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

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.

Summer Camp: Or, a lesson in expectations vs. reality

Sorry for the few weeks’ lack of posting – at the beginning of August we went from having very little work to having two straight weeks of it, and we’ve been unable to update.  With the end of Ramadan, Summer Camp Round Two started, and since we had no camp in Azilal, we got to go help out at other volunteers’ camps. We decided to split up – Matt went to help at a camp near our training site, Taounate, and I went to one on a nice beach town on the Atlantic. We both had a great time at our respective camps, but we also each got a reminder that when it comes to planning work here in Morocco, the result rarely matches the plan.

I was scheduled to work at an 8-day-long camp of 40 kids led by some other volunteers. What actually ended up happening was a camp that started a day late and ended a few days early. We had 15 kids the first day, 40 the second, and 15 again the last couple of days.  I’m not complaining by any means – it was a great camp and I’m really glad I went to help out – but it definitely didn’t turn out the way I expected it to. I suppose the whole week was a nice reminder for me that when things don’t go as planned, sometimes it can actually be for the better.

Matt was scheduled to work at his camp for 10 days with another volunteer. His camp also got cut short, but in his case it was because the supervisor was 5 days late in taking them to the camp (partially because of a trip he took to Casablanca, a city 4 hours away, without letting anyone know). After an unexpected overnight detour where they were enlisted to help clean up a different camp that had just ended, they finally made it to their camp and started working on their main activity, which was to organize a soccer tournament for the kids. Despite the fact that many of the games had to be cut short or cancelled because they started over an hour late and daylight ran out, Matt had a good time and he also counted his camp experience as a good one.

The funniest thing to me about our two camps is that in Morocco, the fact that the reality barely met our expectations is basically considered to be normal. Every time the situation at my camp changed our general reaction was “well, of course,” because it’s not work in Morocco if things don’t go differently from how they’re planned. If any other PCV read these stories, they wouldn’t be surprised in the least because stuff like this is so common in all that we do. And it’s not just us Americans resigning ourselves to a cultural point we don’t understand – Matt was visiting our host family a couple days after his camp was supposed to start, and when he told them it had been moved back, their only response was “OK,” no questions asked.

There’s a word in Arabic – “inshallah” – that means “God willing.” It’s a favorite among PVCs because it just captures so perfectly the attitude among Moroccans that what will happen, will happen. You expected 40 kids but you have 15 (or vice versa)? Well, that’s just how it is. Camp got moved back 5 days, partly because your supervisor took an unannounced trip to Casablanca? God willed it, so you’d better adjust. This situation is often amusing, sometimes infuriating, but most of all is a great lesson in flexibility. When it comes to planning work, what actually happens is often far from what we’ve planned – summer camps are just one really good example. But we’re learning to be flexible, and inshallah everything will work out fine.

– Cori

Camp is all packed up... and apparently shoved into this one truck.

Camp is all packed up… and apparently shoved into this one truck.

Planning the tournament

Planning the tournament


Matt had the camera all week, so you only get pictures from his camp 🙂

Summer Camp

Matt and I often joke that the only reason we ended up as Youth Development volunteers is because we have such different talents and strengths that YD is the only thing we’re jointly qualified for. Which is especially funny to me because for the most part, I don’t feel qualified to do the work that we’ve done so far with youth at all (luckily, the YD umbrella is huge and there are plenty of projects I’m looking forward to working on in the fall when schools start again and camp season is over). Take last week as an example – it was Azilal’s first summer camp of the season. 40 kids ranging in age from 12 – 21 showed up at the youth center for an English camp put on by the director, and it was my job (along with Matt’s, once he got back from his climb) to entertain them for a week. As an introvert who never really went to summer camp, I felt waaaaay out of my league on this one. Thankfully some other PCVs who live in the area came up to help out – I don’t know what I would have done without them!

The first day of camp literally included my nightmare scenario – all the kids were seated in a circle around us, and the director asked us to individually stand up and sing a song or improvise a story. Never mind the fact that we were speaking in English and maybe 2 kids in the whole room understood… I was still horrified (my family will appreciate the fact that this brought me flashbacks to that birthday dinner at Joe’s Crab Shack). But we improvised by doing some spoken word renditions of Backstreet Boys songs, which was immensely entertaining to us (although the kids had no idea why we were laughing), and we managed to get through it.

The rest of the camp remained a struggle – the kids often didn’t want to do activities, they just wanted to hang out with their friends, so keeping to our schedule was difficult at best. But eventually the week ended, and the camp culminated in a talent show followed by a dance party that all the kids seemed to enjoy. As for me, I wouldn’t say that I enjoyed the actual camp, but I did enjoy getting to hang out and cook delicious meals with the other PCVs that came to help – we did a fantastic job distracting ourselves from camp during the evenings when we weren’t working! And I got a chance to meet a lot of kids who I’m sure will be great kids to have in our future activities (as long as they’re not surrounded by 40 other excited teenagers).

