sister everyday). As they closed the door, tears welled up in my eyes. It’s amazing how I was able to form such deep relationships with individuals even though I had limited language. As I reflect on my stay with them, I am overcome with gratitude for their genuine kindness. The love that I have experienced in my host family was so pure and genuine. They have changed my life forever.

From Fez, I traveled by bus to Rabat, where I returned to the original hotel that I stayed in for orientation. It was nice to reconnect with other people in my training group, and I had a great day at a beach town outside of Rabat.

I also found out about my final site placement! Before the announcement of our final sites, the room of 110 volunteers was bursting with energy, anticipation, nervousness, and excitement. We all signed up for the Peace Corps with the knowledge that we could be placed anywhere in the country. However, now that we have been in county for two months, we have seen the beach, the mountains, the city, and the countryside and preferences and hopes about site placement had definitely surfaced. First, we were separated by region. They called my name and Elizabeth’s for region 5! (The south) We went into another room, where our regional manager had a map of the region on power point. One by one he put our faces on the map with a single click. My face went far southeast in the small desert village of Tissint. My initial reaction was laughter. For some reason, I found it funny that I would be placed far far away from everyone else in the middle of the desert. I think there was some fear rooted in my laughter as well. After a few other individuals were revealed their fate, my regional manager clicked his mouse and Elizabeth’s head floated right next to mine! We are site mates! I screamed with relief. I don’t think this type of situation has ever happened in Peace Corps history.

We were told by our regional manager that there are swiya hard (little hard) and hard sites. Our site is a hard site. Volunteers tend to get lonely at our site, so I am happy that the Peace Corps is using Elizabeth and I in a positive way. A guidebook describes our region as virtually uninhabited. Our village has one road, no bank, and very little resources. The heat will rise to as high 130 degrees in the summer! I am beyond excited about my site. I requested a smaller village, because I feel I will be able to integrate deeper into the community. Because there are few resources, there is also so much room for growth in my site. I will never be able to engage in a living experience like this in the states. I am excited to experience desert living!  

I swore in as an official volunteer yesterday and it felt awesome! All our hard work during training was celebrated in a ceremony that brought together the US Ambassador, the Moroccan Minister of Youth, our Community Director, Peace Corps Staff, and previous volunteers. They spoke words of inspiration and encouragement and applauded our commitment to service. Swearing in was comparable to graduation…a time where our past accomplishments are celebrated, but also a time to think about how we will carry our skills and talents out into the world. We are trained volunteers. Now it is our responsibility to apply our abilities to our communities and facilitate positive change. I found myself so happy about the knowledge that I will be living in this amazing country for two more years. This experience doesn’t stop at the end of training…it is only the beginning. I can’t wait to see what these next two years will bring. This experience has already been rich with growth and exploration. I feel I have learned so much about others, the Moroccan culture, and myself.

Today I am began my journey to the remote, rural desert town of Tissint, my home for the next years. I just took a train from Rabat to Marrakesh and a bus to the beautiful beach city of Agadir. I will spend one night here and then continue on to Tata tomorrow and Tissint on Saturday. That’s all for now…

LOVE to all my family and friends! You will be in for an adventure when you come visit me. : ) 

Monday, May 7, 2012

My CBT Adventures

WOOPS – getting a little behind on my postings!

I have been so busy since my last post…

Spring Camp was a weeklong occurrence that brought in youth from the surrounding area. I taught English, nutrition, and helped facilitate activities with the youth. We even had a Moroccan-American dance exchange! Spring Camp was a little taste of the kind of work I will be doing in my final site, and it was definitely a source of joy for me. I felt more connected to Morocco, a sense of purpose, and enjoyed beginning to form relationships with Moroccan youth. I found myself energized, excited, and motivated to make a positive change. I plan on carrying a sense of this spirit and passion with me as I continue on my journey here in Morocco.

During the week of Spring Camp, I also celebrated my 23rd birthday Moroccan style. It was definitely one of the most memorable birthdays of my life. My CBT group surprised me with a big plate of vegetables (I love my vegetables!) and my host family made a homemade cake and fresh lemonade. After, we danced for hours to Moroccan music!  

I also went to the Hammam or public bathhouse for THREE hours! There are hammams in every neighborhood in Morocco, and going to the Hammam tends to be a weekly occurrence for men and women. It is a time to socialize and get a weekly scrub down. I guess I would describe it as something like a 5 star bucket bath. We sit on these little stools, surrounded with buckets of hot water, in a giant-tiled, steamed room. Women scrub their bodies and each other with Hammam gloves that help get all the dead skin off the body. I must say I was very exfoliated after the Hammam!

