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!