Finder’s Keepers

People constantly ask me what my favorite part of living in DC is. They expect me to say something about living so close to the National Mall – the fact that I can wander into any Smithsonian museum or that I can run effortlessly down the Mall to the Lincoln Memorial. Maybe it’s the fact that I can sit and stare at the majestic nature of the US Capitol, hoping to catch my favorite senator (looking at you Cory Booker) walking down the sidewalk or spend a rainy afternoon reading in the Library of Congress. It could be the fact that I can wander aimlessly up and down Eastern Market, chat with the vendors and grab a delicious pastry and tea from one of the many coffee shops. Now don’t get me wrong – these are all things I love about this city, but the thing I love the most is finding other people’s junk treasures on the sidewalk.

Anyone who knows me knows I have a deep obsession for decorating my home. I firmly believe this is genetic – because if you also know my mother – she’s a bit of a fanatic when it comes to decorating our beautiful limestone home in rural Kansas. There’s no doubt that the countless hours watching Christopher Lowell on the television or Trading Spaces when I was no older than 10, influenced my intrinsic need to be able to design and decorate every apartment and house I’ve ever lived in. In a world that seems to be more in love with Chip and Joanna Gaines than any other celebrity couple, I can’t help but be excited for my friends who have finally started to become obsessed with the art of interior design.

There are many things I could classify myself as – plant based eater, history nerd, current events junkie, a wanderluster – but I’m also incredibly thrifty and willing to put work into making things better than when I find them randomly on the street. Almost my entire room is filled with objects I found for free or paid less than $20 throughout several of the neighborhoods I walk through on a daily basis. Perhaps my favorite piece is my amazing bookcase I found down my street up in Mt Pleasant. Now – I have to admit I also have a talent of making myself look slightly ridiculous while hauling pieces of furniture down the street by myself. With no car and my own two hands, I attempted the feat of carrying the 8ft bookcase down six blocks. With only a few stares from bystanders and the help of one man who laughed at me while he walked by and then generously came back to help me carry it home, I finally managed to get it up the stairs in my room. And I mean come on – how great does it look?!

Another piece I randomly found walking near my house near Lincoln Park, was a Tiffany style lamp. It was as if it was beckoning to me to pick it up – to carry it back home to be placed on my window’s ledge – and I did! I mean let’s ignore the fact that the lamp doesn’t actually work, but I just wanted it for the pop of color in my room anyways!

And then you have my blue glass lamp (which I actually have two of) that I got from one of the abandoned warehouses in Westbottoms in Kansas City, back when it was an actual affordable place to buy furniture and not the atrocity it is now. I’m fairly certain I got the pair of lamps for $30 and they just add so much to the rooms because of their cool shape!

Mellow Tree Designs

Above the blue lamp is a weaving made by my sister. And while she has it up on her Etsy store (www.etsy.com/mellowtreedesigns) – I’ve promised to foster it in the meantime. (Little does she know I’m never giving it back!)

The triangle shelf is a piece I literally threw together in the weeks after returning from Morocco in my parent’s garage. There’s nothing quite like finding random pieces of wood on our property, sanding, and staining it to make your own piece for free! Plus I got to spend valuable time with my super talented Dad! Our next project, (whenever I get home next) is transforming tons of live edged pieces of wood we have into tables with hairpin legs! I’ve been begging my parents to ship me one so I can have a coffee table – but apparently it’s expensive and unrealistic to ship huge slabs of wood 1000 miles.

My dresser is another great find by my Mom. I may have begged her to bring it for me when her and my Dad graciously drove 18 hours to bring me my things. It was originally a storage system for her craft items, but doesn’t it look better in my room as an actual dresser?! Nothing like putting some paint and stain on an old piece of furniture to liven up a room!

My latest find is the little plant stand in the corner that I just found today in Eastern Market. Now while it’s completely different than what I had envisioned for a plant stand, I can’t wait to transform it into something that goes a little bit better with the rest of my room.

I love the random finds that make my room special, but the two things that make it shine are the amount of natural light and the ridiculous amount of plants residing in my room with me. I never go without eucalyptus in my large copper vases (which I got for $10 at Joann’s) or a few succulents I found for $5.99 at Trader Joe’s. This past week I even found a great deal at Home Depot on the Snake plant and the hanging plant you see in the photos. Scattered throughout my house are also amazing pieces of pottery that I found in Rabat, Morocco that give it its unique vibe.

