Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Nine Days in Rabat

We have arrived! And we are officially PCTs (Peace Corps Trainees) Our first day here was a long one. Many of us did not sleep well or at all on the plane, so Wednesday seemed like the longest day of our life! As soon as we arrived we were given vaccines. Ouch! 4 so far: meningitis, Hep A (some got Hep B – we both already have that), rabies, and typhoid. There are still more to come for those that are a series vaccine. Our jet lag has been manageable, some afternoons are drowsy ones when we are sitting in hot rooms for training.

Our Peace Corps training has been extensive yet concise (we still have 2 months of training to go). We have been briefed on how to manage harassment (women especially), how to be safe (don't go out at night, no riding motorcycles...), how to travel (taxis, buses, trains, camel, donkey, bike), how to eat and drink (the water here usually is safe but doesn't taste very good), how to teach English, how to use our cell phones, and most importantly how to speak Arabic (Darija - Moroccan Arabic - which is a little different).

Our PCT group was originally 120 people, but by the time we arrived in Philadelphia we had shrunk to 112. We are 1 of approximately 12 married couples. We are also some of the few older volunteers - about 10% of the group is 30+. Most everyone is in their early to mid-twenties. Females out number the males approximately 3:1. All of us come from many different experiential backgrounds (there is no trend) and many U.S. states are represented. The states that represent most are California, Ohio, Michigan, and Minnesota!, but there are only maybe 5-10 of us from each those states. Every region of the U.S. is represented very well. There are lots of interesting people to talk to and learn from.

Learning Arabic has been awesome, and we are really excited for this opportunity. Our focus has especially been on learning the script alphabet and how to read and write it (so fun to learn!). We are split up into groups of 6 students with 1 teacher, and we have lessons for about 4 hours a day, 6 days a week now and for the next 2 months. Along with that we will have immersion experience with our host families, individual time to study, and hands on learning experience in our Dar Shbab (youth/community center) and community.

On Thursday we got to meet the US Ambassador to Morocco and his wife – Sam and Sylvia Kaplan. You can refer back to a previous blog entry to learn more about them and listen to their MPR interview. They are from Minnesota. We and 3 other Minnesotan PCTs were photographed with the Ambassador and his wife, and Peace Corps will be sending out press releases to Minnesota news agencies. Keep an eye out in your local paper in case the article gets picked up.

The weather here in Rabat has been very nice. The sun is bright and strong, and there is a cool ocean breeze coming in from the Atlantic. The city itself is an interesting culture shock. There are some nice parts and some not so nice parts; we are not allowed to enter the un-safe parts of the city of course. The nice parts we have seen are well groomed and contain many embassies and diplomatic residents. The not so nice parts have streets that contain piles of garbage and litter (there is no recycling and very few public garbage cans). Sidewalks are crumbling; buildings and structures are crumbling. There are many, many street cats and some scraggly dogs. Beware of these animals – they may carry disease such a rabies – so no petting until the rabies vaccine series is completed. Beware also of cars, motorcycles, and buses. They drive fast and erratically and there is no policing. You hear a lot of honking and screeching out in the city.

The hotel is comfortable. The food they serve us is delicious – always a wide variety of fresh fruits and veggies, yummy meats (fish, goat, chicken), kebabs, spicy tangines (stewed veggies, meat, and spices). The strawberries they serve are spectacular – you can tell that they do not come from California. Our beds are nice, although the shower is quite the experience: low pressure and not a lot of hot water. We should consider ourselves lucky though to have a shower at all! There is 24 hour police surveillance at the hotel for our safety as we are 112 Americans in one location.

Sleeping to the sounds of Rabat has been interesting – early on our second morning here we heard a car accident – screeching tires and a bang, hubcap rolling away. Every morning at 3am a German Shepard barks fiercely, and around 4am begins the city-wide call to prayer (and also at other times of the day, noon, 4pm, 7pm...).

On Sunday we did some sightseeing around Rabat. We walked to the Chellah Necropolis Roman ruins (see photos, wiki link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chellah) and over to the old Medina to check out the Kasbah (see photos - wiki link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kasbah_of_the_Udayas) and the Atlantic Ocean. On the walk home we stopped at a grocery store and purchased some nuts, chocolate, peanut butter, and Tabasco sauce. Yumm yumm. Our cravings have not been too bad yet – we would like some cereal and some wine. Morocco actually has some vineyards, but we will have to wait to buy wine when we get to our work site in June. Alcohol free has been nice actually – maybe we will drop a few pounds? ;)

The espresso here is delicious – thick, dark, and rich, and it only costs approximately $1 (8 Dirham) a cup - Arie approves. The street food looks amazing (we hear the sheep heads are good), and since we've had our Hep A shot we will be experimenting soon. Kate has officially made her first purchase at the Suk, or market, and of course it was a pair of shoes (bright teal, soft-leather flats for 7$! - 60 Dirham - see photo). We have discovered a good 3 mile jogging route and have found space to do yoga. We also purchased the service of a laundrymen, and Kate did her “load” of delicates by hand in the sink.

This coming Thursday morning we depart from Rabat and make the journey to our host families. We are going to be placed in the city of Azrou in the Atlas mountains region with 10 other volunteers. This region is known for its natural beauty – waterfalls and caves - and monkeys. No camels yet, but monkeys will do. In Azrou we will continue our Arabic language training and begin our youth development training. We are anxious to get started!

We are so thrilled to be in Morocco and so far this experience has been an exhilarating roller coaster ride that will continue for the next 2 years, Inshallah. Bslama!

Friday, March 9, 2012

a Light at the End of the Tunnel!

Finally! Finally. Finally, we have gotten more information from the Peace Corps that answers so many of our questions.

Here is our known time-line:
Sunday, March 18th we fly from MSP to Philadelphia for a 1 day training.
Tuesday, March 20th we depart JFK
Wednesday, March 21st we arrive in Casablanca and take a bus to Rabat
For 9 days we will be in Rabat 
March 29th we will move with group of 40 to a training site in another city TBD.
May 23rd we will be sworn in as Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) and will begin living and working at our site.

Here we go!