Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Holidays

So this is a time of year with some holidays... Islamic New Year, Christmas, and New Year in the Gregorian calendar, among other holidays this time of year.

The Islamic New Year starts on the first day of Muharram, the first month in the Islamic calendar. The Islamic calendar started with the year in which Mohammed took flight, in a journey known as the Hijra. In that first year in the Islamic calendar, when he learned that someone was planning to assassinate him, Mohammed fled from the city of Mecca to what is now known as the city of Medina. Moroccans celebrate the first day of the Islamic New Year as a holiday, such that some businesses are closed, as I experienced here in town.

And, Christmas has also occurred this month. PCVs are not allowed to take vacation during the first three months of their service. My service as a PCV started when I swore in as a PCV in late November. So, I was not able to go home for Christmas. But through the postal mail, I have been showered with various and great gifts, largely varied desserts, as people who know me know that I have a sweet tooth! Partly due to receiving care packages at Christmastime, I feel really encouraged by folks back home. But throughout all of my time thus far in Morocco, I have also felt really supported, partly and importantly by being in regular communication with people I know back in the USA, largely by email and through communications in the postal mail.

In terms of work, I have been tutoring kids in English at the Dar Chebab more and more. While it started as a small affair, with just a couple of kids at a time, it has quickly grown to be a large group of students I've been tutoring. I've been enjoying helping them. I tutor them in the early evenings on most of the days when the Dar Chebab is open, which are Tuesdays through Saturdays.

Next month, I'll start actually teaching English at the Dar Chebab. Given how much I've been enjoying tutoring kids in English, I'm looking forward to teaching kids in English. Since I've started tutoring kids in English, I've felt more grounded and invested and involved in the community. I also feel fulfilled by the work that I'm doing now. And, while I have had more rough patches, they have become less trying and difficult than the first one I had in the first few days after arriving down here at my final site. So, things are starting to take off, for which I am glad!

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Kaleidoscope of Emotions

Wow. A lot has happened since my last blog entry, even though it has only been a few weeks. I had intended and had hoped to write a blog entry a couple of weeks ago, but I have been quite busy!

To take things in order... A few days after my last blog entry, I started making the rounds, saying my farewells to new, Moroccan friends I made in the community where I spent PST (Pre-Service Training) with four other PCTs (Peace Corps Trainees). A couple days before we left town, I went into my favorite cafe there, and the waiters walked right over to me, shook my hand, and bid warm farewells to me. All of us PCTs there in town had a party with our host families the night before we left town. At the end of the party, when we were saying goodbye to each other, many tears were shed. 

At my own host family's home later that night, I spent my last few waking hours with my host mother and my host brother, and his sisters who were visiting from out of town. I started crying as I told them that soon after I left the USA, I was sad because I was leaving my family and friends in the USA. Then as I was crying, I told them that it was difficult again because I had to leave them. I thanked them for being so kind, generous and considerate to me. I again said, as I had already told my host brother, that I appreciated them so much, and how they treated me so well and warmly. Having traveled far from home, having left everyone I knew, being in a foreign country, not knowing any Moroccans when I arrived, not knowing how to speak the language and not being accustomed to the culture, I appreciated their generosity and hospitality all the more. They told me that I am a part of their family, which I feel like I am. I felt bad about having to leave.

That morning, I and the four other PCTs in my local CBT (Community-Based Training) group took a taxi to Fes, where we had been storing our excess baggage for the previous two months. The other YD (Youth Development) PCTs also came to Fes that morning to retrieve their excess luggage from storage. We, the 30 or so YD PCTs, then took a bus to the beach town where we had had our first few days of training in Morocco, in September.

There in the beach town, we met up again with the SBD (Small Business Development) PCTs who traveled here to Morocco with us in September. In that town, we had more training sessions, including on health and safety, emotional well-being and coping, and Peace Corps procedures and policies, among other topics.