So the moral of the story is – you don’t need a ton of money to make your home look amazing. You might need a little patience and a little bit of luck involved in running across the perfect item on the street, but with an open mind – you can turn your place into something that truly feels like home without ruining your budget.

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Little House on the Prairie

From the time I was little girl, I remember gathering around the kitchen table watching my Mom and Grandma work diligently throughout the week on art projects for the upcoming craft shows they had a booth at. It seemed like every Saturday we would drive to North Topeka to spend hours in a small store that carried clay greenware (clay objects that are typically shaped but have not yet been bisque fired) and Mom would let my sister and I pick out a few small pieces for ourselves. We were lucky enough that we possessed a kiln at home, so painting ceramics became second nature to Nikki and I growing up. I’d like to think I was probably better at perfecting the ‘dry brush technique’ than I was at using color pencils by the age of 7. While I never made use of that skill other than receiving more Grand Champion and purple ribbons at the county fair for my ceramic pieces than I knew what to do with (not-so- humble brag) – spending hours on end with my Mom at the kitchen table is only a small aspect of the kind of household we grew up in.

I’m fairly certain I spent more time in Hobby Lobby than almost any other place during my childhood. I’m probably exaggerating a bit, but Saturday mornings were never complete without taking a short (painstakingly long)  trip over to Hobby Lobby on Wanamaker Rd. to pick out anything from paint, to fabric, to cross stitch patterns, to ribbon for Mom’s next project. In reality, Hobby Lobby was as good as any candy store, Magic Forest, or Chuck-E-Cheese in my opinion. Those trips were always methodically planned out too – one week we would buy as much fabric as possible because it was on sale and one week might be dedicated to buying the paint and paint brushes. I think the Sunday Topeka Capital Journal was really only good for the Hobby Lobby ad in our household. Everyone who has ever had a knack for crafting knows how expensive it all adds up, so if there is another skill I can thank my Mom for – it was learning how to be a bargain hunter.

I always loved when summer turned into fall, because I knew that meant it was craft show season and that our house would be full of the incredible pieces my Mom and Grandma had created. I also knew with crafting, it meant my Mom would light a cinnamon or apple cider scented candle and there would probably be homemade bread rolls, Snickerdoodles, or gooey cinnamon rolls in the oven – because obviously you can’t craft without snacking on something to get you through all that meticulous work. And while I’m almost certain, she spent every waking hour leading up to Buttons & Bows (a giant craft show in Manhattan, KS), she never failed to show her little girls the delicate process that went into each project. I also knew – come Christmas time – that whatever they didn’t sell would mean that our entire house turned into a Christmas Wonderland. To this day – my sister and I still fight over who get’s ‘custody’ over our favorite ceramic Santa. (I know – aren’t we cool?)

Quite honestly, without my Mom’s insistence on showing us how to sew, use a glue gun, or make a perfect flower arrangement from the wild flowers we would pick on our walks down Loire Creed Rd, I don’t think I would quite ‘get’ this whole adulting thing. My fondest memories of my childhood always revert back to me wearing my Dad’s yellow Highland Community College football t-shirt and curling up to my Mom, working on a cross stitch pattern or working to create some sort of design using Perler Beads. And while I know these little art projects here and there seem so simple, it was the basis for skills I never knew I would need as an adult. Whether its using an X-Acto knife, or sewing buttons onto a shirt, or knowing how to put wallpaper up (or take it down), or making fresh pasta with my great grandmothers pasta maker – I feel like I am better prepared because of the skills I possess from the years of watching my Mom hard at work. She truly knew how to make a house into a home. She’s basically like the ‘original Joanna Gaines’ if you will.

So why am I even talking about this? For years, my Mom, Nikki, and I have talked about the possibilities of using our crafting abilities to create our own store. And while, we are still trying to decide the best way to make this a successful venture, my sister has in the meantime created her own line of wall weavings, a piece of wall decor that truly adds to any room. For now – the weavings can be found on her Etsy store – https://www.etsy.com/shop/MellowTreeDesigns. All weavings can be customized to look great in your own house. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you’re interested in a customized weaving and be sure to check out her Etsy shop this weekend for special Black Friday sales!

