Snapshot of my Service
Before joining the Peace Corps I spent a lot of time sitting in a studio apartment debating the sanity of leaving a perfectly comfortable couch to live in Morocco. Everyone I knew seemed pretty supportive of the Peace Corps, even if they didn’t know much about it. But telling folks about my impending move to North Africa could also feel a lot like discussing a mild form of skin cancer. You hear a lot of things like, “We are putting you on the church Prayer List! ☺” “I just want to hang out with you while you’re still around.“ “Do you have decent medical insurance?”
Nor could I be very specific about what projects I’d actually be working on. The project focus in Morocco is classified as Youth Development, but that’s an incredibly broad program with a wide spectrum of projects that can change radically from site to site in reflection of each community’s specific needs. Nostradamus couldn’t predict what someone’s service will look like.
Not that this stops most of us from trying to envision it anyways. Plenty of office space daydreams over the course of countless Friday afternoons had provided me with ample opportunities to visualize it. But for the most part I was wildly wrong. Expectations have been both dashed and exceeded, and it’s been all the more enriching of an experience for the entropy. So, two years later, in the last week of my service, I’d like to share a snapshot of what it has actually been like in light of my original expectations. More than anything, I want to take a moment to thank those who’ve made our projects possible and give prospective PCVs a glimpse into what their service might look like.
(Youth and Community Development Volunteer)
Micro Library Enthusiast
What if every textbook, legal document, or website in your country was written in your third or fourth language? Would you read recreationally? Would you be able to truly understand the nuances of whatever contract you’re signing? This is the challenge facing every person in my Amazigh (Berber) village. Their native Tamaziert and Moroccan Arabic dialects are effectively unwritten languages. They begin learning Classical Arabic and French in elementary school, and English later on. To make literacy challenges more complicated, books in any language are disproportionately expensive across the country. I noticed not long after arriving that recreational books are comparatively non-existent in either private homes or public schools. So with this in mind, literacy efforts became interwoven into all of my projects. By the end of my two years, we were able to help create two small libraries within my village’s academic institutions and supplement 4 other schools with book donations and teaching supplies. These little libraries serve to support existing clubs and classes, and offer kids an opportunity to think about the wider world that they are apart of. And who knows, maybe even spark a lifelong love of learning?
These libraries were only possible through the generous international donations and a SPA Grant through USAID. But above all, I’d like to thank the Morocco Library Project for their substantial donations of over 300 high quality English books and teaching tools. The founder, Barb Makraz, is bolstering libraries and clubs across Morocco and is helping to encourage aspiring students to explore the world of writing. To learn more the Morocco Library Project, check out the link below.
One of the more memorable opportunities was the chance to teach a creative writing course with the Masters students at Cadi Ayyad University in Marrakech. Over the course of the semester, we explored how literary icons like John Muir and Langston Hughes used their written works to influence society and fan the flames of progress. By the end of the academic year, each student created
a creative writing portfolio composed of poetry, short stories, and essays utilizing the themes we discussed to explore concerns within their own lives and communities.
It was a lot of fun proposing and implementing the course, and without a doubt one of my favorite semesters as a teacher. Here’s a quick look at the winning video of our class’s slam poetry contest in which students competed to deliver the best poem describing a social justice issue in Morocco. Zahra, the young lady on the right, went on to help us select the books for our libraries after the completion of the course. Take note, she’s going places.
I’d like to thank the State Department’s visiting scholar, Jennifer Borch, whose example of interactive teaching strategies and practical recommendations made this course possible. Thanks for teaching me how to teach!
(Our class along with fellow Peace Corps Volunteer Josh Griffin, winner of the Seattle Slam Poetry Competition, who gave a great lecture and helped to judge our class’s poetry contest.)
Rec Center Manager
With the help of my host family, I opened a small but well supplied community center in my village known as a Dar Chabab. Inside the perennially closed building stood stacks of boxed goods like Ping-Pong tables, chairs, and computers. Although the equipment worked, everything had sat idly over three years collecting dust and little lizards because local government didn’t have the revenue to hire a manager. Enter Peace Corps. This place was my primary post.
