Monthly Archives: May 2012

In Borouj Part 2

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Crammed into the back of a grand taxi, Liz and I began the 1 hour ride to Borouj.  As far as the eye could see there was nothing but dust and empty fields and occasionally a small house. At one point we passed a small town known as a dewar and Liz jokingly said, “here we are!” You’ve gotta be kidding me right???!!! Thankfully she was only joking. Finally out of the dust I began to see buildings rise up. The town seemed to be spread out over a decent amount of space and I thought, maybe this won’t be so bad. A lot of PCVs live in small towns and most of them prefer their town to the big city because they feel more a sense of community. We got out of the taxi and looking around I could see palm trees and streets lined with relatively big buildings. There were banks, a post office, vegetable sellers and lots of hanoots (that means store in Darija). This definitely wasn’t Ifrane, but it didn’t look that bad either. Slowly, my hopes began to rise and I thought, I can totally do this. I’ve got this. BRING IT ON.

Liz’s Moroccan counterpart Simo met us at the taxi stand and helped us carry my bags to my new host family’s house. Their house was very nice and it seemed that the family was pretty wealthy as they have a huge flat screen TV and a humongous American-sized refrigerator (which I had yet to see here in Morocco). My host father, Rachid owns a pharmacy here in Borouj as well as a gym, which to be honest, is a bit of a novelty in these parts. My host mother, Fouzzia, is a house wife and I have four host sisters: Sofia 19, Assiya 17, Oumema 14 and Salma 11. Everyone was super nice and welcoming to me. After lunch Liz took me to the aerobics class that she teaches. It was so cool to see women come in dressed in their jellabas and head scarves and then change into what you or I would wear to the gym. I don’t want to call it freeing, because maybe it’s not freeing to them, maybe they feel more comfortable when they are covered up. That’s not for me to decide. But nonetheless, it was neat to see the women in a different way.

After the gym we went to the dar chebab to meet the mudir. Unlike most dar chebabs which have been built within the past 10 years by the Ministry of Youth and Sports, our dar chebab has been around since 1975 and the mudir, Hicham, has been working there for 17 years. I don’t know how many PCVs have been there before me but I know that there have been at least three from 2009 till now. Looking at the dar chebab, you can tell that it’s a bit run down. It desperately needs to be repainted and the courtyard in the middle is in need of some serious weeding. But you can also tell that a lot of work had already been done. My predecessors had worked really hard to paint a number of murals on the walls, many of which represented Moroccan-American friendship. There was even a map of the United States where PCVs can paint the state they are from and then draw in their city.

I sat down and had a long talk with Hicham about what kinds of projects I was interested in doing, mostly around the unemployment problem here in Morocco, and he seemed really interested in what I was proposing and said he’d do anything he could to help. Obviously I was really happy to hear this because often times, PCVs have mudirs that are not supportive of their work. Sadly because it is almost June, the dar chebab is pretty slow right now because most students are finishing up school and older kids are preparing for the dreaded BAC test, which is essentially the equivalent of the SAT or ACT in America but is actually based on knowledge learned in school instead of on using critical thinking.

Frankly, I’m a little nervous for summer time here because it will get to be in the 120s, maybe even hotter, and most of the associations where I would normally work will be closed down. I’ll most likely work at a PC sponsored summer camp for a few weeks but I’ll still have a lot of time when I’m here in Borouj with not much to do. PC says this is when we are supposed to focus on integrating into our community so that when everyone comes back in the fall I can begin my work, but Liz also says a lot of the town clears out during this time of year, so I’m not sure how much integrating I’ll actually be able to do. Ramadan will also be coming at the end of July, which is a whole different ball game that I’ll talk more about in a future post. So for now, I’m anxious to see what the summer will bring. At the very least, I’ll hopefully get to do a lot of reading (and sweating) and maybe finally teach myself Arabic script! Inch’allah.

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In Borouj

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So for those of you that haven’t heard already, I got my final site placement!!! I’ll be spending the next two years of my life in a small town of about 16,000 people called El Borouj, but more commonly known as Borouj. But before I get into that I want to tell you about the few weeks leading up to my relocation.

The last few weeks of CBT training in Ifrane were tough ones on many levels. We were very quickly learning more and more Darija and expected to retain all of it in such a short period of time. PC gives all trainees a Language Proficiency exam at the end of their two months of training in order to measure the amount of language absorbed during CBT. The test score doesn’t actually have any meaning, in that if you don’t do well nothing happens to you (unless of course you get below the Novice High level in which case they can ship you back to America. . . .) but me being the language snob that I am wanted to do really well. I studied as much as I could and actually ended up doing really well on the test.

