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.

_DSC0147 (2).JPG

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.

_DSC0271.JPG

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.

15380687_10154422685903183_671116975346780800_n.jpg

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.

IMG_0536.JPG

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.

_DSC0385.JPG

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 ❤

 

Advertisements

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

 

Oh the Humanities…

“She is free in her wildness, she is a wanderess, a drop of free water. She knows nothing of borders and cares nothing for rules or customs. ‘Time’ for her isn’t something to fight against. Her life flows clean, with passion, like fresh water.”
Roman Payne

I can’t pinpoint an exact moment where I knew traveling the world and becoming a humanitarian would become one of my greatest passions in my life, but the idea undoubtedly unfolded at an early age. Some kids loved math or science – I loved what most kids my age would consider the ‘boring’ subjects – geography and history. Whether it was participating in the local geography bee or sitting in the back row of Mr. Wagner’s history class secretly trying to memorize and locate every country on a blank map, I constantly wanted to learn more about the world around me in every facet. So much so that I would even spend my Sunday afternoons with my history teacher in the Kansas Museum of History in Topeka, Kansas just because I thought it was fun. Talk about dedication. In high school, I veered from the idea of going to college for history, instead I wanted to become a journalist. I imagined a life traveling around the globe as a photo journalist for National Geographic photographing wild animals on African safaris, climbing the Great Wall of China, and roaming the Roman Underground for lost treasures. When it finally came time to enroll at Baker University, I once again surprised myself and foolishly decided that there was ‘too much’ writing to go into the Journalism program. I clearly had no idea what I was getting myself into when I declared International Studies and later on, History, as my two majors instead (You know because those two subjects don’t require ANY writing or anything – I blame you – Ortiz, Richards, and Beasley). As much as I probably complained about the gruesome amount of work in those four years, I was led to exactly where I needed to be – in the humanities.

The humanities change you. Is there really anything more compelling than attempting to understand the human condition through history, religion, language, art, and philosophy? You don’t actually need to answer that. Too often have I heard the arguments that suggests that the humanities do not contribute to our vast knowledge base like the STEM fields do. Too often have I heard that the humanities will not provide job security or a healthy stream of income. Too often have I been belittled by those who believe that my Master of Science degree in Global and International Studies is ‘less worthy’ compared to their Engineering and Math degrees. Luckily, I won’t stay up at night feeling diminished by their ignorance. I’m damn proud of my education. My degrees emphasized critical reading, writing, and thinking skills, as well as interdisciplinary approaches to problem solving — ALL of which will serve me well as I volunteer abroad.

I’ve known since I was 14 years old that I would apply for the Peace Corps. At that time in my life, I saw life in the Peace Corps as glamorous and exotic. It didn’t hit me until I was in college that volunteering in this capacity was anything but. However, the more I learned in my International Studies’ classes about different cultures and global issues, the more I realized how badly I wanted to help other cultures thrive with the skills I possessed. Although I did not apply directly after receiving my undergraduate degree, I knew I needed to gain more life experience through volunteering, furthering my education, and working in higher education to become a competitive candidate for the Peace Corps (23,000 people applied this year after all). In the past four years, I have worked diligently to become an informed, educated, and hardworking global citizen. I most certainly couldn’t have achieved this without the seven years of burying myself in International Studies curricula.

International Studies literally brings out the humanity in oneself. I mean honestly, how couldn’t it? Try sitting in class day in and day out reading about things like the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict, food security, the Rwandan Genocide, female genital mutilation, or human trafficking – it will change you. It will make you question everything you can imagine about the intricacies of your own society and if you’re contributing to this Earth in a positive or negative way. It makes you uncomfortable. No one wants to sit around and think about the poor child overseas being subjected to child labor in order to provide you with your clothing – but we have to. As humans – we have to be willing to question and dig deeper into the things that make us feel uncomfortable in order to enact any kind of positive change. And that is why I have chosen to join the Peace Corps – to promote world peace and gain intercultural relationships at a grassroots level. I would have never truly understood the impact of studying International Studies unless I experienced and witnessed the human condition in a different light, far from the comforts of my 1100 sq ft apartment in Fayetteville, Arkansas. My education has served its purpose and it has undeniably prepared me for MY future.

September 19th, 2016 marks the beginning of my journey as a Youth Asset Builder/Secondary Ed English Teacher in Morocco. The program widely focuses on youth leadership, strengthening youth networks, building capacity of professionals who work with youth, and the promotion of girls’ education. I will spend three months in intensive training learning Darija and everything I need to know about Moroccan culture and how to be the best volunteer possible. During this time I will live with a host family (one that I pray respects my dietary restrictions). For those wondering about my location, I will not find out until the end of those three months where I will be placed for the next two years of service. However, once I’m placed at my site, I will find myself my very own apartment that will become home for the next two years. Frankly, I’m scared. I’m excited. I’m nervous. I’m still shocked. I really can’t begin to describe the emotions that come to play when you know you will be in a completely new environment for 27 months. My goal is to keep you all updated as much as possible through this blog, Facebook, and Instagram. Feel free to ask me any questions regarding the Peace Corps or my travels abroad at anytime! I’ve searched for quite some time for an organization that I could develop professionally, socially, mentally, and physically and I couldn’t be more proud to have found that with the Peace Corps.

 

Love,

Kayla

 

Photo taken by the spectacular Gloria Atanmo at The Blog Abroad: