Wednesday, August 22, 2012

My First Summer in Morocco

August 19 marks month 5 in country! I really can’t believe it! Overall, time has moved quickly, but I would be lying if I didn’t say that some days have passed at snail’s pace. My overall experience here continues to be positive and life changing in many ways.

My appreciation for the United States has grown immensely over these past few months. Just by being born an American, I am given so much privilege and opportunity to live a quality life. I will carry this appreciation with me for the rest of my life, and I am extremely grateful for this.

There are always opportunities for self-growth and discovery. In many ways I feel my emotions are clearer and more easily identifiable in Morocco. The sadness that I feel here is a pure sadness, not sadness mixed with anger, nervousness and frustration. I am simply feeling sad, because I miss my family and friends. I will continue to feel waves of sadness during my Peace Corps experience. However, I continue to move forward with the knowledge that there is nothing more important to me in my life than my relationships with my family and friends.

I have had many days here, where my only obligation is to just live in Morocco, to be with myself, be with others. This is a freeing feeling and an opportunity to be in the present moment. I am slowly learning to give up a little control and let go. I am learning to make friends with the millions of ants that live in my house, rather than trying tape up every hole they may inhabit. I am learning to breath when I am frustrated when Moroccans don’t form a line at the post office. I am learning to have lots of patience with kids when they want to play 20 games of UNO in row. I am learning how to live each day open, awake, and alive to the beautiful things that each day brings.

These past weeks have brought many eye-opening experiences…

I participated in summer camp in El Jadidia, a city north of my site on the coast. I taught Intermediate High English, went to the beach, and played games with the youth. In my English lessons I incorporated topics like health, mental health, self-esteem, careers, travel and culture. I had tons of fun getting to know other Peace Corp volunteers, interacting with Moroccan youth, and enjoying the cool, coastal weather!

During one of my English classes, I spoke about self-esteem. We talked about how self-knowledge and understanding provides the basis for high self-esteem. Many times we learn about ourselves through interacting with others. Thus, I had my students write their names on a piece of paper. Then, the papers were anonymously passed around the room, and the students wrote down one nice thing about that person. Unfortunately, one of the students wrote, “I hate you” on one of the pieces of paper. I was shocked and upset that the activity took this path. However, it was during this time that I felt my presence was extremely valuable. This occurrence provided me with an opportunity to talk to the youth about the importance of treating others with respect. I felt like they learned a valuable lesson, and I was grateful for the opportunity to speak with them about this topic.

Driving back to site after summer camp felt similar to the experience of going up a steep hill on a rollercoaster. I was anticipating and waiting for the heat to hit me full force. I felt nervousness associated with the lack of physical comfort that I would be experiencing in my site. To my surprise, the heat was more bearable than expected. There were actually a couple nights where I covered up with a blanket! No 140-degree heat wave, just summer desert heat. (which still lingers around the 120s)
My journey back to site brought not only the heat, but also the start of Ramadan.

During Ramadan, Moroccans fast from sunrise to sundown for thirty days. In order to assist in the cultural integration process, Elizabeth and I decided to participate in the first 10 days of Ramadan. (After 10 days we left for Agadir to work at an orphanage for the month of August) Elizabeth and I went without food all day. Then around 7:30, the call to prayer would sound, and we would break fast with our host family or one of our neighboring families.

Breaking fast after withstanding from food all day was a unique and enjoyable experience. The realization that every Moroccan is eating at the same time brought a feeling of community and oneness. Every taste bud was awake for this meal! Every night, we broke fast with figs, hairara (a Moroccan soup with spices, chickpeas, lentils, and noodles), pancake-like bread with honey, and shbekia (fried dough with honey). I drank their rendition of coffee (really sugary milk) and lots and lots of tea! Then, I would drink more tea and play UNO with our host siblings and the neighbor kids. Around 3:00 AM, we ate our second meal, which consisted of a Moroccan tagine, a traditional Moroccan dish in a circular bowl with meat, spices, and vegetables, homemade juice, and fruit. Around 4:00 AM, we went to bed and the cycle continued for 10 days.  

Ramadan in the desert was also a challenging experience! With low blood sugar and the heat, I lacked so much energy I could barely speak during the day. I had a lot of time to think. I thought about how I could apply this fasting experience to my own faith. I though about my family, my friends, the comforts of home, and things that I want to accomplish in Morocco. When I couldn’t think anymore or was too hot to read, I found myself staring at the wall. (Seems to be a normal occurrence for me) Despite the long days, Elizabeth and I managed to pass time by playing lots of Rummy, watching movies on our computers, reading, and listening to music.

I found the experience of Ramadan valuable and necessary to do in order to relate more fully to the Moroccan culture. I appreciate the communal experience of Ramadan, and I loved tasting and savoring every flavor of food. I also appreciate that I always have the ability to eat when I am hungry, something I easily take for granted.

After 10 days of Ramadan, Elizabeth and I traveled to Agadir to work at an SOS Village orphanage, which is where I currently reside. Our youth center is closed during the month of August, and the heat reduces the amount of activity in our site. Thus, we thought working at an orphanage would be a great way to utilize our time and skills. There are about one hundred children and ten mothers living here. Each mother raises about ten children. The children are fully equipped with an outdoor playground, an indoor jungle gym, an art room, an auditorium, and a computer room.

During my time here, I have been teaching yoga, playing games, and doing art. Keeping the kids attention focused on an activity for more than 15 minutes has been a challenge, but I learning how to have lots of patience with them. Many of them simply desire our attention and to be held. They are adorable, and I have loved getting to know them over the past few weeks.

I also learned how to surf with the kids! We all had wet suits and our own surfboards. The experience of riding a wave felt exhilarating.  

In addition to interacting with kids, I have had the opportunity to do stress-reduction and teach yoga to the mothers. I have loved working with these women! These mothers work so hard raising these kids by themselves. In order to be an SOS Village mother, one has to commit to never get married. Raising these kids becomes their life-decision. I have admiration for the strength and dedication these women possess. They have enjoyed having some time to themselves to breath, relax, and re-center. My experience with them has solidified my decision to get my yoga teacher training when I come home.

Our time at the orphanage is wrapping up and then I am off to more trainings and workshops. Then, I go back to site, where I am looking forward to the many possibilities that lie ahead!

That’s all for now! Sending love to everyone!!

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