Thursday, January 24, 2013

What in the World are we Doing?

Have you ever wondered what it is that Arie and I do everyday in Morocco? Sure, we told everyone that we will be working as Youth Development Volunteers at a Youth Center, but we didn't even really know what that meant until about half way into our first year of service.  And to think that 2 years seemed so LONG! But in terms of actual work, it really isnt that long at all...

...You see, the first 6 months are spent simply adjusting and integrating...this may seem like an easy and relaxing job, but let me tell you that it is not easy (although sometimes it is totally FUN).  Cultural integration and adjustment are really difficult; it is challenging to be a complete outsider walking down the street with the intention of somehow completing transactions in Arabic at places like the market or the post office or the bank. And it's not that we didn't do work during these first 6 months - we were learning Arabic, going to trainings and workshops, and we had 2 summer camps to coordinate and facilitate.  For us the most important part of these first 6 months was to just be present. Everyday. 

Then comes the real time to work - for 1 year we get to "go at it" and "go for it".  Our work is our responsibility and we get to choose how we spend our time.  This can be a challenge for some.  The natural inclination for some volunteers is to hide away in your home and avert yourself from doing real and challenging work.  The wonderful part of this time is the satisfaction that comes from getting out and doing your job.  It is truly exhilarating to be a part of a community working together - this is the reward for putting forth the effort to get out of the house to go work...everyday (especially on the days that you really really want to sleep and watch movies and dream about eating pepperoni pizza while sipping a Summit IPA with your friends)!

The final 6 months I cannot speak of yet, but they seem to be a time of gliding downhill.  Wrapping things up, doing some final projects, preparing your work for sustainability, and most importantly saying goodbye to all the friends, family, youth and community that you have grown to love...while preparing to go back to America where you have to think about things like a job, health insurance, graduate school, an apartment...

2 years is actually a short amount of time in relation to "work".  If you have ever had a job that you worked at for 2 years or longer you might agree that the first year is a time where you are still learning.  It's not until the second year that you hit your stride and can reach an optimal level of productivity. Soon we will be wondering where the time went as we pack to return to America.

So what are Arie and I doing? Right now?
First it is important for you to know that the Peace Corps' mission has three simple goals:
 1. Helping the people of interested countries (Morocco) in meeting their need for trained men and women.
 2. Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served (Moroccans).
 3. Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples (Moroccans) on the part of Americans.

Goal 1 is met through our daily work in the youth center and high school and any other associations we might be working with.

Goal 2 is met by our simple presence as Americans in Morocco. This means that we are working when we go to the pharmacy, the post office, the market and also when we go to a party or dinner.  We are seen. Moroccans observe us, and over time they get to know parts of the American culture that we share with them.  With learning comes understanding and with understanding comes peace. 

Goal 3 is met when we share our learnings about Morocco and its people with Americans.  This can look different ways.  We share when we have friends and family visit us, when we call home, when we send a postcard, when we post on Facebook, when we write in our blog.  What we say about Morocco and its people to Americans should ideally promote understanding between the two cultures, and ultimately it should promote peace.

Here is a summary what we are doing during our work weeks in site:

Arie is:
Teaching an Advanced English class to older teenagers at the youth center
Tutoring students in English at the high school
Teaching music - guitar and piano - at the youth center
Vice President of Peace Corps Morocco's Gender and Development Comittee
Arie also is working on:
Co-planning a job skills and resume writing workshop with an English teacher from the high school
Co-leading an inter-library reading competition at the youth center with Kate
In the past Arie:
Co-organized (Dec. 2012) a World AIDS Day Event at the youth center with another Peace Corps Volunteer
Co-coordinated and co-facilitated summer camp at the youth center with Kate

World AIDS Day Event at the Youth Center - Dec. 1st 2012

Kate is:
Teaching an Intermediate English class to middle school aged teenagers at the youth center
Tutoring students in English at the high school
Co-teaching aerobics and yoga at a local women's association with a female teacher from the high school
Co-leading a girls club at the youth center with another Peace Corps Volunteer
Kate is also working on:
Co-leading a women's leadership and empowerment workshop with the same female teacher from the high school 
Co-leading an inter-library reading competition at the youth center with Arie
In the past Kate:
Directed (Jan. 2013) the Annual Morocco Spelling Bee at the youth center
Co-coordinated and co-facilitated summer camp at the youth center with Arie

Spelling Bee Morocco at the Youth Center - Jan. 20th 2013

What do we do in our free time?

