A Year in the Life

I’ve always been the kind of person that wants to understand not only the world around me but also who am I and the role I play in that world. I’ve always found people and their experiences throughout their lives to be fascinating and incredibly unique to themselves. No matter how similar things may seem, each person is living a completely unique to them human experience and no two people are identical in thoughts, actions or perceptions of the surrounding environment.

Growing up I was involved in a variety of philanthropic and volunteer work from about the age of 12. This mainly started because the high school my brother and I went to required us to have 100 hours of community service in order to graduate at the end of four years. This meant that when he started high school, even though I was still in 7th grade, the community service became a family affair mainly done when we were at our mom’s house.

Over the course of the next 10 years I did everything from working at the Catholic Charities in downtown Vegas at their soup kitchen, to the occasional hours spent at Matthew’s closet either organizing donated clothing and items or helping the teacher and photography students take seasonal Christmas and Easter photos for families who couldn’t afford professional ones. I went on to help support the students in my class who brought Best Buddies to my high school, an organization that pairs high school students with college-aged adults with a variety of special needs and helps create a system of support and friendship.

In college I joined a sorority and through that sorority I was able to find my way to an organization that I believe helped fundamentally shape me into the person I am today. Camp Kesem is a student-run, non-profit children’s camp for kids aged 6-18 who have been affected by a parents cancer. This past summer there were 117 chapters nationwide that were able to help over 8,500 kids. I ended up volunteering with University of Oregon’s chapter for all 5 years of my undergrad. My 4th year senior year I ended up traveling to Michigan for their National leadership summit as an Operations Coordinator.

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All the campers and counselors from my 4th year with Camp Kesem UO – August 2016

One of my sessions was a tabling / networking fair that had representatives from 10-15 well known service organizations from across the country. Not surprising, Peace Corps was at one of those tables. I remember talking with the recruiter about joining and given this was a meeting with a bunch of student leaders, his pitch was largely geared towards how to apply your educational background and major into PC service. I remember this conversation mainly because I remember him telling me that architecture and sociology don’t really have a connection or place within the current PC structure and he couldn’t see how my background would fit into service. I guess the joke is on that dude.

Now you see, I’d had a couple of random and fleeting thoughts about joining the Peace Corps starting in my junior year. My favorite aspect of being in Gamma Phi Beta had been the philanthropic work we were required to do on our own and also the work we did to raise money for and support Girls on the Run, an organization that helps teach girls life skills while also incorporating participation in a 5k. Three of the older members from my freshman year had all gone on to join the Peace Corps straight out of college (my freshman and sophomore years). These were all women I’d looked up to and admired for their passion to philanthropy. My fourth year of college, and final year as an active member, a few months after I returned from the summit, another member announced she’d joined the Peace Corps and was set to depart for her service not long after graduation.

I had had a rough 4th and 5th year of college and was feeling really burnt out on architecture. Where I’d once been super inspired by my projects and eager to flesh out my designs, I had started being stressed and frustrated every time I had to make massive revisions and meet new deadlines. Though I ended up passing my terminal studio project, a hypothetical aquarium in New York City, that was one of the hardest projects I’d ever designed. It was a massive property, with so many spaces and functions to design and account for and the complete opposite of the type of design work I’d always wanted to do. I’d been pushed so far outside of my comfort zone and pairing that with the stress and burnout that had been building for the past 2+ years, some days I still wonder how I was able to pull off a Pass on that project.

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The final pin-up for my aquarium project that still makes me cringe even to this day – June 2017

Now, you may be wondering what’s up with this seemingly disjointed trip down memory lane, right? Well the point for me is that it was a combination of these volunteer experiences growing up, the small yet reoccurring presence of Peace Corps throughout all of my college years, and the massive level of burn out from architecture I was faced with that helped lead me to where I am now.

I knew around the time my 3rd year ended and 4th year began that I wasn’t going to be able to go straight into architecture post college without winding up resenting it by the time I was 30. This wasn’t what I wanted for myself and my future. So instead, I chose to focus on a different interest I had, volunteering and helping people however I could. I met with the University of Oregon PC recruiter to get tips and advice on my application, used my department’s Professional Outreach and Development office to proofread my resume and motivation statement, reached out to the PC recruiter based in Portland and met with her to get advice on how to prepare for my interview and even reached out to one of the girls from my sorority who had served.

I ended up submitting my application when it first opened back in October of 2016 and had secured myself an interview towards the end of November. A few days before Christmas I received my official invitation to serve and had 72 hours to submit my intent to commit to service. For those unfamiliar with how this process works, the invitation does not guarantee you anything. Once you accept, you still need to be legally and medically cleared. I sent in my fingerprints and got the ball rolling and was legally cleared by March of 2017. This was the same month that I received all of my medical tasks I needed to complete for my final clearance.

This is where my story gets stressful. Each task had a specific deadline (all within 60 days) to complete and submit to the medical office for review. Every time I submitted another task the office would send me another one back because they weren’t satisfied with a variety of things. At this time, I had three months left until graduation, five months until camp and slightly less than six months until (what I hoped would be) my departure to start my service.

Everyone in my terminal studio was talking about the firms they were applying to, or the job offers they were receiving. As one of the directors for camp that year, I had a lot of meetings to get everything ready to go with the departments I was in charge of. People from both groups were talking about their plans for after college or asking me what mine were. Every day I would check my email waiting to get that email that confirmed my plans for the next two years of my life. Every day that I still had no clearance and was asked about my future, I would mention that I was waiting to get my final clearance so I still wasn’t sure what my post college plans were for sure.

Whether it was my roommates, my architecture friends and classmates, my fellow camp counselors and volunteers, my relatives, my friends from high school and those from college who graduated the year before, I was never able to say what my plans actually were with any sort of certainty. Instead it was always framed in a “well, if everything works out, I’ll be living in Morocco and serving in the Peace Corps in their Youth Development sector”. The architecture people thought it was a tad bit odd and didn’t really know how to respond, except for those who knew about my work with Kesem. My friends who knew me well and the people I’d been volunteering with were all super supportive and thought (and told me) that this would be the perfect thing for me.

What was hard about this was that I felt like I was stuck in limbo and straddling this line where I had to simultaneously be prepared to leave America, my life, my family, my friends, my culture and everything I’d ever known in just a few months while also having to be thinking about what I would do if I didn’t receive that final clearance and instead needed to think about where I would live, what I would do for work, would I take a chance and hope I wouldn’t be miserable going straight into architecture? would I live with one of my parents for 6 months? a year? would I go to work a minimum wage job while I waited for the universe to drop a different option in my lap?

Time passed and I finished my last term of college while struggling every step on that project, being stressed about passing, being stressed about the uncertainty of my future and in mid-June I had my final pin-up and presentation and graduated a week later with my Bachelor’s of Architecture. I visited friends and family and was visited in turn by friends all in the off-chance I did in fact get on that plane come September.

By the beginning of August I was still in constant communication with the nurse in charge of reviewing my completed tasks and was still receiving new tasks and follow-up assignments. The first two weeks of August were filled with a visit to Vegas to go see my Dad and my grandparents. If everything worked out how I hoped it would with PC, I knew that this could very well be the last time I would see either of them as they are both up there in years and each has their own health problems. I think this was easily one of the hardest parts of my possible PC future and still comes with a fair share of guilt present day.

My grandparents, Orville and Dora Jean.

I learned firsthand that the way PC clearance works is that you are required to have  received your final clearance by 5 business days prior to your scheduled flight to Staging. For me, my flight was due to leave Monday, September 11th which meant I had to have my clearance by Monday, September 4th, which really meant I needed to have received it on Friday, September 1st in order to guarantee my ability to come.

The last two weeks of August I was super busy working two back-to-back weeks of my final summer as a student volunteer with Camp Kesem which takes place in Gresham, OR. I ended up having to leave to go to my doctor in Portland 45 min away 3 times over those two weeks. Camp ended on Thursday, August 31st. I will never forget sitting in my friend Blair’s apartment that Friday morning with my co-director from camp, Grace, and the three new director’s, Keegan, Blair and Riley. We were all together so that we could make our transition call and Grace and I could officially transition out of our positions as directors.

At ~12:00pm PST (3:00pm EST – where the PC offices are located) I opened my email and received my final clearance. With just two hours left on the clock that had been counting down for 6 months, it was finally confirmed that I would be getting on a plane to Philadelphia in 10 days where I would start the next chapter of my life. I started crying as I realized what this email meant and Keegan, who was sitting next to me, just looks at me and asks if everything is ok. I couldn’t make my mouth work and just showed him my phone and the email and he immediately grabbed me and hugged me and told me how happy he was for me. Surrounded by a group of people who had been supporting me from the beginning, and to this day are still some of my favorite people and friends, they celebrated and congratulated me.

I now had 10 days to get all of my ducks in a row and make sure I had everything I needed for this next journey (check out my “Packing 101” post if you want to know what that looked like). All I can say is I’m sure damn glad that I live in the age of two-day Amazon shipping and Target. Probably wouldn’t have made it here clothed and with luggage if it weren’t for them. I spent time with my mom and dog, saw my brother, and made phone calls to friends and family and told them my good news and got ready to close (or put on pause) one chapter of my life so I could be free and ready to jump head first into the next.

A year ago today, I wrote and published my first ever blog post. I wrote it at one in the morning in my mom’s basement not long after I’d finished packing (as the last of my stuff had been delivered maybe 12 hours prior) and maybe 2 1/2 hours from when I needed to leave for the airport to catch my flight for Staging. Sometimes I look back and wonder how I managed to pull that off and I know I wouldn’t have been able to do it without my mom’s help and all the support I had from the people rooting for me from the beginning.

Now, a full 365 days from the moment I stepped foot on the plane that would eventually lead me to where I am now, I can honestly say that I am not the same person that I was the day I flew out of PDX. I’ve learned a lot about myself, my beliefs, how I deal with people and problems, how I view the world and other people in it, and the things I truly value in life. I’ve grown a lot as a person, a friend and as a support to others.

With the good comes the bad though, and through my experiences this past year I’ve also had plenty of time to look back on things I’ve done in the past, interactions with people and decisions I’ve made that I’m not proud of. But you know what? That’s part of life and growing up. People aren’t perfect and sometimes it’s ok to make mistakes, the important thing is that you learn from those mistakes and try your hardest to never repeat the same one twice if you can avoid it.

Though I’ve had a lot of time to grow and reflect, I’d like to take a quick break on that so that I can pass along some of the things I’ve learned and realized in the past year, to you, whoever you are, a friend, a school mate, a family member, a fellow PCV, or just a random person reading this. I’m not here to tell you how I think you should live your life, or to be critical of anyone who doesn’t live in accordance with or even agree with what I’m about to share.

Instead, I just want to share some things that I’ve learned and come to terms with and have found have made me a happier person through accepting and realizing these things. I hope even if you choose to not take any of them to heart or apply them to your own life, that they at least cause you to pause and think. To take a second and reflect on your own experiences and relationships and role within the world you and I both inhabit.

Disclaimer: All things I’m about to say, please understand that yes the words can be misconstrued or argued against to some degree but my intention behind each thought is with the assumption that whatever it is being applied to is not harming other people or causing danger or negative consequences to others.

If you truly want to do something, put in every effort you can to make it a reality even if it’s met with resistance. 

Even though I had spent the past 5 years of my life in college studying architecture, I decided to take a less traditional post-grad route. Though I did have support and a good chunk of people understanding that volunteering and philanthropy is as much a part of who I am as my creative and artistic design side is, there was still a chunk of people who didn’t understand why I was making the decision I was and who I didn’t feel supported by. The people who it truly mattered to me having their support throughout the process, I talked to about it. The people whose opinions I didn’t care about as much, I let it go and just chose to not talk to them about the subject because that was what was best for me at that time.

I was so invested in making Peace Corps my future that I put in every possible effort I could. I met with multiple recruiters and got advice left and right about how to tailor my resume to give me the best shot, how to prepare for an interview specifically with this organization, what I could do to increase my chances of getting an invitation including using non-PC connected people like those in the PODS office who were completely objective about the materials I was submitting. One of the recruiters I’d spoken with had served in Morocco back in the early 2000’s and I got a handful of very applicable scenarios from her and was able to reference our discussion in my interview as a form of preparation and showing I at least had some basic understanding of what I was trying to get myself into.

In case you weren’t following the never-ending medical clearance saga I laid out for you in the first half of this blog post, for me it felt like every time I thought I might be at the end of the tunnel, there’d be another rock slide blocking my entrance out to the other side. I refused to let that stop me and instead put even more effort into it. I kept correspondence with the nurse reviewing my submitted tasks via the message center of the medical portal. When that wasn’t good enough and June / July came around we spoke on the phone a handful of times and I had some very frank conversations with her about what the issues were and what I could do about them.

I was even told at one point that if I damage my bad knee or have too many issues with it while in service it could be grounds for immediate medical separation. Would I love to maybe give hiking some of the literal 30+ mountain peaks I can see from my rooftop a chance? Absolutely. Is one stunning view worth the risk of me getting injured and bringing my service to a premature death unnecessarily? Absolutely not.

Was it a completely smooth road to get to where I am now? No. Would I go back and do it all over again exactly as it happened the first time around knowing what I know now? Yes. I think I am exactly where I am supposed to be and happier than I’ve been in the past decade. Every single day of stress waiting to get an email that took 6 months to receive was worth it, even just for this past year of my life and inshallah these next 15 months are even better.

It’s ok to be afraid of the unknown.

One year ago today, when I stood outside my gate standing next to my mom waiting for my plane to board I was completely ready to start this next adventure. About 10 minutes after we boarded and we were sitting on the tarmac waiting for the green light to take off, I started freaking the fuck out. I think it was about the closest to a panic attack I’ve ever come in my life and honestly, there was a moment or two when I wished I could’ve gotten off the plane and gone with my Plan B instead. Clearly that wasn’t an option at that point.

All of the sudden, sitting on this flight at 7 in the morning, the reality of what I was doing hit me. I was on my way to Philadelphia where I wouldn’t know anyone. I’d never met a single person coming to Morocco with me either in person or online. I’d never felt so terrified and so alone with no one to hold my hand.

My best friend, Maddy, being the phenomenal (and somewhat psychic) human she is, had written me an email titled “Break in Case of Emergency” for when I needed a pep talk handy and she wasn’t available. It was an email full of love and support and basically her hyping me up and reassuring me I could do anything I set my mind to and listed a bunch of reasons she felt that way using examples from things she’d seen me accomplish in my undergrad as proof.