And I guess that now that I’ve helped run a camp (instead of just teach at one like we did in the spring), that makes me qualified to do it again. I certainly don’t feel like it, but I do have some ideas for how to make it better next time (although I’m hoping there won’t be too many next times…). This experience is also a good lesson for the next time I get thrown into a scenario I feel completely unqualified to deal with (which will undoubtedly happen, since this is the Peace Corps after all) – you do something, it might work or it might not, you will get embarrassed along the way, but you get through it anyway, and maybe you learn a little bit in the process. For now, though, I’ve been welcoming Ramadan and the slower schedule it has brought with open arms :). We’re almost into our second week of fasting now, and we’ll be sure to tell you all about it next week!

– Cori

Me teaching our combined beginners

Me teaching our combined beginners

We did get to take the camp to a festival happening in Azilal - we all got pictures like this, which was pretty cool!

We did get to take the camp to a festival happening in Azilal – a lot of the kids got pictures like this, which was pretty cool!

Our First Month in Azilal

We’ve been away from the blog for a bit since we’ve been working at a Spring Camp here for the last couple weeks, which has taken up a lot of our time (although we are now experts at sitting around not knowing what’s going on). Here’s a quick summary of what we’ve been up to:

Tuesday the 9th – Monday the 15th was our 1st camp. We were tasked with teaching English for an hour each afternoon, which went pretty well for the most part. We also helped with some time filler activities, including a STOMP-inspired activity which was actually pretty cool (we even showed the video from JI-row in the Red Bull Tum Tum Pa competition that some of you might remember – the kids loved it). We got lots of practice in writing quick lesson plans, teaching to students with a big range of abilities, and playing camp games.

Fun quotes of the week:
“I’m going to go to America and sell perfume until I’m rich. Then I’m going to move to Italy and become a murderer.” (This was definitely said as a joke).
“Obama has the blood of the pharaohs in him.” (This was definitely not said as a joke).

Last Tuesday we took advantage of a much-needed day off and visited a current volunteer (Vandy) living in Ait M’hamed, a small town a little bit further into the mountains. That Tuesday there happened to be a Moroccan horsemanship festival going on that was pretty awesome. As far as we could understand, it was a celebration of ancient warfare techniques and the aim of the group of horsemen is to maintain a straight line while first having their horses trot and then charge in unison, with the charge ending in a synchronized gunshot. We had a great time getting to know Vandy, eating some delicious street food, and getting up close and personal with some very excited horses.

Cori and Vandy enjoying the freshly cooked amazing street food

Cori and Vandy enjoying the freshly cooked amazing street food

Right next to the horses... whoa.

We may have almost gotten trampled…

Synchronized gunshot at the end of the ride.

Synchronized gunshot at the end of the ride.

Wednesday the 17th – Sunday the 21st was our 2nd week of camp. It turned out to be basically all of the same kids as our first camp, so we got lots more practice writing new lesson plans for our afternoon English lessons. This camp was a little bit shorter and it included a field trip day to a beautiful waterfall just outside of Azilal (not the famous Ouzoud falls – a smaller more local one called Ifrane) that was a really great opportunity for us to see some of Azilal’s surroundings and to hang out with the kids informally. We even both ended up swimming – Matt in a pair of shorts and Cori in a full t-shirt and pants.

Fun quote of the week:
Our test question: “What color is the teapot?” (Answer: red)
Student’s written answer: “What hat what.”

Cori in front of the Ifrane waterfall.

Cori in front of the Ifrane waterfall.

Youth at our spring camp.

Youth at our spring camp having a good time.

This week we’ve been preparing to start classes at the Dar Chebab while also spending lots of time with the current volunteers here. We visited Ait M’hamed again to see Vandy and went on some great hikes with him before he left this week, and we’ve been working on setting up our utilities and running other house-related errands with Donna, the volunteer who lives in the apartment we’ll be inheriting in Azilal. She is leaving for the good old USA next week, and while that means we finally get to move into our own place (woohoo!), it also means we’ll be the only Americans in Azilal (yikes!).

Our first month here has been pretty busy and full of ups and downs. Camp was a big challenge, but now that we’re done with it we appreciate it as an opportunity to get to know some of the kids at the Dar Chebab. We’ve had a great time getting to know our new host family – they’ve been super welcoming and our host sisters have been fantastic at showing us around Azilal.  We’re looking forward to keeping close ties with them after we move out. We’ve also had a great time getting to know Donna and Vandy here and learning all the important secrets of Azilal from them, like where to buy soy sauce and which butcher knows the word for “steak”. We know we’ll have plenty more challenges associated with moving into our own place and starting classes at the Dar Chebab, but we’re pretty happy with what we’ve accomplished here so far!

Got to see our first Scorpion on our hike with Vandy - zoom in on the photo and check out the needle on the end of his tail.  Scary!

Got to see our first Scorpion on our hike with Vandy – zoom in on the photo and check out the needle on the end of his tail. Scary!

View from our hike in Ait M'hamed

View from our hike in Ait M’hamed