Camp!

We did a spring camp last week. I know we often mention it in passing, but I don’t think we’ve ever actually described what goes into a camp, so I thought that’d be a nice post for today. So without further ado… Camp!

Spring and summer camps are a mandated part of most PCVs’ jobs here in Morocco. That’s because Peace Corps’ partnership here is with the Ministry of Youth and Sport, which is the ministry that oversees the Dar Chebabs and Nedi Neswis, and camp is an important part of the Ministry’s yearly plan. The way this usually works for PCVs is that their mudir receives a fax at some point letting us know there will be camp. Unfortunately, this fax often comes days before camp is supposed to start, and you can imagine the kind of chaos that creates. Luckily, this year we’ve been planning on doing an April camp since February, so we avoided the usual chaos.

When we say we do a camp, we literally mean we do the whole thing (not all volunteers’ camps work this way, but ours usually do). We plan it, bring in friends to work it, buy any extra supplies we need, and run it. The only thing we don’t worry about is food – that’s up to the mudir. This year there was no money for food, so we were completely in charge. A couple weeks before the camp Matt and I sat down to make the schedule – we could do a half-day camp since there was no food, we decided to use a daily team competition structure to enforce discipline, and we brainstormed some ideas for instructional sessions. The next week we called up some volunteers to see if anyone was interested in helping out, and then the day before the camp started we sat down with everyone who would be helping to finalize the schedule and pick which sessions we could offer. We can get away with this type of planning because PCVs are awesome and most of us have tons of instructional sessions and activities in our back pockets, ready to go.

After the usual confusion of calling our mudir and finding out no kids had signed up, then going the next day to check it out and finding out there were, in fact, 20 kids signed up, we began camp on a Tuesday afternoon. Our first day was filled with playing get-to-know-you games, creating teams, having the teams create their flags, explaining how the team competition would work, and playing team-building games after they had their teams. It was a pretty good day – the trust falls were especially popular.

 Caption: The team names they picked were “Anonymous”, “Ayour” (Tamazight for “moon”), and “Evil”. Teams got points for behaving well, helping out when asked, and for participating in “Library Time” at the end of the day, when they had to write English sentences, answer a couple questions about the sessions we had during the day, and identify countries on our big world map.

The team names they picked were “Anonymous”, “Ayour” (Tamazight for “moon”), and “Evil”. Teams got points for behaving well, helping out when asked, and for participating in “Library Time” at the end of the day, when they had to write English sentences, answer a couple questions about the sessions we had during the day, and identify countries on our big world map.

I'm being very trusting since I'm pretty sure none of them had done a trust fall before that day

I’m being very trusting since I’m pretty sure none of them had done a trust fall before that day

The rest of the days were filled with rotation sessions – campers stayed in their teams most of the time and the teams would rotate through three instructional sessions offered by three of the volunteers. This turned out to be a great structure, because it broke the kids down into groups we could manage, and it meant we got to lead the same session three times, which when you’re doing it in a foreign language is extremely helpful. It goes without saying that Matt and I were suuuuuper thankful for the help of our fellow volunteers throughout the camp, because without them things would have been a lot harder. Here’s a quick outline of the sessions that we offered:

Wednesday: Matt led a session on how trash pollutes the water supply. It includes an activity where you slowly add vinegar to water and have the kids taste it until they can taste the “trash”. Our volunteer helpers, Lara and Clay, led an art session where kids drew their “paradise”, then passed the drawings around in a circle having each kid draw a piece of trash onto someone else’s paradise. They paired this with a presentation on how long trash takes to decompose to really emphasize the effect trash has on the environment. I led a free time session where we played games.

Matt's trash session

Matt’s trash session

Thursday: Matt and Clay led Frisbee golf in the park next to the Dar Chebab. Lara led an art activity to encourage self-esteem and respect, where the kids traced their hands then listed characteristics they liked about themselves in the fingers. I led a volunteerism session where we talked about what volunteerism is and its importance, then I helped each group plan a short volunteer project.

Friday: Each group completed their volunteer project. One group cleaned the Dar Chebab, one group picked up trash in the garden and read stories to kids at the little kids’ camp upstairs, and one group planned and taught a Tamazight lesson to our campers. Afterwards we had a short discussion on how the projects went and what they would do differently in the future.

A students from Team Ayour reading to kids

A students from Team Ayour reading to kids

Team Evil teaching me how to write my name in Tamazight

Team Evil teaching me how to write my name in Tamazight

Saturday was our last day, and we had planned to bleach-dye t-shirts, make drawings to post on a “board of the camp”, and have a talent show, but most of the kids didn’t show up. Whether this is due to them not being satisfied with Friday’s volunteerism activity, or because it was a Saturday, I have no idea, but it was still kind of disheartening. We still did the t-shirts and the drawings, but nobody wanted to do a talent show, and at the end of the day when we announced the winning team and handed out certificates it was like pulling teeth to get them to come in. But, all in all, Matt, Clay, Lara, and I led a camp that we were proud of, and it also turned out to be far less stressful than normal. We’re very glad it’s over for now… until, of course, we get back from the U.S. and it’s time to plan for summer camp. Dun dun dun…

– Cori

Positivity… ?