Arie's chores:
Going to the farmers market 2x a week to buy our fresh produce (the bulk of what we consume each week)
Preparing foods like chicken and goat stock, marinara sauce, pesto sauce, etc...
Sweeping the apartment, hall, stairs
Taking out the compost
Making the bed

For fun Arie likes to:
Practice guitar and study music theory (although this could count as prep work for teaching music) Practice yoga
Watch every single episode of the Simpsons ever
Beat every Angry Birds level/game on his Kindle

Kate's chores:
Laundry (all by hand)
Making breakfast
Preparing peanut butter, soy milk, hummus, and cold-press coffee

For fun Kate likes to:
Practice yoga
Run 3 miles
Paint and draw
Cook and bake

Together Arie and Kate like to:
Cook and prepare meals, especially soups/stews
Go on bike rides around the oaisis
Hang out with the other Peace Corps Volunteers in our area
Drink tea with our Moroccan friends
Eat couscous on Fridays with our host family
Watch TV Shows like: The Wire, Treme, Boardwalk Empire, Game of Thrones, Mad Men and Modern Family
Watch movies
Be silly and laugh - because when you spend so much time with your partner as married Volunteers do, you have to have a little fun! 

This is our Peace Corps life! We love it! 

Monday, January 14, 2013

A Moroccan Adventure!

 "It will the biggest adventure of your lifetime!" This is what we told my mom, dad, and little sister as they prepared for their big trip to visit us in Morocco.  We were all excited! My family was excited to see the wonders of Morocco and its rich culture, and Arie and I were excited to share our experience and journey with my family.  It was a wonderful and magical trip! Everyone stayed healthy and safe - ahumdullah.

We all agreed that:
Fes - is a great and wonderful city to visit!
Azrou - is beautiful!
Essaouira - is magical!
Marrakesh - well...needless to say, it was our least favorite city we spent time in...

My family got a great dose of Moroccan culture:
They ate the traditional couscous on Friday with our host family in Azrou.
They experienced kaskrut - Moroccan tea time.
They ate zmita, melawi, olives, dates, and fresh warm bread.
They ate fresh caught seafood.
They ate from a tagine.
They squeezed into a Grand Taxi for a 2 hour ride.
They rode through the Atlas mountains.
They took a first class train ride north.
They rode camels on the beach.
They heard us speaking French and Arabic.
They met our friend Eghali.
They met some lovely and very cool Peace Corps Volunteers.
They walked through Jeema el fna in Marrakesh on New Year's Eve.
They stayed in two beautiful riads.
They took a Moroccan style nap on ponges covered with blankets.
They used the Turkish toilet (aka squatty potty) successfully.
They saw wealth.
They saw poverty.
They saw goats up in the Argan Trees eating the nuts.
They saw the sunset over the Atlantic Ocean.

What I also want to say is that I am so proud of my family for making this trip.  I am certain that they never imagined themselves ever visiting North Africa, but they came.  Maybe they were a little worried, or scared, or nervous, or anxious, but ultimately they had a wonderful time full of learning and fun.  You just never know where your path in life will lead. 

View of Ktoubia Mosque in Marrakesh

The beautiful and traditional tile work at Bou Inania Medersa in Fes
A visit to a tannery inside the old medina of Fes

 Our family got to meet our favorite Moroccan friend in Fes

Enjoying traditional Moroccan couscous with our CBT host family in Azrou

 Fishing boats in Essaouira

Riding camels on the beach of Essaouira was the highlight of our trip

A champagne toast over a seafood lunch in Essaouira

The sun sets over a couple of camels and the Atlantic Ocean on our last night together in Morocco