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December 23, 2008 Site Development Day 1

On Monday, I got a call from my awesome Program Manager (the Peace Corps boss of all Environment PCVs in Morocco). He asked me, "Would you like to help develop some sites for new Volunteers?" Site Development is a vital, and too easily shortchanged, aspect of PCV preparation. It's the process whereby communities are selected to get a new Volunteer.

Anyone in the country can ask for a PCV. They contact the Peace Corps / Morocco staff with their information. The request can come from an association who will partner with the Voluneer or from one of our government partners. The PC/M staff does the initial investigation over the phone. If enough checks out, they schedule the site for a Site Development visit from PC/M staff and PCVs. PCVs aren't always included in the Site Development process, but everyone agrees that it's best when they are.

...and that's what my PM was asking of me. To go along with a staff member to a few villages, some of which currently host PCVs who are scheduled to leave in May, and some of which will be new sites.

I said, "Of course, sure, I'd love to do it. When and where?"

"Tomorrow, [staff] is going to [Town 1] and [Town 2]. Those towns currently have PCVs, so they'll be helping out with those. Wednesday, she'll be in [Town 3], and Thursday in [Town 4]. Could you go with her to those?"


"Yes, Thursday."

"But...Thursday is Christmas.'

"Yes, Christmas."

I tried again. "But it's Christmas." Surely he'd understand.

"Yes," he answered calmly. The man is unflappable. "Will you be able to help?"

"Is there any way she could go on Friday? I could go on Friday." And now I had to admit my own delinquency in applying for vacation time. "I've been meaning to send in a vacation request for Thursday. Since I don't have a counterpart any more, can I just take it as a personal day?"

Quick logistical background - PC/M has recently changed policy regarding off days. We are allowed a few days to take care of "personal business", in addition to the two days per month of "Annual Leave", usually referred to as vacation days, which we can stockpile or use at will. To get a personal day, all we have to do is notify staff - as long as we don't abuse the privilege. To get a vacation day, we need to fill out a form and have it signed by our counterpart. Since my counterpart recently chose to leave his post, I'm ... between counterparts. And therefore have no one to sign my forms.

Or so I thought. My manager advised me to get it signed by my regional director and fax it in sometime before Thursday.

So Tuesday morning, bright and early, I head down to [Town 1]. I meet up with one of the PCVs living there, who makes us an awesome veggie stew and banana bread. Then the PCVs and staff and I check out the hospital in the town, to verify that they want another Health Volunteer.

Our next stop is the school, because so much of our work is with students. Staff chats with the teachers in Darija while I chat with the students in Tam.

Then we head to the host families of the two current PCVs, to ask if they're interested in hosting other volunteers in the future. One family is cheerfully amenable; the other says, "Well, if he's like the one we have now, sure, but maybe he won't be." I sympathize with their uncertainty; agreeing to share your home with a strange foreigner is a big and somewhat scary commitment. To sweeten the pot, staff points out that the per diem for hosting PCVs has gone up almost 50%. Unfortunately, this opens the door to negotiations. The mom points out how much meat her current Volunteer ate, and that the price of meat is steadily rising, and what if the new Volunteer eats even more...? Staff doesn't budge on the per diem - she can't, it's uniform for all of PC/M - but the mom works all of her best souq negotiating tactics. She even starts to suggest that maybe she doesn't want to host another PCV after all, because it's such a financial burden.

This conversation is all in Tam, since the mom doesn't speak Darija, so I can jump in. I point out that the Volunteer will need to be housed somewhere, so if she doesn't want to take it on, the PCV and his more-than-generous per diem can go to another family instead.

I've spent my share of time in souq, too.

The discussion ends with the family agreeing to host.

Having the same family host back-to-back Volunteers isn't always ideal, largely because of the inevitable comparisons. "Wow, your Tam is awful. The PCV who just left spoke so well. Why don't you speak well?" Sometimes they're flattering. "You're so much more friendly/outgoing/ cheerful/quiet/generous/reserved/whatever than the previous PCV." Either way, it can be a problem.

On the other hand, families with hosting experience know what to expect of the strangers in a strange land. They're accustomed to our odd habits like spending time alone and eating sparingly of delicacies like goat eyeball and sheep marrow. And not least, they're guaranteed to have acceptable houses. (Peace Corps has some strict guidelines for PCV living spaces. We have to have our own room, with a lock. The house has to have a functioning bit l-ma (bathroom). If they're going to host a female PCV, they can't have any unmarried males in the house over the age of 15. These may not seem big stumbling-blocks to Americans living in homes with guest rooms, but in small Moroccan villages, it usually means that only the richest handful of families are even eligible to host. PC does what it can to ameliorate this, and has been known, for example, to help otherwise-eligible families build bathrooms.)

So after we finished our conversation with the potential host families, we headed off to Town 2, where we more or less repeated the process. A few things that stood out: The potential host family we talked to there said that they'd prefer to have a female volunteer, since the father leaves often for work, and they'd be more comfortable with a woman staying alone with the mother and her small children. Also, the hospital staff made it clear that they don't want a Health Volunteer: "Our children are healthy. We don't need any help from your organization."

After we wrapped up there, we headed to Souq Town (only an hour or so past Town 2). We grabbed some dinner and I was able to find my district supervisor and get his signature on my leave form. He didn't understand why I wanted to take vacation time when I wasn't leaving the province, but he signed it for me since I asked him to. :) I'd love to help develop Town 4, but Christmas is Christmas. :)

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