Last week was Mid-Service Training for my group of PCVs. We all got together for a “training”, which was really mostly just talking about how we’re feeling right now. I honestly didn’t have high hopes for it, but I left feeling really… positive, which surprised me. That’s not to say that I never feel positive here – I do – but it’s just usually related to hanging out with friends, or to a specific trip we took. I guess it’s been awhile since I’ve felt generally positive about living, traveling, AND working in Morocco looking forward.

Our training was nice for a bunch of reasons. One, it was nice to have a couple medical appointments and hear that I’m healthy (no cavities! Yeah!). Two, it was great to get tested again for my language level and learn that I’ve improved three levels (I can’t even explain how validating and awesome this made me feel). Three, Rabat has some delicious restaurants, and I spent way too much money drinking with friends and eating Chinese, real pizza and real salad at a German restaurant, and a bacon cheeseburger with onion rings and a real Sam Adams beer at an American restaurant (I know this sounds like some crap you can get anywhere in America but seriously you can’t get it here and it was So. Good.). And four, it was seriously fantastic to hang out with my good friends from training who I basically never get to see, as well as with other friends I’ve been slowly getting to know over the year. I actually got to stay in Rabat for a whole week, since my medical appointments were a couple days after our training ended, and it was a great break for my mental health.

Exploring the ruins in Rabat with some friends

Exploring the ruins in Rabat with some friends

In addition to the training, I’ve also been feeling more positive lately after meeting a couple new Moroccan friends who are interested in helping me do projects here in Azilal. Since I haven’t pulled off any big projects to my satisfaction yet, I’m hoping with the help of my friends that I can do it this year. I didn’t see it coming, but right now I have a lot more hope for my final year than I had a couple months ago. We’re kind of in a transition period right now (more about that in a few weeks), and I know that once it passes a lot of the excitement will be gone and I probably won’t be feeling as positive or hopeful. But one thing I talked about with some of my friends at training was the importance of being hopeful, even when you know, inevitably, that things are going to go wrong somehow (this probably sounds kind of pessimistic, but really it’s just a fact). So I’m going to enjoy the positivity while it lasts, and hopefully I’ll actually come up with a project or two to show for it.

– Cori

The Hardest Part

My grandpa passed away this week. It was expected – I’ve been able to prepare myself a bit, and I got to write a goodbye letter that my Dad read to him a few weeks ago – but of course it was still really hard. The hardest part of Peace Corps for me has been being apart from friends and family, which was never clearer to me than it was this week.

I’m used to feelings of sudden disappointment that come up when a project fails or when I have a negative experience, and I don’t like those either. But being so far away from home, without the ability to visit more than once, is just a constant feeling of distance and disconnection. Skype and email and other fantastic technologies do wonders to make that feeling of distance go away, but at a time like this they’re just not the same. I’m so glad that my dad was able to call me to let me know when my grandpa passed, but at the same time when I got that phone call I felt every one of the 4,000 miles between us and all I wanted to do was be at home so I could give everyone a hug. Matt and I have missed many family events in the last year – a bunch of holiday get-togethers, a college graduation, a 21st birthday, a wedding, the birth of a niece, and now a funeral, not to mention all the important goings-on in our friends’ lives… these are the times when it’s hardest to be here. We are still glad that we joined Peace Corps, but don’t let our generally positive blog fool you into thinking it’s not hard.

I know this post is sad, and I hate writing sad things, but I feel like this is an important experience to share. I do want to say that I’m feeling much better after being in contact with my family all week – thanks guys for skyping, sending me the eulogy and everything to read, and generally making sure I’ve felt connected. I really appreciate it, and Matt and I both appreciate all the support we’ve received from family and friends back home throughout our service.

– Cori

The Cold Mountain

This past weekend Cori and I met up with one of our good friends to climb a mountain near Beni Mellal.  The mountain’s name, Tessemit, comes from a Berber word meaning ‘cold’.  For the end of March it certainly was cold!  This was also one of our final opportunities to hang out with some of our best friends that we’ve met here in the Peace Corps. The group that came to Morocco a year before us is about to close their service and return to the US – we will truly miss them over the next year. This was a great opportunity to share another few moments with a few of them before we head on separate paths.  Below, some photos of our trek.

Cori perched on the top of a cliff that we climbed near the beginning of our journey.

Cori perched on the top of a cliff that we climbed near the beginning of our journey.

Beautiful valley #1

Beautiful valley #1

Beautiful Valley #2

Beautiful Valley #2

Jeff kicking steps in the steep snow slow as we near the summit.

Jeff kicking steps in the steep snow slow as we near the summit.

Summit!

Summit!

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Posing at the top!

Also, here’s a bonus video!  It’s a tourism video from Morocco and it’s got some incredible images from around the country (aside from the belly dancer – I’ve never actually seen that here).  Enjoy!