Back in the USA

Well, it’s been about a month since our last post on the day we left Morocco, and a new post on the blog is badly overdue. I had plans to write a nice summary of what I was looking forward to and what I would miss before we left Azilal, but I ended up being a lot busier leaving town and traveling around afterward than I anticipated. So I’ll give you a quick update about what we’ve been doing since we got back, what we’ve enjoyed, and what we’re missing.

Oslo – We were here for 3 days immediately following Morocco. We enjoyed the cleanliness, quietness, the proximity to beautiful fjords and forests, and the ability to wash our hands with soap and warm water even in public restrooms. We did have some price shock though, considering Oslo is one of Europe’s more expensive cities.

Hiking outside Oslo

Hiking outside Oslo

New York – We flew into NYC, where my parents and sister met us to welcome us to America. We had a great time eating and drinking our way around the city and getting to see my family, but we missed hearing Arabic – even in Oslo we’d heard some on the streets, but none in NYC.

Mom and Rachel welcomed us with an improvised napkin sign, Dad welcomed us with a beer :)

Mom and Rachel welcomed us with an improvised napkin sign, Dad welcomed us with a beer 🙂

Boston – We had a great time visiting friends, but were sad to be back to cold weather (spring in Boston – we probably should have expected it). We also came to terms with indoor heating, indoor and outdoor temperatures being different, washing machines, dryers, and dishwashers.

Friends and beer!

Friends and beer!

Philadelphia – Visited some former PCV friends and got to pick their brains about the readjustment process. Enjoyed going to a summer street festival and brunch for the first time in two years.

Friends and beer and food!

Friends and beer and food!

Washington, DC – Had a great stay with Matt’s brother and his family and enjoyed sharing some stories about our experiences with his kids. We also marveled at how clean the subway into downtown was, while simultaneously being outraged at the price. It was also a nice feeling to celebrate our return to America by visiting the capital.

Matt getting some quality time with his nephew Nathan

Matt getting some quality time with his nephew Nathan

After DC, we flew to Columbus, visited Matt’s parents in Dayton, and are fortunate to be able to continue to travel around the state and the country this summer to visit more friends and family. We’ve been really enjoying seeing everyone, eating food that we’ve been missing, drinking beer, walking around outside without getting stared at, hanging out with pets, and lots of other things.

Mom and Rachel welcome us to Columbus with the real sign

Mom and Rachel welcome us to Columbus with the real sign

But we’re also missing a lot about Morocco. I miss the mountain view from our apartment, speaking Arabic, my Moroccan friends, my PCV friends, being 2 hours away from amazing hiking, having cheap public transport available to get to said hiking, cheap veggies, cheap herbs, cheap spices, cheap fresh meat, and walking everywhere in town.

So that’s what we’ve been up to in the past month. We’ve got a lot more readjustment to look forward to, and while that’s definitely an important part of the Peace Corps experience, we won’t be including it in the blog. Stay tuned for one more final wrap-up post, coming soon!

– Cori

Getting Ready to Go Home

It’s been 2 years and 1 month since we arrived in Morocco, which means our Peace Corps journey is about to come to an end. We’ve only got a couple months left, which in the grand scheme of our service feels like basically nothing, and it’s crazy to be able to say that. For so long this day felt like it would never come, but then of course it snuck up on us while we were making friends and working and adapting to living here. We’re still looking forward to coming home and starting a new chapter in our lives, but it will certainly be bittersweet as we separate from all our new friends.

We’re at the point now where we have to look at our calendars, to-do lists, and bucket lists and start getting things done. The last couple weeks we’ve been updating resumes and starting to look for jobs (yikes!) and also planning our last trips to see friends, say goodbyes, and visit cool areas of the country we haven’t gotten to yet.

This past weekend we got to hit our biggest bucket list item – visiting the sand dunes in Merzouga with some of our closest PCV friends that we rarely get to see. It was a really beautiful place to visit, and hanging out with our friends and seeing how far we’ve all come since we were together during training was a great bookend to our service. We had a great weekend stargazing, sandboarding, sharing jokes, and being warm!

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Happy Holiday!

Today is 3id al-Adha, also called the Feast of the Sacrifice. It’s one of the biggest Islamic holidays and is widely celebrated in Morocco (you can read and see more about it from last year’s post if you’re interested). You might notice that last year we posted about it later in October – that’s because 3id al-Adha takes place on the 10th day of the last month in the Islamic calendar, which means on the Gregorian calendar it moves up every year.

We’ll be spending the day with our host family to share the festivities and family time that accompany the holiday. Despite the one big difference, the rest of the day feels surprisingly like Christmas or Thanksgiving – we’ll spend lots of time visiting family and friends today and in the coming days, we’ll eat lots of food, and we’ll enjoy the atmosphere of school and work being closed. And even though most of you aren’t celebrating today, Matt and I wanted to take the chance to wish you all a happy holiday anyway! As you cook your meals today just imagine us watching a sheep get butchered, skinned, and then helping to prepare its organs. 🙂

Mbrouk l-3id! !مبروك عواشر Happy holiday!

– Cori and Matt

Transition

The group of PCVs I came to country with is in the midst of a transition period right now. The volunteers that were here when we got to our final sites are all about to leave – they’ve finished their service and they’re heading for home. At the same time, there is a new group of volunteers that just finished their training and are arriving at their final sites to replace the old volunteers who are leaving. And my group is stuck in the middle – we’re missing the excitement and the bittersweet feeling of a big change… but I’m actually glad to be in this position.

Yes, of course I’m insanely jealous of the PCVs who are leaving to go back to America; to their family, friends, pets, steady jobs, and Chipotle. But we get to go back to visit soon anyway! I’m not going to lie, I can’t say I’m excited to come back after our visit and return to working at the Dar Chebab. But I am excited to come back and finish traveling to all the places I haven’t been yet, visit fellow PCVs I haven’t gotten a chance to visit yet, and show some friends who are planning to visit around Morocco. And who knows, maybe I’ll get a successful project or two in before I leave for good. I’ll be here, feeling jealous, as my former-PCV friends rediscover America. But I’ll also be here as they miss Morocco at the same time, and I’m hoping that hearing about that aspect of returning to America will help me really appreciate where I am for this last year of my service.

Matt and I will also get to be that steady presence for the new volunteers that I remember counting so much on when we first got to Azilal. We offer them an escape from host family, advice in finding a house, hope for their future projects, recommendations for where to travel, and delicious taco recipes. Matt was even recently appointed as Warden for our region, which means he is literally the contact person for these new PCVs in getting settled into site and finding a house – he’ll travel to visit all of them to approve the houses they find, which is a role I know he’s really looking forward to. Anyway, we’re the “old” group now, which is actually a really nice feeling. It’s like when my family came to visit and we suddenly were able to see how much we’d learned in the year since we’d last seen them. Seeing the new PCVs reminds me of how I felt when I was in their shoes, and realizing how far I’ve come since then.

Matt and I are feeling a lot of things right now – we’re excited for our friends who are leaving, but we’re also sad to see them go, and sad that we can’t go with them. We’re excited to meet all the new volunteers, and empathetic to the craziness they might be feeling right now. But despite all of these feelings, we’re actually in a pretty solid place right now finishing up our work for the year and getting ready for our visit home to the States. And that feels pretty good. 🙂

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