❤ Kayla

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MellowTreeDesigns

Becoming Washingtonian

It hard to believe it’s been nearly nine months since I posted on this blog. While I thoroughly enjoyed expressing my thoughts and experiences through this medium, I feared that I would lose my audience and my purpose for writing after leaving Morocco. When I came back to the United States in January, I consequently lost part of my identity. The amount of pride I felt using the title “Peace Corps Volunteer” was undoubtedly more immense than I ever realized until I stripped myself of the label. I lost my place in this exclusive group that I had always longed to be a part of. In a sense, after getting to know my Staj for 4 months, it felt like I had quite literally lost my spot in this incredible family I had only just gained. I can’t speak for all who have joined Peace Corps and have failed to complete their service, but I’d imagine most of us after returning home felt a sense of embarrassment, of reverse culture shock, and of a loss of purpose. Of course, at some point you eventually must force yourself to stop worrying about the judgement of others and forgive yourself for not fulfilling your service, and positively move forward with your life.

And that’s what I did – I once again created a life worth enjoying. One where I didn’t have to feel the shame of my failures or confines of my own thoughts and solitude. I packed my bags and moved far from the comforts of my rural Kansan home and decided to create a new life for myself on the East coast. It’s honestly not that I didn’t try to find a job in Kansas, but truthfully, I’ve known in my heart for a long time that I could never reach my true potential or thrive back in my home state. I love Kansas with all my heart, but I’ve always felt like I would be settling if I didn’t go out and explore the rest of this beautiful world while I was young and single. And even more truthfully, for the past few years I’ve felt a certain disconnect with quite literally my closest friends who have all gotten married and started having children. It’s no fault of anyone’s of course, but it’s an exclusive part of adulthood that I have yet to experience – and I can’t help but feel a little left out sometimes. It’s no surprise that hanging out with each other becomes harder and harder to plan once you have a family of your own and while I would never fault anyone for finding love or having a baby, I also know that priorities change and that I’m not usually a part of those plans anymore.

So why not go to a city whose reputation is that it’s okay to put off getting married and it’s widely acceptable to focus on your career instead? Now – I’ll be the first person to tell you I struggle on a weekly basis on whether I’m okay with being single or not. It’s not like I haven’t put in the effort of finding a suitable man to spend my free time with, like seriously, look at all the dating apps on my phone. If dating were a class – I’d be getting an A+. But on the same token, it’s a relief that I feel no pressure in this city or amongst my friend groups the pressure to be anything but 27 and living life for myself. I’m also aware that “Winter is Coming” and the desire for someone to appear in my life will suffocate me daily when I’m freezing cold, alone in my room, but that’s also the beauty of this city – I can constantly find a concert, a free art gallery, a workout class in a park, or go on a date to get through the bouts of loneliness I’ll inherently feel on occasion.

I guess in a sense, the last few years of my life have been a never-ending cycle of feeling like I’m not part of something. Whether it’s because of falling out of a long-term relationship, not being a part of that exclusive marriage group that all my friends are a member of, or losing my place in the Peace Corps family, I’ve consistently found myself longing to have that connection and bond with others like myself. Which is why moving to Washington DC has seemingly become the best decision I’ve ever made to become the best and happiest version of myself. Since moving here, I’ve managed to become a member of LadiesDC, the premier young women’s professional networking group in DC, a member of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network of Washington DC, a teammate on a sand volleyball team, a part of the DC running community, and a coworker at a great longstanding conservative nonprofit organization in DC (I know – I can’t believe I work at a conservative leaning organization either guys). At the end of September, I even plan on learning more about the Junior League here in DC, which not only will help commit myself to do more volunteering during my free time, but it’s a valuable group that can help me perform better at my own job. (For those of you who don’t know – I run a summer institute on Philanthropy and Voluntary Services for college students.) Not to mention, Washington DC is full of those who live and breathe to talk about politics, international relations, and policy – three topics that just get me in trouble when I talk about my liberal viewpoints when I’m back home in the Midwest. This city is full of those who are quite literally striving to be the next Senator, the next executive director at a national nonprofit, or the next President of the United States. How can you not love being amongst those who have this level of commitment, enthusiasm, and ambition with their careers? Never in my life have I wanted to become more a part of this kind of motivated community.

My whole life I’ve always been a part of as many organizations, clubs, and sports teams as possible. It’s not a surprise that I find agency and a sense of identity in being a part of an exclusive group. And I think I’ve finally found the most exciting group yet – being able to call myself a Washingtonian.

