Bonus 2nd post for the week!!
Cori and I just returned to Azilal from one of the biggest events we’ve participated in as Peace Corps Volunteers – a 250km bike ride from Beni Mellal to Marrakech to raise awareness for AIDS (or SIDA, the french acronym that it’s known by here). We traveled with 8 other PCVs, stopping in sites where current PCVs live, to support events scheduled in each site and led by Moroccan counterparts (to ensure maximum understanding of such sensitive information). We participated in events at youth centers, women’s centers, a sports center, a women’s cooperative, and an orphanage, and saw better-than-expected attendance at almost every event. So while we weren’t the ones actually leading the events, we’re still more than proud to have participated in a successful program that reached such a diverse group of people.
AIDS isn’t a huge problem in Morocco at this point – there are only approximately 32,000 cases in the country (pop: 32.5 million) – but several factors make it vulnerable to an epidemic in the future. Because of the extremely conservative culture, it is very difficult for Moroccan teens to learn about and understand the risky behaviors that could lead to getting HIV. Also, there are many misconceptions about AIDS, mostly related to transmission – many participants at our events thought that they could get HIV from someone by kissing or by sharing food with them. Our events were an excellent opportunity to correct these misconceptions as well as to educate people about risk factors and the availability of free testing centers.
In addition to being a fulfilling work experience, the ride was also lots of fun – outside of the AIDS events we spent our time on our bikes or hanging out with fellow PCVs. Our daily rides lasted between 1 and 5 hours with an average of 20 miles per day (40 miles on the longest day). The rest of the time was spent cooking, playing cards, getting proposed to, and completing tasks as a part of our self-made scavenger hunt competition. The scavenger hunt turned out to be the most amusing part of the ride – it included catching a chicken (Matt), turning your bike into a taxi with a sign and transporting at least one Moroccan (Matt), convincing a Moroccan to pick up something they had littered (Cori), eating a bouillon cube (luckily, neither of us), milking a cow (Matt), performing a cartwheel in the middle of a crowded street (Cori), etc. etc. etc. At stake were free beers for the winning team, purchased by the losing team… and unfortunately my team lost by a margin of one task to Cori’s team.
After our arrival in Marrakech we celebrated by going bowling (I never thought that this existed in Morocco), eating a delicious Thai food dinner, and enjoying a few drinks at a bar. The whole event was not only a great opportunity to pass on a bit of AIDS education but also an awesome chance to get to know our fellow PCVs, and Cori and I are both really glad we got a chance to participate.