Tag Archives: Peace Corps

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.

Mishaps and Metaphors, part 2

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So I realize there’s been a bit of a hiatus since my last blog post, so just to recap: at the beginning of September, my friends and I attempted to climb Mt. Toubkal, the highest mountain in North Africa, but unfortunately, we climbed the wrong mountain and because of time and energy constraints, had to give up our pursuit of summiting Toubkal that day. We were sad and defeated at the time, but in hindsight it was hilarious that we had made this blunder.

Now as I said in my last blog post, this incident provided for me a metaphor that represents the problems with development aid today—noble efforts are being made to solve the problems of global poverty, lack of human rights, overpopulation, and access to education (among other problems) but a lot of these efforts are missing the mark. That is, people are climbing the wrong mountain, and like us, sometimes don’t even realize it until they get to the top.

To be clearer, let me give you a well-known example. I’m sure many of you have heard of the shoe company TOMS. Well back a few years ago, TOMS came up with the idea that for every pair of shoes a customer would buy, they would give one free pair to a shoe-less child in Africa. Knowing that many of their targeted clientele wanted to both look cute and donate to charity, this marketing plan was genius. TOMS was able to give away 1 million pairs of shoes to poor African children. Now on the surface this sounds great: The children now had shoes to protect their feet from the gravelly and trash-ridden African ground. So where’s the beef? The problem with this scheme and many other donation schemes is that it produces what is known in international economics as a “dumping” problem. Dumping is when manufacturers export products to another country and charge a lower price than the local price or a price lower than the cost of production or just give things away for free. The problem with this is that instead of buying local goods and spurring the local economy, people will buy foreign goods because they are cheaper.

So why is this a problem in Africa and where did TOMS go wrong? Well, the shoes that TOMS was giving away weren’t made in Africa, they were made in China. So even though they were providing a short-term solution to the problem of shoe-less children, in the long run, they were actually hurting the local economy because now, no one was going to buy shoes from local producers. They already had free shoes! Basically TOMS punched the local shoe producers in the groin pretty hard.

This is just one example of many Buy-One-Give-One-Away schemes. This article talks about many more. There is no question that donations can help needy people. But before you give your next donation, think very carefully about the way you do it. For example, if your local church asks you to donate used clothing to send to needy people in Cambodia, think twice about this! Though you may be clothing a poor person, you are essentially dumping free goods into the economy and hurting local clothing producers. Instead, it would be more beneficial for you to donate money to a local clothing producer in Cambodia who will then give clothes to those in need. This is the reason why Fair Trade goods have been such a huge success and are actually one of the better international development aid ideas. While there are critiques about the Fair Trade system, the point is that by purchasing fair trade items, your money is going directly to local producers whose production will benefit the local economy.

So getting back to my point about international development aid—all aid is well intentioned, but most of it only focuses on short-term goals instead of long term solutions.

As you know, most aid is financial and much of it is known in international economics as “conditional aid.” Put simply, if Malawi does X, Y, and Z, they will receive aid money. Or, if Malawi fits into a certain category (e.g. has low rates of education, high mortality, low levels of production) it is qualified to receive aid. While this might seem intuitive it can also be counterproductive. Travel writer (and ex Peace Corps Volunteer) Paul Theroux explains it perfectly in his book “Dark Star Safari” in which he travels overland from Cairo to Capetown:

Some governments in Africa depended on underdevelopment to survive—bad schools, poor communications, a feeble press, and ragged people. The leaders need poverty to obtain foreign aid, needed an uneducated and passive populace to keep themselves in office for decades.” (Theroux, p.318)

Basically, some governments have no incentive to improve their country because if they do, they’ll stop receiving aid.

