Peace Corps Prom 2013

Last night was Prom.  After a good week of preparing, the committee was able to get the party off without a hitch.  All volunteers were supposed to represent either their state or their country.  A few people came in red, white, and blue.  But most people came as their state.  Lots of college shirts.  Someone dressed up as the statue of liberty.  I wasn’t sure what to wear to represent Colorado, so I showed up in a sweater.  A few of us talked about bringing our lighters to represent the fires—but that seemed a little inappropriate.

The evening started off with a few surprises.  For starters, the food.  This will not sound amazing for anyone who has not been away from American food for long periods of time.  But we had real pizza, club sandwiches, brownies, chocolate chip cookies, and so much more.  Once everyone got their share, we were treated to a special song.  Someone from our Staj auctioned off “An original Blues Song of your life” at the Skills Auction.  An older volunteer—and my fellow CBT mate—won that auction.  After that, we watched a five minutes movie thanking the staff.  We crowned our two members of our staff Prom King and Prom Queen.

Then the music started.

Two and half hours of dancing in horrible heat is a bit much.  The thing is, we are in the Peace Corps.  When you are used to going without showers for long periods of time and are completely comfortable talking about your bowel movements with everyone, it is much easy to feel comfortable in a pool of your own sweat.   Plus, it is amazing to just let loose for just a few hours.  To top it off, we were treating to a well-organized flash mob.

We are all heading back to our sites tomorrow (or are starting the slow journey back to our sites).  That’s why last night was so important.  We have been so busy integrating and making sure we are respecting in our societies.  That leaves a lot of pent up energy and expression.  Having ten days here in Marrakesh—and a prom to top it off—is the perfect way to release that energy.  I’ve heard many reasons for why we have this training.  To go back over what we are doing here.  To give people a break so they don’t ET.  To bring the Staj closer together.

I honestly think all of that play into the need for this training.

I may not be going straight back to site (basketball camp), but I am certainly ready to get down to some real work in site.


Karaoke Night; or How a PC event turned into a great memory for three young girls

Chair in Fountain

When I heard there was going to be a Karaoke Night during our In-Service Training, I didn’t think much of it.  I need to stop thinking that way.  I am always wrong.  When Peace Corps Volunteers organize something, they make sure it happens in the best possible way.  The same goes for the 3-hour karaoke session we held last night.  What’s better, the second round of Assassin was being played simultaneously.

Pack nearly 100 volunteers in a hot room with no schedule, and they’ll make the best of it.  Add some music, and it’s a party.  Add in the fact that everyone was watching their back nervously, and you have an experience.  From country music to several Adele songs to an original song to Queen, I was astounded by how many fantastic voices we have in The Staj of Love.  I ended up taking short videos of each of the performances.  If I am able to get permission, I hope to post some of these online in the days to come.  Especially the “Carte de Sejour” original song—which details how difficult it is to stay legal in this country.

One of the best moments of the night did not involve the volunteers.  The room where the evening took place has several windows that overlook the pool.  After only a few songs, two preteen girls were at one of the windows, watching us.  We are all in Youth Development.  So, of course, we told them to come join us.  They ended up singing a One Direction song.  A little later, their 5-year old sister joined them to sing Gangham Style.  When they finished, we gave them a standing ovation and one of the volunteers put the 5-year old on her shoulders.  If nothing else, I hope we gave those three young girls a moment they will never forget.

I joined four other volunteers towards the end of the evening in a rendition of “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen.  I don’t know if we were any good, but I do know that we sang with passion.  We waved our spoons (the Assassin murder weapons) as we sang “mama….just killed a man.”  In the end, everyone in the room was singing together.  It was beautiful.  When the ITunes account jumped to “Another One Bites The Dust,” we just ran with it.  The Karaoke Night evolved into a 5-minute dance party.  Ironically, as this song was playing, at least one assassination did successfully take place.

As our training winds down, I’m starting to realize just how lucky I am to be here.  Here in the Peace Corps.  Here in Morocco.  Here at a resort.  Here in Marrakesh.  Here with The Staj of Love.  I know the next 650 days will have plenty of ups and downs.  But I think I’ll always feel lucky.  It’s cliché, of course, but I am in awe of what I have been given here.  I just hope I can make the best of it.

