Camp Peace Corps
We’re in Ouarzazate now, which is an 8 hour bus ride through the mountains from Rabat. It was really a spectacular trip through windy mountain passes with some incredible views of the Atlas Mountains. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, but traveling through the mountains makes you realize something: this is an amazing country. In some respects, it’s similar to California. It has a long coast, awesome mountains, and a desert. It covers the same land area and has the same population. It’s multilingual and there is great income inequality. I guess that’s where the similarities stop, however.
Rabat was…OK. As the title of this post suggests, it felt like being at some sort of camp. We had sessions all day long and our free time was very restricted. We ate all of our meals in the hotel, where they served European food. It was really frustrating to be in Morocco, yet hardly be able to tell the difference from Philadelphia. One night we had some free time and we wandered on over to the Kasbah (old fortress), which is situated on the ocean. There was a pretty spectacular sunset and it just made me more excited to move onto the next part of training.
Here in Ouarzazate training is a little bit better. We’ve started language training, learning survival Darija (Moroccan Arabic). It’s nice because language is taught in smaller groups as opposed to everyone jammed into a conference room being lectured at. Also, my Classical Arabic training is a huge help. Other than that, however, we’re still going over very basic Peace Corps stuff. We’ve been given a lecture on Peace Corps’ development policies about three times, repackaged into different forms and presented by different people - it’s a little tiring. The frustrating part is that by May 20th, when we swear in as volunteers, we’re supposed to be a) health care experts and b) capable in the language we’re assigned to. It feels like there’s a whole lot to learn.
Best part of Ouarzazate so far was Sunday when four of us went to the town square and hung out for about four hours. At first, a few boys approached us and we talked, joked, and played soccer. But the group of kids kept getting bigger and bigger. They grew more and more courageous about interacting with us and it was a lot of fun. I guess it’s probably you’re stereotypical Westerner Meets Youths In Developing Country story, but it was great. By the end, it was getting a little too comfortable, as the kids thought the funniest thing in the world was flicking their boogers onto us. They also loved teaching us words for lewd acts in Darija.
Fortunately, on Sunday, we’re going to our CBTs (Community Based Training (Peace Corps has an acronym for everything, but that’s a subject for a different post)). We go to sites in groups of 5-6 and we live with a host family. The training will be much more specific and practical. Also, being in smaller groups and living with a family will make it a lot easier to get a better feeling for Morocco.
One Story of Humiliation and Another Close Call
So when I was in Rabat, I decided to shave my head. I borrowed someone else’s clippers and set off to my bathroom. I’d shaved the front half of my head when the clippers stopped working. I let them sit and tried again. Nothing. I cleaned them out. Nothing. At this point I’m starting to really worry: am I going to have to walk down into a group of 60 kids whom I just met with the most unreal mullet ever? I like to think that I’m not a very vain person, but that would certainly have tested my limits. Well, long story short, the owner of the clippers figured out the problem (after an excruciating 10 minutes fiddling with the them) and I was saved of embarrassment…temporarily.
A couple days later we were in Ouarzazate. I’m sharing a room with two other guys and I used the toilet and, well, clogged it. There’s no plunger in the bathroom. I wait. Nothing. Uhhh. So I go outside and ask some of the people in the room next door. They don’t have anything either, so I ask more people. Nope. So now most of the people in our hotel know that I’ve clogged the toilet.
Our rooms are all situated around a courtyard, where people hang out. Simultaneous to me asking around for a plunger, some kind of weird odor enters the courtyard. Of course, everyone thinks that it’s coming from our bathroom, and my bowels. For the record, our room did not smell one bit and my roommates can confirm this fact. Nonetheless, I’m still short a plunger, so I go to the office, where one of the Moroccan women who teaches language is working. Now, I would feel uncomfortable asking a Western woman for a plunger, but it was even harder given that she was wearing a headscarf and quite shy. Even worse than the embarrassment was the fact that the plunger was in a room that had been locked up for the night. So not only did everyone and their mothers hear that I clogged the toilet (and they thought it stunk up the courtyard), but the toilet was stuck until the next morning. A good, character building cross-cultural experience, of sorts.
I just thought that was a hilarious story that was worth sharing. Everything is good in Ouarzazate; we’re all anxiously awaiting the next step. It’s clear that patience is an important skill in the Peace Corps. To answer Dans question, I dont know. I find out the language of my host family tomorrow. Were at a hotel now, host fam on Sunday