Bslama (Goodbye)

With every risk in life, there are unknown consequences waiting to unfold. If you’re lucky those consequences can be an absolute blessing, but sometimes those risks prove to have a detrimental effect on your entire being. One day you’re incredibly happy living in the beautiful Ozarks and another you’re applying to the Peace Corps because you feel like it’s “now or never.” The spontaneity of your youth and the lack of responsibilities (AKA a husband or child) you possess seem like the perfect pairing for an adventure abroad. After all this is your dream – right? The one where you show everyone how you were meant to be a humanitarian, vowing to live as the impoverished do and wow everyone with the life changing projects you implement with locals. You set wildly high expectations for yourself and are determined you’re going to make it past any challenge that’s set forth in front of you – because after all, you dropped everything and moved to Africa. This experience was meant to challenge you physically, culturally, spiritually, and mentally and you welcomed any struggle that was to come your way. Basically – you were ready to be Wonder Woman with a dash of Mother Teresa.

And then – you realize that the best expectations are to have no expectations. It’s only human to have them, but we tend to create an entire fairy tale like world inside the depths of our mind, turning everything that could be a set back into the best possible outcome. We become naive to the real situation around us and when reality finally hits, we act so surprised to be in the environment around us. No matter how prepared you feel – some things in life you cannot prepare for. There is nothing that could have prepared me for the last 3 months. It’s strange because it wasn’t the actual training or the lack of amenities that was a true struggle for me. I loved every moment of learning Darija, until drama in my CBT group caused a somewhat hostile learning environment. It wasn’t showering once or twice a week that broke me and it surely wasn’t from the smothering love my host families gave me in BenSmim or in Taftacht.

I wish I could pinpoint the exact reason for my disdain. Is it Morocco? Is it the Peace Corps? Is something wrong with me? I tried to stay positive and encourage other volunteers to work through their discrepancies, but why haven’t I been able to help myself? Why were other volunteers having the time of their lives since the moment they got here and I’ve felt a level of anxiety since the moment I stepped into Rabat? Every single volunteer knows that it is detrimental to compare your service to other PCVs experiences. EVERY SINGLE VOLUNTEER’S SERVICE IS DIFFERENT. Do I need to repeat that again – because I will if you don’t understand this concept. Every Peace Corps country is set up differently from one another. They all possess different cultures, programs, languages, transportation, relationships, hardships, etc. Just because your friend completed an amazing two years in Sub-Sahara Africa does not mean your experience will be the same. This concept also rings true inside of Peace Corps Morocco. Every single site is different. Some have site mates, some are completely isolated. Some have urban sites, others live in towns of less than 2000. Some have amenities like WiFi, others have to go to the next town over to stay connected. Some live a more Western lifestyle in more liberal areas and some are confined to the cultural bounds of a conservative site. Some have to navigate the intricacies of a brand new site, some have current volunteers showing them the ropes. Some have great host families, and some are counting down every minute till they can find their own place. So, whatever you do – don’t assume every experience is the same – it’s not a fair assumption.

I wish that I could have been the Peace Corps volunteer that everyone says “wow – I want her service.” I wish I could have traveled around the entire Moroccan countryside, photographing the beauty that encompasses this entire country from the enchanting blue city of Chefchaouen to the desert oases in the depths of the South. I wish I could have perfected Moroccan Darija and had successful conversations in Tashelheet. I wish I could have gone back to visit my host family in BenSmim and told them how much I adored them in perfect Arabic. And even though I wish for so many things to have happened, I know without any doubt in my mind I NEED to put my mental and physical health first.

I’ve woken up nearly every single morning in the last two months wishing for the sun to go back down so I didn’t have to deal with another day here. And when you start living your life in terms of wishing entire days away – it’s time to change something. So, I’ve decided to go back home to the United States – for now – to find the happiness that I felt for life prior to this experience. I’ve exhausted what coping strategies I have left and have found them useless. I’ve felt my physical health deteriorating since the first month I was here. You don’t have to google anything to know that having poor nutrition is detrimental to your mental and physical health. For over two months, I’ve experienced terrible headaches, extreme fatigue, and nausea. I’ve complained to the PCMO about this, but their answer was to “have a better diet” and take iron pills (easy to say when you don’t live with a host family). Pair the physical ailments with stress, anxiety, isolation, and exhaustion and apparently, you find yourself trapped within the walls of depression. Despite my ability to perfect smiles, give laughs, and show cheeriness to locals, I don’t want to live my life in a series of fake emotions. I’ve always been a firm believer that you shouldn’t bottle up your emotions or neglect feeling a certain away if that’s how you truly feel. We are all guilty of faking it till we make it to an extent, but if you never allow yourself to feel real emotions how can you can truly recognize and tackle the underlying issue causing the negativity?