While I sat on the tarmac and questioned all the decisions I’d made that led me to that moment, I pulled out my phone and read through her email. It helped give me the courage to calm myself down and remember that I was fully capable of anything I set my mind to and to not freak out, it would all be ok. By the time I got to my connecting flight in Salt Lake I was back to my normal self and ready to start the show.

Kids aren’t the only people who get scared. Sometimes I actually find that fear can be a sign of strength rather than one of weakness. To be human means to be imperfect. If everyone was confident and felt invincible 100% of the time, then the hard times, the struggles, doubts and fears wouldn’t make us feel as proud of the accomplishments we reach. People often talk about how without sadness we can’t measure and understand happiness. I feel that same way about fear and bravery / pride.

Most people might not lump fear and pride together, but has there ever been a moment in your life you weren’t sure you were going to succeed? Maybe you feared failure? Whether it was a school presentation, running a marathon, getting a promotion at work over someone else as a result of your hard work, getting into your dream program, or asking that special someone out that very first time?

The first time I applied for my architecture program I was rejected. That was one of the worst feelings and I remember crying in my car in the Suncoast parking lot. I worked my ass of the next year to build a stronger portfolio and was petrified that I was going to get rejected a second time and have to figure out a different career path. The day I received my acceptance letter, was one of my proudest moments. I’d been afraid but refused to let that stop me from going for what I wanted. 5 years later, I refused to give up when people told me I should be focusing on my architecture instead of my volunteer work. I didn’t give up even when it was down to the final hours of my ticking time bomb on my clearance.

A year ago, I got off a plane in Philadelphia and had to make my way to my hotel and start all my future relationships from scratch. I went to every one of our three meals with new people. I spoke up in group activities and even had a few moments of public speaking in front of way too many strangers. A handful of people I met back then, I’m still friends with a year later in our service – even a couple of whom have actually left service and returned to America.

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Staj 99 at Staging in Philadelphia, September 12, 2017

Two days after that I got on my first international flight out of North America and stepped off of it in Casablanca, Morocco and did not know a single word in any dialect of Arabic. Over the first 10 days in Morocco I learned enough basic Darija (Moroccan Arabic) to be able to say “Hello, my name is Samantha. I am American. I am a volunteer with Peace Corps. I am from the Northwest and Southwest of America. I am 23 years old. My mother’s name is Donna. My father’s name is Tim. I have one brother. His name is Tanner and he is 25 years old. It’s nice to meet you.”

After those 10 days were up, I got on a train with my LCF and the other 5 members of my CBT and set off to go to my new home for the next 11 weeks. When I met my first host family I could barely remember how to say any of that introduction and was immediately thrust into social activities. By the end of the 11 weeks though I could communicate my most basic needs, buy food and groceries, order at a cafe, and hold simple conversations all in Darija.

On December 1st, I arrived at my final site. My Darija not being all that great compared to native speakers, mainly just good enough to muddle my way through, allowed me to get to my village’s taxi stand in Marrakesh where I was able to get a taxi to take me to my new home. Well, because I am white and look like a foreigner and my Darija needed some serious work, when the taxi driver wanted to charge me 400Dh for a solo taxi (which hold 6) and I was able to negotiate it down to 320Dh I was pretty proud of myself.

That is, until I got to my site where my host dad and the man who would become my counterpart were waiting for me told me it should have cost me 240Dh. Also, because I’d been nice and allowed him to pick up other passengers on the side of the road needing a ride to other villages along the mountain road when he asked me if it was ok and I said yes, it apparently forfeited any chance that Baarab and Mehdi had at being able to get any of my money back.

Present day, I can haggle with the best of them and turn down taxis that aren’t willing to use their meter and insist on charging me the standard tourist fair – which can sometimes be 6x as expensive. I know how to use the bus system, how to navigate the bigger cities in my region both in transportation and on foot and I no longer get ripped off everywhere I go.

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Standing in the center duar of my village, with the Casbah and my host family’s duar in the background – December 2017

When I got to my final site I also learned that only a small portion of the total population can communicate in Darija. I live in an Amazigh village in an Amazigh area and in this portion of the mountains people speak Tashl7it. The same way Darija has borrowed some words from French, Tashl7it has some crossover with Darija. Unfortunately, it isn’t enough to actually communicate and hold conversations.

Back in December it took me probably 3 weeks to even be able to recognize when people were speaking in Tash instead of Darija because it all sounded the same to me. I’ve spent the past 8 months getting tutored and studying a lot on my own in my endless amounts of free time and even though I still can’t speak very much Tash at all, I can recognize and understand at the least the gist of what people around me are saying. I still have a long ways to go with both languages but I’m so incredibly proud of all the progress I’ve made and continue to make each day with both, especially since 365 days ago I didn’t know a single word in Darija or that Tashl7it was even a language, let alone that I’d be living in a village where it was the primary one spoken.

Fear is an amazing thing. For some it can be crippling and so all-consuming that a person can’t function. For others, they choose to use their fear as motivation to get, do and be better. Before Peace Corps there were a couple of areas where I fell into that first group. Present day though? I’d like to think I’m exclusively in the latter category.

You don’t need to share DNA with someone in order to be family.

The two families I was lucky enough to be placed with both welcomed me with open arms from the very beginning. Neither had ever worked with Peace Corps or hosted someone in their houses before and I’m so very grateful to both of them for opening their hearts and homes to me.

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My host family (immediate and extended) from CBT – November 2017

Back in CBT, I lived with a father in his late-60s (Ahmed), a mother in her late 40s (Malika) and a 19-year-old daughter (Rawya). There was also a brother but he worked and lived in the town over and I didn’t see him often. Malika and Ahmed made sure I was fed before my language classes and one of them always walked me to school to make sure I got their safely like any parent of a small child  would (which believe me, I basically was at this point).

The first month I lived there I would go on morning walks around town with Malika and it was just the two of us and Milo, their little dog. During the week we would just walk around the park or over to the center and back to grab some msmn for breakfast. If it was a weekend walk we’d occasionally end at up at her mother’s house over down the hillside. My favorite part of this was it reminded me of my own grandparent’s house growing up – someone fussing over you, making sure you had plenty of food and snacks, overall just being incredibly hospitable and friendly.

I spent a good deal of time with my host dad, Ahmed. The two of us had the biggest language barrier, as most of the time I lived there I could talk about as well as maybe a 2 or 3-year-old child. We often ate lunch together just the two of us and at night would sit in the salon and either watch soccer or an American or French movie. He would try and help correct my grammar but honestly I just didn’t have a good enough grasp on the language at that point to really be able to fix anything. I learned about his family, his job as a teacher (he taught French for 35 years), minimum wage and teacher salaries, technology in the modern age and so much more. Anyone who has heard me talk about CBT and the people I’ve met in general know that he is one of the people I am most fond of.

The day that I really knew I was a part of this family? Back in October I’d been sitting in my language class early one morning when I got the news that there had been a mass shooting at a concert in Vegas. Now, the logical part of me knew that my dad would not have been there because a) it was a concert and that’s not really his cup of tea b) it was late at night and he’s usually in bed by 7pm and c) it was on the strip, also not a place he tends to hang out. Thing is though, when something like that happens all rational thought kind of flies out the window. For all I knew one of his buddies could’ve had an extra ticket and maybe my dad had the day off and said, “what the hell, let’s do it”. Also, there’s an 8 hour time difference between Morocco and the PST states. This meant that it took me 5 hours to get a hold of him to confirm he was safe and sound in his bed.

I was upset most of that morning in class and when I went home for lunch it was still only 4 am back in Vegas. Malika had been out back hanging up laundry and she saw me and asked how I was and I just started crying. As if she were really my own mom, she pulled me down (since I’m about a foot taller than her) and hugged me until I was able to muddle through my bad Darija and try and explain what had happened. I went and sat down and she grabbed Rawya and Ahmed and all three of them just kind of sat with me and supported me, this crazy looking, crying American who could barely communicate in their own language. Fortunately, I was able to tell Rawya in English and she was able to explain what was going on to them.

Thankfully an hour or so later I was able to get a hold of my dad and confirm that he was exactly where he should be, asleep in his bed. I don’t actually think he’d known that anything like that had even happened before he’d gone to bed and I’m sure that my call probably freaked him out a little bit but again, rational thought wasn’t really in the building. I’m just so thankful that I had a house full of people who cared enough about me after only one short month to comfort me when this happened and include me in their lives in general.

The day I left my CBT site, I shared breakfast with the two of them and they helped me load my bags into the car. Ahmed ran back inside and came back with a little to-go bottle of amlu, this delicious peanut butter sauce that is one of my favorite foods. When we got to my LCFs house where we waited for the taxi to pick us all up, I said goodbye to these two amazing people who really had become a second pair of parents to me. We were all a little teary-eyed but only because I think we all agreed, we had become our own little weird family, and they were saying goodbye to a girl who just two months prior couldn’t even make it through a full basic introduction in Darija.

I haven’t had a chance to see them in almost a year, but I still check in every couple of months to hear how they are. Malika and Ahmed tell me my Darija has gotten better, probably because I can now actually conjugate and form sentences, and they say how much they miss me whenever we talk. When I first moved to my final site in with a new family in a different part of the country, I called Malika a couple of times because I was a little homesick for them and just talking to her made me feel better.

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The “Christmas Cake” with my host family from my final site – Dec 25, 2017

In December, I arrived at my final site and moved in with my second host family. This one was made up of five members living in the house (the rest living in other houses in the duar, or neighborhood). I had “host parents” though they’re both roughly my age so I think of them more as friends, Baarab (since Mohammed is a common name most people use his last name) who is 30, and his wife Aicha who is 27. I also lived with their son Brahim, who is 6 and started his first day of big kid school yesterday, and Baarab’s parents, Omar (in his 80s) and Rachida (in her 40s).

Now the thing about living with this family, they all speak Tash, which if you’ll remember I couldn’t even differentiate it from Darija when I first moved here. Baarab and Aicha also speak Darija though which made my life a million times easier than it would have been otherwise. I think Omar also knows it but doesn’t like to speak it, so he doesn’t. With my super basic understanding back then, I mainly just kind of sat and listened and took a lot of verbal cues from people to figure things out.

Now, the first full day I lived here, I woke up had breakfast and was ushered out the door with Baarab without being told what we were doing (or maybe I was but I couldn’t understand him), I didn’t yet know how I was supposed to dress and was therefore wearing a skirt and a sweater and brought my purse with me. We left the front door and immediately started walking up the hill they live on the side of. Turns out we were going for a little hike up to the Casbah (the photo from “A Village with a View” was taken at this time).

Later that afternoon I ended up at a sbo3a and realized I was in dire need of pads. Granted, I’d lived here maybe 24 hours at this point, hadn’t left the duar yet, and had no idea where to get those. This ended up being my first conversation with Aicha which she double checked we were on the same page about what was going on with the use of our handy dandy Google translate. She told me where the hanut was after the party and I went; unfortunately no one was there. I came back and told her this and apparently I didn’t have the password because she went and grabbed me what I needed and brought them back to me and refused to let me pay her back.

Over the next month, I would slowly work my way up to being able to help clear the table, eventually I was allowed to help set the table too, and my last night living there I was even allowed to help in the kitchen. To this day I’m convinced every single person thinks I can’t cook actual food, if people laughing when I tell them what I eat every day (eggs, toast and pasta) and my neighbor constantly bringing me food or inviting me to eat with her is any indication. But I digress, Aicha taught me how to make my favorite one of her desserts, a lemon pudding pie with a lemon wafer crust. It’s super sour and I love it, and on that day, as one of our many New Years treats the whole family got to enjoy something that I helped make.

If these gradual steps around the house weren’t enough. I was constantly hanging out with Baarab and doing things with him and his friends, from playing cards in the man cave, to going to his friends’ houses for dinner and Amazigh music jam sessions, to sharing lunch with all of them at the cafe on the days I went to work with him (which was most of that month), there was one moment that really stood out and told me I’d been brought into this family as well.

Now, I’ve never been a big Christmas person, but for some reason on that particular Christmas I’d been feeling a little down. I couldn’t figure out why, given that I’d never been a particular fan of it, but it could be as simple as I was in a foreign country, in a culture that Christmas isn’t a thing, thousands of miles away from the people I normally got to see during this time. However, that night when we got home I was surprised with a chocolate cake, with the words “Happy Thanksgiving Day Sam” and a giant 6 inch birthday candle at the top for me to blow out, that Aicha had made for me.

I really hate crying in front of people so I kept it together the best I could (by how red my face was in the photo that clearly didn’t work too well), but this had to have been one of the sweetest most thoughtful things anyone had done for me. It was better than any birthday cake or Thanksgiving or Christmas pie I’d ever had because this one was made with love by people who put in effort to help recognize and acknowledge something from my culture as a way to let me celebrate it and feel welcome and like I mattered. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel as special as that dessert made me feel, but not being able to communicate with many people and in general being quiet more often than not, the fact that they did this for me, something that has nothing to do with their own culture, meant so much to me (and still does).

I moved out of their home and into my apartment on New Years day. Baarab and one of his friends helped me moved the little I had to my new apartment where all I’d had was a couple of cleaning supplies and a bed my new neighbor (the one who likes to feed me) helped me buy the day after Christmas. Before he went back home, Baarab went to a hanut with me and made sure I had two warm blankets to sleep under. He then left and went home to have dinner with his family. A few hours later, I received a knock on my door and it was Baarab and Aicha and they came to bring me food for a couple days (I didn’t have a stove, dishes, a fridge, or anything to eat in my house) and another blanket. It was then that I knew that it didn’t matter if I lived with them and their family or a mile away alone in my apartment, I was officially a part of the family.

People may come into your life for a specific reason, maybe it was only meant to last a second, maybe it was meant to last a year or even a lifetime. View it on the flip side as well, maybe you were only meant to be a second or a year in someone else’s life, and not the full lifetime, even if that’s what you’d hoped for.

Sometimes you just need someone to help ease you into something new, or to help you meet someone or make an introduction. You don’t necessarily need them as a constant support system for all your ups and downs. Sometimes you just need a little mentoring while you’re still getting your footing but don’t need them to hold your hand after you’ve made it a couple feet off the ground.

People come into our lives for all different reasons, the same as you enter others for your own reasons as well. No one is required to be your best friend, your confidant, your mentor, these are all decisions people make. Over time it’s possible that one of you feels like you’ve fulfilled whatever role you played and that the acquaintanceship, friendship or relationship has run its course. Sometimes it’ll be you feeling that way, other times it’ll be them.