Another problem with international development aid is that it’s exactly that—international. The problem with foreigners swooping in to the rescue is that then the locals have no reason to help themselves. I mean, would you try to solve your own problems if someone else told you they’d solve them for you, and for free? You probably wouldn’t. This is the problem with organizations like the Peace Corps (yup, I’m guilty too) and other international service organizations. They’re taking jobs from locals and enabling them to become lazy. Again Paul Theroux explains this phenomenon in a quote from a local African man:

The donors are making us lazy. The Japanese volunteers are doing what the city council used to do—mending potholes. It is better for us to have potholes. We would be forced to do something about them. We’d have to think for ourselves.” (Theroux, p.484)

Efforts have been made to fight this problem. One is example is an organization called CorpsAfrica that was started by a former Peace Corps Volunteer named Liz Fanning. The idea is basically that Africans should be volunteering in Africa—not foreigners. The program is designed to “recruit men and women from developing countries of Africa to move to high-poverty communities within their own country. Each volunteer will stay in a host community for one year to create and support small projects that eliminate barriers to economic growth and prosperity.” The program is currently being launched in its pilot phase right here in Morocco.

The problems with international development aid are numerous and not likely to be solved overnight. Many efforts are already being made to put international development on the right mountain (so to speak). CorpsAfrica and the Millennium Challenge Corporation are two examples and I’m sure there are many more. One thing that needs to change for sure is corruption in developing countries.

So like I said in the beginning, I’m not sure that I want to work in international development aid, at least not in its current state. I’ve always wanted to help those in need, for about as long as I can remember. That’s why I’m in the Peace Corps. But I don’t think that donating money, or volunteering internationally are necessarily the right ways to help. That’s why, I’ve been working harder to not work—but instead, to make local Moroccans volunteer their time and help their community themselves. That’s why I’m refusing to teach computer classes in my computer lab; there are qualified people here who can do it themselves and will benefit from the pay. And I’m going to try to hand over my aerobics teaching job to one of the women in the class and convince the gym owner to pay her to teach, instead of having me teach for free. As I said in my blog post Between a Rock and a Hard Place—Or, Between the Moroccan Way and My Way, the best thing I can do here is to put myself out of a job.

So I’ve been ranting about this problem for a while now, and sadly, I don’t have many solutions. But I think it’s important for people like me, who dream of solving the world’s problems, to realize that there’s a right way to go about it, and a lot of wrong ways. I’m not giving up on my dreams, but I am going to work hard to put myself on the right mountain.

Progress Report

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If a potential employer was to ask me what one of my biggest strengths was I would say that it is my unfailing ability to self-evaluate. I am constantly reevaluating everything in my life—my work, my friendships, my relationships, my wardrobe choices, my feelings about the world around me. I’m that person who goes through their closet every single season and takes anything that I haven’t worn in over 6 months to Goodwill. Why keep it around if it’s just going to fill useful space that you could use for other things that you’re actually going to wear? You see, I’m a very practical person in this sense—if you don’t use it, get rid of it.

I’m also good at evaluating my work—something that I’ve been doing quite a lot of here in Peace Corps. I always try to ask myself, is this working? How could this be working better? Is this useful? Is this a productive use of my time? Will this have an impact on those around me? Will that be a positive or negative impact? Will this have an impact on the future? How will my community perceive me for doing this work? Is my work meaningful to me as an individual? Is what I’m doing here worth giving up two years of my life in the United States?

These last two questions in particular, are ones that I’ve been asking myself over and over again and are undoubtedly questions that every Peace Corps Volunteer asks him or herself many times throughout their service. One way to think of this is like a math problem.  In order to deem our time useful here we want our Peace Corps service in Morocco to be greater than or equal to what we might otherwise be doing if still in the United States. Or in math terms:

Peace Corps Service in Morocco ≥ possible life in the United States

I guess to figure out the answer to this equation one has to think about what one would be doing if they hadn’t left the US. For me, my best guess is that I’d be working as an intern at a non-profit or maybe I’d be doing Teach for America, or maybe I’d have an entry-level position somewhere. With the exception of maybe Teach for America I think I can say that my experience thus far in Morocco has been more valuable than the other two options. Even if I’m not at all factoring in the work I’ve done for my community, the personal growth I’ve achieved is without question more than what I would have achieved had I been working in the US right now. But what if I do factor in that work? Is it still worth being away from my family and friends for two years?

As you may have read in my last blog post, “Reflections and Resolutions” I’m doing a little self-evaluating on that subject right now.

