Think local. Act global. Learn more about the Peace Corps



I've been getting the same questions from a lot of different people, so I'll put the answers here, for general consumption.

  1. Where will you be going?
    Morocco, the northwesternmost country of Africa. It boarders the Mediterranean Sea, the Atlantic Ocean, Algeria, and Western Sahara or Mauritania* to the south.

  2. Have you ever been there before?
    Nope. I've only ever been in Africa for a week, when I visited Egypt with my sister last January. (See the 11-27-07 timeline post for details). But I got a taste of Morocco last night, at a fantabulous Moroccan restaurant. If my experience and/or food in-country are anything like my experience last night, I'll be a very, very happy person. :)

  3. What will you be doing?
    Environmental Education and Community Development. As for what that varies. (Check out the 1-16-08 post for details.)

  4. What city will you be in?
    I'll fly into the capital city, but shortly thereafter be transported to another town, whose name and location I don't know, for three months of training. At the end of training, I'll learn where (barring unforseen circumstances) I'll be volunteering for the next two years.

  5. What language do they speak there?
    The national language is Arabic - though Moroccan Arabic sounds quite a bit different from everyone else's! Morocco was a French colony for years, though, and one effect of that is that French is still required in school. There are also three Berber dialects that are common, especially in the more remote regions of the country.

  6. Do you speak it?
    I studied French from 7th grade through a semester of college, so that will be my primary crutch. I've been working on Arabic, but it's still pretty rudimentary. Also, I've been learning Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), which is the equivalent of learning English with an Ohio accent and then going to back country Tennessee: folks there can understand me, thanks to TV and radio, but not necessarily vice-versa. (And if you think I'm kidding, you don't know anyone from the mountains of Tennessee, where "f'n'a" is the future tense and "on" rhymes with "hone".)

  7. How's the packing coming?
    (inserting fingers into ears and babbling frantically)
    Seriously, there's a lot to do, not least of which is stockpile thermal underwear and hiking equipment, since the odds are that I'll be in an unheated cement building in the mountains, with sporadic electricity and indoor temperatures in the single digits. General appeal to blogreaders: if you have thermal layers or hiking garb that you never use, could you shoot me an email or hit the comment button below? Thanks!!

  8. What else do you have to do before you leave?
    ...a whole lot. I have to square away finances and legal stuff to be handled in my absence, say goodbye to everyone I know - and hug as many of them as possible, which means a lot of traveling, give away most of my belongings, schlep the rest into my parents' basement 1000 miles away, find a home for my pet snake...

  9. Why are you getting rid of so much stuff? Why not just store everything?
    The most reasonable answer is that moving is difficult and expensive, and very little that I own would cost more to replace than to relocate it. But there's more to it than that. The vast majority of my belongings hold little sentimental value; it's just stuff. Stuff that can be useful, like a bed and dresser and toaster oven, but which won't get used while accumulating dust and rust and moths and mold, awaiting my return. Also, nearly all of it came to me as the product of someone else's love and generosity - usually my parents'. It seems more in keeping with the love that brought this stuff into my life to share it with folks who need it, than to hoard it away for my own future use. And, finally, it's an act of faith in a just and benevolent universe: if I help meet someone else's needs now, my needs will be met in the future.

* It's complicated.


So what will I be doing, anyway?

What does "Environmental Education" entail in Morocco? Most of what I've found is pretty vague, but I got some nice insight from the Peace Corps' annual reports (aka: Congressional Budget Justification) over the last few years.

From 2004:
Based on a Volunteer activity analysis and in response to Morocco’s needs, the Peace Corps formally merged its agriculture program and its wildlife and environmental education program into a single environment project.

So I might be doing agriculture work. Good to know.

The new project promotes natural resource management and rural community development
with a focus on environmental awareness and sustainable development. Environment Volunteers have written and taught environmental curricula, conducted nature field trips,
introduced new technologies designed to promote conservation of natural resources (such as solar ovens), and assisted local authorities in systematic reforestation efforts.

Memo to self: read up on solar ovens. I have found a nifty idea for solar water purification, though. I'd envisioned some sort of chemistry set where solar energy is used to vaporize water, which could be condensed as distilled water in a sterilized bottle. Turns out it's a whole lot simpler:

Each site has a team of two or more Volunteers

Yes! I'll be placed with somebody else! Schweet!

who conduct community development projects in their assigned parks and protected areas. Fifteen teachers in three primary and two middle schools within and near national parks were trained to utilize and adapt materials for environmental education activities in both the classroom and the community.

OK, teacher training. I thought that might be a piece of it. Good to know.

From 2005:
In Morocco, a country with 39 major ecosystems,

39 major ecosystems?! That's fantastic! Courtesy of Wikipedia and 15 minutes on Google (Google Earth and the search engine): Morocco is about 5% bigger than California, and like CA, it goes from sea level to mountains in a fairly short distance. The mountains are pretty comparable, too: California has some 14ers, while Morocco tops out at Jbel Toubkal, 13761 ft. But back to our story...

natural resources undergo continual degradation because of deforestation and overgrazing. An estimated 30,000 hectares of vegetable cover disappear each year, with serious consequences for the country’s biodiversity. The environment project seeks to reinforce the Moroccan government’s conservation initiatives and help the country’s rural populations achieve a higher standard of living.