The point to remember is that everyone has the right to make that choice for their own even if it’s a choice you wished they didn’t make. Don’t hold a grudge or resent them for choosing to make the decisions that hopefully help lead them to their own happiness, just be glad for the time you did get to spend with them.

It’s ok to change and to grow. It’s also ok that if during that process you change and grow away from people you were once close with, even if it’s a permanent type of away.

The same way that our taste buds change as we age, so do we as people. The things we like and dislike, our fashion preferences, our hobbies, our interests, our goals, dreams and plans for our futures. If all of these things can change, it stands to reason that the people we are close with can change as well. Life isn’t something that stops and waits for people to catch up just because they want it to.

When I chose to fly halfway across the world and live in Morocco for 27 months, all of my friends and family back home didn’t just stop living their own lives. They’ve gotten new jobs, started relationships, and ended relationships. Some have gotten engaged while others are having their first kids. People have graduated college and moved across the country for their dream job. Another year of camp happened and my former campers continue to get older and make connections and relationships with new counselors I’ve never met. Life goes on. People change and grow.

It stands to reason that if you change and continue your life down a certain path, it’s possible (and highly likely) that the people you know are doing the same. Sometimes the person you were in middle school or high school changes in a way that is still compatible with the friends you had back then, sometimes it doesn’t.

I have one friend that I’ve been best friends with since 3rd grade and we still talk a couple times a year and I always make plans to see him when I visit Vegas. Between high school and college I have 2 best friends, and a handful of people I’m super close with and have actively kept in touch with all of them since I’ve been here.

The rest, maybe someday we’ll reconnect, but honestly I don’t have super high hopes for that. I think that for a lot of them we have already fulfilled the roles we were meant to play in one another’s lives and for some of them, that makes me sad. More than anything though, I’m happy for the paths they’ve chosen and the things they’ve been doing in their lives even if I didn’t make the cut to join them on their own journeys.

If someone truly matters to you, you’ll make an effort to be in their life even if it seems like something small, but remember, relationships are plural because it takes more than one person to maintain it, there needs to be effort on their side as well.

I have spoken to less than 25 people I knew from various points in my life pre-PC since I’ve moved to Morocco including both friends and family members (depending on who you are this will either seem like a small number or a large one). Sometimes it’s them reaching out to me, other times it’s me reaching out to them. The main point for me though, is that for all of these people it has never been exclusively one-sided.

Long distance relationships of any kind aren’t easy, especially when they cross multiple time zones. In 2017-2018 though, the technology exists and that it is both easily accessible and user friendly really negates any excuse to not connect with people even if it’s just to check in every few months for a couple of minutes.

Honestly, I think people just tend to avoid confrontation when possible and I think for a chunk of people who the time on our friendship clock had run out on, me moving across the world was a perfect way to end that relationship. I personally don’t have any hard feelings because I get it, I do. They’ve made their own decisions and chosen their own paths, and I wasn’t a part of it and that’s a decision I’ve chosen to respect.

Other people’s happiness and mental health should never come at the expense of your own, regardless of who they are. 

Whether it’s a family member, friend, coworker, neighbor, or even a stranger, if it doesn’t have any positive results for you maybe take a step back and sit it out. Just because someone wants to you go somewhere or do something doesn’t mean your obligated to do so if it’s detrimental to your own well-being. This also includes favors, loaning money, traveling with them, visiting them, and even sometimes being a support system to them in general.

I have found myself in a handful of relationships throughout my life that looking back I realize just how toxic those relationships were for me to be involved in. If you find that spending time with someone else always seems to make them happier and feel better, but you always leave feeling down, depressed or worse off than if the interaction hadn’t occurred, you may be at the point that you should consider my last two bolded thoughts.

Never feel guilty over not doing something for other people when doing that thing causes a negative impact to your own well-being. You are not selfish for taking care of your own mental and emotional needs before others. That whole disclaimer I made at the top, just so we’re clear, if someone is emotionally manipulating you by saying that they will do something bad to someone else or themselves if you aren’t in their life, that is not on you. That is on them.

I know this is a really hard thing to accept and it can often times feel like if you do walk away and something happens it could’ve been prevented if you’d stayed in whatever role they’d put you in. It wouldn’t. Instead of them or someone else being the victim, it is now you who has taken that spot.  I know this is so hard to do and it is something I’ve been working through a good half of my life. I still have more progress to make on this, but I promise, with time, comes understanding and acceptance that we’re all just human and one life isn’t worth the cost of another.

Mental health is just as important as physical health.

I think this is something that was hard to understand when I lived in America. I grew up being told you have vacation days and sick days and sick days really only counted if you were visibly or audibly ill. People never really talked about mental health much in my life. This is something that I’ve come to accept more and more the longer I’ve been here.

Peace Corps is really tough. It is physically, emotionally and mentally taxing. There have been times that I’ve felt guilty that I needed to take a day off because I wasn’t actually sick but needed a day to just be alone and spend time in my own company. This might sound weird, especially to those of you who have heard about just how much free time and general alone time I have, especially in the summer. The thing you might not think about though is that your brain never actually shuts off.

Every time I hear voices in the garden below my back windows, or hear kids and adults in the alley outside my front door, it isn’t English they’re speaking. Every time I answer my door, go to my neighbor’s or friends’ houses to share a meal or celebrate something, I not only have to be actively using my mental dictionary and translator to understand what I’m hearing and how to repsond, but I also have to look through a different lense than the American one I was raised in.

The culture is different here. Family members interact differently than what I’ve experienced back home, people talk about different things, houses and rooms function in ways that align with this culture, people like to tell me I’m quiet or shy even though I’m just normally listening and trying to follow the conversation. I’m also usually paying attention to the grammar structure and pronunciation. When people in my village speak directly to me they speak in Darija (those that know how to), the second anyone talks to anyone but me, it’s automatically Tash. This means that I am constantly trying to follow two languages at the drop of a hat. All of these things add up and take a toll after a while.

The first 5 months I lived in Morocco I slept more than I had in years, and just felt tired all of the time. Even when you aren’t actively engaging with people or your surroundings, your brain is still processing the background noise. Occasionally it reaches full capacity and you just need a break to drain and recharge. If you don’t take those moments, whether it’s spending a day (or two, or a week.. or month..) alone in your house when you need it, or physically going somewhere (outside in nature, or to visit a friend for a few days) you will eventually reach a breaking point and be of no use to anyone.

Mental health is just as important as physical health because if you don’t take care of yourself in all the ways that you can, you won’t be able to perform at your best and do your job or interact with others the way you want to be able to.

Just because someone lives differently than you do, or has more or less money than you, doesn’t mean either of you is any better or worse than the other.

I think a common misconception about the human experience is that you’ll be happy if you have enough money or material possessions. One of the things I am most happy about with my service is that I not only left America’s capitalism on the other side of the ocean, but I was placed in a ~1,000 person Amazigh village. Some might say that life is pretty simple up here.

People seem content with their day to day life and spending time in their home with their kids and family, or going to see friends at the cafe while watching the latest soccer match. People look after one another’s kids and help each other out financially when someone needs it. Days typically run from somewhere between 8-10am until around 6pm with a two hour break for lunch from 12-2pm.

A lot of people up here have at least one role relating to agriculture, usually either planting, collecting, separating or selling crops. Other than that the jobs are pretty simple and tend to be related to education or the dormitories, working or owning a hanut or cafe, or some sort of construction or transportation work.

Though it’s mainly the men who work, there are exceptions. I know women who teach at both schools, a couple who help out at two of the cafes, and some work with the different associations across the valley. Though there are some pretty specific gender roles in my community, for the most part people seem pretty happy.

The houses are simple concrete brick, square and rectangular networks of rooms. Houses and apartments are often connected to one another, whether in a row like mine, or staggered up and down the mountainsides. Some people have personal cars, others have donkeys, and some walk many kilometers every day to get to where they need to be. Taxis or personal cars often stop to pick up people sitting and walking all along the mountain road, when they have room that is.

The houses, buildings and vehicles for that matter aren’t very flashy. The hanuts and cafes don’t have anywhere near as large of a range as you’d find in a bigger grocery store. We have very few imported foods and goods up here and our souk (weekly market) is pretty much the same selections week after week with only a few exceptions.

Parents send their children to the elementary and middle school when they’re of age from up to maybe 20 km away from my village (hence the dormitories). Construction only just began on the high school this summer and it will still be at least a year before it’s complete and has enough materials and teachers to make it usable. As of now the nearest high school is 60 km away and a lot of times parents choose to not send their kids, especially their daughters, that far away for fear of the trouble they’ll find themselves in.

Though the people living here might not always have western toilets, but instead squat over a Turk. Though they may not always have the ability (be it timing, finances or gender in some instances) to travel to the city very often, but instead have a friend bring back what they need. Though they may not always finish their education to the same degree that many Americans do, but instead drop out to work, help at home or get married. Though they may not always have their own bedroom or car, but instead share with their family or neighbors.

Though they may not necessarily live the same way that a lot of people reading my blog do, I’ve found a greater sense of community and family than I ever once experienced in all the 12 residences and neighborhoods I lived in over the span of 23 years across three states.

I find that even though some people are disgruntled and frustrated, I think more people are happy and content than aren’t. I have friends who lived, worked and went to school in the city and chose to move back to the village because they wanted to be close to their families and friends. At least for my village, with what I’ve witnessed and experienced, people here seem to be very content with the life they’ve been given and continue to live.

You don’t have to like everyone you meet or work with, and it’s also ok to not be liked by everyone who meets or works with you.

There will always be people you gravitate towards and relate to more so than others. I think the important thing I’ve learned with this one is that yes, you may need to work with some of these people directly, but no one is making you have a relationship outside of those interactions. If you don’t like someone, don’t interact with them more than necessary. If you don’t agree with how someone does their job or chooses to live their life, remember, no one is forcing you to do either, in the same way as they’ve chosen to do so.

Also, remember that they are still a human, a person with feelings and their own experiences in life. You can’t have any idea what has led them to being the person in front of you and it’s not your place to judge and persecute them and their decisions. If you don’t like them, great keep your thoughts to yourself and let them live their life and do their job their way. It’ll either be accepted by the people around them and their bosses or it won’t. It’s not your job to inject yourself into their life or to intervene in any way. Let them do their thing and instead, surround yourself with people you actually enjoy.

Don’t let the boxes people (and the world) try to put you in dictate the path your life takes or define you.

In America, I was often told I was tall, intimidating, talkative, smart, stupid, nerdy, a leader, loyal, sarcastic, organized, creative, too chubby, fun, not fun enough, and a whole bunch of other things both positive and negative. Here in Morocco, I’m often told I’m tall, white, French, timid, quiet, small, funny, studious, not Muslim, a good drawer, helpful, a teacher, that it would be better if I was married, and a hard worker. Though there is some overlap between the descriptors I was given in America vs Morocco, there were also a lot of opposites. Even within the American list alone.

dar ftet imouzzer
Teaching my first ever English class at the Dar Ftet in CBT – October 2017

People will always try to put labels on you because for some reason they think it will make you easier to understand and for them to understand who you are and what you do. The thing is though, no two people in the world have the exact same perception of you. Every single person you meet views you through their own eyes and experiences. It’s just not possible for you to be the exact same person to any two people. Not your parents, your siblings, your closest friends, your significant others, your coworkers, people you teach, your bosses. No one.

Once I realized this, I realized that if no two people were ever going to see me the same, I might as well stop trying to be who they thought or wished I was. Who I am and who I want to be is so much more important than who anyone else thinks I should be. Maybe with some people I am more timid or quiet and with others I’m a lot more outgoing and talkative. Maybe some people think I’m fat and others think I should gain a few pounds. Everyone will never agree on what they think I should do, how I should act, how I should look, how I should talk or who would be the best person for me to date and what age I should be married by.

I wish I would’ve realized this so much sooner in life because I think I would’ve been a lot happier growing up. When I was getting bullied for my weight, or told to lighten up when I didn’t think things being said were funny, or told that I was throwing away all the years I’d put into my degree and education by choosing to volunteer instead. It took me doing a little soul searching to realize that in the end, the only person whose opinion of me that matters is my own.

No two people live the same life or have identical experiences. No two people will ever view one person in the exact same way. What does that mean to me? That each person should be whoever it is they want to be and live their life in the way that’s best for them. There will always be someone judging you for who you are and what you do and if that’s the case, why not just do you?

It’s ok to say no.

It’s true, saying yes can open the door to so many adventures. At the same time though, it’s also ok to bow out from time to time. I think a lot of people, PCVs and not, find themselves wanting to do everything they can to get their new neighbors, friends, coworkers, that boy/girl they have a crush on (or are already dating), etc. to like them and so they say yes to everything even when it isn’t what they want to do.

I made the decision when I came to my final site that I would do my best to be an active member of my community and not avoid situations just because they may be uncomfortable for me. I also decided that I would still be myself and I didn’t need to have everything in common with everyone in order to fulfill my prior statement.

When I first moved here, I would get asked to hike what felt like was every other day. I would say thank you for the invite but no. For a few months people would continue to ask me and I continued to thank them and decline. People might have tried to get me to participate in this particular activity towards the beginning but they came to realize it wasn’t something I was interested in or honestly, capable of doing (remember the section about my knee and the whole medical clearance?).

I’m actually really happy that I do have something I have chosen to not do. I am the first PCV ever in my village and sometimes I think we can get a little crazy in how much people pleasing we do and it sets us up as the person who says yes 100% of the time rather than being a normal human who has likes and dislikes, social days and days they want to be a hermit.

Saying no, not only helps you take control over your own time and experiences but it also helps at setting boundaries and making people understand where your boundaries are. It’s also ok to change your mind. Maybe you said yes to something nine times in a row and on the tenth you said no or vice versa. Realize that you’re never in a locked room with no way out and you always have the ability to do, or not do something. If you exercise this right, people will realize that you are capable of making your own decisions and being autonomous.

You can never have too big of a support system. 

The last one I want to share with you (I know, I know, I talk too much), is that you can never have too many people lifting you up and rooting for you to succeed in all you choose to do. Talk to people, be social, be willing to be uncomfortable if that’s what it takes to approach someone new and strike up a conversation. Put effort into relationships with people from your past and new people you’re trying to build something with.

From the PCV perspective I have layers of people supporting me in my service.