A couple weekends ago Elizabeth and a few other trainees came to visit, and we walked around the Old Medina in Fez. The Old Medina is beautiful part of my CBT site, a place that attracts many tourists and is filled with vibrantly colored rugs, shoes, and clothing. The streets are narrow and surrounded by endless shops of Moroccan goods. We discovered a cafe that overlooks the entire Medina and has spectacular views! 

Unfortunately, I also experienced the seemingly normal bout of sickness during training. I wanted nothing but to be home in my own bed. To cure my illness, I was encouraged by my host Mom to eat only yogurt and cheese and to never drink coffee from the café again. Feeling physically depleted, I also felt emotionally depleted. However, with my health restored this week, my spirits are up and I will not take my health here for granted EVER again.

Last weekend I went with one of my CBT mates to her host Mom’s sister’s house for a night. The home was spacious and decorated “Moroccan style,” beautifully tiled and vibrantly colored fabrics. We had a Moroccan-American dinner. We made pizza for the family from scratch and they made bastillas (thin dough filled with chicken and fish)! We surprised ourselves by our ability to make homemade dough with little previous experience or a recipe. The next day I went on a walk with my CBT mate and the sons of the family. It was interesting talking to them about the importance of marriage in Morocco and other aspects of Moroccan culture. I also observed a donkey pulling a carriage next to a mercedes -- quite an interesting contrast! 

The more I interact with Moroccan people, the more I feel a sense of Moroccan pride. All of the Moroccan people I have met have wanted me to feel comfortable in their presence. Their hospitality is endless, and they are extremely kind and open towards people they meet.

I feel  extremely comfortable and relaxed with my host family. I have adjusted pretty well to their routine and lifestyle. My language is improving and in between some Darija (Moroccan Arabic), Spanish, and English we are usually able to articulate our thoughts to each other.  I truly feel loved and apart of their family. We have inside jokes, laugh a lot, and act super silly around each other. I am able to be my weird self and they whole-heartedly embrace me. My mother and sister work so hard, always cooking and cleaning. The more I get to know my host mom, the more I see that she is a smart and open-minded woman. She has done a wonderful job raising four children! My oldest host sister is talented in fashion design. I love watching her design in our parlor room. My youngest host brother is always full of smiles. His kindness and calming energy makes me love hanging out with him. My spirits are always lifted in his presence. I LOVE my host family so much, and I will definitely miss them when I move on to the next chapter of the Peace Corps experience. 

My oldest host sister is also preparing for marriage and this has been an interesting process to observe. She is helping design her many dresses and busy buying things for her new life with her husband. I am learning that weddings are an elaborate and an integral part of Moroccan culture.

Last week we taught English at the Dar-Chebab. The youth that I have interacted with are extremely motivated to learn English. We even talked at length with some of them about their Education system and ways they want to see it improve. Their energy got me excited to continue having these empowering interactions with Moroccan youth.

I just returned from Azrou yesterday, where I was visiting Elizabeth and her host family. Seeing her was a huge source of relief and comfort. I almost feel like I am at home when we have the chance to spend time together and talk about our experiences. Having someone here that knows me well helps me feel less foreign in an unfamiliar place. I am thankful for this blessing everyday.

My life in Morocco is picking up speed. I have been extremely busy with language and cross-cultural training. I wake up at 7:30 and have four hours of language training from 8:30 to 12:30. Then I go home for lunch until 2:00. We do cross-culture activities in the afternoon and finish around 6:00. I go home and have caskroot ( a big snack) around 7:00. I have dinner anywhere between 10:00 and 11:00. Then I go to bed. The days are long, but the weeks are short. There are constant challenges, but I try and let go and move through them. I see these challenges as a chance to reflect on what I am grateful for and to learn about myself.

I only have two weeks until I am officially sworn in as a volunteer and proceed to my final site! I do not have any idea where I will be living next month and this has been a source of excitement and nervousness. I am looking forward to regaining a little bit of control and independence, but will miss my host family and am aware of the challenge of adjustment that is ahead.

Overall, my experience continues to be positive and I feel I am where I am supposed to be. Sending so much love to my friends and family. Being away from you is a huge challenge. LOVE to you all.