This past week I had the amazing opportunity to help out with a program done by another volunteer called C.L.I.M.B (Creating Leadership In the Mountains and Beyond). The program involves teaching Moroccan youth about teamwork, leadership, nature, wilderness first aid, and hiking over 6 months. The final hurrah combines everything in a trip to the highest point in North Africa – Mt. Toubkal. My job was as simple as it is awesome – hike with the group during the final ascent!
The climb itself was excellent. We spent 3 days on the mountain. The first was a beautiful 7 hour hike up (almost 4000ft) through the surrounding mountains to the mid-mountain refuge. The second day was summit day, another 3000 ft of elevation gain to reach 13,671ft , and then a dangerous return hike to the refuge over loose scree slopes to the refuge – total time = 9 hours. On the final day we made the 4 hour downhill return hike to our starting point. Throughout the trip the kids were incredible – sure some of them had their moments where they didn’t think their legs could take another step or they thought there was no way that they could descend some of the steepest, loosest slopes without falling – but they pushed through and made it. It really was incredible to see 12 kids that had never truly been hiking before this program summit the tallest mountain around.
With so much time together during the hike and at the lodges I really had the chance to connect with some of the Moroccans despite my lack of language skills after a certain point. My favorite moment involved teaching the group the OH-IO cheer after finding out that one of the girls had a M*ch*g*n hat on the mountain – I have no idea how she got it and she had no idea how terrible a thing she was representing :). Half the group said that Michigan was “xayb” (bad) after that and the other half used it as an opportunity to mess with me by saying that it was “zwin” (good) or “aziz عliya” (close to my heart – seriously who could say that about Michigan…). I also got the chance to introduce them to geocaching – which they thought was really cool but also ridiculous. Hopefully I was able to pass on at least some of my love of nature to them…
After all of the running around on the mountain and corralling kids I finally had the chance to reflect during my 4 hour bus ride back home from Marrakesh. There I was, sweating profusely and sitting squeezed into a seat with a Moroccan woman and her small son… and I realized how absolutely ridiculous and amazing this whole Peace Corps experience has been so far. I smiled a huge grin and stared out at the mountains just happy to be lucky enough to be here.