I have family back home and talk to my mom every week, or every other week if one of us is busy. I talk to my dad and brother once or twice a month depending on if they’re free that weekend or not. My grandma sends me emails keeping me in the loop about her life while also telling me how proud of me she is, and when my dad is at home he usually let’s the two of us talk for a little bit. My dad also sends me weekly emails telling me about work, his golf game, the weather and the bomb food he cooked that week.

My best friend from college, Maddy, sends me weekly emails that are broken down by day and keep me in the loop with what she’s doing in her physics lab, her classes, her boyfriend and her family. We text almost every day and send each other dumb snapchats. We also video chat most weekends that we’re both free. Maybe once every other month we have a three-way video call with one of our other best friends, Karissa, where we all catch each other up on what’s going on in school, work, and life in general. Outside of those we send a bunch of comedy posts and motivational articles to our group chat as we find them.

I talk to my best friend from high school, Leah, once or twice a month and we check-in and see how everything is going with our families, our work, and just kind of shoot the shit. I have Snapchat convos minimum every other day with one of my roommates from my 5th year of college and also with one of the camp advisers I met two weeks before leaving for Philadelphia.

My co-director and three successors who I’ve known for 2-5 years respectively hit me up in our group chat, group snapchat and individually and keep me in the loop of their life, and with camp. Blair even sent me a photo of her with my favorite camper last month and made sure I knew how good she was doing.

In country I have people I met throughout my entire service supporting me. Whether it’s my host sister from CBT Rawya who I met up with a few times while she was living in Marrakesh, or her mom and dad who I check in with every few months. My host dad, Baarab, who just this morning helped make sure the water was back on in my house and came by after his brother (AKA my landlord) got it fixed to walk me downstairs and show me where the water line is for my house so I can fix it myself in the future. My host mom, Aicha, who came and delivered me cookies when I was sick and couldn’t go to their house to celebrate 3id Kbir last month, and always bakes for me for special days (Christmas and my birthday).

My counterpart and friend, Mehdi, who has helped me from the literal beginning by telling me which taxi stand I needed to go to before I’d ever been here (or even met him), because he speaks English and could make sure I understood the information I needed. He’s helped me with my classes at the Dar Chebab and helps translate both for the people who can’t understand my English or Darija explanations and also for me. He explains cultural things both pertaining to Morocco and to my village specifically when I don’t understand and makes sure I know I have him as a resource if I need it, which I definitely have.

The women at the Dar Omama have been nothing but helpful listening to me for 8 months of weekly tutoring trying to learn Tashl7it and for the most part give me a break that I still can’t speak it because the sounds are just so hard for me to combine in those ways.

The PCVs, Nikki, Emma, Tanya, Nate, Sam, Luke, Megan, Victoria and back at the very beginning at Staging and Orientation, Bryce. Each of them has sat with me, talked with me, laughed with me, opened their hearts and homes to me and made me feel welcome from the get go. For letting me become one with their ponjes when I’ve needed to get off the mountain. For cooking for me and letting me be me in all my weirdness. For listening to my frustrations, my successes, my fears, my dreams and most of all for just supporting me without any judgement (at least not to my face).

Though there are other people unnamed on my list, I’d like to think I’ve made my point. You can never have too many people supporting you, mainly because no two people will support you in the same exact way. The bigger your network, the bigger the chance of all the ways you need support being met, even the ways that you never could’ve predicted to begin with.

Probably an hour ago, when you first started reading this, I started with a comment about how I’ve always wanted to understand the world I live in and my role within it. I just showed you a condensed version of the past year of my life, my first completed year of my Peace Corps service, and the things that led me here.

I still might not have everything figured out yet (and that’s A-OK), but I have figured out a few things about myself. I know that volunteering and helping people in whatever ways I’m able to really are a huge part of me. I know that I made the right decision to take a step back from architecture and in doing so, I’ve finally reached a place with it where I plan on putting the effort in to get my license and actually become an architect when I get back to the states – for all of those who have been calling me an architect the past 5 years, sorry to tell you you’ve actually been incorrect this entire time, but someday It’ll be true.

I’ve even had a thought or two about how to combine two of my biggest passions: housing design and helping people. Though I still have a lot to figure out, I’m confident enough in my idea that I’ve even seriously considered applying to grad school to get help figuring out some of the logistics of the designs when I get back, which is something I never in a million years ever wanted to do. I actually chose University of Oregon over Montana State Bozeman because UO offered a 5-year professional degree program that would mean I would never need to go to grad school.

I still have a lot more to learn about the world and myself in it, but I can say that I’m super proud of myself for all I’ve learned this past year and the person I’m growing into. If this is where I’m at after only twelve months, I can’t even begin to imagine who I’ll be when I get off the plane in America fifteen months from now.


I’d say I’m sorry for not writing and updating my blog in the past 6 months, but honestly, I’m not. Sometimes sitting here and writing these and looking back and dwelling on all of these experiences isn’t what’s best for my mental health at the time. Though I’d say I’m really integrated and life here feels normal the majority of the time, it still takes a lot for me to process what I’ve been doing. I’d also much rather live in the moment and enjoy the limited amount of time I have during this experience and sometimes that means going off the blogging grid for months at a time.

For those of you that read through this entire post and have been supporting me from the sidelines, I appreciate you. I’ve always loved stories but never thought I was the best writer, and honestly my inability to condense this post down further might be proof of that. Again though, I don’t know if I’d be me if I did that and the same way no one forced me to write a blog, no one forced you to read it.

Whether this is the first of my posts you’ve ever read, or just the next one you’ve been waiting for, I sincerely hope it made you think about your own life and the role you’ve chosen to play in the world. I also hope you not only found it thought-provoking but also informative and entertaining and that you learned at least one thing that you didn’t know before.

Thanks for reading my story and joining me in my not-so-average journey

– Sam

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Packing 101

How does one even begin to pack for an unknown 2ish years long experience in a foreign country and culture? Well, the easy answer is: you read other people’s blogs and pick and choose what’s best and most relevant for you. The hard answer is: you just kinda throw stuff together and hope for the best. The reality: it’s a lot like that game everyone plays when people ask “if you could only bring three things to a stranded desert island what would you bring?”.

I figure now that I’m just shy of that one year mark and have experienced two host families, three residences, and all four seasons I can now make a pretty good suggested packing list for anyone who is a) a future PCV in Morocco (hopefully it’ll work for any gender) b) someone scrolling through the internet looking for cultural cues in clothing in Morocco or c) any of you who follow my blog that are just curious in general.

I’ll go ahead break my list into sections so that you can easily find what you’re interested in if you decide you don’t want to read the whole thing and would rather just jump around. Given that I’m still a pretty wordy person I can almost guarantee that some of you will give up halfway through and just kinda skim the rest, so consider yourselves warned:)

Sidenote: this list is a reflection of what I’ve discovered in my time here as a bare minimum to pack, not necessarily 100% identical to what I actually did choose to pack once upon a time.

LUGGAGE & BAGGAGE

As a preface to this section I know both male and female volunteers who only brought one bag and a backpack and made that work (I promise it is possible to live on only one bag and a backpack’s worth of items for 27 months). The list I’ve provided is in accordance with the PC policy of four bags and how those break-down in terms of their sizes and what use I’ve found for each. Also, just as a fun fact the large bag and carry-on bag make great dressers/clothing storage for people who either don’t want to invest in any sort of dresser or clothing rack or aren’t interested in the effort to transport them to their remote sites (like myself).

  • A large checked-baggage sized suitcase. The way it works is that you get one suitcase and a backpack that you can bring to your CBT site. Once your plane arrives in Morocco and you are headed out to the buses to go to your hotel for orientation, staff takes your second bag. I brought a large suitcase that I used for orientation and CBT and it was able to have clothes for warm and cold weather, all my miscellaneous toiletries, my gift for my host family, and a handful of random things I brought and wanted access to in the first few months here. (See Peace Corps website for actual supported dimensions)
  • A carry-on sized suitcase. This was the bag I relinquished to staff at the airport upon arrival and it held a lot of my doubles (undershirts, bras, underwear, socks, skirts, a cardigan, shoes) and stuff that I knew I wouldn’t need until I reached my final site. You will get this bag back right before swear-in. I ended up repacking my two suitcases at swear-in and traveled to my final site with this piece of luggage while Peace Corps shipped my large bag down to Marrakesh for me to pick up a week or so later. (See Peace Corps website for actual supported dimensions)
  • A travel/overnight hiking sized backpack. This is easily the thing I am the most happy I brought. Once you’ve lived here and traveled a bit you’ll know exactly how much you need for a few days, a week, or two weeks out of site. Back in CBT, every time we went to Meknes for training, I only brought this backpack with me. Now that I’ve been at final site for 9 months, I haven’t once traveled with anything but this outside of my village. It’s super easy to travel in taxis and buses with it, without getting charged an extra luggage fee, or needing to put it under the bus out of my sight.
  • A purse**. I go everywhere with my purse. It isn’t a super large one but it definitely gets the job done. Mine is a square that is ~9×9 inches and maybe 3 inches thick. It was designed as an anti-theft purse and honestly even though it isn’t necessarily my style, I’m happier with a bag that feels slightly less “me” than I would be with one that is super cute and super easy to rob me with. It has a front section flap where I keep random things like pens, my eyeglass wipe, hand sanitizer, etc. The middle flap is big enough to store the bigger stuff (and important stuff) like my playing cards, sketchbook, allergy pills and phone. There is also an inside pocket that is scanner proof (if someone tried to scan the bag while walking by to get my passport or bank card info) and this is where my passport is (since you always need your passport handy especially when travelling). Side note: I’m not a dude so I could be wrong, but I think they just keep their passport/wallet in their back pocket and hope for the best. As a female with designers who don’t understand the concept of pockets in women’s clothing this isn’t really an option and honestly sound like a myth to me.

CLOTHING ITEMS

The key to packing your clothes is the ability to layer. You’ll be living in one place for 2.5ish months and then (most likely) an entirely different one for another 24 months. A common description of Morocco is “the cold land with the hot sun”. Though summers can be absolutely brutal on the heat in most parts of the country, the winters are often just as brutal on the other end of the spectrum. Pack clothes so you can wear the same things year round but are able to add or remove layers as the weather dictates.

Another good suggestion is to pack two of every type of clothing item (at minimum). This is mainly for the purpose of laundry. A lot of Moroccan families have a washer, in my experience it’s maybe 1/3-1/2 of PCVs that choose to invest in one, and the rest of them just handwash their clothes in a bucket (this would be the group I belong to). I personally have never seen a dryer in the entire time I’ve been here and I’d go out on a limb and say you probably won’t ever see one either. This means that once washed, your clothes are at the mercy of the elements on how quickly they choose to dry – for me this has ranged between 5-6 hours and 2-3 days. If it’s the dead of winter and your sweatshirt and long underwear smell like something died in them, you’ll probably want to have a second pair you can wear for the couple of days it’ll take the freshly washed pair to dry.