  • Since my last post, I have been to two new Moroccan friends’ houses to eat a total of 3 times. (Unfortunately on one occasion, I was forced to stay for a total of NINE hours, to what I thought was just going to be a lunch. . .)
  • One of my biggest successes since January is that for the first time since I started my service, I am truly involving Moroccan counterparts in every stage of the planning process for an event! Because there aren’t activities for women in my town, I had the idea to plan a 2-day Women’s Festival in March to celebrate International Women’s Day. Last week, a few women from my aerobics class and a few girls from my dar chebab classes met to begin planning the event. While I did share a few of my own ideas, I also tried to be very quiet and let the women decide what activities they wanted to have at the festival. I am helping to oversee the project, but I want this event to be theirs from beginning to end. Go Me! A++
  • Hmm . . .  not really spending a lot of time studying Darija . . . Must work more on that.
  • Also since my last post, I have finished reading two books and am onto my third (the incredibly interesting Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond).  While I don’t think I’ll ever catch up to my boyfriend who has already read a whopping 25 books since being here, I’m proud of myself for spending more time reading every day.
  • I’m trying to be craftier in the kitchen and thanks to many wonderful, culinary-minded volunteers; I am having fun experimenting with new recipes.  Watch out world—I now can make two different kinds of soup from scratch!!
  • And while I am trying to spend more time walking outside, I’m still getting cat-called a lot so instead of walking I’ve decided to ride my bike. Another great form of exercise, great way to enjoy the weather, but easier to avoid getting shouted at.
  • Ok, so I haven’t exactly been working out six days a week. Woops.  But last week I did work out four times, the week before five, and the week before that four and the one before that five. So while I have completely and utterly failed at working out six days a week as I told myself I would, I have also been working out a lot more than I used to before I made that resolution. So take that.

Overall I’m going to give myself a B+ on my self-evaluation report. I’ve made some huge strides to make my work more sustainable though I could still be doing more. I’ve also tried harder to be more physically and mentally active so that’s good. And I still haven’t really done anything in the way of studying more Darija or Moroccan and Islamic traditions. But there’s time for that. For now, I’m happy with what I’ve changed in such a short period of time and am really starting to feel that my work here is not only useful to me as an individual but also to people in my community.

Reflections and Resolutions

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Hello everyone and Happy New Year! As it is now 2013 and it seems that the world did not end, I thought it was time for me to do a quick recap of my service thus far (for those of you still confused as to what I’ve actually been doing over these past 10 months) as well as to make a few New Year’s resolutions for how I’d like my service, and my life here in Morocco, to change in 2013. And toward the end I’ll give ya’ll a sneak peek as to what I’ve got coming in the next few months.

March 21st, 2012: arrived in Morocco. I had about one week of training in Rabat (the capital) before leaving for my two month home-stay.

April-May 2012: I lived in Ifrane, a small resort-town located in the Middle Atlas mountains. While here I lived with the Alaoui-Soussi family (dad: Nourredine, mom: Touria, siblings: Salahhdin, Hind, and Aya) and went to class for 8 hours a day with 5 other volunteers to learn to speak Darija (Moroccan-Arabic).

May 23rd, 2012: I was officially sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer (before I was just a Trainee) at a formal ceremony in Rabat that was also attended by the U.S. Ambassador to Morocco.

May 24th, 2012: I boarded a train and headed off to El Borouj, the city where I would serve and live for the remainder of my time in Morocco. Two other volunteers named Liz and Shannon were already living here. As soon as I arrived Liz took me to meet my second host family, the Baldi’s (dad: Rachid, mom: Fouzzia, daughters: Sofia, Assiya, Oumaima, and Salma). During the next two weeks I lived with them while Liz took me around town to look for an apartment of my own as well as to introduce me to people around town.

Early June: With Liz’s help I was able to successfully find a lovely apartment near the dar chebab (youth center) and moved in. Liz moved in with me so she could give me all of her furniture and would remain living with me until she finished her service in October.

First two weeks of July: I worked at an English Immersion Camp in the beach-town of El Jadida. I worked as a camp counselor along with 13 other PCVs and led a “Leadership Games” club. These were two of my favorite weeks in Morocco thus far.

