Richard in Morocco
A Full Year Abroad
Instead of a newsletter this month, I am going to do a year in review.
I have gone through thousands of pictures from my year of service and narrowed it down to the top 100.
Here they are in chronological order with brief descriptions.
I flew into Casablanca on January 14th. We immediately took a bus up to Rabat (the capitol).
There we had 8 days of training before heading out to our community based training.
During my free day in Rabat, I went with a group of friends to the Casbah and was in awe of the beauty of this new country.
A Moment Alone
During my first several days in Rabat, I spent a lot of time with this new diary of mine.
I knew that, if I were going to make it, I needed a place to organize my thoughts.
I was always the one found writing during those first days.
The Gang in Bouderham
For Community-Based Training, they divide us into groups of 5-6 trainees and send you off to individual towns.
I got the tiny town of Bouderham.
The five of us became rather close over the 9 weeks of intensive language and culture training.
We each stayed with our own host family and struggled in our own ways.
Laughter is the Best Medicine
Community-Based Training is largely considered the hardest part of Peace Corps.
It is the boot camp of Peace Corps.
On that same level, the people who struggled by my side quickly became some of my closest friends.
Eany, Meany, Miney, Moe!
While in training, some of the most valuable work was getting hands-on experience with working with local children.
Even with little-to-no Arabic skills, we found ways to work with the kids.
In this pictures, we are letting the girls paint the names of major cities across Morocco on the wall of their Youth Center.
True Moroccan Transportation
Transportation is on the long list of things to get used to.
We are not allowed to drive, so we have to rely on public transport.
This includes taxis that seat 7 people in a car that only holds 5, trains that don’t stop selling tickets when seats run out…
And vans like this one–that can’t always close the back door and can hold dozens of people in very unique ways.
My Moroccan Family
The idea of host families still astound me.
My family opened their house to a random American who didn’t know the same language.
They fed me ever meal, gave me my own room, quizzed me daily on language, and never once got openly frustrated with me.
By the end of our 9 weeks together, they really were the closest I had to family in this country.
A Very Busy Bouderham
This picture is a great representation of the town I spent my first couple of months in.
It was the smallest Community-Based Training town.
We had next-to-no internet capabilities.
Everyone in town knew our names by the end of it.
To everyone else, it is a town that flies by in seconds as you drive.
To me, it is a jewel.
Barb in Great Spirits
Towards the end of training, things started warming up just enough for use to hold some classes outside.
We held several lessons on this concrete slab on the edge of town.
The woman pictured is Barb.
She and her husband joined the Peace Corps after retiring.
The Aging Solider
This is my host father.
I doubt I’ll ever get a picture of him smiling, but he actually is a rather warm man.
He was in the Royal Army in his youth.
The family now lives on the poverty line by surviving on his retirement funds and selling wicker baskets that he weaves.
In February, our training group took a field trip to the nearest river.
Andrew decided to jump in despite the danger of being swept away (and hypothermia).
That was a memorable day, to say the least.
We’re on a Bridge!
Monika (front; the youngest volunteer in the incoming group) and Libby (back; the veteran volunteer who helped with training).
This pictures sums up the attitudes of two people who have had a tremendous impact on my service.
Bimo u Danon
My host family didn’t always have the resources to feed me a filling meal.
I learned to supplement.
Most the time it was fruit (I promise).
But this was a very common breakfast for me.
Sunset on Bouderham
This is the view from the backyard of my host family’s house.
Bouderham had some of the best sunsets I have ever seen.
The only problem was that bitter cold always follows.
This is Marjuan.
He is Andrew’s host brother (he calls him Andrrrrrrrew).
He is pretty much the cutest thing ever.
That is all.
Rockin’ the Jalaba
In preparation for the Swearing In ceremony, we all bought traditional Muslim garb–called Jalabas.
There may also be a video on Youtube where we dance in our Jalabas.
All Good Up Here
This is one of my favorite pictures.