  • 5-7 shirts you can wear throughout the day. This includes what you’ll wear to Peace Corps trainings, work at your site, and just shirts for lounging with your host family and community members. For males, honestly not as strict on the requirements – pack what you’re comfortable in. For females, short sleeves (and possibly modestly cut tank tops) are fine because most of the time you’ll have a cardigan over them anyways. A good rule of thumb is to avoid shirts that have a neckline below your collar-bone so that if you are placed in a more conservative site, you already have the appropriate tops.
  • 3-5 pairs of pants. This can be jeans, corduroys, slacks, etc. Whatever you are most comfortable in. When I packed last year I brought one pair of jeans and two pairs of dress slacks (I could wear to trainings) and I ended up wearing the jeans out after 3 months of non-stop daily use my first three months at final site. I never wore the dress slacks past the first 10 days in country. A good rule of thumb is if it isn’t something you’re normally comfortable wearing, figure out what you do like to wear and pack that instead.
  • 2-3 cardigans or other open-style sweaters **. Cardigans are a girls best friend over here. They let you wear less culturally appropriate clothing by making your outfit appropriate. I brought 3 cardigans (a lightweight white one, a medium warmth grey one, and a heavier knit style maroon one). I tend to really bounce between the light and heavy one but occasionally I wear the medium one. Since my preferred daily outfit is a t-shirt tucked into my jeans, this means my outfits are a little too form-fitting and my butt is on display. This is not really accepted where I live. By throwing on a cardigan (all of which come to just below my back pockets or lower) my outfits become acceptable. Some places, though not all, also lean on the side of conservative where it’s considered shameful to have your elbows exposed. I happen to live in a site closer to that end of the spectrum and the cardigans come in handy to modify my preferred short sleeve t-shirts. Even in the summer when it’s 100+ outside I still am in jeans and a cardigan (and it’s possible you might be in a place like that too) so I’d recommend the lightweight cardigan to be in a lighter sun-repelling color and a thinner material.
  • 2-4 floor length – mid-calf range length skirts **. Since the slacks weren’t really my cup of tea, my skirts definitely came in handy. When I go to trainings I usually bring two skirts with me and just alternate them (both have pockets which is an added bonus). Though my final site is more conservative and a lot of women wear dresses and skirts, people don’t really mind that I wear jeans everyday, they just write it off as me dressing like a Westerner (which I am one, so that’s fine by me). If you are more inclined for skirts, go ahead and bring a couple extra and that can be your go-to outfit. For me, I wore a lot of skirts and dresses back in the states, but my village is up in the mountains and has a lot of inclines and rocks and I’m pretty clumsy and in general just a lot more comfortable with the minimal trip-factor jeans present, though in my CBT I wore a skirt every day. Also, the length is what I’ve found to be most culturally appropriate throughout the country and depending on your communities, either length may still require a pair of leggings on under it.
  • 2-3 pairs of leggings. Winters get cold in a lot of places in Morocco. Having my leggings saved me this past winter. When I was in my house, they were warm and comfy to wear around the house and when I went to sleep. During the day I’d usually end up wearing a pair under my jeans to keep a little warmer. I ended up bring two fleece-lined pairs and one regular pair. The fleece lined are nice when the inside of my house turns colder than a freezer, and the regular pair is nice when it’s just a bit chilly. Consider bringing more if working out in leggings is your thing (see my above note on laundry).
  • 2-4 undershirt tank tops. These come in handy for if you have a shirt that does have a lower neckline, or if you are a button down flannel loving human. They also work really well at adding that extra layer under your shirt or long underwear in the colder months. I brought two white ones and two black ones which have worked perfect for me.
  • 2 pairs of long underwear (both tops and bottoms). In the winter and colder months these are great to wear under your pajamas when you sleep or if you want something a little less bulky than the fleece-lined leggings under your jeans or skirts.
  • 2 sweatshirts. I personally am partial to the hood-less crewneck sweatshirts and brought two slightly baggy oversized ones which have been great as layers and just for bundling up. If you’re a zip-up hoodie, or regular kangaroo-pouch pocket pullover more power to ya, but be aware that those can be just a tad bit more bulky when you’re packing.
  • A warm jacket / coat. This one is not the end of the world if you don’t have room in your luggage or don’t have before getting here. Myself and a good chunk of my Staj ended up buying one here when we realized we didn’t have a warm enough one with us for either our CBT site or final site. My one recommendation on this is to make sure you have a little extra wiggle room to fit some layers underneath it. Last December there were a couple of nights when I was hanging out with my host fam and we’d be in the outdoor basement room playing cards or going on a walk to a friend’s house and I’d be wearing my tank top, long underwear, crewneck sweatshirt and heavy maroon cardigan under my jacket.
  • 2-3 pairs of pajama or lounge shorts. Shorts aren’t really a huge part of the culture over here. Though a handful of Moroccan men do choose to wear them, in my experience it isn’t super common. If you’re a male reading this you could bring a pair or two if you want, but you’ll probably stand out less if you stick to pants. For girls shorts are definitely limited to inside of your house, but in the hotter weather it can feel really wonderful and almost liberating to wear them (even if no one sees you in them). I brought two pairs of short athletic shorts and one pair of spandex shorts and typically wear them when it’s cool enough for minimal clothing, and when family or friends are at my house or vice versa. If you work out and prefer to do it in shorts, consider bringing an extra pair or two.
  • 2-3 sleep shirts. I brought two over-sized t-shirts that are my go-to sleepwear and usually just switch them out ever laundry rotation. I tend to travel with them and pair them with my shorts when I’m at other PCVs houses or for trainings. I also packed a favorite baggy tank top that I sleep in and wear in the hotter months too. Like the shorts, even though I could never wear it in public, there is a comfort to wearing the style of clothes that I prefer to wear when I’m in America even if only in my house. Sometimes it’s nice to reclaim these little pieces of your identity and know that you have the option to express yourself how you choose even if it’s behind closed doors.
  • A lot of underwear. I’m not a boy but I’m assuming they change their underwear everyday like I do and for that reason I’d say bring a healthy amount of underwear. I may have brought too much in some people’s eyes, but it works in my favor when I’m not in the mood to sit by my laundry bucket and wash everything all the time. I brought somewhere around 20-30 pairs and it’s worked pretty well for me. I know it’s possible to buy underwear here in country, though I didn’t mind bringing the extras with me. (Female identifying persons, reference my section for “**FEMALES” to get a better idea about bras and other fun stuff like that)
  • A variety of socks. I have ankle socks, normal socks that come halfway up my calf, medium thickness wool socks and a few pair of thick wool socks. Last winter there were a few night where I slept in 3-4 pairs of socks (layered thinnest to thickest). I probably have 15 or so pairs in all which are nice because they do start to smell after a couple of days even if you’re just bundled in your bed – it’s also healthy for your feet to change them. If you have a good amount, you can easily layer them as needed while still having clean socks before and after laundry/drying day(s).
  • Scarves & gloves. I have a white scarf and a black scarf and one is a little more gauzy while the other is a little denser. Both work wonders on keeping me warm and modest in the colder months. Some female PCVs even use them as a shawl or wrap for their more revealing tops. They are also great (and sometimes necessary) to sleep in during the winter. I have two pairs of gloves, one are a lightweight full hand glove that I can text in, and I also have a pair of finger-less wool gloves. Last winter I would normally wear (and sleep in) both pairs at the same time which kept my hands warm while still allowing me to use them without getting frostbite.
  • A rain jacket. It does rain in Morocco. Nothing like the Oregon rains I’m used to, but still enough that you’d be happy to have a rain jacket or other waterproof outerwear with a hood.
  • A swimsuit. This one is completely optional but if swimming is your jam I’d recommend bringing one. For guys, swim trunks are fine. Honestly in general I’d go out on a limb and say 95% of what you would wear in the states would be accepted here 100% of the time in any location. For girls, bring what you’re comfortable in. Chances are, if you’re swimming it’ll be at one of the numerous hotels you’ll stay at across the country for trainings since they all seem to have pools (Hourhora, Meknes, Marrakesh and Agadir all did), or when you’re on vacation to any of the coastal towns. This means you could wear a one-piece or a bikini if you are so inclined. Probably not a bad idea to also have a pair of swim shorts or athletic shorts you’d be down to swim in just in case you aren’t entirely comfortable going from fully covered to beach body outfit overnight. Some female volunteers have also been able to swim with kids from their sites (either at site or on field trips) and the girls often just swim in their clothes (pants and a t-shirt) so also know that this could be a possibility too.

SHOES

Different shoes serve different purposes and some people prefer having more options available to them. I think I have eight pairs total though if we’re being honest I only wear about four of them and definitely could’ve been a little more realistic about this when I packed.

  • Everyday warm-weather shoes. Most volunteers fit into one of these three categories: Birkenstocks, Tevas, or Chacos. I came with a pair of Tevas, which I wore the entirety of CBT and then made the fatal error at my final site of going into my family’s hammam (shower room) wearing them and the furnace level heat of the tile floor melted the glue that connected the bottom sole to the rest of it #RIP. When my mom came out and visited back in June I had her bring me my Birkenstocks and I’ve worn them every day since. The thing all of these shoes have in common is they are sturdy and good walk around shoes (and newsflash, PCVs do a lot of walking), easy to travel in, and slip on and off pretty easily which is convenient in this culture given that you remove your shoes any time you step on a rug – which happens often.
  • Everyday cold-weather shoes. I don’t know about you, but I plan on leaving Morocco with all ten toes I arrived with. This means that when it’s in the 10s and 20s up on my mountain top I need something that covers my feet and lets me wear at least 2 pairs of socks. I ended up bringing lace-up vans which have worked pretty well for me, though I will say they are kind of annoying to constantly take off and put on again every time we change location or move rooms. Most volunteers have at least one pair of lace-up shoes or sneakers as they make for very versatile shoes here.
  • House shoes / shower shoes. I brought a $3 pair of foam flip flops from Target that I used as shower shoes with each host family, when I’m at hotels, and to walk around my house in the warmer months. Everyone might not be like this, but both of my host families found it weird to not walk around in a pair of flip flops or slippers when home regardless of the time of day, or weather. Given that my CBT site was also in the mountains it got a bit chilly there at night and my family thought I was a little nuts wearing flip flops when it was 50 degrees. About halfway through CBT, my host grandma ended up giving me a pair of slip on house shoes. I can wear a 2-3 pairs of socks with them and I’ve used them when it’s cold ever since. I also brought a pair of hard-soled fuzzy thick winter slippers and these were super nice this past winter. I could definitely survive without them, but I’m kind of looking forward to using them again this coming winter.

These next ones are honestly all completely optional, bring them if you’re into these types of activities or if you want a couple more options. We’ll go ahead and file this list under things I personally wouldn’t pack for myself if I could go back and re-do it.

  • Hiking Boots. If you hike these would probably be a pretty nice thing to have. Morocco honestly has some really bomb hiking locations. I happen to live next to arguably the most popular of them all, Mt. Toubkal (aka the highest peak in North Africa). The irony? I have kind of a bad knee and therefore don’t particularly enjoy hiking, and yet for some reason I brought these.
  • Rain Boots. I brought a pair of rain booties and there have definitely been times I could’ve used them, maybe it’s just living in Oregon for 5 years that has made me immune to caring if my vans get a little wet and muddy. If this is something you decide to bring, I’d suggest the ones that come a little past your ankle (they take up less space in your luggage and still do the job) and when you pack them put smaller items inside of them to maximize your space.
  • Nice-ish shoes. I brought simple pair of black flats from H&M in case I needed to wear something nice at any point. I wore them one time, which was at swear-in, and it honestly didn’t matter. Even though they weren’t very big, I have not found them worth the space they took up in my luggage.

HYGIENE & TOILETRIES

This would be a section where that little bit I said at the beginning about looking at people’s blogs and seeing what is actually relevant to you and choosing from that stuff. Not everything in this section will be relevant to everyone (like all you lucky ducks who were born with straight teeth and don’t need to wear retainers 15 years later to keep that perfect smile).

Also just as an FYI, every single item in this list is available for purchase in country (minus my retainers). The reason why most of it is even on the list to begin with is because you’ll have 2 days in America before getting on the plane and you’ll most likely want to shower and feel (and look) like a human before you’re thrust into the whole slightly-homeless / hippie looking category that a lot of PCVs seem to find their ways into. This also lets you not have to spend all of your leisure money (~$4/day) on all of these items since you were too lazy to just pack them in the first place – and some of these things cost multiple days pay to even afford.

  • Travel towels and washcloth. I got mine from REI for like 20 bucks and I’m so happy I got them. I came with two full sized towels and a washcloth all of which are made specifically for travel which means they’re thin and lightweight and quick-dry fabric. They take up such little room in my backpack when I travel and I’ll probably never travel without them again.
  • Shampoo & conditioner. Bring a bottle of each for staging and the first month or two. I’m pretty sure I didn’t even buy refills until a week or two before swear-in. Even if you have a favorite brand or scent you’d be surprised by the options in the larger supermarket stores over here. I like Herbal Essences and Morocco carries it in a different scent for only $2.50 a bottle.
  • Soap. Bring a bottle, or a bar or whatever it is people use these days. Super easy to find this here and can usually find a cheap bottle for about $1.
  • Facewash. I don’t have too major of skin issues so I usually only use it maybe once a week in the shower and I still have about half a bottle left of the one bottle I brought with me. I vaguely recall seeing some in the supermarkets in the bigger cities but I couldn’t tell you the price.
  • Lotion. Lotion exists here. Most of it is in French so if you’re someone with specific stuff for your face, body and hands it probably wouldn’t hurt to bring it for the beginning of service but you can find it if you want it. Goes from $1-10 depending on the size and brand.
  • Sunblock. If you burn easy and use a stronger SPF than the average person you may want to bring your own. This is also provided in the medical kit you’ll receive the first couple of days in country and all things in the kit can be refilled free of charge to you through the PCMOs (Peace Corps Medical Officers). Last year, the sunblock in my groups kits were SPF 30.
  • Deodorant. Morocco is hot. In the winter you wear a lot of layers which means you sweat even when it’s cold outside. I’m a naturally warm person and brought 3 sticks with me. I use about one a month so that lasted me all of CBT. The sell a type of Dove for $1.20.
  • Body spray. I’m pretty sure you can find a non-perfumey kind of body spray if you wanted to. I know for me, I kind of prefer the scent I buy in America so I brought it with me and I’m glad I did. It adds another tiny piece of comfort if you ask me.
  • Hairbrush / comb. I brought both a brush and comb with me and haven’t lost either so I haven’t needed to replace either but I have seen them in the stores. If you have finicky hair and are weird about how you brush it, bring it with you.
  • Hair ties & bobby pins. Any human who has ever purchased or used either of these knows that they disappear at an alarming rate. I brought two packs of hair ties (I have thin hair and have to use the tiny ones which are kind of hard to find) and a pack of bobby pins. I’m actually pretty proud of how many of both I still have left.
  • Q-tips. These are pretty cheap in my village but I still came with some from the states and I’ve only had to buy one pack since moving here. They also work great at unclogging the top inch or two of your shower and sink drains, so bonus for multi-purposing.
  • Toothbrush & toothpaste. These do exist but Morocco doesn’t necessarily have the highest priority on dental hygiene from what I’ve seen. I came with a toothbrush and an extra four-pack so I could change my toothbrush every 6 months. I also brought two big tubes of my favorite toothpaste which I’m still working on.
  • Floss. If you have sensitive gums and like a specific type of floss go ahead and pack those puppies. I want to say I came with 6-8 of my sensitive, gentle floss and I’m about halfway through my stash. This is something that I think you could find but personally have never seen nor seen anyone use. Side note: you get a dentist appointment at the 15-month-mark (at Mid-Service Training) and I think a final one before you completely close your service at the end. Meaning, your dental hygiene is largely in your hands and this is a very heavy sugar based culture, especially the tea.
  • Retainers. If you’re like me and were a brace face at any point in time and don’t have a permanent retainer locked in that mouth of yours, you’re probably going to want to bring these bad boys with you (or not, but you still should). If they break, PC doesn’t pay to replace them so take care of them.
  • Razor & refills. You can buy razors here though the ones I’ve seen seem to be the cheap, BIC disposable ones. I ended up bringing one with me that you can replace the head of it and I brought 10 refills so I change them every 2ish months which has been working.
  • Tweezers. If you pluck your eyebrows or any other facial hair for that matter I’d bring these. They also come in handy if you have a splinter.
  • Nail clippers / hang nail clippers / nail file. Sometimes a little TLC can go a long way whether it’s a full blown mani-pedi or just general maintenance on your hands and feet. These are probably sold here but I just brought the ones I already owned.
  • Nail polish. Again, also probably sold here, but I have no idea how cheap or expensive it is and I’m cool that I brought mine with me. I do remember being told at orientation that people here find it a bit unsettling when our nail polish is the same color as our skin but you do you.
  • Make-up**. Not very many women I’ve met and been around wear make-up, though there have been a few exceptions. I will say that you’ll probably end up in a city at some point in time and maybe want to look a little cuter or more put together or honestly just kind of feel a little feminine. I have make-up with me but have used it less than 5 times in the past year. Granted, I’ve never been a make-up everyday kind of person either.

** FOR FEMALES

If you aren’t a person who wears bras, girly underwear or needs to use feminine hygiene products you can probably go ahead and skip this section.

This section is mainly just to impart some knowledge you may not have been thinking about up to this point when it comes to packing and overall how that ties into life over here. Also, just getting a little further in depth on a couple of clothing items and comments that honestly aren’t super relevant to non-females.