Although I’m going back home with no job, no car, and basically no money, I know that everything will be okay with the help from my support system. During these last few months, I’ve come to realize that I 100% want to work in international higher education like I did previously. After 6 months of being away from this field, I know that this is where my true passion lies and where I want a long term career in. Maybe the Peace Corps wasn’t exactly what I was intended to do, but it’s comforting knowing I can cross it off my list of what I’m not interested in doing. I’ve come to understand that I value structure in the workplace – which is something that I didn’t realize that I wanted in a job. And though I do not want to be confined to a desk from 9-5, I’ll be searching for positions that allow me travel like I so desperately want to do. To be honest, there is nothing in this world that brings me more excitement then knowing I’ll be home for two of my closest friend’s weddings, getting to spend time with all my family and friends, and enjoying being me again. I can’t wait to show my personality again, to be able to communicate my feelings and frustrations to people who understand me, to gain a better relationship with food and enjoy being vegan again, to drink copious amounts of ice tea, to be able to work out on a regular basis, and to be able to bathe whenever I want to.

My biggest fear is that someday I will regret this decision. That I didn’t try hard enough. That I couldn’t get past the inner fears and anxieties in my own head. I’m over trying to cheer myself up with posting entertaining stories on Facebook or posting breathtaking photos of this beautiful Kingdom – it just isn’t working. Just because the Peace Corps didn’t work out the way I intended, there are PLENTY of causes in the United States that need dire support right now especially with the current political and social climate and I have every intention on becoming an active supporter. There’s a part of me that isn’t ready to have to answer question after question about why I came home and why I failed to complete my full service. And the more I think about it – all I can say is – I’m not living for anybody else’s approval. I’m here to live a life full of passion and full of happiness, doing whatever I need to find that. Tell me – when was the last time you took a risk? For me, the only regret would have been not trying this whole experience. I’m proud of the US Peace Corps and what it stands for and I know that I have over 100 passionate friends there that will do life changing projects to fulfill the Peace Corps mission. Inshallah – I’ll see you again Morocco. You have a piece of my heart ❤

 

We Did It!!!

Salam 3alikum! I know, I know it’s taken me nearly a month to update you guys again on what I’ve been up to lately here in Morocco. So, let’s start by talking about Thanksgiving!

On Thanksgiving Day, more than 200 volunteers, Peace Corps staff, and friends at the US Embassy enjoyed a wonderful Thanksgiving meal at the Peace Corps headquarters together in Rabat. It was the first time most of us had visited PC HQ since being in country and let me tell you – it’s easily one of the most beautiful PC Headquarters around the world. I happily got to enjoy a heaping mound of mashed potatoes, keeping with my own Thanksgiving tradition of gorging myself with useless carbs. I sure missed that homemade apple pie my parents made in my honor though. You’d think I was dead by the things they ‘dedicate’ to me back home. Bless them.

 

While most of the staj went back to their CBT sites that afternoon, I was sent to a hotel in Rabat so I could get blood tests done the next morning. It was a wonderfully rainy day that I spent with a fellow trainee. As he waited for his hotel room to be ready, he graciously let me download nearly 30 movies onto my computer, which will provide me with entertainment during those lonely moments over the next two years. My blood tests were painless the next morning – and as I thought – my results came back saying I have low iron. No surprise there. So iron pills it is! I’m praying these will help me feel better until I can start cooking for myself again. My diet here sure does bring my attitude down.

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Enjoying the Autumn weather in Ifrane, Morocco

 

Once I returned from Thanksgiving break, I had roughly 2 weeks left at my CBT site. One of the highlights from this time was hosting a dinner for all our families in Ben Smim. We collected all our ingredients from the suq in Azrou, the closest big city nearest to our site. By 8pm, we had cooked up a rather random dinner including: four roasted chickens, guacamole, cilantro lime rice, fajita peppers, Kool-Aid and an attempt at a stovetop apple crisp. No surprise to any of us, they loved the apple crisp because it was full of butter and sugar and two of the families asked for our recipe. (If only they knew we just cut up apples and basically boiled them in butter, sugar, and brown sugar oatmeal packets from back home.) The night was meant to be a thank you to our families for hosting us for the last 12 weeks. I know I can say on behalf of my whole group, we have never felt such love and hospitality from anyone before. This itself, proves that as Christians, or Muslims, or whatever you affiliate with, we CAN coexist peacefully together. All it takes is an open mind and a warm heart and two cultures can eat, laugh, cry, and love each other wholeheartedly.