It shows the absurdity of public transport in this country.
But also the “whatever” attitude that goes with it.
The Middle Atlas and Me
These are the mountains I have spent my first year staring at.
I have traveled up, down, and around the Middle Atlas at this point.
What a good substitute for my Rocky Mountains.
Advanced English Class
Advanced English is easily my favorite class.
I am able to simultaneously expand their vocabulary and talk to them about complex ideas.
With these young women, the most important thing is to get them thinking about the future.
Doctor or Teacher are the career aspirations I hear most often from young women.
Simon Says What?
Our version of “Simon Says” started off as a English Lesson.
It deteriorated into chaos from there.
Just Another Day in the Freezing Paradise
For this field trip, each volunteer had to bring a member of their host family.
The result was a great cross-cultural hours-long adventure.
Probably the best day of training.
My Moroccan Name
By the end of training, I decided to adopt a Moroccan name.
Most Moroccans struggle with Richard.
Luckily, Arabic has an exact translation.
Thank You, Mr. Ambassador
The U.S. Ambassador to Morocco presided over our Swearing-In Ceremony.
All 95 trainees who flew out, made it through training–Almost unheard of.
It was slightly surreal meeting this man.
That’s Your Future
This moment is crazy.
In that envelope is our future.
The envelope contains a number, which will direct us to the town we will spend the next two years of our life in.
I was so nervous…
Strange New Friends
I don’t remember this picture being taken.
But I love it.
This took place in the moments before we officially became Volunteers.
My 24th Birthday
This sums up the relationship we had following the long and arduous training.
We had to lean on each other a lot to make it through those days.
And this was the moment before we all went our separate ways.
The Staj of Love
The 95 Volunteers in this picture make up The Staj of Love.
Most of the people I have come to know so well are in this pictures.
Off to Bhalil
Everyone placed a pin on their site to show where they were heading.
I am lucky to have several good friends and volunteers in towns nearby.
Nice to Meet You
This is my Mudir.
He is the supervisor of the Youth Center I work at.
This is the first time we met.
He was four hours late.
That was a good indicate of his attitude towards his job.
One Last Lunch
This was the last meal before taking the taxi to my final site.
This moment is difficult to explain.
You build such a support network with the volunteers around you.
It’s hard to accept the solitude you are about to endure.
Moving into my own apartment was one of the most important moments in my service.
After 100 days of living with two host families, I finally had a space to call my own.
Suddenly, space was needed to hold a training.
Four days after moving in, a 3-Day training was held in my apartment.
A great house-warming.
The Cave Houses of Bhalil
Bhalil is the town I call my own.
It is known for the cave-houses of the center medina part of the city.
These houses were made by burrowing into the mountainside.
Most of these houses build stairs to regular housing on the second story.
But cave houses are the coolest.
The Beautiful Countryside
I took this picture about half a mile outside of my town.
I live on the far Southwest side of town.
It allows to pick two paths for my daily walk.
Urban or Nature.
An Old Friend Comes to Visit
Tori is an old friend from High School.
She was studying abroad in Paris.
She was the first person from the states to come visit.
It is surprisingly fun playing the tour guide.
A Friend to Keep You Company
About half of the volunteers adopt an animal.
There are enough stray dogs and cats around that is isn’t too hard to find a young one.
I decided against getting one.
But I still love playing with other volunteers’ animals.
Summer Camp in a Shanty Town
Morocco gets really hot during the Summer.
Unfortunately, this means there usually isn’t much work to be done.
Anticipating this, I signed up for several Summer Camps.
This one was held for ten days at two Youth Centers.
Strange New Friends
This is Matt.
One of the best things about Peace Corps is that crazy people can do amazing things.
Why else would I have joined?
My New Harmonica
I bought a harmonica to pass the time.
I have no idea where it is now.
Special Needs is a very new concept in Morocco.
At this camp, it was the first time I felt like I truly got to work with the population.