August 2012: For the entire month of August I went back to El Jadida, but this time to work at an orphanage called the SOS Village (SOS is an international non-profit that runs orphanages all over the world). I taught English classes, took kids to the beach, and also taught computer classes. At the end of the month I was selected to be the PCV coordinator of the village for the following summer.

September 17-23, 2012: I went to Marrakesh for one week to attend a Peace Corps In Service Training. Peace Corps put us up at a really nice hotel for the week while we attended all-day long seminars and trainings. This was also the last time that all 100 of us volunteers who arrived together in March would be together until our Close of Service conference in February of 2014. Right after this training, I started dating another volunteer named Jared who works in a town about 11 hours away from Borouj.

September-December 2012: With the exception of a few trainings here and there, I stayed in Borouj and taught classes at the dar chebab. I taught Beginner English, Beginner French, Intermediate English and Intermediate French for 4 days a week as well as leading a women’s aerobics class 3 days a week. I also found a Darija tutor so that I could continue to learn the language after my official Peace Corps training was finished.

Early October, 2012: Liz finished her two years of service and returned to the US. At the same time the other volunteer in town, Shannon, decided to terminate his service early, leaving me as the only volunteer in Borouj.

Mid-October to mid-November: I hosted my friends Anne and Brenda from the states. This was a wonderful opportunity to show my first visitors what life has been like for me.

November 17th, 2012: I hosted the INJAZ Entrepreneurship Masterclass at the dar chebab for 45 students. Earlier in the year, I had been selected by PC to pilot a new partnership program with an organization called INJAZ that is located in Casablanca and does Junior Achievement programs. The Masterclass was a huge success and was just the beginning of the partnership between PC and INJAZ.

December 7th-10th: I went to a city called Errachidia on the eastern side of the Atlas mountains (about 12 hours away from me) to work at an English Teacher’s Conference hosted by the PCVs that live there. I led a session on teaching students with different learning styles.

December 18th, 2012- January 2nd, 2013: I returned home to the United States to see friends and family and celebrate the holidays. Oh, and I might have gotten a tattoo. . . .  😉

January 3rd, 2013: I had a meeting with INJAZ in Casablanca to discuss the next steps in our partnership. It was decided that as soon as we are able to get the materials, I am going to implement the next program, “It’s My Business” at the dar chebab in El Borouj. We also discussed possibly hosting a training in March for other PCVs who are interested in doing INJAZ programs at their dar chebabs.

January 8th, 2013: I began teaching at the dar chebab again. This time I moved the schedule around a little bit in order to accommodate more students and more activities. I added a Current Events Club and an Environment Club as well as recruiting my Darija tutor to teach Arabic classes. I am also still teaching aerobics but only twice a week now.

Alright well that’s it for the reflections. Of course I didn’t write everything down but those are the highlights. And now for my resolutions for the New Year:

1. Spend more time with Moroccan friends. Ok, so I don’t really have very many Moroccan friends but I would like to make more friends and spend more time with the ones that I already have. Admittedly I spend way too much time alone in my apartment. Some days, this alone time is essential to my sanity (it can be difficult to sit in a room for hours when you don’t know what anyone is saying) but I need to make a better effort to get out. I’d hate to look back on my service and only remember sitting around in my apartment.

2. Work harder at working with Moroccan counterparts and finding community members to do activities at the dar chebab. I won’t explain too much about this because I wrote an entire blog post about it (see my last one entitled “Between a Rock and a Hard Place: or, Between the Moroccan Way and my Way”) but in essence, I want to find more community members in Borouj to work at the dar chebab so I’m not the only one providing activities there.

3. Spend more time studying Darija. I do go to my Darija tutor twice a week but I’m not doing any studying on my own. We recently had a conversation about how I want her to give me homework and tests more often so that I force myself to study. I do want to learn to speak the language more fluently, but for some reason my resolve has lessened recently. Hopefully, I’ll be able to rekindle the excitement I once had for learning the language. By the end of my service, I’d love to be sitting in a room and understand every single word that is said to me and to respond back sounding like an intelligent and fluent adult, rather than sounding like a child who uses words incorrectly.