While we were there, we also had our LPIs (Language Proficiency Interviews). Essentially, during the LPI, for about 15 minutes, an interviewer, who is fluent in Darija, speaks with a PCT in Darija to gauge how well the PCT speaks Darija (one CBT group of five SBD PCTs learned a Berber language instead of Darija, so those PCTs were interviewed in that Berber language). The interviewer then decides how proficient the PCT is in speaking the language. At that point, at the end of PST, the Peace Corps expects PCTs to have attained a certain level of proficiency in the language which they have been learning. I was glad to find out that the Peace Corps thinks that I am speaking Darija at an appropriate level, considering how long I have been in Morocco.

After a few days in that beach town, all of us YD PCTs and SBD PCTs traveled on a couple of buses to Rabat so we could be sworn in as PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers). In Rabat, the US Ambassador to Morocco administered the Peace Corps oath to us, at which point we became Peace Corps Volunteers! It was definitely a high point thus far in my time here in Morocco. I felt so glad, happy, satisfied and fulfilled knowing that I had become a PCV, which I have wanted to do for over a dozen years. And it felt great to be surrounded by over 60 other brand new PCVs, as we congratulated each other. Immediately after the ceremony, at the reception, it was also notable that I ate some of the yummiest cookies in my life.

While we were happy about becoming PCVs, at the same time, we were disappointed that our Director of the Peace Corps in Morocco, David Lillie, was about to leave us, as he was moving on to another position with the Peace Corps outside of Morocco. He is very kind and thoughtful, and we greatly appreciated how he took the time to get to know us and speak with us as much as he did.

Often the case while being in the Peace Corps, there are juxtapositions of disappointments and low points right next to joyous events and high points. Later that day, dozens of us brand new PCVs celebrated at the American Club in Rabat with each other.

The next morning, we started heading toward our final sites where we will live for the next two years as PCVs. That morning, I caught a train from Rabat to Marrakech with a dozen other PCVs. We stayed in Marrakech for the night. The next morning, a couple groups of us split apart, each group heading in different directions. I continued south with a few other PCVs who are posted in the same region as me.

That afternoon, I arrived in my final site. I arrived back in the home of my new host family. I started getting things done here in town. The first couple of days, things were fine.

After being here a few days, I thought that there will not be any other citizens of the USA here. Upon thinking that, I felt a loneliness unlike any I had ever experienced before. After being in PST with other PCTs around me every day of the week, I was now in a site by myself. Also, during PST, we had our LCF (Language and Culture Facilitator, which is the Peace Corps lingo for our teacher, who helped us immensely in communicating, explaining Moroccan ways of doing this to us, and just generally being a fantastic source of support and encouragement).

I also thought, in shock, that I will be here for two years. I despaired. I prayed, asking God to help me to feel better that same day. I couldn't believe that I had put myself in this situation. I didn't see how I would be able to be here for two years.

An adjustment was in order. Or, rather, adjustments were in order. Sure, in terms of getting used to living here, learning how things work, how to get things done. But not just in terms of accomplishing tasks.

Also I had to adjust my approach to my own life. While I was still a PCT, a PCV told me, "Don't think of it as putting your life on hold for the next two years. Just think of it as your life." I didn't really understand it at the time. Sure, I was able to conceptualize it, explain it intellectually. But I didn't feel it. No, it was more than that: I wasn't yet living it.

I've been here in site for more than a week now. I've started making new friends. I've been enjoying spending time with Moroccans I've been meeting here. And as a result of that, I feel much more comfortable than I did that angst-ridden day a few days after I arrived here.

The Moudir (director) of the Dar Chebab here in town is fantastic. He is very patient, which I especially appreciate because I can't yet communicate well in Darija.

The kids at the Dar Chebab here are great. They are very friendly, and good-natured. I enjoy going to the Dar Chebab, which of course is great since I will be spending much of my time over the next two years there. I enjoy having laughs with the kids and the Moudir.

I am enjoying living here, and I am looking forward to more of the same. More good times are ahead.