It’s the most rewarding experience.
I can see why my mother dedicated her life to it.
This was a terrifying moment.
The Chamber of Secrets
There are several preserved sites in Morocco.
This one is along the coast–in El Jadida.
It used to be a water storage facility for the Portuguese population.
My four weeks at the SOS village was the best time I spent in Morocco.
This orphanage is home to 101 children.
I can’t wait to return this summer.
The SOS Team
I spent a month living and working with this group.
It was difficult for an introvert such as myself.
But the experience was amazing.
Celebrating the End of Ramadan
We made our way around to the several of the house for the end of Ramadan.
We were fed sweets at every house.
I fear diabetes now more than ever.
Water Games Day!
Before we left, we organized a water day for the kids.
This was water musical chairs.
If you got eliminated, you got soaked.
If you won, we dumped a bucket of water on you.
A Long Walk to the U.K.
Over the summer, I went with friends to Spain.
We stayed in a city called La Linea.
Every day, we walked across the border into Gibraltar and wandered around the British Paradise.
Tebowing the Rock of Gilbraltar
Coloradoans doing their thing.
We’re on a Boat!
The group that went to Gibraltar was pretty amazing.
World War II vs Modern Art
Gibraltar is filled with dozens of tunnels from World War II.
Now abandoned, they hold some beautiful graffiti.
I love this picture.
The Castle Steps
We walked endlessly in Gibraltar.
Luckily all the directions were in English.
Life at the Cafe
I spent hours at the cafe in America.
A spend hours at the cafe in Morocco.
Some things just don’t change.
Volunteers are Everywhere
Working at the Basketball Camp was a great experience.
I worked with Moroccan, Canadian, and American volunteers.
I now have a standing invitation to Toronto.
Let’s Play Dolphin!
Someone had to be in the pool when the younger kids were in the pool.
I took the bullet.
I love these kids.
Taking the Edge Off
After lots of hard work, you look up and realize you’ve made some great friends.
I may have only worked five days with these people, but we became close in that time.
Back in Bhalil
After a long summer of camps, I returned to my site.
Here I am at the local butcher.
He hangs the head so you know today’s meat is fresh.
The Bhalil Medina
This is my favorite spot in Bhalil.
This overlook gives you a good idea of what the center of town looks like.
Many of the houses you see have a cave entrance on the main floor.
Bhalil Medina 2
My house is very close to a ridge that overlooks the big town nearby (Sefrou).
This is a great place to go and think.
Plus the hike is fantastic.
I love graffiti.
In Morocco, it usually involves soccer or a limited understanding of English.
This one is by the local high school.
I think it accurately sums up puberty.
Bhalil’s Medina (as seen from Lower Bhalil)
I remember the first time I saw by town.
After two days of fogs, this is what I saw.
I was in awe.
It’s so beautiful.
Introducing: The Dirham
The money here is very interesting.
But I have to agree with most volunteers.
It feels like Monopoly Money.
Preparing for the Eid
Before Eid Kbir (the Muslim equivalent of Thanksgiving and Christmas), every family buys a sheep.
Imagine the main avenue of your town shut down so sheppards can fill it with thousands of sheep for a week.
It’s impossible to describe.
It can’t get any more Moroccan
A Fez. Tea. Milawi. A dead sheep.
Yep. We’re in Morocco.
The death is surprisingly fast.
The most disturbing part of this picture is not the blood.
It’s the living, breathing sheep in the upper right who now knows what is about to happen to him.
Libby’s Adopted Host Family
I love this family.
A third-year volunteer lived in the town I took this picture.
I went there for a couple days during her final week in country.
It’s strange how quickly you make and say goodbye to friends here.
Blissfully Back Home
This is Libby’s host brother.
He grew up on this lake, but lives an hour away now.
I think he was glad to come back.
The Rift Mountains
The Rift mountains run through the North part of the country.
They are gorgeous.
