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

A Bittersweet Good-bye

This week we’re having our Swearing-In ceremony, which is our first big landmark of Peace Corps service. It signifies the end of our training period and our transition from being Peace Corps Trainees to being actual Volunteers (which is actually a pretty big deal although it might not seem like it). This is one of those parts of service when Peace Corps people like to reflect about how far they’ve come and all that stuff… so hang on with us the next few weeks if our blog posts get a little cliché.

We left Taounate on Saturday to come to Rabat for our Swearing-In later this week, and leaving ended up being an extremely emotional experience.  We thought that integrating into the community and learning Darija would be the most difficult part of our training period, but it turned out that leaving our host family was pretty difficult and painful as well.  Our family has been amazing for us (which is not something that can be universally expected in the Peace Corps – it wasn’t even the experience for all of the trainees in Taounate) and we really felt like we had become part of the family. There were lots of hugs, tears, invitations, and promises to come back and visit in the days before we left. The final morning Mama Naima even got up at 5:45am to walk with us to the bus stop so she could give us each one last long hug before we left.

The whole experience of leaving really emphasized the power of making connections in the communities where we live. The Peace Corps has been telling us this from the start, but it wasn’t until we left our first homestay experience and looked back on it that we really understood the experience of connecting with a Moroccan family and their community. As Mama Naima has told us at least 20 times, we are welcome in their home for the next two years and probably for many years beyond that, which is pretty amazing. We might not be able to converse above a 2nd grade level, we might have miscommunications on a weekly (if not daily) basis, and we might not enjoy being told to “KUL!” long after we’re full at the end of a meal, but a Moroccan household has accepted us as part of the family. We’ve shared meals, laughs, and a mutual respect for each others’ cultures, and that makes up for a lot of what we’re lacking in other areas. And the fact that we made such a deep connection with our family in just two months really put in perspective what the friendships we’ll make during our years in Azilal have the potential to be. We need to make strong connections so we can put down roots in the community, so we can offer useful assistance, and so we can stay sane while living so far from our family, friends and fellow volunteers.  After living in Taounate for a couple months, we’re finally (mostly) confident that we can accomplish that.

We’ll end this post with a half-sad, half-funny story from the night before we left:
We made a handwritten card to give to Mama Naima and the family along with our thank-you gift to them, and we wrote it in Arabic script to make it a little extra special (she can’t read but we figured the rest of the family would appreciate it). When we brought it out to give it to her we wanted to read it out loud for her, but we were both so teary and emotional that we had a really hard time deciphering the Arabic script in the first place (even though we had written it) and pronouncing it correctly after we figured out what each word said. We interrupted our gift-giving to run and find our notes that we had used to write the card, but we still didn’t end up making much sense, so Anass had to re-read the card for Naima. I’m sure you all can imagine us sitting around crying a little, laughing a little, and hugging each other as this is all going on – it was a sad moment, but also something nice to be a part of. Hopefully Naima and Anass felt the same way.

Can’t wait to head to swear-in on Wednesday and head to Azilal to start the next two years on Thursday!
-Cori and Matt

Hello from Rabat!

We’ve just finished our first week of training – woohoo! It’s actually only been 4 days but it feels like it’s been much longer since we have been so busy.

Our training days have been full of all things Peace Corps from about 8:30 am to 6 or 7 pm. Cori’s favorite part so far has been the language training in Darija, which is the Moroccan dialect of Arabic. It’s challenging, but it was one of the things she was most looking forward to and so far she’s been enjoying it. Matt has been enjoying it a lot more than he expected.

We learned where we’ll be for our next ten weeks of training – a town called Tounet, which we don’t know much about except that it’s near mountains north of Fes. While we’re there, we’ll be living with a host family and practicing leading activities in the local youth center (dar chebab), which gives us a chance to practice language and teaching/working with the kids.  We’re excited and a little nervous to meet our host family but definitely ready to start learning Darija from them!

Today was a much needed day off – we had a great time exploring Rabat. We went to the Casbah (old castle), explored some Roman ruins, and walked through a ridiculously crowded and noisy market in the Medina (old city).  See the pic dump below.

More updates to come! We miss you all!

-Matt and Cori

Hassan II Tower

Hassan II Tower

Cori with the Casbah and ocean in the background

Cori with the Casbah and ocean in the background

View from the Casbah over the ocean

View from the Casbah over the ocean

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Walking through the shops in the Medina