Tag Archives: Morocco

Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You: Just a Few Things I Learned in the Peace Corps

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  • Never do anything on your own. You should always have a host country national helping you and learning from anything that you do. Even something as simple as entering numbers into a spreadsheet, responding to daily e-mails, and definitely grant writing–an hcn (host country national) should always be with you and learning from what you do. Second, when it comes to HIV/AIDS and Women’s Empowerment it is absolutely crucial that you study up on the local customs, practices, and taboos. For example, for a male to talk about condom use in front of a group of women might be totally inappropriate. Especially when talking about potentially taboo subjects, it is better to have a local make the presentation or to be alongside of you to help with any potential miscommunication.
  • Don’t expect for things to get done on time. Try to set realistic expectations as to what you and your partners can actually accomplish in a given time frame. During your first week, carefully observe the people that you work with and try to gauge who is the most reliable and can be tasked with time sensitive material. Just because someone says they can do it, doesn’t mean that they can. And be sure to give people positive reinforcement when they complete good work. Also, when dealing with hcn partners who might not be holding up their end of the work, try to remind them how important their work is the completion of the project and how valuable they are as a team member. I find that ego-boosting goes a long way when people aren’t following through!! Telling them that they’re not doing what they’re supposed to do never got me anywhere.
  • Talk to anyone and everyone–from the local town leaders, to the bread man, to the women’s cooperative, to the plumber. Even people that don’t seem that important can sometimes be the ones who might share invaluable information with you or tell you where you can get the cheapest and best quality materials.
  • Never be afraid to admit that you don’t know something. And don’t pretend to know more than you do. They know you’re not a local and will be able to see right through you if you’re pretending to be more knowledgeable about something than you are. Again, this is where involving local partners really comes into play. They’ll be so happy that you came to them for help and feel like valuable team members.
  • Be adaptable to the local culture, but don’t be afraid to hold tight to your own values as well.
  • Try to pick up on the cultural intricacies that exist in your community. For example, not everyone in Morocco likes being called Arab. Some people are fiercely proud of their Berber heritage and will tell you that they’re Amazigh before they tell you that they’re Moroccan. Be aware of the cultural differences that exist in the community that you serve and be respectful and sensitive toward them. Don’t generalize and assume that everyone is the same.
  • Don’t beat yourself up if something doesn’t work out. As the Moroccans say, inch’allah—some things are meant to be, and some aren’t. Even if you’re not Muslim, I think this is a phrase to live by. In the end, all you can do is take a step back, reevaluate, and start over.
  • Moroccans are incredibly hospitable. Much more so than most Americans. Time and time again, random strangers would open their door to me and offer me a steaming pot of mint tea and cookies.
  • Moroccans are also the most persistent door-knockers I’ve ever seen. They will knock on a door for 10 minutes before they give up. I’m not sure whether to find this annoying or just determined.
  • Never be afraid to stand up for yourself. Whether you’re getting harassed on the street, not being heard at work, or not being properly understood, be brave and be an advocate for yourself. In the end, people will respect you for having the courage to say what you wanted to say.
  • Moroccan grand taxis might be cramped, but they always got me where I needed to go. If it’s good enough for the locals, it’s good enough for me.
  • Being a teacher is rewarding, frustrating, inspiring, challenging, tireless, fun, stressful, wonderful, and surprising. Every human being should be a teacher at least once in their life.
  • Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” –Margaret Mead
  • Take every opportunity that is presented to you, even ones that may seem trivial or unnecessary. You never know what might come from doing something new.
  • Youth must be given opportunities to learn in non-traditional ways. While traditional blackboard learning is necessary, giving students the opportunity to act, draw, sing, create, explore, and experiment is essential to them developing as well-rounded human-beings. Also, many students struggle to learn by traditional teaching methods and need to be taught in other ways in order to learn.
  • The only way for someone to become a leader is to lead. It is not enough to watch others; leaders must take initiative and do. However, all good leaders must also be good listeners and recognize others for good work.
  • Wherever you are and whatever you do, your happiness should always come first. Life is too short to be doing something you don’t love. But that being said, falling in love takes time and likewise, it can take some to time to figure out how to love what you do. Always be sure to give each thing you a do a fighting chance first, and try try try, and if you still don’t love it, move on.

