Back to Work!

I never thought I’d be glad to hear those words… but after a summer where our entire job consisted of working the occasional camp, I’ve actually enjoyed getting back to work in Azilal. It’s been a slow start – school started at the beginning of October, but then there was a week off for l’3id. Then there were a couple weeks on, and another week off from school last week to celebrate the Islamic New Year and the Green March holiday. But we’ve been gradually increasing time at the Dar Chebab and letting people know that we’ll be starting classes soon. We’ve got a big project going on the next few weeks (you’ll hear about it in our next post!) but after that we hope to finally get back to teaching regularly.

Here’s what we’ve been up to so far this school year:

  • I’ve been teaching aerobics and beginner English at the Nedi Niswi, which is the women’s center (yes, this is the part where you all laugh as you imagine me leading aerobics). I’ve really enjoyed it though, not least because I can always fall back on “do this” and “like me” when my Darija isn’t getting the point across. Awkwardness (usually) averted!
  • I also attended a training to be able to lead business education programs at the Dar Chebab, through a Moroccan non-profit that’s partnered with Junior Achievement. Youth unemployment is a huge problem in Morocco so this is something that I’m excited about doing this school year.
  • Matt’s been planning some big projects of his own, including starting the C.L.I.M.B. program in Azilal and getting his foot in the door with a few PCV-organizational partnerships such as a rock-climbing camp and Engineers without Borders. He’s hoping to get more involved with all of these at the beginning of next year.
  • Together we’ve been going to the Dar Chebab to hang out with the kids there. Since we haven’t started any structured classes yet, our crowd is pretty small, but we’ve enjoyed playing Frisbee, Uno, Scrabble, Chess, paper football, and whatever other games we can think of with them. For kids whose main form of entertainment at home is TV, these games are a great way to pick up some new problem-solving skills, even if the English we use is minimal.

Even with starting up work again, we’ve still have some time for fun… we got to visit the Ouzoud waterfalls again this weekend with Max, a couchsurfer that we hosted from Germany. Got to see the beautiful falls, gorges and cliffs, play with some monkeys, and even do a little November swimming!

I guess Max shares some of Matt's crazy... and they hiked around in their underwear the rest of the day to let them dry out. no joke.

I guess Max shares some of Matt’s crazy… and they hiked around in their underwear the rest of the day to let them dry out. no joke.

Picture courtesy of Max, who is a much better photographer than Matt and I put together

Picture courtesy of Max, who is a much better photographer than Matt and I put together

Cropped to save you all a close-up of them in their boxers.

Cropped to save you all a close-up of them in their boxers.

Let’s Climb!

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.

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The last 1000 ft to the summit!

The last 1000 ft to the summit!

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Summit with the group!

Summit with the group!

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…

Ew...

Ew…

Introducing the kids to geocaching

Introducing the kids to geocaching

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.

-Matt