4.  Make better use of my time at home. While I do want to get out of my home more often, the fact of the matter is, there aren’t really recreational things to do in El Borouj (especially for women) so even if  I become more social I’ll probably still be spending a significant amount of time at my dar. Currently, I spend ridiculous amounts of time on the internet doing lord knows what and sometimes look back at my day wondering, what on earth did I do today?? No clue, really. I would like to spend more time reading—and not just reading articles online but reading actual books. I would also like to learn a new craft or hobby. And I want to try to work out at least 6 days a week. Which leads me to my next point. . .

5. Lose 10 pounds. I know, I know, the inevitable New Year’s Resolution to lose weight. Will I actually stick to it? Who knows. But do I want to try? Yes. No, I don’t think I’m fat and thanks to a wonderful boyfriend, I’m learning to really appreciate my curves but nonetheless I’d love to shed some weight. I have the time, so why not? I never want to have a day when I couldn’t wake up and run an entire mile without stopping.

6. Teach myself to cook more food. I’ve always wanted to be a good cook but never really had the time, or money, to explore the hobby. While I still don’t have a lot of money, I do have the time to finally work through some recipes. Hopefully this week I’m going to go out and buy that oven I’ve been meaning to get and I can finally start trying some of those recipes in the Peace Corps cookbook that I’ve been wanting to try for a while. I’m tired of eating the same 6 meals over and over again!

7. Spend more time walking outside. Surprisingly this will be one of the hardest things to accomplish. Yes, the physical act of walking is easy, but when you’re in El Borouj and you don’t fit in, it is very rarely pleasurable. Sadly, despite having lived here for 7 months now, I still get cat-called and honked at whenever I leave the house. This has actually been one of the most difficult things about living in Morocco for me. I love walking and I love exploring, but here I love neither of those things. I want very much to change that but I’m still not exactly sure how. Yes, I can try my best to ignore the cat-calls, and most days I do, but some days it’s impossible to ignore and leads me to hate my life here and the people in my town for making me feel this way. As I said, this will be one of the hardest things to overcome.

8. Learn more about Moroccan history and Islam. This is something I’ve been meaning to do since I arrived but sadly it hasn’t pushed its way onto my daily agenda yet. Because I’m living in a Muslim country, I have the great fortune to be able to observe Islamic customs and traditions firsthand. However, I still don’t quite understand why people do certain things and not others or how this country came to be the way it is today; which I would very much like to know.

9. And for the last one, spend more time being positive and less time being negative. I know that’s incredibly vague but I mean it. I want to spend less time thinking about all the things that make life difficult here and think more about the things that I appreciate. After all, I’m still going to be living here for another 16 months so why not enjoy as much of it as I can.

Ok, I think that just about sums up my reflections and resolutions. I’ve got some really exciting things forecasted for 2013. Hopefully my computer lab grant will get funded shortly (don’t forget to donate!!!) so I’ll have that to work on and hopefully we’ll be beginning the second INJAZ program here in Borouj in just a few short weeks as well as working on making it so that other PCVs can also get trained in how to do the programs. I’m also looking forward to the visit of my mom and sister (and possibly some other family members) in May, Inch’allah and have plans in the works for a trip to Southeastern Europe in June with the boyfriend. Oh, and I also forgot to mention that I should be getting a new volunteer here in Borouj at the end of March! I’m hoping that this is someone I can get along with really well and will help me to plan more amazing activities at the dar chebab as well as having someone to hang out with and have “American” time. So much to look forward to!

Between a Rock and a Hard Place (or, Between the Moroccan Way and My Way)

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A question that many Peace Corps Volunteers ask themselves at one time or another during their service is: Is my service making a difference in anyone’s life? When you leave for the Peace Corps everyone commends you on sacrificing 27 months of your life to “save the world” and “help the poor.” But the reality of the Peace Corps is often nothing like this. If I’m being entirely truthful, I spend the vast majority of my day sitting on my computer and reading articles on the internet or watching American television shows. If I’m being even more honest, I have days when I never leave my house because I simply don’t want to deal with Moroccans. As a Peace Corps Volunteer I am constantly wondering if what I’m doing here will make a difference in anyone’s life. Will people in El Borouj remember me after my service is over? Will the projects that I start continue once I have left?

