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May 21, 2008 Volunteer!!

After three months of long days and short weeks - days that were filled to bursting with language lessons, conversations with Moroccans, hanging out with fellow Trainees, new foods, new reactions to food, and language language language, days that were individually exhausting (I haven't gone to bed at 9:30 every night since high school!) but which collectively flew by as week turned into week and month passed into month - and suddenly it's not March 1st anymore. I'm not a wide-eyed newbie looking around the hotel in Philadelphia, wondering which if any of this crowd of people was going to be friendly. Over the past three months, that crowd has shifted from strangers to friends, spanning the spectrum from acquaintance-you-smile-at to people who I'd trust with anything (and have). And now that crowd is scattered across the Moroccan countryside.

Monday morning, I raised my right hand and swore to protect the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and to serve the people of Morocco. It was very moving - yes, I got misty, as did many others, male and female - and very sudden. What happened to the four hours a day of language training? That was good! That was helpful! That was ... what Trainees get. And now I'm a Volunteer.

I'm still not sure why the Peace Corps makes such a distinction between Trainees and Volunteers - after all, we're all here to serve, we're all here to learn - but now that I've crossed the divide, I'm really missing all the security and comfort that comes with having dedicated instructors and a room full of friends.

It wouldn't be fair to say that Peace Corps dropped us in the deep end of the pool. They provided an amazing and devoted staff to train us as well as people can be trained in 11 weeks. A more accurate metaphor than the cliched "deep end" would be to say that the Peace Corps gave us 11 weeks of swimming lessons and then dropped us somewhere in the Pacific. We do, actually, have the skills we need to survive, and even thrive... As long as we don't lose our heads or forget anything we've been taught over the past three months, we just might avoid drowning. Inshallah.

So yesterday, Tuesday, we all loaded up everything we own or plan to need for the next two years, and piled into buses heading to all parts of the country. I had over a dozen people on my bus, including some of my closest friends, lhumdullah, so I wasn't about to miss the chance to give them hugs goodbye, even if it meant that I got stares from everyone behind our group.

And today, Wednesday, I've met with my awesome counterpart, met a professor friend of his (and two of the professor's grad students), and set up a project that will fill the months until school begins again. It's about identifying and cultivating what they call "aromatic plants", aka plants that can be harvested for "essential oils", ie roses, argon olives, rosemary, mint, etc, etc. How exactly I'll conduct this survey in a language I barely speak...that'll be interesting. But it's good to have a project, especially since the primary project I've been given requires contact with schools, many of which have already let out for summer.

So I've got a full plate, a mountain of luggage, and a waiting host family. Off I go... Keep me in your prayers! :)

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