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


March 4-7, aka Pre-Service Training begins...

Since typing on these computers is so frustrating; I spent a couple hours today typing all the events of the past few days into my laptop and then saved the document onto a thumb drive / jump drive, to copy and paste into the blog. Unfortunately, this machine is too old to have a usb port. I'll try the other internet cafe in town tomorrow...

Hey, wait, I'm wrong, I just hadn't found it! And I just found the exclamation mark! Yeah!!!

Without further ado...

Blog updates
Since typing on these Moroccan keyboards (which I’ve also heard described as French keyboards) is hideously frustrating, I’m going to start updating my blog on my laptop and then thumb-drive it in at the Cybèr, as Internet cafés are called here. For the past few days, when I couldn’t blog, I wrote in my journal, so this is pretty much a direct transcription from there.

I left off in a sea of fog…an appropriate image to leave y’all hanging. :) So here’s the continuation of my update from Tuesday, March 4th.

…We approached [Arrival City] as the sun was rising, so it was a bit challenging to look ahead – directly into the glare of the sun reflecting off of the Atlantic Ocean – to try to catch a glimpse of the city. Also, it was incredibly cloudy. My seatmate (M**) and I squealed whenever we caught sight of building contours through the haze, but mostly we saw undifferentiated white. As we descended, the clouds never seemed to thin. M** commented, “Wouldn’t it be funny if the clouds *never* cleared, and the plane just stopped in the middle of one?” And then it happened. I turned to her and said, “Wow, that just became the Quote of the Day.” Apparently a fog bank had blended with the low-hanging clouds. On the ground as in the air, we couldn’t see more than a few dozen feet in any direction. As we taxied around, we kept exclaiming over everything we saw: “Moroccan flowers!” “Moroccan shrubs!” “Moroccan palm trees!” “Moroccan shrubbery!” (Insert requisite Monty Python riff.) And then we were disembarking.

We were met by Gordie, the Program and Training Officer (who reminded me a lot of Chuck). He escorted us to customs, which was straightforward. While waiting for our bags, I played the Name Game with everyone I could see, getting significant help from K** and E**. (By the way – and this information is publicly available, I’m pretty sure, which is why I mention it – we have 2 Erins, 3 Elizabeths, 2 Brians, 2 Natalies, 2 Melanies, plus a Kathy and a Kathleen. 53 names spread among 60 people.) I think I’ve mastered everyone’s name by now. Yeah!

We didn’t linger in [Arrival City]. After loading the two buses, we zipped off to [Coastal City]. Impressions from the drive along the coast:- There’s a startling amount of green. Perhaps because of the ocean, or because there’s not a huge area between the coast and the rain-stripping mountains, or maybe the rainy season just ended, or maybe just because it’s spring…in any event, the coastal road was lined with lush grasses, wildflowers (that looked, at ~35mph, like buttercups) and flowering bushes that looked like forsythia. - Also sprouting up everywhere, like mushrooms after a rainstorm, were satellite dishes. There were thousands of them. Every home must have had at least one, and apartment complexes had dozens. Maybe hundreds.

Then I dozed off and woke up at the Peace Corps headquarters. We met the Country Director, Bruce Cohen, and were introduced to the rest of the PC staff (except for some of the Program staff, who were in [Mountain City] preparing for our arrival on Friday. We also got a tour of the headquarters and the ubiquitous Moroccan mint tea. It’s very aromatic, and very sweet, and I love it. I guess there’s a chance I’ll become tired of it eventually, but so far – as of Saturday, March 08, 2008, when I’m typing up this entry – I’m still loving it. :)

Then we got back into our vans to get to our hotel in [Coastal City]. One of our company found herself roommateless, so there was some maneuvering that ended up with us changing rooms to a threesome. So I got to schlep my bags twice in about half an hour, and I found myself appreciating the weight restrictions the Peace Corps had placed on us…those things aren’t easy to move around. Then came lunch – also known as the Feast Of Lunch – followed by two hours of informational sessions with the Peace Corps staff. In the evening, rumor floated around that the hotel had wireless internet available up on the top floor. The rumor was sort of true…there was a wireless signal, but it was only available to one person at a time. So we all took turns on A**’s computer, shooting quick emails to our friends/family. The rumor got most of us up to the top story, though, so we hung out up there for a while, watching the street scene below. We were strictly forbidden to leave the hotel before receiving the safety/security briefing from the State Department’s Regional Security Officer, so we were limited to observing from on high. That all changes tomorrow…

March 5, 2008

My first full day in Morocco!! The folks here are following the election with more attention than I would have expected, so I know that Clinton picked up 3 of yesterday’s 4 states, but I don’t know what that does to the delegate counts.

This morning, I missed my chance to shower (too many people with the same wakeup time!), but I shrugged it off as the first of my Peace Corps sacrifices, and headed down to breakfast. I also tried out my new glasses for the first time, in hopes of trying out the transition lenses when I was allowed to go OUTSIDE for the first time.