An Old Berber Woman
This is Libby’s Host mother.
She’s one of the most amazing people I have ever met.
I can hear her absurdly loud voice even as I write this.
Back with my Parents
I got to spend the week around Thanksgiving with my parents.
Here we are on Thanksgiving Day at Peace Corps Headquarters.
The Rabat Pier
Rabat is my favorite city in Morocco
My parent’s seemed to enjoy it too.
I go out to this spot on the ledge almost every day.
I wasn’t able to get a picture of myself here until I showed it to my parents.
It is the perfect place to write.
This is My City
As my parents and I wandered around Bhalil, my dad snapped this picture.
This picture is one of the best ones showing me in my city.
The Bhalil Medina Stairs
Walking these stairs ever day is exhausting.
At least they are pretty.
The Bhalil Souk
I made sure to bring my parents to Bhalil on the day of the weekly market.
It’s crazy, but I’m glad they got the experience.
Hundreds of people crammed into a small area, getting food for absurdly low prices.
Inheriting a Wardrobe
When volunteers go home, they usually don’t bring everything with them.
When Matt left, I got his PJ bottoms.
And I look damn good in them.
PJ Thanksgiving Party
Partying is the famous city of Fes is norm now.
This crowd is fantastic.
The saddest part is that half of them are about to leave.
Christmas was amazing.
Andrew brought a wheel of real cheese from America.
We took turns falling in love with that block of cheese.
Andrew played the part of Santa Clause by wearing the hat.
The amount of attention we got on the street was a little absurd.
All the kids were yelling, “Happy New Year!”
Yeah….A little confusing.
Couscous For the Win
Couscous is the delicacy of Morocco.
Eatting it with your hands is a skill
A skill I do not have.
I’m wishing for a Yellow Christmas
The four of us went on a bit of a photo shooting expedition on Christmas Eve.
When we found this field, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
I absolutely love this picture.
Staying Warm on Christmas Morning
Technology is amazing.
We helped Libby run an Art lesson on Christmas Eve.
To Moroccans, it was just a Tuesday.
What a great way to spend the day.
This is why we do it
Where did my Pencil go?
I feel very natural in classrooms like this.
When they are this young, cultural differences barely exist.
Kids are kids, regardless of where you are.
Ouezane is one of my favorite cities in the country.
It is situated on three hills that forms a triangle.
The center of town is in the center of the triangle.
Stocking on Christmas Morning
The stockings were a bit…makeshift
But the candy was amazing.
Take not of the fireplace behind us.
I have no idea what I was reacting to…
But the gift of chocolate I am opening here was to die for.
Coffee and Friends
Natalie and Monica enjoying the celebration.
More Coffee and More Friends
Luiz and Kristi showing their strange but true colors.
Charlie Brown Christmas
Look at that Christmas Tree.
I had the good luck of blindly buying tickets to the best soccer game of the year.
I watched as the Moroccan team that shouldn’t have been in tournament defeated Brazil.
To advance to the Championship game.
Happy New Year
Into the dunes we went.
Upon the camel’s back.
He doesn’t seem to like his day job.
Looking out at the Nothingness
We spent that night in the Sahara Desert.
We looked up at the infinite stars.
We endured the bitter cold.
Dinner by Candlelight
We are in a tent.
That tent is in the dunes of the Sahara
On the edge of civilization.
The Classic Camel Shot
I am in the front.
These pictures are amazing.
I’m glad we got a good one.
Holding the Next Generation
And so concludes the 100 Best Pictures of My Full Year Abroad. I have had an amazing time. I have had terrible times. Nonetheless, I am having the adventure of a lifetime. In the process, I have made some friends that I will never want to say goodbye to. Thank you for all the well wishes. I miss everyone back home.
Richard, I envy your adventure. My poor health kept me from both the Peace Corp and VISTA, but I will always wonder what I might have done and learned. Your blog was a wonderful window on your experience. Thanks for sharing.