IST: The Prom Auction

IMG_3517The longer I spend with The Staj of Love, the more I fall in love.  There is something electric about what we, as a group, are able to create.  When you break it down into what each of us can do as individuals, it honestly feels like we can make a difference here.  That’s what took me off guard the most when I joined the Peace Corps.  The people.  We have people from every walk of life.  They are all highly educated and highly motivated to make their world a better place.  It is incredible to be one of them.

Towards the end of our 10-Day training event in Marrakesh, we will be holding a prom.  In order to fund the prom, we held a Skills Auction this evening.  I didn’t think much of it beforehand.  I did end up signing up to sell my skills as an editor.  In the end, however, about 20 people signed up to sell their skills.  It turned into an incredible opportunity to get to know the people that make up The Staj of Love.  We had massages.  We had yoga lessons.  We had mural paintings.    We had Japanese lessons.  We had a tarot card reading.  The list was long and incredible.  I honestly feel like I know many of the people from my Staj a lot better because of tonight.

But what caught everyone off guard was how intense the bidding process got.  I won’t go into dollar amounts, but the amount gathered was incredible.  Bidding wars took place on almost every item.  After only a few items, it was clear that the atmosphere was changing.  It became electric.  People became very serious.  There was applause and much hooting when a large dollar amount was met.  I even got caught up in the emotion and bought myself a personalized slam poem from a very talented young poet.  As for my editing skills, I will be helping out on Maters’ Thesis over my Peace Corps term.

Our time at this training is halfway over.  We are going to go out with a big bang—prom.  After that, The Staj of Love will separate once more.  I’ve been cynical about the ability for us to do much good here in Morocco.  But that cynicism is disappearing now.  With the type of people we are sending out there, I’m convinced that we will bring forth a strong image of America.

Assassin: Peace Corps Edition

IMG_3507About 30 hours ago, I arrived at a small resort in the tourist town of Marrakesh.  Along with the other 94 members of the Staj of Love (Morocco 2013-2015), we are having our In-Service Training (IST).  Now that most of us are in our own apartments and starting to get used to life and work in own towns, we gather to discuss how far we have come.  More importantly, we discuss how we are going to utilize the next 22 months in site.

But our IST changed drastically about six hours ago.  One of the younger volunteers organized a game of Assassin.  Assassin is a game where everybody is given a target on a piece of paper.  In order to kill your target, you have to touch them with a weapon without anyone witnessing the murder.  For us, the murder weapon can be either a spoon or a sock.  Several dozen volunteers signed up.  At noon, the game commenced.

This game has turned into a fascinating psychological experiment.

At noon, anyone in the game gained an intense sense of distrust.  Anyone could have their name.  People starting going to the bathroom in pairs—unsure if they could even trust their friends.  Walking alone makes it impossible for anyone to “witness” you murder and make it invalid.  The thing is: how do you trust the person you travel around with?

Only half an hour into the game, I saw the aftermath of a murder.  It took place in front of all 94 volunteers at the end of a training session.  It was so subtle that no one could claim to witness it.  The dead assassin handed her target over to her murder.  About ten minutes later, that same assassin made an attempt on my life—by getting me to pick up her pen.  Luckily someone witnessed the attempt on my life—rendering it invalid.  Only ten minutes later, the person who saved my life was killed in front of me.  I would be dead within minutes as well.

This game pulls you in.  You watch your friends fall like flies around you.  All the while, you are watching your own back.  The thing is, none of that can matter.  You have to focus on getting your next target.  This game has only been going on six hours and we are already down to about a dozen assassins.  This game will likely be over before midnight.

Ever since I was killed, it has been fascinating watching the people who have taken this game seriously.  My assassin has gone on to kill again—and has done it well.  Others take the laid back approach; one convinced his friend he was not playing the game and waited till they were alone to take him out.  There have been some very public deaths.  There have been some very private deaths.  The final assassins are all very good at what they do.

I hope it end soon, though.  I’m ready for Round Two.