So much to say about my first four days in Morocco! Where to begin?
As some of you may have heard I had a minor freak out at the Detroit airport the morning I flew to Philly. In the previous days (and weeks, and months) I was saying goodbye to all of you, and I was being ever the stoic Martha, not shedding a tear. To be completely honest, the reason I wasn’t crying was because I was trying desperately to emotionally remove myself when saying goodbye. I know it sounds cruel, but sometimes, it’s the only way one can get through moments of great sadness like this. Anyway, after saying my very last goodbyes at the airport I made my way through security, sat down at the gate and suddenly burst into tears. No I wasn’t scared, no I wasn’t regretting my decision to join the Peace Corps, I think it just took me finally being physically alone to realize how much I was going to miss my friends and family.
Once my plane arrived in Philly, I met a few other PCVs (that’s short for Peace Corps Volunteer) and we took a shuttle to our hotel. The whole day was filled with team building exercises and really vague descriptions about what our service would really be like. While this part of the training was not particularly interesting, I did meet a lot of really nice people and continued to be amazed by how driven and outgoing everyone was. Honestly, I shouldn’t have been. We’re PCVs after all. These very well may be some of the most outgoing people I ever meet in my life.
The next morning we boarded a bus to JFK and six hours later we were on the plane to Morocco. The flight was only six hours long and went surprisingly well despite Air Maroc’s decision to play a really stupid Disney movie twice. The exciting part of the flight was when I got my first Moroccan man’s contact info to boot!! Yes I am that popular with the gentlemen (like you didn’t know that already 😉 ) Turns out, he was actually a professional runner and competed in the Olympics for Morocco and won the Boston Marathon! Cool right?! After the plane landed, all 113 of us slowly made our way through security and were met at the gate by the Peace Corps staff. We boarded a bus and began the 1 1/2 hour ride to Rabat. I wasn’t able to keep my eyes open for very long but what I did notice was that Morocco seemed to be a land of extremes. Beautiful new condos would be built right next to crumbling farms. Billboards advertised a brand new shopping mall in Casablanca with an American Eagle (weird right?) while right below farmers rode donkeys to their homes.
We pulled up to the Oscar Hotel on Rue Hassan II around 9am, unloaded our bags and then most of us headed up to our rooms for naps. Without going into every single about the next 4 days, I will say this: they were some of the busiest, most educational, and overwhelming days ever, yet somehow I managed to love every day and make a ton of new friends. Each day we wake up around 6:45, eat breakfast at 7:15 and then begin our first session at 8:30. We have sessions all the way until noon with a small fifteen minute break, then we eat lunch and begin the afternoon sessions again at 2. Sessions again go until about 5:30 and then we have two hours to hang out with other PCVs, explore Rabat, and try (and fail. . .) to get internet access. Dinner starts at 7:30 and after that people will usually hang around for a while and talk and then go to bed. We’ve all been so exhausted from all day information sessions that most of us are too tired to even consider trying to find a bar here.
Our day sessions have ranged from Introduction to Islam to Youth Development to How to Lesson Plan to Monitoring and Evaluation, Transportation Safety, Health, and 7 Tips to Being an Effective PCV. And for a special session the US Ambassador to Morocco, Ambassador Kaplan came to speak to us! We have also begun to learn Darija which is the official name for Moroccan Arabic and also the official language of Morocco. So I know many of you have been wondering if I would be speaking any French at all (I was also wondering this) and the answer I can give to that question right now is sometimes. While I can confidently say that most Moroccans speak French (albeit conversational French), no one actually uses it unless they are a shopkeeper trying to sell things to tourists, government officials conducting official business, or students learning it in school. I was a little sad to hear this, especially because I’ve been so anxious to speak French but on the other hand I think my Darija will get better so much faster!
Already after being here for 3 days I know how to say “hello, how are you?” (salamu alaykum. Ki dayr?), “what is your name?” (snu smitk?), “my name is” (smiti), “good morning,” “good afternoon,” “good day,” and “goodbye” (sbah l-xir, msa l-xir, nadar said, and bslama). I can also say many things like book (kteb), cellphone (portable–like the French!), pen (stilu–also like the French), bus (lkar), camel (jmel), donkey (hmar), station (lmahta), teacher (ustad), student (tilmid), bread (xobz) and money (flooz). I am starting to learn how to use prepositions, how to say “I have” and “I don’t have” and how to give commands. I have to admit that it’s a lot to take in, and I’m trying desperately to study in my little free time so I can keep up, but I really do love learning a new language again. It reminds me of when I was learning French for the first time and how even putting together a simple sentence can be a huge accomplishment.
The 113 of us have been divided into three groups of about 40 each and will be traveling to a different “hub” site where we will spend the next two months living with a host family and learning Darija. I was put into the Azrou group. Within the group of 40, we have been divided further into groups of 6 which is called our CBT group or Community Based Training group (are you catching on that PC loves to use acronyms??). With these six people we will report to the same language teacher every day to have Darija lessons 6 days a week for about 8 hours a day. While my hub site is Azrou, I will actually be living with a family in a town called Ifrane. And boy am I excited! From what my guidebook says, Ifrane is the Alpine ski destination of Morocco’s rich. Yes, you heard me right, SKI DESTINATION. Sadly there will not be snow when I get there but the town is said to resemble France’s Chamonix complete with Swiss-like chalets, tree-lined boulevards and scenic drives. Ifrane is also the home of one of Morocco’s best universities, Al-Akhawayn University which was built by Morocco’s King Hassan II and Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd. Needless to say, I can’t wait to get there. I do not think it will look at all like what I thought Morocco to look like.
As for my fellow PCVs–as I mentioned before, everyone is incredibly nice, outgoing, and passionate about being here. I have already met some people who I know will be my friends for the next two years. While we all come from different parts of the country (I’m the only U of M person here though about 1 of 4 Michiganders), have different backgrounds, different majors, different ages, and different levels of career experience we all have one thing in common: we are all really passionate about making a difference in the world. Already in my first week I can tell that most people here are incredibly hard-working, dedicated (it’s amazing how much Darija some people know already–and can write too!), and passionate about helping youth.
Alright I think that’s it for now. Sorry for posting this a bit late–it has been surprisingly difficult to get internet access. . . .
Layla Saida! (good night!)