  • Bras, bralettes & sports bras. Bring the things you are most comfortable in. I brought some of each of these because I feel like wearing different ones at different times. If you are most comfortable in sports bras, bring a few more of those. I personally brought 4 bras, 2 sports bras and 1 bralette. This has worked really well for me with the one exception of I wish I had a second bralette for when I need to do laundry. Also, because the culture over here is a little different than back in the States and a little more gender conservative/traditional, it might be worth it to you to pack one bra/bralette that makes you feel really good, feminine, sexy just for when you need a little pick me up.
  • Underwear bottoms commentary: All underwear is good underwear. The only thing I want to mention about this is that you’ll spend 3-4 months living with two different host families. If your go-to underwear choice is a thong, there’s nothing wrong with that but be prepared to literally have your underwear on display for the entire family and anyone who walks past or has visual access to the clothesline at your host families houses. For my first host family it was on the ground floor behind the house so my host mom, dad, sister, brother and any friends or extended family who came over saw my laundry because we used the back door as a front door. At my second host family we dried our clothes on a rooftop line, so it was only visible to those on the roof, as well as anyone on any of the neighboring roofs further up the hillside. If you aren’t comfortable with the idea of slightly more revealing underwear being seen by everyone and their mother and most likely being washed and hung up to dry by one of the women in your households, maybe pack some bikinis or boy shorts in your CBT suitcase and save the thongs for your final site when you live alone and do your own laundry.
  • Feminine hygiene products. If you use pads during your period, you are in luck. That is the widely available and most commonly used product for women over here. If you use tampons, I’d consider doing the math and figuring out how many you need for 27ish periods and pack as many as you can fit in your bag and then have the rest shipped in a care package or have a friend/family member bring the rest if they come and visit. (FYI, Kotex is a great one to get for packing in your bag because of their small compact size, you can basically double the quantity you can fit). I have only seen tampons sold in two individual supermarkets in two separate major cities in the past year. Also, some volunteers choose to use a diva cup. I know it’s totally possible to do, though I personally don’t use one and this should be totally fine if that’s your go-to. Just remember that you have 3-4 months with two host families and you’ll have to figure out how to use it and clean/sanitize it while living with them which could possibly bring up some interesting dialogue with your host moms.

BRING THIS

I promise I know what I’m talking about and know all of it from first-hand experience.

  • Laptop and charger. Don’t care what anyone says, you need this. You have a form you need to fill out throughout service that requires a laptop (an ipad/tablet with internet doesn’t work) and unless you want to travel to Rabat or the closest volunteer (which could be a few hours away) it’s better to just have one already. Also, it makes a lack of internet and just endless boredom infinitely better by letting you watch movies and TV shows, read online books, study language, research post-PC jobs and grad schools, etc. Bonus: bring a disc of your operating system in case something happens to your hard drive. The laptop I came with actually died a month or so after I got here and three months later I was visiting a friend’s site and had to buy a new laptop because it’s really difficult to fix hard drive issues here.
  • External hard drive. Bring one that is minimum 1 Terabyte but honestly a 2 Terabyte one wouldn’t be a bad idea. If you have movies or shows in your possession back home go ahead and put them on it. These things are traded like crazy among PCVs because we have so much free time and sometimes it’s just kind of soothing to listen to English in the background of your apartment. I know I got GoT back at staging the first day or so and picked up another 20 or so TV shows and dozens of movies from other people throughout PST.
  • Adapter. Morocco uses the two-prong European outlet. You can totally find adapters over here if you know where to look but my guess is the quality is probably slightly better in the US. I got mine off of Amazon and they’ve worked perfectly since I got here. Make sure whichever kind you get is compatible with what you bring – i.e. if you have an American laptop then you need an adapter that you can plug your charger into on the one end and into the outlet on the other. I know a few people who have surge protectors that support all the various outlet options which they seem to love.
  • Headphones. It takes time to travel through Morocco. Even though the country is only roughly the size of California it can take a couple of days to get from one end to the other. Headphones can be a lifesaver when on a train or bus or in a taxi when you just want to sleep or listen to a podcast. They also come in handy if you’re being a hermit in your house and trying to be super quiet like you aren’t even home. If you have a newer iPhone, don’t forget the dongle thing that lets you use your headphones to begin with.
  • Leatherman or other multipurpose tool. I have used this so many times since moving in. The only thing I’ve needed to buy hardware-wise was a hammer and some nails (which if you’re a female PCV sorry to say the odds of getting that mansplained to when you go to the hanut is almost guaranteed, but that’s a separate story). I’ve used the pliers to help change my doorlocks and fix a broken toilet, the scissors and knife came in handy when cutting the fine metal wire window screens, the screwdriver was great to install my new locks and assemble a bookshelf. Honestly you won’t regret this.
  • Duct tape. Fixes so many thing #waterbottle #squeegee. If you have room, bring two rolls. I’m almost done with the first roll and am glad I have a second one. Morocco has tape but I’ve yet to see one the strength of duct tape.
  • Travel sewing kit & safety pins. You don’t need to sew beautifully, but hand washing and PC in general take a toll on your clothes. Even if you have never done it before chances are you’ll have to fix something sooner or later and this is a great time to learn a new skill. Safety pins also come in handy as random fixers. I’ve currently got a few clipped in to hold parts of my window screen together, so you never know.
  • Flat rubber drain stopper. Unexpected things happen. One of these is ending up at someone’s house or in a hotel in a faraway city for longer than expected. Between these and your 10 days at orientation you’ll probably end up doing laundry in a hotel bathroom sink or tub more than once. A flat drain stopper is your new best friend because it won’t matter the size of the drain you’re faced with, and you’ll be able to get those clothes washed pronto.
  • Set of sheets. I’m convinced fitted sheets are a myth here. Every house I’ve stayed at takes a stupidly large regular sheet and tucks it super tight. If you move around a lot in your sleep this means you’ll inevitably end up laying on just the mattress sans sheet. Do yourself a favor and go to Target and buy a full sized set of sheets (comes with a fitted, regular, and two pillow cases) for $20. Better yet, if you have extra sheets lying around your house go ahead and bring them

USEFUL STUFF

You can totally survive Peace Corps Morocco without these things but they have made my life somewhat easier throughout the past year. Take it all with a grain of salt and if you like it, bring it, if not, great, you’re more of a minimalist than I am.

  • Sleeping bag. If you have space, bring it. It’s good for travel to other PCVs sites, it’s a nice extra layer of warmth in the winter and it gives your friends a place to sleep if you didn’t choose to buy furniture for your house.
  • Kitchen knife with sharpener cover. I brought a small 4in knife specifically because it had the sharpener case and I use it whenever I cut my vegetables. Knives are here but they usually aren’t super sharp for long which makes cutting things and dicing things kind of annoying.
  • Extra cords and headphones. I brought two extra sets of headphones and an extra iPhone cord. So far I’m good with the charger but am on my second set of headphones. Since you never know if/when you’ll lose one or something will die, not a bad idea to have an extra one on hand.
  • Portable charger. Sometimes you may be on a bus for 10-20 hours and want to have access to your music, the ability to call a friend, or your work phone (which needs to be on pretty much 24/7) dies. A portable charger solves that problem.
  • Scissors. Multipurpose, maybe you need to make materials for a class you’re teaching. Maybe you need them for work around your house when you’re fixing or creating something. You might be a girl and need a haircut that you can afford (aka another PCV cuts it for you – shout out to my own hair cutting PCV, Molly).
  • Microfiber cloth for eyeglasses. My shirt is always tucked into my pants and it’s not appropriate for my stomach to show so I normally can’t use my shirt to do the job in public. Call me crazy, but I also enjoy being able to see without smudges and smears all over my lenses.
  • Speaker. Portable speakers that hook up to bluetooth are pretty dope. They work great for dance parties in CBT or with aerobics classes or other work out activities. They are also great when at the Dar Chebab with the kids and you want to have a little break or turn up to volume on a movie in class.
  • Ziploc bags. I have not seen these sold here and I’m glad I brought some (sandwich, quart and gallon). I use them to store food in the kitchen, protect things from ants, travel without leakage and just to keep my life organized.
  • Index cards. If you study language with index cards and need to physically write things down rather than using a flash card app on your phone, then you’ll want to bring these. You can also buy paper and cut your own out here if that’s more appealing to you.
  • Clothesline. Yes, you can buy this here. I bought a 60ft one from a hardware store and rigged it in my house off of the two bars on my salon windows and loop it back to my salon door. I didn’t figure out where to buy the rope from here until a couple of months after moving into my apartment and it was kind of nice to be able to do it right off the bat. You could also be a little more social up front and ask but my language honestly wasn’t that great 9 months ago and I was kind of shy around people.
  • Travel / camping pillow. I happened to have this lying around my mom’s house and brought one with me and it’s come in handy when I’ve crashed at some of my friends’ houses back before they invested in anything besides a bed for them and food.
  • Eyeglass repair kit. Pretty sure I mentioned I enjoy my ability to see and part of that means making sure my glasses don’t break, or lose a screw.
  • Reusable water bottle. The recycling infrastructure is pretty nonexistent in a lot of Morocco and I don’t mind drinking the tap water in 80% of the country and having a water bottle that lets me consume my insane amounts of water (everyone in my village thinks it’s hilarious I drink 3-4 bottles a day) and also not contribute even more waste to the trash pile in my site, or adding bottles to the piles of trash that get burned helps me sleep at night.
  • Wallet. Can be big or small, but nice way to keep your important money and bank cards on hand without flashing the world exactly how much you’ve got on you each time you need to pay for something.

COPING & HOBBY ITEMS

Everyone has hobbies or things that they enjoy doing. It is amazing and slightly alarming the level of free time you have as a Youth Development volunteer in PC Morocco. Especially in the summer. Be warned.

  • Sketchbook. During CBT and at my final site, this is my go to thing when I’m either in an uncomfortable situation, sitting and waiting for someone to show up, or just when I need to do something with my hands. People think it’s super cool that I can draw, especially the kids and it’s led to a lot of discussion and conversation that has helped me connect with people and integrate. I never leave my house without it.
  • Puzzle books. Sudoku, logic puzzles, crossword puzzles, word search books. These are all great things to have (one, two or all of them). You have a 6ish hour plane flight across the Atlantic and like 5 hours at the airport before that. I used them when I lived in CBT at the beginning and couldn’t really communicate with my host family and while we were sitting in the salon watching a movie or soccer I’d have a logic puzzle book that let me do something while also being physically present.
  • Books. People have asked me my whole life “Sam, if you could only read/have one book with you on a desert island what would it be?” Well here’s the answer: I’d actually have three books, and they would be the His Dark Materials Trilogy by Phillip Pullman (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass). When I travel I bring one with me and read it while I wait for my bus or taxi, or while waiting for my friend’s transportation to arrive. When I have no electricity at my house and can’t access my online books, I usually break these out then too.
  • Playing cards / games. This has been my #1 integration tool at my site. Easily. No Contest. I brought 4 decks with me and when my host dad and his friends found out I play cards, they taught me their game Ronda (which I mentioned in a previous post), and I taught them Rummy. Kids are always watching me shuffle (I’ve learned that no one I’ve met knows how to do “the Bridge”) and play with my host dad. I always have 1-2 decks on me and break them out all the time. I teach kids how to play, my host family, and other PCVs and I play when we’re together. It’s definitely been one of my coolest cultural exchanges so far. I also have a Cat’s Cradle string that I use when I need to fidget in PC trainings, and I’ve taught my host mom and dad and some of the younger kids in my host family’s duar how to play it two-person and how to do a couple of the solo tricks. It’s kind of cool because you honestly don’t necessarily need any language whatsoever to teach it and since my village speaks Tashl7it when I first moved here I couldn’t really communicate with many people at all.
  • Exercise equipment. I’m just gonna say I did not bring any of this. I do however know people who have brought yoga mats, resistance bands, jump ropes, collapsible work-out hula hoops, small free weights, and kettle bells. If exercising is a good stress reliever for you this might be something you want to consider bringing.

MISCELLANEOUS

  • Laundry bag. Makes life just a tad bit more organized and easier.
  • Maps. I have a map of the US and one of Morocco and sometimes when I’m on the phone with people I’ll look at whatever map they’re on and it makes me feel a little closer to them geographically, honestly maybe I’m just a weirdo, who really knows these days. It’s also kind of cool to get a better sense of Morocco as a whole as well as potentially show your neighbor or local friends where you are actually from. Plus they make good wall art.
  • Photos. I have photos of all my closest friends, my family, and my various roommates and friend groups from high school and college decorating the walls in my bedroom. After I arrived in country a few months into my final site I had photos printed of the places I’d traveled to in Morocco, the friends I’d made in Peace Corps, and random milestones and memories throughout my service so far and they hang in my salon. One room helps me when I’m homesick or missing people and reminds me of all the people supporting me back home. The other room helps remind me on my bad days all that I’ve accomplished so far and all the people I’ve got supporting me from only a few taxis and buses away.

STUFF I’VE NEEDED (THAT I DIDN’T BRING)

It’ll happen to you too, no matter how on top of it and psychic you feel about all your packing decisions and future problems.

  • More than one pair of jeans. Jeans are my go to in the states and they’ve been my go-to at my final site and one pair was definitely not durable enough to survive daily wear for 3 months nonstop. My mom ended up having to send me some extra jeans about 5 months into service. Thankfully, they arrived the literal day I wore through the original pair. Also, as a side note, most Moroccan women are pretty short and given that I’m just shy of 6′ my souk isn’t exactly catering to my western Amazonian female clothing needs.
  • The little ear squishies on in-ear headphones. Remember when I said bring extra headphones? Might not hurt to bring a pack of the little ear squishies that match that type of headphone. It’s a definite bummer when you lose one of them for your favorite pair while riding in the back of a taxi…
  • Belt. Weird thing about Peace Corps. You tend to either gain weight or lose weight, don’t ask me why it just is what it is. In case you fall into the latter category, I’d recommend having a belt you can use to hold up your pants in case you drop a couple of sizes and don’t have replacement pants coming your way, or don’t have the money to replace them in country.

STUFF I BROUGHT (THAT I DIDN’T NEED)

This too will inevitably happen to you, better to accept it now.

  • French-English dictionary. Honestly you’ll figure out the French you need as you go along and it’s mainly the highly developed skill of reading menus in French and understanding pizza toppings. Numbers are really the only somewhat helpful thing to know if you want to bother learning any French.
  • Shoes. See my above shoes section. (Hint: hiking shoes, rain booties, flats)
  • Headlamp & flashlight. I have a phone and it’s the only flashlight I’ve ever used.
  • Vegetable peeler. I just thoroughly wash all my produce and the only food I don’t eat the skin of here are apples, but my regular knives do just fine at peeling them.
  • Laptop travel case. My laptop never leaves my house unless it’s in my back pack and my pack has a pretty secure padded slot for my laptop.
  • Earplugs. You get used to morning prayer reeealll fast. Even though it wakes me up every now and again you get pretty used to all the sounds around you, including the two metal-smith hanuts that are literally under my front door.
  • Travel money belt. (knock on wood) I’ve never been robbed or pick pocketed from my purse or wallet and my purse protects my passport from scanners.

