People here like to ask me “wallifti, wela mazal?” This means “did you get used to it or not yet?” I’m never sure how to answer that question. When will I have fully gotten used to it? Will I ever fully get used to it?
I’ve been meaning to post for a while now. A lot’s happened since I last did: I finished three months of training; spent a week preparing for site departure in Rabat; got officially sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer (by John Kerry!); arrived at site; and have spent about a month here meeting people, living with a new host family, finding a house, trying to get a work permit, starting work at the local Dar Chebab (youth center), and generally acclimating to life in my town (a small village about 30 minutes southeast of Agadir).
I could have posted about any one of these experiences. It’s not lack of material that’s been preventing me from writing something up. It’s an inability to accurately reflect on those experiences and fit them into a coherent narrative. My life as it is right now (i.e. being the only foreigner/non-Moroccan/non-native speaker living in this town, knowing I will be the only foreigner/non-Moroccan/non-native speaker living in this town for two full years, and speaking Arabic all day to everyone) differs so dramatically from anything I have ever done before that when I try to step outside myself and look at it, I can barely recognize it, let alone observe it, understand it, and write about it. Sometimes it’s hard to believe, like when you wake up from a dream and can’t yet decide if it was real of not. Sometimes it’s all too real and the immensity of my commitment hits me like a punch in the gut. And sometimes it inspires that giddy feeling I got in 6th grade when that girl I liked talked to me. In those moments I pity my alternate self who did not choose to join the Peace Corps. It’s different every day. All I can do right now is take it as it comes and get used to it as much as I can.
But I’m getting there. I’ve started teaching a few English classes and hopefully will be starting a music class soon, I have been helping out a local NGO with some of it’s projects, and today I am moving out of my host family’s house and into a place of my own. Most importantly my mood swings are no longer like those of my 6th grade self and more like those of my 12th grade self. Still in the midst of adolescence, but it’s progress! I’m confident that pretty soon, when people ask me, I will be able to tell them, “Iyah, wallift bzaaf,” “yes, I’ve gotten used to it.”
This week my CBT mates and I have been running a Spring Camp at the Dar Chebab (youth center). What does this entail? Non-stop activities each morning from 9:00 to 1:00 with youth ages 7 to 25 (or so). The activities we’ve been doing have ranged from the lighthearted (ice-breakers, camp songs, group dances) to the more serious (English classes, “Participatory Analysis for Community Action” [PACA] activities such as community mapping and needs assessments) and everything in between. Today, as we’ve been pushing for a gardening activity all week, the director of the youth center showed up with a mini palm tree on a bike and we proceeded to plant it in the yard. Yesterday we went to what the locals call the forest (which is really just a large green space with some scattered trees and open areas) and had an English scavenger hunt in which we put all of the youth in teams and had them complete a list of English oriented tasks. Items on the list included basic information gathering like “find out which counselor lives in New York” to more complex tasks like “take pictures of three different group members acting out separate verbs and describe them to Andrew.” We followed the scavenger hunt with giant game of capture the flag.
All in all it’s been incredibly rewarding. Although the youth haven’t expressed it to us directly (Morocco’s is a culture of indirectness) we can tell that everyone’s been having an awesome time. They ask about tomorrow’s schedule half way through the day. They take part in each activity with gusto and enthusiasm. They arrive early! They are even eager to learn English. My friend Rachel’s host brother, who spoke zero English before Monday, would not stop raising his hand in class today to practice what he’d learned. Most importantly there is that intangible yet very real feeling you get when you intuitively know that everyone is having a lot of fun. I’m at a loss to adequately describe it. Everywhere you turn someone’s laughing or smiling. Everyone’s walking with a spring in their step. Everyone’s bursting at the seems with energy, always ready for the next activity. It’s fantastic.
Although the payoff’s been high, its been of the busiest and most exhausting weeks of my life. Not only do I have to be in “in-charge” mode for four straight hours every day, leading activities and classes non-stop, but I also have three hours of Darija class every afternoon from 3 to 6 after which go home and plan for the next day’s activities. Not to mention the normal parts of my routine such as studying Darija, talking to and hanging out with my host family (exhausting in itself), and, god forbid, having some free time of my own.
Anyway, its coming to an end soon. We only have a half day tomorrow due to Friday prayer and Saturday is our final party/talent show/open mic event which should take some planning but won’t be too bad the day of. It’s been a blast but I’ll be glad it’s over. I’ve been pretty terrible about picture taking so far but I’ll try to take a few good ones tomorrow and Saturday and follow this post up with some pictures and videos of camp.
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The fruit in Morocco is fantastic. It simply often tastes better than fruit in America.
Now, this statement is not universally true. Moroccan clementines, for instance, are delicious. But no more so than they are in America. Maybe just a little more consistently delicious. I haven’t had a bad one yet. And Moroccan apples may even be a little worse. (But I think we can all agree that America has exceptional apples.) There are, however, a few notable examples of Moroccan fruits clearly besting their American counterparts.
The banana is the clearest example. I am very picky when it comes to the texture of my bananas. They have to be pretty firm or else I won’t eat them. Unfortunately there is an inverse relationship between taste and firmness in American bananas. They begin firm with little taste and as they ripen and become more flavorful, they soften. This means that in America I constantly have to sacrifice taste to get the texture I prefer. In Morocco, this is not the case. Moroccan bananas remain firm as they ripen. So like that lame series of Ford commercials in which “and is better,” I do not have to choose between texture or flavor. I get texture and flavor.
Strawberries are also clearly superior in Morocco. They are so big and red and juicy. None of this greenish-on-top business we get in America. Or “hey, buy me because I look edible but I’m really hard as a rock. Gotcha!” tricks that strawberries often pull in American grocery stores. I guess you could say strawberries here are pretty sincere. They look great and they are great.
Moroccan oranges are more juicy and flavorful than American oranges, as well. But contrary to the banana and strawberry situations, the oranges’ juiciness detracts from the overall orange-eating experience more than it benefits it. Essentially, the oranges are so juicy that its impossible to peel one without the orange exploding in your hand. So what starts out as a simple orange snack leads to juice everywhere: all over my hands, running down my arms, spilling on my pants, pooling on the table. Just everywhere. Moroccan oranges are still decidedly delicious-er but really more of a hassle than I need on tri-daily basis. Which is how often my host mom gives me one saying “Kul!!!” (which means “eat it!!!”). But in a nice, host-motherly sort of way. Alright I’m off the rails. Picture of delicious and sincere Moroccan strawberries below.