This leads me to the never-ceasing problem of sustainability. Ahh, yes—that big six syllable word that has become the cornerstone of every foreign aid project. It’s the first and the last question that they ask you when you want to start a project: is it sustainable? And why shouldn’t that be the most important question? The point of a program like Peace Corps is not to help the poor. (What?????????? Plates crash to the floor. Something earth-shattering has just been said. . .) Yes, I meant what I said. The point of a program like Peace Corps is not to help the poor but to teach the poor to help themselves. Or in my case, since I’m not really working with that many poor people (more like middle class Moroccans) to teach my community members to share their skills and resources with other people in the community. As depressing as this sounds, the best way to treat your service is to imagine that there will be no more Peace Corps in your town after you leave. All Peace Corps volunteers are trained to run their programs and do their work as if they are the last volunteer to live in their community. The point is, that if Peace Corps were to suddenly not exist, that local people would be able to have the same opportunities and run the same activities on their own.

So Peace Corps has invented this system known as “counterparts.” What is a counterpart you may ask? A counterpart is a host country national with whom you work on your projects, with the assumption that after you leave, this person will take over your work for you and your project will be SUSTAINABLE. In reality, a counterpart is often more like a local friend who just happens to help you do anything you need. They’re not paid and they don’t officially get recognition from Peace Corps—they’re just supposed to want to help you because they care about their community and happen to have immense amounts of free time with nothing better to do. For some volunteers, the counterpart system is extremely successful and leads to not only great friendships but also to the training of locals to do what we do so that the community eventually becomes self-sufficient. For other volunteers, like myself, it can be easier to do things without a counterpart. Why would I ask someone else to do something, knowing that (as often happens) they might not do it, or they’ll do it but not the way I wanted, or that they’ll do it, but three days later than it needed to be done. Why wouldn’t I just do it myself?

Thus we have a Catch-22. Do I do things my way, the American way, knowing that they’ll actually get done and be done the way that I want them to? Or, do I do things the Moroccan way, relying on locals to get things done, even if they’re not done correctly or done on time? Honestly, I’m still trying to figure out the answer to this question (sorry Peace Corps!). I admit that I need to make a better effort at incorporating locals into my project planning and implementation but what if I can’t find anyone to help? What if I know that I’m getting a new site mate in March who will be able to continue my projects after I leave? Yes I know I’m breaking the cardinal rule of sustainability but sometimes relying on no one but yourself is just easier, just more reliable.

Nevertheless I have recently come to the epiphany that I need to change my ways. I think I could accomplish a lot here during my two years while working completely on my own—planning all of my projects and events and implementing them by myself, but what legacy would that leave in my town? If Peace Corps were to suddenly pull out of El Borouj and not send me a replacement that would mean that all of my projects, my classes, and my events would cease. I wouldn’t have trained anyone to replace me in the case of my absence, so no one would replace me. Things would just end. And that truth is simply something I cannot bear. So I have decided to change my ways. Upon my return from the U.S. in January (Inch’allah) I have decided to work harder to find counterparts who I can train to take over my classes, who I can teach how to write a grant application and teach how to plan and execute a workshop.

My boyfriend has recently started doing this and has had mixed results. Yes, he now has a program at his dar chebab that is entirely done by a host country national, but what if that person isn’t doing the program right? What if key elements of how the program was supposed to be implemented are missing? Should he take over and do it himself knowing that this might ruin the sustainability of the project, or should he just let it go and let the counterpart do it the way he wants to? After much discussion we both agreed that the correct answer is the latter—that if the point of a program is to be sustainable, it has to be sustainable, even if that means it has lost a few elements in the process.

Based on everything I’ve said above, the definition of a good Peace Corps Volunteer is a volunteer who does nothing. I know that sounds crazy but it’s true. The best PCV is one who has found community members to teach classes at the dar chebab for them, who has trained a host country national to write their own grant applications so the volunteer doesn’t have to do it, and who has never done a single project on their own. Based on that definition, I’m not being a very good volunteer. But I am going to try to change my ways because I want to look back on my service in Morocco and say, “wow, I really did something there. I didn’t teach, I taught teachers how to teach. I didn’t help anyone, I helped people help themselves.”

New Year’s Resolution #1: BE MORE SUSTAINABLE!