One of the first things that happened this morning was that we got our “walkaround allowance,” in dirhams (which is pronounced almost exactly like euros – “deurhomms”, more or less)and learned basic Arabic phrases relating to buying things. “La shukran” made an appearance, along with many others. :) During the Arabic lesson, we were cycled in for vaccinations, and then we got to hear from the Regional Safety Officer, which meant that we were allowed OUT during the lunch break. Exciting!! Perhaps because it had been forbidden for so long (or at least, what felt like so long), it actually seemed quite momentous. A few of us headed up the street by the hotel, walked a few blocks, took a right, then the next right, and returned to the hotel. Probably about a half mile or so all together…really not anything dramatic, but it was the first time I was outdoors in Morocco when not accompanied by the entire Corps, so it still felt pretty fantastic. Our group – five Caucasian females, talking loudly in English – did attract some looks, but no undue, let alone inappropriate, attention. :D

This afternoon, we got our medical kits and a long lecture about diarrhea. The take-home message was Don’t Freak Out, which is always good advice. :) Then we met Ambassador Riley and his wife – both really nice people, and Mrs. Riley is doing wonderful work bringing health care to villages. After the Ambassador left, we were briefed on the Emergency Action Plan – yes, there is one, and no, I don’t anticipate it being used any time soon, don’t worry – and then we were done for the day! It was almost 6, and our curfew was 8, so we all headed out into the city, mostly in groups of 3-6.

My group walked up to the Medina (the old city, and effectively synonymous with marketplace, since it’s crammed with hundreds of shops), which was strongly reminiscent of the Khan al-Khalili in Cairo. We tried to stop in an internet café on the way back, but the huge one we’d seen earlier turned out to be temporarily closed, and the others we found were overflowing with other PCTs. (PCTs = Peace Corps Trainees, aka *us*.)

Earlier today, I commented to one of my roommates that it hadn’t really sunk in yet that I was *in* *Morocco*. Walking through the Medina this evening, I realized that what I meant by that was that it didn’t feel foreign. And it doesn’t. I don’t want to make a bigger deal of this than it is – maybe it’s just because we’re in a European hotel in a westernized city, and because I’m hanging out with Americans, speaking English. But it really doesn’t feel any more “foreign” than any other time I’ve moved. It feels *less* foreign than New York City, for that matter. Come to think of it, I felt the same way when I was in [another Middle Eastern city]. Sure, I couldn’t read the signs, and my clothing (and coloring) stuck out, but I had no doubts that I could live there some day. Walking through [Coastal City], I was certainly aware that it was a *new* city to me…I didn’t know where the markets or Internet cafés or bookstores were (though I do know a few of each now!), but I wasn’t uncomfortable except when I was in an especially crowded section of the medina. And I’ve never liked crowds, in any country. But maybe it’s a sign that I’ve already accepted, at some visceral level, that this is my home. For now, anyway. I’m not visiting, and I’m not a tourist…I’ve moved here. With fewer boxes than usual, to be sure, but it was a *move* nonetheless. Morocco is my new home.

And that’s a pretty great feeling. :)

March 6, 2008

Our last full day in [Coastal City]. [Mountain City], here I come! As always, it was a full day. Another shot, more financial paperwork (this time creating our in-country bank accounts), a Drop Out Now anti-pep talk from the Program and Training Officer (which was a bit surreal, but I guess he’s right that it’s easier on everybody if you quit earlier rather than later), the “medical interview”, and Darija numbers. Since I already knew the Arabic numbers, it was an interesting opportunity for linguistic observations. Like most Darija words, the numbers are a little “compressed” from their Arabic originators, with some consonants dropped and vowels shortened or erased. Example: 2, “Ithnan” or “ithnayn” in classical Arabic, is “tnayn” (for all 2s from 22 on up; for the number 2 itself, it’s “jooj” in Darija…no idea why). “Thalatha”, 3, is compressed to “tlata”.

At the end of the day, we were split up by program group, and I got to see the Environmental Educators as a unit. Turns out I’ve mostly been hanging out with Health Educators. Oops…?
At lunch, I ran out to the Internet café and was able to post a quick, fairly gushing, blog. :)

While walking back from the Cybèr, I crossed paths with two tiny munchkins – probably 4 and 6 – walking from (or to?) school. The younger one chirped, “Bonjour!” When I responded in kind, they both smiled widely. The little dude followed with, “Ca va?” I recognized the script from French 1, and gave the response: “Ca va bien. Et tu?” But either his French or his courage failed him, and the conversation lapsed. I smiled all the way back to the hotel. :D

