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!

??????????????????????????????? ??????????????????????????????? ???????????????????????????????– Cori

In the bled

A couple weekends ago I went to visit a Moroccan friend of mine who lives out in the bled. “Bled” means country in Darija, and PCVs have adapted the phrase “in the bled” to mean any fairly isolated place. There used to be tons of PCVs in Morocco who lived in the bled – this was when there were still Health and Environment sectors instead of only Youth Development like it is now – and I’ve often wondered what it would have been like to live out there. I love nature, hiking, and being outdoors and so I tend to romanticize what it would be like; consequently this trip was an incredible experience for me, both because I was really looking forward to it and also because it was a good eye-opener.

My friend lives in a small farming community in a valley on the north side of the highest peaks in the High Atlas range, and as you’d expect it’s a breathtakingly beautiful place. I think I spent half my time there just sitting outside enjoying the view. The other half of the time I was taking advantage of the great hiking and the fresh fruit, butter, honey, buttermilk, eggs, and meat. My friend’s mom was even nice enough to show me how to weave on her loom. It was everything I’d envisioned and I had a great time – but I was only there for a short period of time, playing the tourist.

One day when we were walking around talking about how beautiful it is there, my friend pointed out to me that people only live there because that’s where they grew up, and they’re poor enough that most of them don’t have much of a choice of moving away. There are very few jobs there, and most people farm or raise animals because they have to in order to have food. Many kids don’t get to stay in school because they need to help support their families, and so they don’t learn Arabic (only the spoken form of the local Berber dialect), which further limits their prospects of moving away or finding a job. The real shock for me was when I asked if anyone really liked living in her village, and she told me no, she didn’t think so. Even if I lived out there for my entire two-year service, I’m still not sure I could really appreciate how difficult subsistence living can be.

I still feel the pull of the bled, and I can’t bring myself to give up my vision of what serving in Peace Corps there would be like. Matt and I are planning at least one more backpacking trip to the area, but this time instead of walking through these isolated villages and wishing I lived there for a moment, I’ll try instead to keep in mind the endless hard work it takes to just live in a place like that, and consider myself lucky to be able to see these beautiful places from a tourist’s point of view.

The view from my friend's house.

The view from my friend’s house.

We walked up the hill behind my friend's house. Later in the day her family made fun of me for wearing sandals.

We hiked up the hill behind my friend’s house – it was hard! Later in the day her family made fun of me quite a bit for wearing sandals.

View of the village from the top of the hill

View of the village from the top of the hill – you can see it’s pretty small.

Me trying and failing to be helpful. It was fun to learn though!

Learning to weave a rug – aka trying and failing to be helpful.

– Cori

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. 🙂

The One-Year Slump

Today is our one-year-and-one-month anniversary in Morocco. Our one year anniversary went unmarked on the blog because it felt pretty unremarkable overall. Worse than unremarkable, actually – it may have been one of the most discouraging anniversaries I’ve ever celebrated. Sure, knowing that we’d completed a year living and working in a different country was exciting, but it was heavily overshadowed by the realization that we still had the same amount of time left plus three months. I try to keep the blog pretty positive in general, because my service overall has been a positive experience for me, but on a day-to-day basis both Matt and I often swing between very positive and very negative emotions, and I wanted to finally take the opportunity to share that. Don’t worry, nothing bad happened at the one-year point. It’s just that the past month felt like a slump… a more extended period of negativity than usual, I guess. Luckily, thanks to some new things we’ve been doing, my attitude is starting to look up again – hopefully the one-year slump is officially behind me!

I’ve already mentioned it was tough to get back to work after my family left in early January, since their visit was one of the most fun periods of my service so far. Our one-year anniversary happened right after they left, so in addition to missing them, I also got to contemplate my additional year and three months of service while dealing with a winter drop in my class attendance and a general malaise when faced with continuing my same class schedule for 4 more months. Not to mention the temperature in our house was often somewhere around 48˚F. It doesn’t really sound like much now that I’ve written it down, but I’ve learned that in Peace Corps sometimes the little things make all the difference, and for whatever reason, these things combined to make the past month less than enjoyable.

To combat the one-year slump, Matt and I have been adding some new activities to our week to spice things up a bit:

  1. We’ve started planning a seminar series to take place once or twice a month, where we bring in a community member to talk to youth about topics such as employability, health, and the environment. We held our first session yesterday; it was an employability workshop led by a local employment agency, and it went really well.
  2.  I’ve been incorporating art projects into my classes – it’s a nice hands-on thing for the kids to do, and I actually look forward to it since I get to participate too. During my beginner’s class this week, we made Valentine’s Day cards in English, and the activity went so well that I repeated it the next day and made it open to everyone at the Dar Chebab who wanted to participate. Despite making a total mess with glitter (or maybe because of that, for the kids), we all had a great time.
  3. We’ve been taking some small weekend trips – last weekend out to the valley of Ait Bougamez (which is absolutely beautiful as you can see by the pictures below), and this weekend I went to Ouzoud with some ladies from the Women’s Center while Matt went on a hike to check out the nearby work of some French researchers who we just met.

Activities like these have made things a lot more interesting, and maybe also because it’s been a lot warmer and sunnier recently, I’ve been feeling much more positive. Also, now that we’ve booked our flights we can start counting down to our summer trips to the States and to Spain – which is one of my favorite ways to counteract negative thoughts!

– Cori