Well folks, for those of you who were legitimately looking for advice on what to bring I hope you found my list helpful and at least somewhat relevant to your preferences. For those of you who were just reading this to see what I decided to write about for the first time in 6 months, I hope you found my random one-liners and small anecdotes mildly amusing. For anyone I know or those who stumbled upon my blog one way or another I hope by reading through this you were able to learn at least a bit more than you already knew about Moroccan culture and what it may be like to live here as a PCV or foreigner in general.

Hope you enjoyed and keep your eye out for a special one-year-anniversary post coming next week (inshallah)!

A Village with a View

 

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First things first, let me tell you all about my new community, since some of the stuff I’ve previously mentioned about it isn’t entirely accurate as I’ve since learned. First off, I live along the spine of the High Atlas Mountains a couple hours south of Marrakesh. It’s one of the most beautiful drives I’ve ever seen, though the road itself is windier than almost any I’ve ever been on. My village sits nestled in a tiny valley surrounded by mountain peaks 360 degrees. I always know when I’m close to home because of the casbah (castle) that sits atop the hill in the center of the valley. Over the past few months there has been many a snow storm but mostly it stays on the mountains around my village with only the occasional sticking down where the houses themselves are.

My village is comprised of six duars (smaller neighborhoods) that start where I live and go further into the mountains following the road headed south. I’ve been told that there are about 2,600 hundred people living amongst the six duars but I’d say I’ve probably only seen/interacted with less than 1,000 of them so it usually feels pretty intimate and rarely do I leave my house without running into at least a handful of friends or familiar faces. There is a stream, sometimes river, that starts further back in the mountains that runs next to my village emptying into a lake about an hour down the mountain from me. Along it, are a lot of agricultural fields, and olive, walnut, apple and peach trees. There is not much grass here, but a lot of massive (sometimes taller than me) prickly pear cacti and thorny bushes line the roads.

There are two paved roads, one is the main mountain road that continues down to the southern regions of Morocco and the other goes up to the Qiyad’s (local government official – think two steps more rural than police). Along the second paved road are a lot of the important buildings and associations including the post office, the new Dar Talib (boys’ dormitory), the Dar Chebab (youth center), the commune, the hospital, both the Dar Omama (birthing center) and its new addition and the college (middle school). Both the dirt lot used for the souk (weekly market) and the giant dirt soccer field are located next to this road as well.

When I first arrived at site, back at the beginning of December, I came around one final curve of the road and my taxi driver welcomed me to my new home. I looked around with excitement soaking up the views I would come to love so much. I noticed castle on the hill first, quickly followed by a close cluster of one and two story buildings where these two paved roads intersect. My host dad and his friend (who had helped direct me to the right taxi stand in Marrakesh) were waiting for me when I arrived. I was quickly welcomed and continued my journey to my host family’s home where I would spend the next month while getting to know my community. Turns out they lived in the duar that sat at the base of the casbah and even climbed partway up its hill.

I lived with a family of five, Mohammed and Aicha, both in their mid and late-twenties were my “host mom and dad” though often felt more like friends (and still do), their five-year-old son, Brahim, and Mohammed’s dad and stepmom, Omar and Rachida. A typical day for me during this time was wake up and have breakfast with Mohammed, Aicha, Brahim and sometimes Rachida. Then around 9 or so Mohammed and I would walk the mile or so to the center duar where he works in the office of the old Dar Talib. After our morning of work (sometimes I’d help him total the numbers in his spreadsheets) we’d make our way to the Rachid’s cafe for lunch where we were usually joined by a handful of his friends. The afternoons we spent playing checkers, chess, ping pong, or cards and then would return home for dinner in the evening.

Most nights, after dinner, Mohammed and I would go down to the man cave (imagine a 15′ x 8′ room with rock walls, dirt floor and a wood supported ceiling) under the house and play cards with his friends and neighbors. This quickly became one of my favorite parts of the day because if you know me, you know how much I love playing cards. The first night I lived here, we went downstairs and I saw a game I’d never seen being played with cards I was unfamiliar with and little did I know I just got a glimpse into an important part of my integration and my future.

It’s not very common for men and women to socialize or hang out in these types of contexts so me being a woman was pretty cool. It took me about a week or so to really get the hang of it, but the guys helped me learn how to play “ronda” which is played using a 40-card Spanish deck with four people, where the person across from you is your partner. It is played for points (kept via wood chips – 1 point, and wood sticks – 5 points) and involves points for pairs, triples and quadruples, clearing the board of all cards and in general collecting the most cards at the end of each round. As a result, some of the first words I learned how to say were related to various games (but especially cards) and involved a lot of trash talking with the guys (like how to say: liar, cheater, thief and calling someone a child); they all still find this highly amusing, though women get a little horrified I know these words when they hear me say it to my friends.

The first time I played and it was my turn to deal, out of habit I shuffled like I would an American deck and went quickly combining the two halves and doing the bridge. Now, I am often asked to shuffle the cards by my friends going “frrrrrrrrrr” imitating the sound the cards make. This led to an exchange of card games, they taught me theirs, so I taught them one of mine – Rummy. Turns out they all loved it and it’s now played almost as much as ronda is. I’m actually very lucky because I was always score keeper, and calling out the scores helped me learn my numbers pretty quickly which came in handy when I started interacting with the cafe and hanut (store) owners.

That first month here was one of the best because it let me see a side of my community I doubt I would have gotten to see otherwise. My host dad always made sure to include me when him and his friends would do something, like the Amazigh music jam session at his friend’s house my second night at site, or the visit to the moussem (yearly festival for a local saint) in another duar where we had a campfire style tajine (traditional Moroccan dish), or even just the random people I’ve met as a result of living with Mohammed, who is a very active member of my community. Most females don’t get to really associate or spend on overwhelming amount of time with men because of the social divide between the two genders and I feel very fortunate to be able to have the friendships with the men in my village that I do.

In January, I moved into my first apartment by myself and now I live in the center duar (where all of the buildings, associations, cafes and the taxi stand is). My apartment has a square foyer with four rooms off of it, a bathroom, bedroom, salon (living room) and kitchen. My apartment is simple and I didn’t buy much more than I needed, except for maybe in my salon because I wanted it to be welcoming and habitable for when my family and other volunteers venture out to my neck of the mountains.

My bathroom is a long tiled rectangle that I use as a bathroom, shower room (where I take bucket baths with water heated up on the stove) and a laundry room (a large bucket I use to wash, rinse and wring out my clothes), my salon doubles as my drying room for my clothes after laundry days. A lot of volunteers do have water heaters or washers (though dryers aren’t really a thing here) but I don’t really mind not having either as it gives me time to think and listen to some music.

It’s taken me about two months to do it, but other than a fridge, I finally finished furnishing it last week thanks to the help of my next door neighbor Hannen. She’s 30, married to a teacher who works at the mdrassa (primary school) and has a two-year-old daughter. She helped me feel welcome, buy the things I needed so I wouldn’t get ripped off, and brings me dinner or freshly baked bread often (I’m convinced she doesn’t think I eat “real” food). I’m incredibly lucky to have her as a neighbor and thanks to our friendship I’ve been able to meet and befriend more women in my community.

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I live between a dirt alley and and a private garden, on the second floor above a series of hanuts. At the top of my stairs sits a dentists office I’ve never seen anyone enter or exit, and three other apartments, comprised predominately of teachers at the mdrassa and college and their children (one toddler, two young kids, one teenager). We have a communal roof that overlooks the private garden behind our building and has beautiful views of the valley and surrounding mountains. I’m very excited for when the wind dies down and the weather is a little warmer and I can go sit and draw up on the roof in my free time and on my days off. I bet at this point you were wondering if I even do any work, what with all the talk of playing games, going to the cafe and hanging out with my neighbor or friends.

I started teaching back in the first week of January. For the first month and a half, I taught an Adult Beginner’s English class that met three times a week for two hours a day at the Dar Chebab. On any given day I had between 2-8 men attend my class. It’s been one of my favorite classes so far and we made a lot of progress in the first month and a half where some of my students who knew zero English, were able to form complete, grammatically correct basic sentences in present tense with conjugated verbs.

Back around Valentine’s Day, maybe 3 or 4 weeks ago, I had a meeting at the college, where it was determined that I would begin teaching the 3rd-year college students at the Dar Chebab in the afternoons three times a week. I now work at the Dar Chebab three days a week for three hours a day and end up teaching around 6 classes a week. I usually get a different group of kids from 3-4 pm each of those afternoons and a group of kids with a few adults, typically teachers from the college and a couple of my adult students from before, from 4-6 pm. Given I have no prior language teaching experience, this has been a little struggle but I think we’re finally getting to a good place and for the past week I’ve been writing simple dialogues like “where are you going?” or “what are you doing?” that two people come up at a time to practice speaking English which the kids really seem to enjoy.

I returned to the Dar Chebab after that meeting at the college and immediately had another meeting waiting for me, this time with the mudira (principle; boss) of the Dar Ftet (girls’ dormitory) – which prior to that moment I was unaware there was one in my village (turns out it’s next to my house…). I also added teaching the 3rd-year college students from the Dar Ftet to my schedule that day. I now teach them three nights a week from 7-8 pm M-W. My neighbor two doors down, Chedia, who is the classical Arabic teacher at the college, comes to my class to learn English with the girls.

After my first week, the girls and Chedia decided to help me with my ongoing Darija learning. Now, when I’m done with my lesson at 7, Chedia, with the girls’ assistance, becomes my Darija tutor which has been helpful in learning all the random vocab I wasn’t taught through my textbook which tends to cover the more survival/work essential language. The Dar Ftet is probably my favorite class because there’s eight of them (and Chedia) and because of the small size it means we get to have a more intimate and relaxed class with a lot of discussion and even some fun. The other night I taught them a few of my favorite tongue-twisters and in return they taught me a handful of their own which proved to be a lot harder to say than I thought they would be.

I also have three days of tutoring at the Dar Omama, with my tutor Malika, who tutors me for one hour twice a week in Tashlehit, the local dialect of my village, while I tutor her for an hour a week in English. Though people speak Darija to me, they rarely speak it to one another which means unless I’m being directly spoken to, I often don’t understand a lot of what’s being said. Also, children are brought up speaking Tashlehit, and people older than a certain age (like grandparents and elders) usually don’t speak or understand Darija.

The men sometimes do, but in my experience the women usually don’t. When I lived with my host family, only Mohammed and Aicha spoke Darija, so it was a lot of nonverbal communication with the others I shared a home with. I’ve only been studying it for about a month or so now, and though it’s been hard and I still can’t speak it, I’m getting better at recognizing words I hear from those around me which has been pretty cool.

I have another Peace Corps training coming up this coming Monday, which I’m looking forward to not only to see all of my friends from around the country but also to get to see what’s in store for the next leg of my service. The past couple of weeks I’ve been working with my tutors and students to complete a Needs Assessment (what resources they use in their community, what they wish they had in their community, what they wish was different in their community), a Priority Ranking (comparing English, life skills, sports, health, environment, employability and community service), and Asset Mapping (listing all personal skills and knowledge and connections to associations). These were very enlightening and helped me get a better understanding of the needs of my community at a variety of level in the participants (boys and girls 10-19 and men and women 20-35).

One of my friends, Mehdi, has become my counterpart (someone from our community who volunteers can use as a resource and also transfer our skills to) and has been helping me co-teach the kids at the Dar Chebab as well as helping me conduct the aforementioned assignments. He will be coming to IST (In-Service Training) for a couple days next week in order for both of us to learn how we can begin addressing the things we discovered during our data collection and discussions.

I’m super excited to see what my future service holds and what I can help the members of my community with over the coming months and years. Though not everything we heard is possible or feasible, there was definitely a lot of thought and consideration put into their answers and a lot of it is things I believe have a lot of potential here. For the first time in the past 6 months I finally feel like a true, fully competent and capable, Peace Corps Volunteer.

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Thanks so much for bearing with me through what I’m sure was an unexpectedly, very long post. I know I’ve always been a wordy person and even though I don’t speak in English all the time anymore, it apparently hasn’t left me. I hope this taught you a little bit about my experience here in my village in Morocco and what I’ve been up to in my service. I also hope for all of you who told me it’s been a while since I’ve posted or written that this not only hit the spot for you, but also helped explain why it’s taken me a while to get to this post.

Also, an update on my internet status: I do in fact now have a wifi box in my apartment. However, it’s not always the most reliable. You see, not only does the internet through the phone service for my work phone not work on my mountain (except for approx. 6 sq. ft. when my phone is tilted and held in the perfect position), but when there are too many clouds in the sky, or snow or rain or serious weather problems elsewhere on my mountain my internet tends to get a little wonky. Though my home internet is through a different provider than my work phone, unfortunately I cannot in fact control the weather, nor the position of the internet towers (even if I did know their location). This is however, still some of the most reliable internet I’ve had since living here and most of the time I am able to connect with the states and world-wide-interweb, when I’m within the walls of my home at least.

So moral of the story: if you contact me and don’t hear from me, you can assume something I mentioned above has happened weather wise, which means don’t freak out, eventually the sky will be blue again and I’ll respond (here’s looking at you mom).

 

 

It’s Only the Beginning…

…of a beautiful two years of Peace Corps service in Morocco. As of about 3 hours ago, I (and 104 other Americans) are officially Peace Corps Morocco’s newest VOLUNTEERS!!

These past two and a half months of Pre-Service Training (PST) have been pretty insane. Peace Corps time is weirder than any other I’ve yet to experience and where days feel like weeks and weeks feel like months, everything still manages to pass in the blink of an eye. It seems like just two months ago I was moving to my CBT site and showing up in a house made of what would come to be some of the nicest, kindest, welcoming people I now have the pleasure of sharing a family with and knowing maybe 10 words in Darija.

In my CBT site, my group was very involved with our host families and our community. We established relationships with members of the local association Greenside (which was founded and ran by one of the PCTs in my groups host brother with the help of a PCV at my site six years ago), members of the Dar Mra (women’s center) which was led by the aforementioned host brother’s wife and has a current PCV couple teaching English classes there, and youth of the Dar Ftet (girls’ dormitory). We did community mapping, daily schedules of different demographics, and a seasonal calendar with the youth at the Dar Mra. We also had one on one interviews with local youth, talked to random members of the community to get help on naming animals, finishing Moroccan proverbs as well as a variety of other things.