Our post-session “SDT” – Self-Directed Training – took the form of getting to know [Coastal City], aka taking a bigger lap through the Medina, then going out looking for the ocean. We’d heard that it was near the Medina, but didn’t know quite where. We kept heading west, mostly because of my assumption that, since the Atlantic Ocean is west of us, if we walk towards the sunset, we’ll get there. Oops. Turns out it’s north of the city. North of the Medina, anyway, which is in the north part of the city. Guess the coast curves here. So after walking parallel to the beach for probably a mile, A** finally noticed it off to our right, when we were crossing a big intersection. So we walked towards it, and found it less than a quarter mile up. The sun had long since set by then, though, so I tried out my camera’s snazzy NIGHT setting. Worked beautifully. Then I hit the NIGHT PORTRAIT option and got pictures of A**, O**, and T**. The huge long exposure time (while the camera is getting the image of the dark surroundings) didn’t make a blurry image, since the camera was balanced pretty well on my knee, but my friends’ motion did. The photo showed them all with glowing haloes, which A** promptly claimed as pictures of their auras. :)

Oh, and last night, after getting back to the hotel, I started reading Culture Shock Morocco: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette, which is more or less a handbook for expats moving to Morocco. As it described the steps of culture shock, I realized that all yesterday’s back-patting on how comfortable I feel here might be due to the fact that I haven’t yet *left* my culture. As long as I stay surrounded by American friends, I’m barely encountering, let alone confronting, Moroccan culture. Food for thought.

March 7, 2008

Notes jotted down while on the 8-hour ride from [Coastal City] to [Mountain City]. Most are geological in nature; sorry, that’s how I see landscapes. :)

We get to do laundry tomorrow! Woohoo!

The Atlantic ocean is right outside the window!

The soil here is so red – reminds me of Georgian soil. Come to think of it, Morocco and Georgia probably used to border each other. Where’s a paleogeographic reconstruction when you need one…

The land is pancake flat, with mostly horizontal stratigraphy…which I guess is to be expected, since we’re on a receding margin (like the Atlantic seaboard of North America). Every once in a while, there are metamorphic outcrops with a straight vertical foliation…from the suture with North America or with Laurentia? And why didn’t I think to read up on the geological history of Morocco when I had unlimited books and Internet access??

E** is sharing some really delicious swiss chocolate…yeah, unselfish PC people! :D

2 hours out, the red soil is replaced by chocolate brown dirt soil.

Nope, it’s cycling back to red. Guess it’s mostly red, with some local variation. Sometimes it’s the bright red of Georgian soil, other times the more dun-mixed tones of Mars…and the wind-carved outcrops rival the painted desert with their pink and tan bands.

Ears popping…mountains are visible in front of the bus. Guess we’ve turned west.

Now we’re in rolling red and green valleys. The contrast between the soil and the vegetation is truly striking.

The adobe-mud block houses wouldn’t be out of place in Arizona…and they’re only a few minutes up the road from a Bedoin sheep herder with his tent.

Ghostly mountains buried in snow hover before us; they are clear to the naked eye, but still invisible to my camera.

Stopping for lunch in [another big city]. The phrase “tropical paradise untouched by time” keeps floating into mind, thanks to these acres of palm-filled gardens. It’s easy to see why films set 50 or 100 or 1000 years ago are filmed in Morocco – and it also means that my image of historical architecture is actually shaped by modern structures. And the lush grasses – are those native species?? They look like they belong on a golf course.

The palm forests remind me of Florida and Southern California. Coincidence? Convergent evolution? Or were palm trees introduced to the US by one of the thousands of Americans who visited this region in the 19th century?

At my right hand are acres of olive trees, and at my left, mountains leaping into relief like the fault-block Tetons.

Ah…the darkness of the red soil is, at least sometimes, a function of moisture. Areas that have been irrigated (or get more rain) are dark, while dry areas are much paler.

There are black and white vultures circling over the town dump. It reminds me that I’ve seen a few white egrets. They don’t have yellow slippers, but I forget which species that makes them.

There are so many teeny villages, clinging to the hillsides and nestled in the valleys. Some contain only a handful of homes. (Literally, less than 5 sometimes.) I wonder how many – if any – are Peace Corps sites?

Update: yes, some of these areas *have* been Peace Corps sites. The terraced agriculture is a giveaway.

The erosion channels feeding the creek/river we’re driving along are visible both from their relief and from the color change – their channels are grey…an alteration product? Erosion product? Polish?

The wind turns treetops silver…

Can these soil-choked brown streams be filtered enough to produce potable water?

The road is following the stream/river pretty closely – after all, it carved this path through the mountains! I can see oxbows and abandoned meanders…the word “anastamose” comes to mind, but I don’t remember if this is a “braided” or “meandering” river. Why didn’t I reread my Geo 11 textbook before I left? I’m pretty sure I still have it…

Hey, a tiny waterfall, on the mountain across the valley from us!

Brown hillsides…

How long has this highway been here? How long as it been paved? What was it like before this, for these communities?

This landscape looks just like the Badlands of South Dakota.

The trees in the hillsides are planted in rows – looks like erosion protection. So why were the grasses in rows on flat surfaces?

No update from today, yet - my laptop battery was dying and a friend had borrowed my converter, so I couldn't plug it in. And another friend is now waiting for a computer, so I'll surrender this one. As always, your comments are welcomed - just click the link below!

No comments:

Post a Comment

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