We used a cocktail of community contributions, international donations and grant money to transform parts of the rec center into the community’s first public multimedia library. Computer literacy and recreational reading quickly became the primary focus as a way to open up the world for our everyday visitors; many of whom came from even smaller and more isolated villages than my own. But the Rec Center was also a fun place just to enjoy side clubs like English, art, soccer, music, and geography lessons. It was located next to a large middle school, so it always has a steady stream of visitors. Over the summers we even got to do some archery after students took an interest in my side hobby.
Let me tell you, the absolute lack of permission slips and legal concerns can really streamline the development of a club. Although perhaps the extra steps aren’t always such a bad idea. For example, this one time, a couple of the kids thought it was pretty hysterical to momentarily hide behind the archery target.
I’d really like to thank my friend Abdellali for making everything within the Dar Chabab possible. I don’t think I could have made it two years here without him, let alone trying to coordinate with local government or businesses in the creation of our little multimedia library. These days, Abdellali is earning a degree in Political Studies at the university in Marrakech, and is founding his very own association in coordination with the local government to ensure expanded use of the Rec Center library. He did all of this as a volunteer, while also helping to support his family whilst his father works construction in Casablanca. There aren’t enough people like Abdellali in the world.
(Intrepid Outdoorsman in the Wilds of North Africa)
Health and Peace Hike
Although I lucked out and was placed in a naturally beautiful site within the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, my best nature experiences came last summer. Over the course of 11 days, a group of American and Moroccan volunteers hiked 120 miles along the Atlantic coastline from Essaouria to Agadir. Along the way, we stopped at a couple of isolated schools and conducted simple service projects. 5 of the Moroccans were medical professionals, and offered free diabetes screenings. The rest of us worked to paint the exterior of isolated schools, build gardens, etc.
It was by far one of the more physically challenging and rewarding activities that I have ever done. Some days we hiked over 23 miles of rough terrain with full packs, pausing only to conduct service projects and eat lunch. Some days I thought about catching a bus back to Agadir.
But the coastal route was also among the most beautiful and isolated settings I have witnessed. Imagine the coastline of southern California, but with more cliffs and relatively little development. We spent three days recovering in isolated surfer towns, and spent every night of the trek camping on the beaches. Between new friends, towering sand dunes, boulders made from marine fossils, and sea cave sunsets, it was among the more unforgettable experiences of my service.
Major props to Mohammed Arif for organizing the hike and coordinating with partnering organizations. It couldn’t have been easy to convince the police to hike alongside us just to make sure the Americans were safe. These days, you can find Mohammed working in Quebec under an international leader exchange program. To learn more about the Health and Peace Hike, check out…
(Home Sweet Home)
After living with host families for the first 4.5 months, I was eventually able to move into my own apartment in the upper half of a concrete duplex. One of the first things I noticed about it was the large hole in the roof designed to provide ventilation during extreme heat waves. Between the open air design in the wintertime and the absence of amenities like a toilet/shower/climate control, it was pretty much like camping indoors for two years.
What I’m not mentioning are the strikingly beautiful ceilings within it and the view from the roof complete with vistas of mountains, cliff side homesteads, and olive groves. I’m eternally grateful to my community for helping me to find such a hospitable place to live at a discounted rate. I have zero doubt that this will always remain one of my favorite homes, and it sure was a lot more capacious than my last studio apartment on Capitol Hill.
(View from my bedroom. My house looked like the ones you can see across the street)
Thanks for Reading!
It’s been more difficult than anticipated to summarize this experience. Peace Corps Morocco was a mind-bending opportunity that has left an indelible impression upon me, changing the way I view the world. I feel very fortunate that I was placed in a new home with the right people, project opportunities, and location to truly allow me to relish this experience and never have to rationalize it. And while completely cliché’, its difficult to emphasize just how much it has completely highlighted my sense of good fortune for having been born in middle class America, and the all encompassing privilege that accompanies it.
I think that if I had to choose one word to summarize this entire experience, it would begrudgingly have to be fortunate. I wish it could be something a little more pizzazz… But fortunate is the only appropriately pithy word I can conjure. Not lucky. Fortunate.
(Me looking smug after seeing a new painting on the side of a local school)
“My heart could no absorb with greater gratitude, nor my soul with greater sensitivity, the completely new atmosphere in which I am now living. The surprising and unexpected encounters… that I am offered every day in this blessed place.”