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Last sunset in Ben Smim

 

After a tearful goodbye, our group headed to Meknes for our final HUB and swear in ceremony on a particularly rainy December morning. The week was full of anxious vibes and excitement in every corner of the hotel. After the completion of a full week of training, including safety and security and Tashelheet and Tamazirght tutoring, we finally made it to our Swearing In Ceremony. On December 9th, 106 trainees swore an oath to uphold the Peace Corps mission to promote world peace and friendship in the Kingdom of Morocco. The ceremony was attended by the Governor of Meknes, US Ambassador Dwight Bush, and several important Moroccan officials. Three trainees gave speeches (2 in Darija/1 in English) and let me tell you – they nailed every sentiment felt during our time in Morocco. Country Director Steve Driehaus spoke beautifully of how we should approach this time with a sense of urgency and seriousness it deserves. The rest of the morning was dedicated to impromptu photoshoots because let’s be real – it’s not every day you see us in jalabas and makeup.

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Crew Love

 

Saturday morning came all too soon and just like that – we were off to our sites all over the entire Kingdom of Morocco. I travelled 7 hours on an extremely crowded train to Marrakech and stayed with a 3rd year PCV in her site situated in beautiful snowcapped mountains. The next morning, I made the 3-hour trek via bus to my site (sorry due to safety concerns I can’t put the actual location.) Once I arrived to my site, I was lucky enough to carry nearly 150lbs (probably more) of luggage for a mile to my host sisters house. Immediately after arriving, I was on my way to an undisclosed location (because once again – my poor darija skills) with my sister, her two sons, and her mom. We ended up in what I can only describe as the middle of nowhere in a village that makes Alma, Kansas look like a city. I spent four days with nearly 20 women, eating roughly every two hours and trying to comprehend any bit of Darija possible. It turns out we were at my host sisters’ aunt’s house to celebrate the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday, which seems to be quite the affair here in Morocco. On the last day, the whole group of us travelled even further into the country to attend a Moussem (Festival of Horses). It’s almost impossible to articulate this experience, but basically, it could easily be a spread in National Geographic magazine. We spent all day in a huge tent, ate 6 meals by 3pm, and watched groups of men ride horses and try to fire their guns all at the same time. (Seriously – just Google it) This experience also proved to me I couldn’t pass as a Moroccan even if I wore a headscarf – unfortunately – I stand out like a unicorn anywhere I go here.

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Horses, Muskets, and Jalabas – Oh My!

 

All of this leads me to now – I’m sitting here in my room (aka the salon) trying to make sense of what my purpose will be here in my site. I finally met with the mudir (headmaster) of the lycee and college yesterday and secured their blessings to help at the schools and to have a Girl’s Club, possibly an Environmental Club, and help with sports there. They assured me that they would help me as much as possible, but that the kids have a very rigorous schedule and go back home on the weekends, so they have very little free time. I also went to the Nedi Newsi (Women’s Center) and secured an English class there once or twice a week. Right now, I’m without Wi-Fi – so it’s been rough trying to obtain resources to start planning. Other than that, I’m on the hunt for a house to rent once our requirement to stay with a host family is over. I’m looking forward to being in my own space. I’ve felt like I don’t have control of my life currently. Anyone who knows me knows that cooking and working out are the two that make me happy. I haven’t had either of those in nearly 14 weeks, and my mental health is starting to falter because of it (amongst many other reasons). I was told yesterday that I shouldn’t run in my site, so I suppose it’s at home workouts from now on. I’m pushing through though for now and I’m giving myself little goals to conquer so that I feel some level of accomplishment. The first three months in our new site are supposed to be a time of integration and coincidentally little work, so filling my time right now and trying to stay out of my head when I’m feeling down is rough.

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So I have an obsession with Mosques and Sunsets – Meknes, Morocco

 

 

I’m currently sitting at a seaside café, drinking a sprite, using as much WIFI as possible, and staring at the ocean in sunny Essaouria. Things could be worse. I found an adorable French Catholic church a block away from the ocean, so I’m excited to enjoy Christmas Eve mass their tonight at 9pm. I’m also spending tomorrow with fellow volunteers here in Essaouria. I hear they’re making mac and cheese, so I could basically cry right now thinking about it. They all say spending your first Christmas away from your family is the hardest part of service and they are certainly right. Wishing you all a Merry Christmas back home.

Miss you all.

Kayla ❤

 

Days Go By…

If there is anything I can take away from my second month in Morocco, its simply that I’m apparently more resilient that I thought. This month has flown by, but not without its inherent struggles on a daily basis. The Peace Corps is a mental game – some days you’re thriving and feeling great about your integration into the community and some days you’re piled under five blankets in the fetal position questioning why the hell you’re living in a mountainous village in rural Morocco without WIFI. In most cases, there is an entirely different story panning out behind those stunning Instagram worthy photographs that we post to update the ones we love abroad. I can’t speak for all of my staj, but I fight every single day to keep my sanity at bay.

