One Year In

Well, today marks one year of living in beautiful Morocco.  After the plane touched down, what I remember most is being wide awake on the bus heading for our training site.  The countryside was a geography I’d never really seen, some cross between knolls and desert, between palm trees and olive groves.  The buildings were all square concrete boxes or mud houses.  The minarets were strewn about every few hundred yards in the cities, and I felt completely, utterly awkward and out of my element.

I still regularly feel awkward, but I’ve got a sense of comfort about that and feel more self-confident today.  My service has shifted from intense language and cultural training in one part of the country to starting work in another.  I’ve taught English classes, lead an English camp and, lead a cross-cultural workshop.  I worked ultimately four weeks straight of summer camp and at an orphanage.  I’ve helped educate Moroccans both in my site and at a music festival on the beach about the effects and risks of HIV/AIDs and STIs.  I’ve managed to help put up six murals on my barren youth center, the Dar Chebab, including two murals I helped design.  I’ve written a letter to one of the do-gooder princesses in Morocco essentially begging her to work with me and Eyejusters, the glasses organization in Britain.  I’ve gotten to play host to a wonderful group of volunteers who live within an hour of me and buy their vegetables in my site.   I’ve gotten to hike, relax on the beach, write a short novel, visit other volunteers, ride camels through the Sahara, and really just get to know this country little by little, shwya-b-shwya.

But work aside, and what I’ve come to cherish most are the people.  I think about my friend Yussef as we sat at a cafe recently looking through pictures of his own life talking about whether he should pursue Physics or English at university.  Or my friend Driss, the English teacher in town, whom I’ve come to develop a real friendship with as he gives me a chance to peak into the religious and political life of Morocco in a way my language skills don’t yet allow me to do or as I give him an alternative perspective on America, one that says something different from how the television might sometimes paint us.  Or Hassan, my director at the youth center, who is quite possibly one of the kindest people I have ever met in my life and certainly the best boss I have ever had.  Or Omar, my host brother who made Avery call me multiple times to tell me that he misses me and who invited me to Tirnest to say goodbye before he leaves for university after passing the very difficult Baccalaureate exam with flying colors.

Say what you will about the work we do in the Peace Corps, but the real, truly meaningful “work” happens in forming those kinds of bonds and friendships, the ones that recognize that we’re all kind of like siblings.  It’s a kind of “work” that’s measured by the heart and not really capable of being put into statistics or graphs.  It’s the work I hope to continue doing more than any other kind.

That’s not to say the next year won’t include many projects.  I’ve got a few hopeful projects in mind, some more ready than others.  I am especially looking forward to painting a world map on my youth center after leading English class geography lessons.   I am also hoping to coordinate more with Driss to do at least one, if not two, more cross-cultural workshops with his classrooms and the local volunteers.  Then, in addition to more summer and spring camps, orphanages, and health-centered music festivals, I am beginning to think about a workshop on diabetes education here in my site, especially since diabetes kills so many Moroccans in this country.  We need to introduce this country to sweet-and-low.  And, of course, the glasses project.  Oh the glasses project.  I will bring sixty glasses to my region, if not also a thousand or more to the entire country.

But it won’t all be work with no play.  Much of my time in country has been about personal development too.  After I put the finishing touches on my short novel, I’ll be purchasing a cheap guitar to practice and learn with.  I’m also hoping to start working out everyday with a fairly strict workout plan.  And then there’s traveling.  I’ve got an up-and-coming vacation to Portugal in October, followed by a Christmas trip to the land of the free, the home of the brave, baseball, and the Cheesy Gordita Crunch.  Then, in the spring, I may take one more vacation (Greek islands?) before settling into squaring away exactly what I want to do once my service ends, including where I want to go on the way home (Japan, then Hawaii?).

A big year behind me, another big year ahead.  And I’m still having the time of my life.

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