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

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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