This month I found out where my permanent site is. In mid-December, I’ll be heading to a very small town about an hour away from the coveted seaside city of Essaouria. It’s a town of roughly 1200, that straddles the main road from Marrakech to Essaouria. Aesthetically speaking it’s an eye sore, but the location itself is its redeeming quality. It appears I’ll have ample work opportunities whether it’s in the nedi newsi (women’s center), dar talib/taliba (boarding schools), lycee (high school), and the sports complex. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the sports complex opens soon and is receptive to any kind of help I can give them. My host sister is 35 and recently widowed. She has two sons (Teha 1.5 years old and Reda 8 years old) that are absolutely beautiful, but incredibly ornery. My sister appears to be a force to be reckoned with. She’s a preschool teacher, works in the nedi newsi, tutors girls in her house for several hours every night and is extremely respected in the community. They truly are a wonderful family, but it was easily the most exhausting three days I’ve experienced in a long time. For anyone who knows me, you know that I don’t work with children often. It doesn’t mean I don’t like them, I just honestly feel that my skillset works better with high school or college aged students. I was lucky enough to spend three solid days in a Moroccan preschool during my site visit (I use the term lucky extremely loosely). It was overwhelming and the set up contrasts significantly from what I’ve experienced in the United States, but I’ll save that for an entirely different post. The moral of the story is that (inshallah) I’ll be working more with the women and older kids than the preschool aged children in the community for the next two years.

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Essaouria, Morocco

 

Other than my site visit, I’ve spent most of my days in Ben Smim in language training with my CBT group. Darija is designated as a category four language which means it’s in the same group with Mandarin Chinese as one of the hardest languages to learn and its definitely proving to be just that. Peace Corps also dropped it on some of us that we get to simultaneously start learning another language depending on our site. So lucky me – I will also be learning an Amazight language called Tashlheet now. The language barrier is easily the most frustrating aspect of this whole experience. No matter how much I study every night, the language does not stick like Spanish did for me. I’ve actually taken a liking to learning script, which for most trainees is their least favorite aspect of language training. In truth, I think the language barrier facilitates part of my mental struggle. Try going almost three days without speaking but a few words – it takes a toll on you. Not only can I not express my feelings adequately in Darija, but I feel as if I can’t show anyone my true abilities without being able to communicate fully. At the end of the day, it motivates me to spend most of my nights curled up with my Darija book.

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Ben Smim, Morocco

 

 

Aside from my life in Ben Smim, I look forward to going to “Hub” every few weeks in Meknes. Hub consists of all of the CBT groups in the Southern region meeting to train together for several days. It’s a breath of fresh air to stay in a beautiful hotel and have access to a normal shower. It also helps us keep our sanity in my opinion. While I enjoy my CBT group, it’s nice to interact with others in our region. We have around 54 trainees in the Southern region, so there is always an adequate number of people to interact with. The training itself isn’t the most riveting, but it does consist of vital information that we all need to absorb at some point. All in all, no one can complain about being in Meknes where we have access to a Pizza Hut, McDonalds, and a “candy store” (I think we can all figure out what that means).

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Meknes, Morocco

 

I think by this point, my health has slowly started to deteriorate. I used to be proud that I didn’t consume hardly any sugar and I stuck to a rigorous training schedule, but this surely is not the case anymore. I think I’ve worked out MAYBE 5 times since I’ve been here. (I know I’m ashamed too) My biggest fear has been that I would not be able to stay healthy here due to being a strict vegetarian. While I literally never go hungry, I am constantly pumped full of bread, olive oil, honey, and mint tea. I have maybe one source of protein a day in the form of loubia (beans) or l3das (lentils). Unfortunately, I know this isn’t a sufficient intake of protein, but I’m also not in the position where I can cook for myself yet. I’m almost positive I’m anemic at the moment, so I’ll be putting in a phone call to the Peace Corps Medical Officer soon enough to confirm that. Eventually I know this will all get better once I’m on my own, but I still have a solid two and a half months before I’m living on my own. Until then, I’m afraid I’m going to feel sluggish and fatigued.

 

I know this wasn’t an exciting post by any means, but I wanted to give a quick update of some of the past month. I promise once I’m in my permanent site I’ll start updating more about my experiences. Like I’ve mentioned before, there is no Wi-Fi access in my village and the 3G network is useless most of the time. If you want a day to day account you’re more than welcome to follow my journey through my Instagram and Facebook page too.

