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June 26, 2009 SRAs vs PCVs

June 26, 2009 SRAs vs PCVs

A new acronym is born: the SRA.

Peace Corps, like most governmental organizations, loves the acronyms. The CD and APTO came to IST, along with PCMO. I saw friends I hadn’t talked to since CBT in PST. Etcetera.

So without further ado, I introduce to you: the Stinkin’ Rich American.

I suppose it could be extended to Stinkin’ Rich Westerners in general, or even Stinkin’ Rich Moroccans, but right now I’m traveling with Americans – my parents and sister – so SRAs it is.

Of course, “rich” is all a matter of perspective. After a lifetime in academia, my folks aren’t exactly dot-com billionaires. But here in Morocco, where a Volunteer (a PCV, to use the official acronym) can live on 250 dollars a month, you don’t have to be a billionaire to get to live awfully well.

What do I mean? It’s the little things. The four of us have been renting out the six-person “grands taxis” when we go from city to city. We stay in hotels where the bathrooms with ***western toilets*** are *inside* the rooms, and even have luxuries like *toilet paper* and *towels*.

Traveling with my SRA family has highlighted just how much I’ve wllf-ed to my Peace Corps life. I’m used to being squished when I travel. I’m used to having to walk down a hallway while carrying my own toilet paper, to use a squat toilet with questionable plumbing. I’m used to having to wait the minutes or hours for taxis and tranzits to fill up with fellow travelers. My SRA family, by contrast, walks to a taxi stand, picks out a car, and gets whisked away immediately.

But even more than getting to live in the comparable luxury of a bathroom *in*your*own*hotel*room*, SRAs get to go wherever they want. Not limited to routes available to public transportation, they can just wander the countryside.

In the company of my parents, I’ve gotten to seen parts of Morocco I’ve only ever heard of. Places like wildlife preserves and RAMSAR sites and other locations never served by public transportation. Without the deep pockets of my favorite SRAs, my only chance of visiting these spots would be hitchhiking, hoping for a passing dump truck to carry me within a few miles, then hiking the rest of the way. (Oh, yeah, and hitchhiking is a violation of Peace Corps policy, so if I did it, I’d be risking expulsion from Morocco.)

I also get to eat reeeeally well. We’ve been mixing it up, food-wise. A few times, we’ve eaten at the super-cheap sandwich shops I usually frequent…but then, a few times, we’ve eaten at places serving cheeseburgers and pizzas (which count as a splurge here). We stopped once at a super-zween restaurant featuring pastilla (a Moroccan delicacy) and Italian food and luxurious tagines. The d├ęcor alone was worth the price.

…to those with the pockets for it. My meal cost a reasonable percentage of my monthly salary…but it was still only a few dollars to someone living on an American budget. Even with the weakened dollar, Morocco is just plain cheap. I routinely stay in hotels/hostels costing less than 10 dollars a night. My usual haunt in Souqtown is less than 4 bucks a night. You can buy pastries for pennies, kilos of farmers’ market produce for quarters… My folks are spending more than they’d anticipated, but that’s because we’re enjoying luxuries like en suite bathrooms. And they’re still paying a quarter to a half of what they’d pay for a comparable room in the US.

So, friends, come visit my country. Revel in the luxuries that feel cheap to American pockets (though astronomical to my Peace Corps budget). Eat better food than you’ve ever had, for pennies on the dollar.

Get to live like a Stinkin’ Rich American. Because by local standards, you *are*. :)

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