 

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75 Days and Counting

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Ok, so I realize that 75 is kind of a random number (other than it being a multiple of 25). I had intended to write a blog post entitled “100 Days and Counting” because 100 seems like such a more momentous number than 75, but ya know, life happens (and coincidentally, so does laziness) so I never got to write that blog post. But instead, I bring you Significant 75! 75 DAYS!!!!!

You’ll notice by my excessive use of exclamation points that I am excited about this fact. That’s the question that everyone keeps asking me lately, “Are you excited to be almost finished?” and “Will you be sad to leave Morocco?” My answers: yes and kind of. I think that having only 75 days left means that I am officially allowed to start thinking about what comes next (even if, in reality, I started thinking about what comes next a long time ago). What’s difficult about this end period is that you can’t stop your brain from imagining the possibilities of your next life, but at the same time, you want so badly to live in the here and now and cherish your last moments while you still can. It’s a weird sort of limbo to be in—finding the balance between the present and the oh-so-near future. I think a lot of volunteers are officially clocked out by now and are just counting down the days until we’re finished. I’d be lying to you if I said I wasn’t in that group (I think my blog title gives me away a bit. . . ). But at the same time I’m diving into my work more now than I possibly ever have before. Maybe it’s because I’m suddenly realizing that the big, looming “0 Days” means that I’ve got to finish up my projects quickly, tie up loose odds and ends, and make sure that everything I created doesn’t crash immediately after I let go. But I think I’m also plunging in because I know that this is the last time I’ll be in these circumstances—the last time that I’ll be surrounded by my wonderful students, be eating with Moroccan friends, be speaking Darija, be hearing the call to prayer five times a day. Living in Morocco hasn’t always been easy, and there have been moments when I’ve wanted to get out as fast as I could, but once you have an actual measure on how much time you have left, a date to count down to, suddenly that sense of urgency doesn’t seem as important anymore. Before it was,” how many days do I have to go? How much longer do I have to keep doing this?” And now, it’s, “75 days is tangible. I can do 75 more days. Let’s do this!”

For those of you wondering what will be keeping me so busy over the next 75 days it’s this: 3 weeks of spring camp, 1 women’s festival, 7 more weeks of my last INJAZ program, 1 week of Closing of Service Conference in Rabat, welcoming a new volunteer into my town, giving that person my house, packing, saying my goodbyes, and eating, eating, and eating. If I look about 20 kilos heavier by the time I return to America, blame the couscous.

So getting back to the questions that I keep getting asked: yes, I’m very excited to be almost finished. Two years is a long time to be doing anything, especially living in a foreign country, and I’m excited to return home. Will I be sad to leave Morocco? Kind of. I’m not so sure I’ll be sad to leave the country itself. As much as it’s hard to admit, there are a lot of things about Morocco that I could just never get used to; things that I didn’t quite want to get used to either. No matter how hard I tried, there seemed to be something inside of me that resisted some changes. For example, unlike a lot of other volunteers I never took a Moroccan name. Instead, I insisted that people call me “Marta” even though it was confusing and hard to pronounce (much easier to pronounce than “Martha” though). I don’t think it was so much that I didn’t want to blend in as much as it was really important to me to keep my identity throughout all of this. I know a lot of volunteers that would argue the other way and say that having a Moroccan name helped them to fit in. But I don’t think it’s the name that helps you fit in as much as just being who you are and finding people who can accept you for that. After all, the point of a program like the Peace Corps isn’t to fit in; it’s to learn to accept people for their differences and to hope that they will do the same for us. When Moroccans tried to give me a Moroccan name I would always tell them that if they came to America I would call them Mohammed or Bouchra or Fatima or Youness, that I wouldn’t try to change who they were just because they were in a new place.

But what I am going to be sad to leave are the people who’ve been there for me throughout all of this—my friends, my tutor, my aerobics ladies, my students, my counterpart, my director, my hanut lady, and my host families. And of course, I’ll be sad to leave all of the amazing volunteers who have completed this journey with me. As a person who has traveled a fair amount in her 24 years, I can tell you that even though I’ve seen some of the most beautiful and stunning places in the world, it’s not the monuments that you remember, it’s the people. And so when I get to that “0 Day” if I shed tears it will be for the people I’ll be saying “see ya later” to and the people that I’ll be missing the second that I step onto the plane.