Missing you all greatly,

❤ Kayla

Step by Step – Day by Day

Every time I begin to write a blog post, I become overwhelmed in the task of trying to explain the experiences of the last few weeks. How is it possible to explain the intricacies of learning about a new culture when it’s far from anything you’ve ever experienced? Or better yet, how do you try to convey the unfamiliarity of Moroccan culture to those back in the United States? To be fair, this first post is just scraping the surface of what I perceive Morocco as. I cannot possibly act like I know the ends and outs of the country, nor can I give a true opinion on the country itself. So for now, I will speak more about what it means to be a current Peace Corps trainee in Morocco.

If you think joining the Peace Corps is easy, I’m here to tell you IT’S NOT. This is not a glorified vacation. This is not like being a college student having the time of your life studying abroad in Europe. The first three months are like boot camp. No – we may not be running miles in record time or be forced to do as many pushups as possible in a minute; instead – we barely get any time/privacy for physical activity and in one way or another your body will fall susceptible to some sort of GI (gastro-intestinal) dysfunction.  In another light, this experience is undoubtedly a mental game. We spend the majority of our day reciting phrases in Darija and learning Arabic script, drinking mint tea that will most likely give us diabetes, and sitting awkwardly amongst our new Moroccan families trying to communicate in any way possible. We are constantly tip toeing around, trying to figure out what is acceptable and what boundaries we can push ever so gently. The majority of us feel dependent on our Moroccan cultural and language leaders; a notion that is incredibly difficult for those who are used to being independent and self-sufficient. The food. The language. The lack of privacy. The busy schedule. The new cultural norms. Simply put – it’s a lot to take in.

But – it’s what we all expected. We knew the risks, the lack of amenities, the loneliness, and the confusion would all ensue. No one goes into the Peace Corps expecting the next 27 months to go perfectly smoothly (If you do – you need to snap back to reality).  Once the initial shock begins to wear off, you find yourself mesmerized by how beautiful Morocco is. You stop comparing everything to how the United States runs and you accept that there are other ways people and society work. Sometimes – what works for the United States does NOT work for other countries. The American way is not always the most feasible solution for other countries to thrive -and THAT’S OKAY! This isn’t to say that Moroccan society doesn’t overcomplicate certain aspects of its’ society, but it’s a humbling moment when you decide to accept a country in its entirety.

That being said, I feel like I am slowly assimilating into Moroccan society. My training site is a tiny village on the side of a mountain near Azrou, Morocco. It’s incredibly picturesque, but lacks infrastructure and work entities. There are no weekly souks, but it’s a farming community full of fresh fruits and veggies. I’ve gotten used to waking up to the Call to Prayer five times a day and the sounds that the donkeys and roosters make. I currently live with an amazing family, who has taken me in with open arms. I’m laughed at on a daily basis for my eating habits, but my host mom Aisha feeds me better than I ever expected. One aspect of this experience I’ve gotten used to is compromise. In no shape or form would I ever eat food that touched or was cooked with meat, but alas, here I am eating veggies soaked in meat juice. (Yes – I want to vomit/cry every time I have to). Another compromise I’ve learned to deal with is the fact that bucket showers are my means of bathing, aside from the hammam (public bathhouse). No longer are the days I spoil myself with a bubble bath once or twice a day. I inherently make it sound more dramatic than it is, but in reality, I’m thankful to have access to running water and a western style toilet for these first few months. This isn’t to say I don’t also have to use the Turk on a daily basis either though. The biggest challenge I face is the lack of WI-FI. Unfortunately, my site does not have this accommodation, so I have used up a large proportion of my monthly data on my phone already. I only find this a hindrance because it’s my lifeline to my friends and family back home.

The speed at which I assimilate is on me. I have to stay accountable every single day while I’m here to get out of my comfort zone and trust in the process. If I start to look too far ahead, I’ll put myself in a state of stress and uncertainty. Peace Corps is all about living in the present. You survive 27 months by focusing on each day in its entirety, and achieving the small goals you set out for yourself. Maybe that goal is going out to the local souk and using only Darija or perhaps it’s going to the town square and playing soccer with the kids. At the end of the day, the Peace Corps is a 24/7 position. The integration and acceptance into Moroccan society is what we strive for every single day, so you best bring your A game if you want to succeed.

Feel free to send me any questions you have!

❤ Kayla