A Capstone Experience to my Service – a visit from the Country Director

On Monday, the Country Director and the person in charge of gifts and grants for all of Peace Corps drove out to our province in the Middle Atlas.  It was an opportunity for several volunteers to come together and talk about (and show off) some of the work we were doing based on the grants we wrote to make it all happen.  Jon and I managed to pack their day full, which in turn packed our entire week full of prep work for their visit.

The day before they arrived, the children at Jon’s local primary school painted a large mural of fruit to promote nutrition and a Peace Corps logo on an adjacent wall (that included both the American and Moroccan flags).  After the children finished painting, Jon worked with them to prepare a series of “welcome” and “thank you” songs in what was none other than an awesome, shameless act, and quite possibly the most adorable thing you could imagine next to a room full of teddy bears and butterflies.

In the meantime, I sat down with Monica Groen and Nicole Gravante, as well as several Moroccan counterparts (two awesome guys named Hassan), to prepare for what was to be my final glasses distribution in Morocco and to “pass the torch,” so to speak to volunteers who will continue distributing glasses after I am long gone.  It gave us a chance to put our heads together and say, “Okay, here are some problems with this project, and here are some ways to overcome those concerns.”  One problem we kept running into, for example, was a lack of understanding over how to use the new technology for the glasses.  For you and me, it’s simple – you just turn a dial, and a sliding lens corrects your vision.  But imagine explaining that concept to an 86-year old Berber woman who is illiterate and whose first attempt to use the glasses was to put them on upside down.  That’s not a joke.  That happened.  Distributing glasses, it turns out, takes an incredible degree of patience and a willingness to teach.  I was thankful that we had Hassan and Hassan to do some translation for us and to sit down and work with people who might not have understood the first time.

The next morning, during the distribution, I gave a pair of negative lenses to a 59-year old who understood exactly how the glasses worked.  He turned the dial, stopped it, smiled, and belted out a, “Oh yeah, bless you; God’s blessing on you!”  I asked him if they helped, and he grinned big and joked, “There’s nothing blurry anymore.”

When Peace Corps staff showed up, we had a big presentation at the school with children handing staff roses and fresh pomegranates from the teachers.  Then, they gathered around to perform a special kind of Berber dance called an “ahidous.”  That looked a little bit like this video, except performed by 8-year olds and minus the horses at the beginning.  Again – adorable.

For lunch, we got a chance to sit down with the country director, a couple of members of the diabetes association from my town and talk about our diabetes project and the prevalence of diabetes in Morocco.  Allal, our counterpart, insisted that diabetes affects 50% of the population.  I know it’s at least 20%, and sadly, I wouldn’t be surprised if hyper- and hypo-tension  along with Type II diabetes, put that figure pretty close to accurate.  Allal’s excitement about working with us makes him a great candidate for a future host family.  In the meantime, Jon and I may try to squeeze in one more education project before Eid El-Kbir.

After lunch, Jon and a few other volunteers took the country director to Beni Hassan, a nearby village on the outskirts of Jon’s site, where they got to talk about a medical caravan Jon completed, bringing over a dozen doctors and nurses to do health trainings last May.  When they got back, we sat down in Jon’s house for a few hours with sage tea (barroumbo) and harcha, which is basically sweet corn bread.  Jon used the school projector to project a slide show on the wall, where he was able to show the reconstruction of a cellar roof that fell in at the primary school last winter.  Peace Corps funds had been used to repair the roof, freeing up space to store food for the children.  The conversation with Peace Corps staff gave us a chance to really reflect on our service, on our projects, and on why we came to this country in the first place.

Just before concluding the night with dinner, we went to another ahidous, this one put on by an association of guys in their 20s and far more like the video above.  Jon and I wore djellabas, and by the end of the dance, the country director, the staffer from D.C., and all of the Peace Corps volunteers were dancing ahidous in a circle with our Moroccan friends.

Honestly, the whole shindig was like a capstone experience to my entire two years, getting a chance to reflect and celebrate with our Moroccan friends.  The next morning when I rode back to my town in a beat-up old van listening to Berber music the whole way, it just dug in more and more how much I will miss this place.

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