My group taught English and led various activities at the Dar Ftet which housed girls from neighboring towns and villages during the school week in order to allow them the opportunity to attend school and receive an education that wasn’t necessarily available in their own villages. The girls ranged in age from 9-17 and stayed there throughout the week while returning home to their families every weekend. The other CBT group at my sight worked with the youth at Greenside to teach English and conduct their own series of activities. 

About a month ago, the head of Greenside helped facilitate a Moroccan-American cultural exchange day in the local park near our houses and the PCTs, PCVs, members of our host families, members of the community and a couple of tourists passing through all came out to participate. There were multiple activities happening at this all day event including a park clean-up, mural paintings and a food station where the Moroccans prepared traditional couscous and the Americans made some spicy chili as a way of sharing our respective cultures.

I painted a mural of the park with one of my closest Peace Corps friends, Nikki, which was super cool because it sits amongst a dozen other paintings that helped bring a little character to the previously blank white wall. A local artist painted a couple of images depicting the peaceful relationship between Moroccans and Americans, and a tree which everyone put their handprints on to serve on the leaves. The tourists visiting from Bristol even helped paint and contributed a beautiful mulitcolored abstract piece that helped further the cultural exchange. 

Later that night, there was a group of traditional male Tamazight drummers (who also danced and sang) and all of the volunteers (PCTs and PCVs) were invited to come up and joined and so we all got to not only see it but be a part of it and learned how to do the traditional dance of the region which was definitely an experience I won’t soon forget – imagine a lot of yell-singing, kind of cupping your hands together in front of you and bringing it up to your chest over and over in beat with the drumming while also occasionally being pulled out of the line to walk/dance with the leader of the group in front of everyone. The traditional dance in Morocco varies by region and I feel very lucky to have gotten to experience this aspect of the culture at my training site.

Scattered throughout these past two months have been multiple visits to Meknes for technical, medical, cultural, admistative/Moroccan government, and community integration trainings led by Peace Corps staff and current PCVs. The last of these (for our pre-service trainings) finished yesterday morning and though there’s no way to be 100% prepared for what I’m about to do, I can’t imagine doing any of it without knowing what I now do despite how exhausting and non-stop it’s been on pretty much a daily basis since I got to Philadelphia back in September.

It’s amazing how much I’ve learned both in language and in culture in my time here so far and I’m so incredibly blessed to get to spend the next two years in my permanent site located in the High Atlas Mountains in the Al Haouz Region south of Marrakesh. I start my journey south tomorrow morning and will hopefully make it to my new host family by sometime Friday. Though I am not fluent in Darija (but I can form complete and grammatically correct sentences!), I’m proud of what I’ve learned thus far and the growth in my ability to not only communicate but also the level to which I am now understood by the locals I interact with and my subsequent ability to understand them.

Though I found out the location of my final site about two weeks ago, I have only just met one of my supervisors for the first time yesterday morning. He is technically my mudir’s (principal; boss) supervisor and therefore overseas the all of the mudirs in the Al Haouz Region. Supervisors and counterparts from all over Morocco came to Meknes to come meet with all of the volunteers in my staj (training group) and we were able to ask specific questions and begin forming relationships with the people of our communities and those we will be working with over the next two years. I found out that my site does not actually speak Darija all that much and instead speaks a Tamazight dialogue called Tashlehit. Not gonna lie, this is a bit stressful given language has never been a strong suit of mine, though I am excited for this challenge and the leaps and bounds I’ve been making with Darija has helped make me feel better of going into a new town and culture that may or may not understand my Darija.

I’ll be living in a mountain town of roughly 8,000 people and working primarily at a Dar Taliba (girls’ center/dormitory). I’ve been told there was a previous PCV there 10-15 years ago from the environmental sector, I’m excited to continue working with this town as a new generation PCV where some community members will most likely remember the previous volunteer, I think it’s pretty cool that I’ll be the first PCV there for the younger generations. I most likely will begin my integration and work by teaching English and I hope to eventually be able to do work relating to the environment, girls’ empowerment, health, art and music and maybe help out with some clubs or camps. Though these are areas I have skills and interests in a large part of the work I will be doing will be directly influenced by the needs of my community and I am very much looking forward to getting to know both the adults and the youth of my community and either use the existing skills I have or develop new ones in order to help in whatever ways I am needed.

Sorry to everyone back home who reads this blog for it taking me so long to get this next post written and published but these past two months have just been insanely busy and in those moments of freedom when I was able to do so, the internet wasn’t necessarily cooperating with me. I’ve been told my new site should have internet access but I don’t actually know how accurate that is or what that means – whether it’s one cafe in town I can go to, or if I’ll be able to have it at my apartment/house when I live alone in a month or two. Inshallah (god willing) I’ll be more on top of these posts at my final site.

I hope everyone and everything back in the states is going as amazing for you all as it has been for me over here; despite the roller coaster of emotions and the ups and downs I experience (sometimes daily), I wouldn’t change what I’m doing for anything and swearing in today was easily one of my favorite moments I’ve had thus far. To join this organization officially and to have made it to this point gives me faith in my ability to successfully complete my service and I’m in awe of all the amazing, incredible and inspiring volunteers in my Staj and those in the Staj above me. It’s truly an honor to become a part of their ranks and to see what I’ll be able to learn and accomplish over these next two years.

 

Starting from Scratch

It’s crazy to think that I only started on this adventure a little under 3 weeks ago. Since my last post I’ve: officially become a PCT (Peace Corps Trainee), taken my first international flight, set foot on my second continent, spent 9 days in a very intense orientation period, set foot on a moment of history, met my new host family, and have gained the speaking equivalent of an 18-month-old Darija speaking baby. Needless to say, these 3 weeks have felt a little more like 3 months…

So for starters, for those of you wondering, it still hasn’t fully sunk in that I’m in Peace Corps Morocco. We’ve been doing so much since I left Portland that it’s been pretty consistent on constantly doing things. At Staging and Orientation, we were constantly at sessions being taught everything from common medical ailments PCVs encounter here, transportation safety, how to integrate, mitigate and respond to situations we may face, more medical training, cultural faux pas, more about the Moroccan government organization, the role we play with our jobs as Youth Development volunteers, and so so much language learning.

While at orientation, our language classes were formed and it was based off of our various levels of Arabic speaking (or in my case not speaking any), and we were put into groups of 5-6 people and paired with an LCF (Language and Culture Facilitator). By the end of orientation a lot of groups had either lost or gained a member and some groups had their LCF switched. These groups became finalized on the last full day of orientation and then we were all set to head out to our new villages, towns and cities where we’ll be stationed for the next two months.

My CBT (Community Based Training) group is located in the Atlas Mountain region which is incredibly beautiful. It gets really cold here in the winter though we don’t know if we’ll still be around here when the snow begins to fall. It reminds me a lot of back home with large desert lots, clay and stucco building exteriors, pine trees and a forest covered mountain. It feels like Arizona, Nevada and Oregon all rolled up into one place and then effortlessly coming together in Morocco of all places.

Though I’ve only been with my host family a week, it feels like much longer than that. I have two parents, Malika (Mama) and Ahmed (Baba), one sister Rowia (khti) who is 19 and one brother Oualid (khoya) who is 25. They’re all so welcoming and have made me feel like I’m part of the family from the beginning. Rowia studied in Fes when she was younger and speaks English very well. Ahmed is retired now, but taught French for 35 years and both him and Malika speak English, probably a little more than I do Darija. This has made my living situation a little easier in that when I’m home they help me with my vocab and pronunciations (Arabic has a handful of sounds that do not exist whatsoever in the English language, most of which come from the throat) and we’re able to communicate using both of our native tongues.

That being said, my family seems to be an exception as I’ve encountered very very few English speakers outside of those that are here with Peace Corps. My second day here, we went to a neighboring town to go celebrate a newborn baby entering the family, a party that’s called a Sboa. The party had probably around 50 people at it and I was one of two non-blood relatives. Sitting in a room with 20+ women and a dozen little kids, we devoured this traditional roasted chicken covered in a chicken liver sauce.

In Morocco, we don’t use plates, but rather eat off of one large platter and use bread as the utensil. Eating with only your right hand (the left one is considered unclean) and breaking off bread and chicken with your hand is quite an experience. A group of five probably 18-25 year-old men dressed in traditional (ceremonial?) attire banged on drums and sang as the entertainment while the women and children danced. Only myself and Rowia spoke English so it was a lot of smiling, laughing, clapping and a little bit of dancing with Malika but mainly I was taking it all in and trying to understand as much as I could.

That has been my only experience with a traditional event thus far but this weekend is a holy day and a holiday that can be most closely compared to Halloween, but is also nothing like it. I’m not sure what my family will be doing for it yet, but I’m excited to experience it nonetheless.

My daily schedule is fairly regular where I wake up at 6:30 and go on a morning walk throughout town with my host mom for 30-45 minutes. She teaches me new vocab every morning and I get better each day at finding my way around our town. I eat breakfast with her and Ahmed (on the mornings he is awake that early) before heading to school. Malika calls me her “big baby” because I’m almost a foot taller than her, but she loves walking me to school each morning and often blows me a kiss goodbye. In the mornings I have 4 hours of Darija including vocab, grammar and survival phrases. I get a two hour break for lunch and spending time with my family in which I usually eat with my host parents while we go over what I learned that morning. My afternoons are filled with cultural lessons or field trips to the women’s center or youth center (Dar chebab). After class ends around 5:30 I head home and hang out in the living room with my family while we enjoy tea time. We watch a lot of American and French movies that are subtitled in classical Arabic (not Darija) and eat dinner between 9 and 10:30. I do get a little wifi here at my house, but the power goes out from time to time so it’s not always the most reliable.

Thank you to everyone who has been keeping in touch with me since I’ve been here as its comforting to know that even though my life might not be my version of normal right now, it’s still normal back home. I’m absolutely loving being here and think I really have found the place I should be and can’t wait to see where this journey continues to take me but I’ll do my best to keep you all posted!

Going On An Adventure…

…And diving in head first (just kidding, but not really).

Almost a year ago to the day, I officially began taking steps to get to where I am now – I met with a Peace Corps recruiter at University of Oregon and got some help getting my resume and application ready for the October 1st submission date. Though I received my invitation to serve back in December I only just received my final medical clearance 9 days ago! To be completely honest with you, it still hasn’t fully hit me yet that I’m about to set foot on a plane in just over 24 hours that will take me to what seems a world away.

For the next 27 months, I will be living, serving and hopefully having one of the most incredible experiences of my life working as a Youth Asset Builder for the Peace Corps in Morocco! Some of you probably already knew that and for others reading this blog this could be the first time you’ve heard anything about it. Honestly, I kept pretty quiet about these plans mainly because as I already mentioned, I straight up only found out this was actually going to happen just over a week ago.

I promised myself at the beginning of this that if everything ended up working out the way it (thankfully) did, that I was going to write a blog so that my friends and family could follow along with me as I take this giant leap into the mostly unknown thing known as my future. Now that I’m actually writing it I also realize that it’ll probably also have some things that future potential volunteers may find helpful (coming soon: how to pack for 2 years in only 2 bags and a backpack).

As some people reading this can probably tell you this past year has been filled with a lot of ups and downs and for a while I wasn’t sure how (or if) everything such as school, life, and this would all work out for me. School isn’t easy and there were a few times I really wasn’t sure I was going to pull it off and earn my degree, but somehow I was able to and until last Friday, that was one of my proudest moments.

I just want to give a quick shout out to all of those who dealt with my freak outs, insanity, weird manifestations of stress and all the texts and phone calls that were exchanged (Maddy, Karissa, Cam, Madi, Dad, Mom, TJ) I don’t know how I would have made it through this past year without each and every one of you and be in this position that I am.

Throughout the next 27 months I plan on updating this blog as often as I can so that you too can get a glimpse of what lifestyles and culture Morocco is home to too. If you’re curious about what I’ll be up to I’ll be keeping you in the loop on that too. So without further adieu how’s about I give you a little sneak preview, aka here’s pretty much what I know about my future right now:

So tomorrow morning, I’ll be headed out in the wee hours of the morning to start my travel East headed toward Philadelphia for Staging. This is pretty much just a fancy way of saying my initial orientation. I’m one of 80 people who will be serving in the Youth In Development program in Morocco from September 2017 – December 2019 and this is the first time any of us will be together and meeting. After a jam packed day of super fun trainings and my guess is a few ice breakers we’ll all head on over to New York where I’ll board my first international flight out of North America (which I’m pretty stoked about tbh).

The next time my feet touch soil, it’ll be in the city of Casablanca and will be the beginning of a beautiful friendship I’m sure. The first ten days I’m over there I’ve been told will be insanely busy. It’ll be a more in-depth orientation period than the one I’ll have had back in Philly. I’ll be staying in a hotel with the rest of my Staj 99 group (my cohort equivalent) and after ten days we’ll be dispersed throughout a few different regions of Morocco for the next step…

…Community Based Training (CBT) is what we’re doing during our Pre-Service Training (PST) – head’s up the Peace Corps LOVES acronyms so there’s a pretty good chance there’ll be a future doc/post that will be all the acronyms so that they’ll be easily referenced for anyone who cares enough to want to keep in that part of the loop. But anyways back to CBT, so during my first three months in country, I’m not a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) but rather a Peace Corps Trainee (PCT). During PST, CBT is happening which is basically very hands on, immersive learning. So I’ll be living with a host family (who I’ve yet to know anything about) who may or may not speak English (see: immersive) all while throughout the day meeting up with 5-6 other PCTs from my initial group for daily language training as well as some cultural, medical, safety and a whole plethora of other types of trainings.

Assuming all of the aforementioned stuff goes well then I’ll be sworn in and officially become a PCV at the end of November. Assuming that happens I’ll be on another adventure to my permanent site which is where I’ll be stationed for my two years of service (I won’t know where that is until probably sometime in November).

Thank you so much for reading my first post and sorry if it was a little jumbled; I’ve never blogged before so it may take me a few tries to get the hang of it. If you have any questions or want to send me a message feel free to either comment below (assuming I can figure out how to turn those on) or shoot me an email if you want to talk more in-depth – my email is samheffner.1@gmail.com. I don’t know what my access to the internet will be like but I’m going to do my best to check it when I can!