We also had to say our goodbyes to our host families. Part of me was totally dreading this because my host family had been so wonderful to me throughout my stay, and the other part of me could not wait to get back to Rabat and be with other people my age for 5 days. My host family was definitely sad to see me go and knowing that I would have another host family when I left Ifrane, asked me on multiple occasions whether or not they were my only Moroccan mother and father (I would call them Mwi and Bba from time to time, which they LOVED), to which I reassured them that they were. Once I was back in Rabat we spent five days at a hotel and attended all day long sessions about what to expect when we got to our final site. Also while we were in Rabat there was  a really big music festival known as Mawazine that I went to. I saw Pitbull (a Latin-American rapper) and an Afro-Cuban jazz band. Both were really amazing concerts and I was so lucky to see them for free.

The first day we got to Rabat was the day we had all been waiting for. The day when we would find out where we would be living for the next two years. The days leading up to this had been spent impatiently waiting while it seemed as if PC was dangling a carrot in front of our faces–so close, yet so far away. Personally, I wasn’t as nervous about the actual location of my future home, but more that I would be placed far away from all of the new friends I had made. I also didn’t really want to placed in the desert in the middle of nowhere. And so it was, at 2pm on Saturday, May 19th that we sat with bated breath, anxiously awaiting the crystal ball to reveal our future.

They called us up individually into the regions that we would be moving into. I didn’t have to wait very long as I was called to move into Region 3. My first thoughts: WHERE THE HELL IS REGION 3??? I moved with my new region mates into a separate room where the actual name of our town would be revealed to us. One by one, we were handed folders with the name of our town on top. EL BOROUJ. Once again, a wave of emotions swept over me–excitement, panic, desperation, fear, confusion, hopefulness. WHERE THE HELL IS EL BOROUJ????? Our Regional Manager then asked us to come up to a large map of our region and find our new home town on the map. I can honestly say it took me about 10 minutes to find my town. Things were not boding well. . . . . .

Inside the folder were a number of pages describing our future town including a journal written by a former PCV who lived there. On the first line of his journal was the quote, “Abandon all hope ye who enter here.” Oy vey. . . .. . . what was I getting myself into? I read on and found out that my town has about 16,000 people, has no major industries to speak of, and is about 2 hours south-east of Casablanca and 2 hours north-east of Marrakech–not bad in terms of regional travel! 1 point for something to look forward to!! I also found out that I would have 2 site mates (that is PCVs who live in my town), one of whom I had already met. 2 points for something to look forward to!!! My town has a dar chebab that is fairly active and according to the site journal, the mudir, or boss, of the dar chebab speaks fluent English and is really nice. 3 points for something to look forward to!!! However, I was also told that getting children to come to the dar chebab after the long hot summers can be challenge and that many of them would rather throw rocks at us instead of try to talk to us. Yikes.

And so it was that I said my last goodbyes to all of my new friends (sadly, not a one of them was placed in my region) and boarded the train. Luckily Borouj is only 3 hours away from Rabat and my new site mate Liz had offered to pick me up at the train station and escort me to our town. I took the train for 2 hours to a city called Settat where I met Liz and then the two of us crammed ourselves into a grand taxi with 4 other passengers and began the drive to Borouj. Driving up to the city was a lot of dust and nothing and more nothing. I slowly began to worry that I would be living out in the middle of nowhere. The funny thing is though, that when I signed up for the PC I had been told that I was going to Sub-Saharan Africa and I had started to imagine that I would be living in a mud hut somewhere with no running water or electricity. And I was ok with that–even kind of looking forward to living the simple life without all of the excess technology that we Americans have become so used to. However, once I arrived in Morocco and saw how many modern conveniences there are here and how good the country’s infrastructure is, I slowly changed my expectations of how my life would be for the next two years. Which quite frankly, is only normal. PC had also told us that 99% of us would have electricity and running water in our towns and that most of us would even have internet.

PCVs in other countries like to call PC Morocco “the Posh Corps” because they think life for us is so easy. And in a way, that’s true. We do have a lot of modern conveniences, and quite frankly, our lives here are not that different from life in the US in terms of these amenities. But we face a number of other hardships that other PCVs don’t face, one of the biggest, being located in a Muslim country and having to adhere to the strict customs that pertain to that religion. For example, we have to constantly be aware of how we dress and while it might be just as hot in Rwanda as in Morocco, PCVs there can wear shorts and tank tops, while we cannot. We also deal with a lot of harassment, both verbal and physical, because of the way men are accustomed to interacting with women. I believe that every PCV faces hardships in a number of different ways, and I refuse to let another PCV belittle my service here and the work that I do just because I also happen to have electricity.

Anyway, getting back to Borouj. . . .