Learning to Crochet

My work at the women’s center has recently been put on hold due to some construction in my classroom. But this means that I get to sit and hang out with the women instead of teaching, which is something I’ve actually been enjoying much more. Plus it means I’ve finally gotten a chance to do something I’ve been wanting to do all year – learn how to crochet the Moroccan way!

I’d been working one a couple things at home to sharpen up my skills so that when I started learning in front of the women I wouldn’t look like a total idiot. The first time I went to sit with them, I brought a hat in that I’d been working on. They were fascinated by it – not by the pattern, but by the size of my crochet hook and of the yarn. Check out this picture:

The ones I got in America are on the left; the ones I got here are on the right

The ones I got in America are on the left; the ones I got here are on the right

You can see that the standard Moroccan stuff is waaaaay smaller than what I was using. They all wanted to try my American supplies out, so I taught them the stitch I was doing and my hat got passed around for the rest of the afternoon – they finished about a quarter of it for me!

Hat! Finished with thanks to about 5 other women who helped me.

Hat! Finished with thanks to about 5 other women who helped me.

It’s a very communal atmosphere there – everyone lends out their supplies for others to practice with, and those who know a skill teach it to everyone else. It’s a stark contrast to how I’d craft in the states – I was always open to learning from others but when it came to my own projects, I wanted to be the one to do them.

This communal crocheting is very much in tune with other communal aspects of the culture here – like how people should never have to sleep in a house alone (which people always remind me of when Matt’s traveling) or how doing any activities alone is considered kind of sad. I had a hard time with that during homestay, when I’d want to read but didn’t want to have to explain it to my host family. I was a little wary of sharing my crocheting at first, but it all turned out well. And now that my hat is done I get to start learning how to use those small hooks – here’s to hoping I don’t look like a total noob when I go in there today!

— 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

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

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