Environment Volunteers have written and taught environmental curricula, conducted nature field trips, introduced new technologies designed to promote conservation of natural resources (such as solar ovens), and assisted local authorities in systematic reforestation efforts.

Looks like they recycle some of their stories. ;)

Five Volunteers organized an Earth Day event at primary schools to raise children’s awareness of local environmental concerns and to give the students hands-on projects.

Earth Day in Morocco! Awesome!

From 2006:
The environment project seeks to reinforce the Moroccan government’s conservation initiatives and help rural populations achieve a higher standard of living. Volunteers have worked with government representatives, youth groups, and environmental interest groups.

Nothing new, yet...

They have also worked with new local associations to promote income-generating activities such as ecotourism projects.

Ooh, ecotourism! One of the best ways to combine conservation with economic development! I'm suddenly thinking of my trips to Monteverde, Costa Rica in 1995 and 2005. I wonder if any of the groups that did such remarkable things in those 10 years have published a guide to help promote similar efforts in other areas - Ecotourism For Dummies, or something...

Volunteers have established small community- or school-based tree nurseries and planted tree seedlings, and they have been involved in projects to control erosion and prevent water supply contamination. Volunteers have co-facilitated workshops to identify topics on environmental awareness and methods to limit desertification in three provinces, and they have helped with the planning and implementation of tree-planting drives for income-generation and soil stabilization. One project involving seven new local associations resulted in the distribution of 12,000 olive, apple, cherry, and plum trees to 350 local families.

Tree planting! Now I'm thinking of my stop in Arbofilia, also in Costa Rica, where my fellow ecotravelers and I helped their ongoing reforestation and corridor creation (read: tree-planting) efforts. As I recall, they raised money to plant and nurture the trees in lots of different ways, but it was incredibly money-efficient: $1 = 1 tree.

From 2007 - which also mentions that they anticipate having 228 volunteers in Morocco in 2008, so I'll have lots of company!!
[Repeated stuff excised]...This year, along with their counterparts from the Water and Forests Department, Volunteers organized several demonstrations of improved cook-stove prototypes to demonstrate and evaluate their potential to reduce daily fuel wood requirements. More than 300 women and girls were targeted by this project.

How cool! A project that encourages women and girls to engineer environmentally-friendly solutions to their own energy challenges! Plus, less wood = less chopping, less carrying, less splitting. It's good for the forests *and* good for the people. This is my kind of problem-solving. :)


Peace Corps Invitee!

This morning's Peace Corps Status Update:

Congratulations! You have accepted an invitation to serve in Morocco.
You will soon be receiving additional information from your country desk, the travel office, and the office of staging about preparing for service.

So...the clock is officially ticking. I'll be "staging" - PeaceCorpsSpeak for "all gathered together and getting ready to get on the plane" - March 1st and 2nd. March 3rd I'll be airborne, and March 4th I'll be in Morocco. Exactly where remains a bit of a mystery. We'll be in the capital for the first few days, and then will spend the next 11 weeks ... somewhere ... not too far away.

They say that the geographical uncertainty is a safety measure. If nobody knows where the Americans will be clustered, nobody can target them. Us. I understand that, but it does make planning (and packing!) a bit of a challenge. Out of respect for their wishes on this, though, I'll be keeping the geography pretty vague, even as I learn more. I might refer to mountains or deserts or oceans or towns, but I'll try to avoid proper nouns or identifying details, at least on the blog*. As you may have noticed, I also avoid using proper nouns identifying people. :)

Anyway, after the 11 weeks in the undisclosed training location, I'll get my actual assignment. I'll know where I'm going, with whom I'll be working, and hopefully even have a permanent mailing address. Where I can receive packages. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge. :D I will have a mailing address during training, but they've asked us not to have packages sent there. Of course, letters are always welcome. :)

* If you want details, shoot me an email. If you don't know my email, you don't get the details.


Pre - Peace Corps Timeline, continued.

Early December - Official letter arrives, requesting more medical stuff. I need to redo some bloodwork (aka another chance to feel like a pincushion) and get the MMR booster. Most folks get an MMR booster in their teens or 20s because they got the first one as a newborn. Me, I got the first MMR three months ago. Does it really need to be boosted? Peace Corps says yes.

December 18 - MMR booster.

December 22 - Pincushion time. :( A couple hours later, I hop on a plane to go home for Christmas. :D

January 2 - I'm back from Christmas. I check the results of the bloodwork: I'm all good. :D

January 3 - My placement officer calls me. I tell her I've got everything, and am about to mail it. She says, "Fax it. I'll call them and ask them to fast-track the review. I can't invite you after January 21, so..." I fax it. The fax machine takes five tries before it finally goes through (as it usually does). Big sigh. :)

January 7 - Peace Corps Status Update: I'm finally medically cleared. Yeee-hah.

January 8 - Peace Corps Status Update: My package is in the mail. They'd overnighted it on the 7th, and it arrived not long after the email update did. :D I'm officially invited into the Peace Corps!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Turns out I'm headed for Morocco, not Jordan. I'll be doing Environmental Education work, as'll just be a little further removed from Jerusalem, and with differently-accented Arabic. I tell myself that this can be a good thing.

January 9 - I call my placement officer and accept the invitation. Time to begin informing family, friends, colleagues, random strangers... I'm going to Morocco!

Think local. Act global. Learn more about the Peace Corps