If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.
-Mother Teresa

July 27, 2008

Summer, Sweet Summer

I simply cannot believe how quickly the time is passing here. Since I last posted the last entry in May I went to In-Service Training (IST) and for the first time saw the whole group of volunteers I trained with, I celebrated my birthday, I finally met my host mother, we celebrated 300 days in country, I traveled to Spain (a new country on my list of travels) and I got to see my sister Ann!

The first week of June our whole training group (both Small Business Development and Youth Development) met on the Atlantic coast for a week of training, information sharing, and a whole lot R&R. It was wonderful to see and talk to people that I hadn’t been in touch with for six months; what amazed me was how different each individual situation seems to be, and yet how much we all have in common in the way of adjusting to Moroccan life. I would love to say that my favorite part of the week was what I learned about development, or some great new work ideas I was struck with, but really it was the swimming pool and the company. I spent just about every waking moment I could submersed in that beautiful water (water!), and every other moment was spent with friends in good conversation and hilarious adventures. I’m sure this isn’t the goal that Peace Corps has in mind when they get us all together for training, but it was obvious that we all in need of culturally familiar contact with other “expats”. The week ended up being (at least for me) completely about reconnecting with old friends, making new friends, and coming to the realization that my lack of work is not unique but my site assignment (and the people I live with) are truly special. Those of us in the Souss came away from IST knowing that we have truly been blessed in Peace Corps Morocco with safe, friendly, beautiful, relaxed sites.

I was even more fortunate to celebrate my birthday while we were all together during training! I did feel slightly guilty that I was the only person to enjoy this honor, but that sentiment didn’t get in the way of a good time. A big group of us went out for a night of tapas and cold beverages, and I believe a good time was had by all. Not to mention that I got to talk to all my family members, received amazing (and unnecessary!) gifts from many friends, and was asked (more than once) if I was turning 23. Yes, it was a happy day indeed.

After IST we all headed back to our sites. I would love to report that I went back rejuvenated and ready to face the task at hand (whatever that is exactly), but really I found myself toughing out a week of sadness that IST was over so soon. I think reconnecting with people that speak your own language, and to whom you do not need to explain any of your actions is a hard thing to leave after being without it for so many months; in a way my fellow PCVs have become my family. However, I do feel so fortunate because now I’m in contact with some volunteers that I wasn’t before and I’m able to put so much of this experience into perspective in a way I simply couldn’t until now. Once again I find myself comparing this experience to a roller coaster, and the ups and downs of the last two months are (I’m sure) completely normal.

As the first week of July quickly approached I distracted myself with figuring out the next adventure: my trip to Spain to meet up with my sister Ann (and our subsequent trip down into Morocco). I must admit that the reality of this plan did not hit me until two weeks later when I was looking out a plane window watching Morocco’s coast disappear behind me. I simply could not believe that after so many months I was leaving Morocco, and to see a family member (at last!) in a country I had never been to.

Nine months, twenty seven days: that’s how long it had been since I had seen any family member, or for that matter anyone who knew me before I became a PCV. Seeing Ann was just as exciting and fulfilling as I had anticipated. I need to mention that from the moment that I arrived in Madrid I suffered a serious bout of culture shock. From the smoothly paved roads to the fancy taxi, the green plants everywhere to the familiar music pumping out of the radio, I knew I was not in Kansas anymore.

Our trip in Spain was unforgettable. We only hit two cities (Madrid and Seville), but to us it seemed the perfect blend of the familiar and unfamiliar and we were both reluctant to ever leave. Perhaps the most beautiful thing about our trip, however, was that it gave my sister and I a chance to get to know each other in a way we might not have been able to do in any other setting. I have always believed traveling with people is one of the best ways to get to know them better; this was no exception. We made great travel partners (after I got over my culture shock) and we seemed to share just one goal between us: have fun!

Our Spain adventure was over as soon as it began, and the lingering trip across the Straights of Gibraltar on a ferry was a perfect transition to the next phase of our trip. Morocco and Spain are both beautiful countries, but they are nothing alike. We only traveled a handful of kilometers, but the new continent and totally different culture made it seem as if we had gone halfway around the world to arrive at our next destination.

In Morocco we spent a great deal of time traveling to my site by taxi and bus. It astonished both of us just how far everything seems, but again it gave us time to catch up on news about friends and family, recount our tales of Spain, as well as talk about my experience in Peace Corps. I was so pleased that Ann really seemed to prefer my lovely little rural mountain town to the hustle and bustle of places like Casablanca and Marrakech. As time goes on I am more and more convinced that in order to get to know the real Morocco you simply must visit a small town and talk to the locals. Ann was treated to a rare feast of berkooks at my host family’s house (a super delicious food that is usually only served when someone is announcing an engagement), got to spend time with the new baby in the family, and we even went for a short walk where she got to see some of the girls in their most relaxed environment. For being in my site such a short time, I think Ann got to see a great deal of what my life here is really like.

We ended our trip with a few relaxing days in Marrakech. I think we both had a great time there, but the last part of our trip was bittersweet; it marked the inevitable end to one of the best vacations I’ve ever had. Our goodbye was rushed, and I suddenly found myself alone once again. But now I had fresh memories to ponder in my head until the next visit…

Adjusting back into my rural life has been something of a struggle. I was amazed at how quickly I embraced dressing up and going out while in Spain, and I am even more amazed at how much I crave it now that I’m back to less-flattering clothing and muted behavior. Also, I was becoming a bit spoiled by the availability of showers and such, and bucket bathing has not been the same since. But I am struck with a new appreciation for my life here that perhaps I wasn’t able to grasp before. Here in my town I am one of “them” now. Nobody harasses me when I walk down the street (or even does a double-take anymore), I don’t have to haggle with a taxi driver to turn on his meter even if I am a foreigner, I pay the same prices as everyone else, and people here have accepted me for the way I dress and the things that I do. I wrote this a few months back and it still remains true; for better or worse, this is now my home.

Coming home brought with it some surprises however, that will pose a few new challenges to me over the coming months. My English classes are going great, but the girls from my old village do not attend because of an ongoing riff they have with the opposing village. Also, there are only two shoe artists left in the group, since a number of them (including one of my best friends, RbiE) married and moved away while I was on vacation. Finally, the scorpions are coming out in full force and I seem to be unable to get a handle on them. There’s one living in my bathroom that I cannot seem to defeat (which poses a whole new set of problems that I will spare you), and another one stung poor Mr. Potato Bed the other day after I thought I had killed it. Those little guys are fast and sneaky, and something tells me that August is going to be much worse.

Finally, I must mention that a most amazing event occurred the day before yesterday: it rained! I looked at my calendar, and it had been 119 days since the last time any drop had come out of the sky. There wasn’t a lot of it, but the drops were large and glorious and I danced amongst them in the courtyard while the cat timidly watched from the crack underneath the kitchen door. For the rest of the week every day we got some thunder, random spurts of rain, and even some lightning! I can’t express how exciting this has been. Of course, it’s still unbearably hot.

This place continues to amaze and surprise me. I miss Ann, I miss the cultural freedom I enjoyed in Spain, I miss the “me” that I was reintroduced to on my trip, and I know that someday I’m going to miss my home in Morocco as well. For now I just simply have to keep on keepin’ on and appreciate my assignment for all its strengths and weaknesses. But being (for even a moment) in a culture more like my own, acting the person I know to be most true to my real self, and seeing family has rehashed longing that had mostly disappeared after nine months and twenty seven days. I look to the remaining 16 months of my service with a new found curiosity and anticipation.