Our First Month in Azilal

We’ve been away from the blog for a bit since we’ve been working at a Spring Camp here for the last couple weeks, which has taken up a lot of our time (although we are now experts at sitting around not knowing what’s going on). Here’s a quick summary of what we’ve been up to:

Tuesday the 9th – Monday the 15th was our 1st camp. We were tasked with teaching English for an hour each afternoon, which went pretty well for the most part. We also helped with some time filler activities, including a STOMP-inspired activity which was actually pretty cool (we even showed the video from JI-row in the Red Bull Tum Tum Pa competition that some of you might remember – the kids loved it). We got lots of practice in writing quick lesson plans, teaching to students with a big range of abilities, and playing camp games.

Fun quotes of the week:
“I’m going to go to America and sell perfume until I’m rich. Then I’m going to move to Italy and become a murderer.” (This was definitely said as a joke).
“Obama has the blood of the pharaohs in him.” (This was definitely not said as a joke).

Last Tuesday we took advantage of a much-needed day off and visited a current volunteer (Vandy) living in Ait M’hamed, a small town a little bit further into the mountains. That Tuesday there happened to be a Moroccan horsemanship festival going on that was pretty awesome. As far as we could understand, it was a celebration of ancient warfare techniques and the aim of the group of horsemen is to maintain a straight line while first having their horses trot and then charge in unison, with the charge ending in a synchronized gunshot. We had a great time getting to know Vandy, eating some delicious street food, and getting up close and personal with some very excited horses.

Cori and Vandy enjoying the freshly cooked amazing street food

Cori and Vandy enjoying the freshly cooked amazing street food

Right next to the horses... whoa.

We may have almost gotten trampled…

Synchronized gunshot at the end of the ride.

Synchronized gunshot at the end of the ride.

Wednesday the 17th – Sunday the 21st was our 2nd week of camp. It turned out to be basically all of the same kids as our first camp, so we got lots more practice writing new lesson plans for our afternoon English lessons. This camp was a little bit shorter and it included a field trip day to a beautiful waterfall just outside of Azilal (not the famous Ouzoud falls – a smaller more local one called Ifrane) that was a really great opportunity for us to see some of Azilal’s surroundings and to hang out with the kids informally. We even both ended up swimming – Matt in a pair of shorts and Cori in a full t-shirt and pants.

Fun quote of the week:
Our test question: “What color is the teapot?” (Answer: red)
Student’s written answer: “What hat what.”

Cori in front of the Ifrane waterfall.

Cori in front of the Ifrane waterfall.

Youth at our spring camp.

Youth at our spring camp having a good time.

This week we’ve been preparing to start classes at the Dar Chebab while also spending lots of time with the current volunteers here. We visited Ait M’hamed again to see Vandy and went on some great hikes with him before he left this week, and we’ve been working on setting up our utilities and running other house-related errands with Donna, the volunteer who lives in the apartment we’ll be inheriting in Azilal. She is leaving for the good old USA next week, and while that means we finally get to move into our own place (woohoo!), it also means we’ll be the only Americans in Azilal (yikes!).

Our first month here has been pretty busy and full of ups and downs. Camp was a big challenge, but now that we’re done with it we appreciate it as an opportunity to get to know some of the kids at the Dar Chebab. We’ve had a great time getting to know our new host family – they’ve been super welcoming and our host sisters have been fantastic at showing us around Azilal.  We’re looking forward to keeping close ties with them after we move out. We’ve also had a great time getting to know Donna and Vandy here and learning all the important secrets of Azilal from them, like where to buy soy sauce and which butcher knows the word for “steak”. We know we’ll have plenty more challenges associated with moving into our own place and starting classes at the Dar Chebab, but we’re pretty happy with what we’ve accomplished here so far!

Got to see our first Scorpion on our hike with Vandy - zoom in on the photo and check out the needle on the end of his tail.  Scary!

Got to see our first Scorpion on our hike with Vandy – zoom in on the photo and check out the needle on the end of his tail. Scary!

View from our hike in Ait M'hamed

View from our hike in Ait M’hamed

New Address!

We finally have a new address!

Send us mail at:
Cori and Matt MacFarland
B.P. 737
Azilal Medina
Azilal, Morocco 22000

Right now we’re in the midst of working at Spring Camp, so we don’t have the time to write out a nice blog post – sorry! From our point of view the fact that we have an address is way more exciting than a lot of the other stuff we write about :-). Hopefully we’ll be back soon with more updates. We miss you all!

Cori and Matt

… Is this Peace Corps?

We swore in as official Peace Corps Volunteers a week ago today, which was a nice end to our training period. We swore an oath to support and defend the U.S. Constitution, and by doing so agreed to abide by the core expectations for all Peace Corps Volunteers.  The one that we’ve been thinking about most this past week is #3: “Serve where the Peace Corps asks you to go, under conditions of hardship, if necessary, and with the flexibility needed for effective service.”

We arrived in Azilal last Thursday, and have been excitedly exploring ever since. So far, this city seems to be exactly what we asked for, and we find ourselves asking “… is this really Peace Corps?” Azilal is in a valley in the High Atlas Mountains, and while the city itself is a lot flatter than we expected, there are some great views in the distance. We’ve spent our days going on 4-5 hour walks with our host sisters, who are more than happy to take us out exploring. We’ve found tons of gorgeous little places, and lots of paths that we’re looking forward to exploring further on future walks, hikes, and runs.

We’ve also been spending a lot of time with the current PCV who is living here for the next month. She’s been helping us out with all kinds of stuff, including letting us use the wi-fi that she has set up in our apartment and helping us transfer all of the utilities to our names so we can move in when she leaves. We almost can’t count the number of times we’ve turned to each other and said “seriously… this can’t be Peace Corps.”

But of course this is all just our first impression. We know it’s inevitable that we’ll run into hardships; for example, the current PCV was telling us all about winter in Azilal. She said this past one was a pretty mild winter because they got a meter of snow in November and that was about it (and yes, still no heat in the houses here). We laughed in dread, assuming we’d have all of summer and fall to prepare ourselves. Then, of course, we experienced our first cold spell today, which included hail. We’re back to wearing long underwear and two sweaters inside… so yes, this is Peace Corps.

We had this point driven in further on Monday, when we decided to go to the nearest city to pick up our bags that Peace Corps had shipped there. After we took a taxi for an hour and a half along the winding road out of Azilal (with Matt sitting next to a dude who got a little queasy and had to ask the cab driver to pull over so he could vom), we got into town, picked up our bags, had lunch with some volunteers who live there, and were considering our trip to be pretty successful. We decided to go back to Azilal a different way so we could stop by a nearby town and meet another volunteer who lives there. It wasn’t until we got dropped off in that town and our cab drove away that we learned that there was a taxi strike going on there, and we wouldn’t be able to get home that night. We ended up having a great time getting to know the volunteer there, and we’re both pretty glad we got stranded that night. But between the partially understood phone calls back to our host family in Azilal and the process of finding a ride home the next day after we discovered the taxi strike was still going on, we realized again that yes, this is definitely Peace Corps. And maybe we should chalk it up to the fact that we’re brand-new volunteers, but we’re still pretty excited about that. 🙂

Swearing-in - 95 trainees came to Morocco and all 95 are new volunteers!
Swearing-in – 95 trainees came to Morocco and all 95 are new volunteers!