The Good & the Bad side of Peace Corps (Injuries in the Peace Corps)

WARNING: This post has pretty gross images.  If you get easily grossed out, I would suggest hitting the back button now.

The Bad Side of Peace Corps Injuries: You are alone when they get scary.
The Good Side of Peace Corps Injuries: The Peace Corps Medical Team is F******* Amazing

When I went to bed last Saturday night, there was a dull pain in  my left forefinger.  I didn’t think much of it.  I just thought I was getting another kinda-ingrown fingernail.  I tend to bite my nails, so I am used to that.  But my theory seemed wrong when I woke up four hours later in the dead of the night with a sharp pain in that finger.  When I turned on the light, I noticed a black pimple-sized bump had appeared.  I was exhausted.  So I took some ibuprofen and went back to sleep.  When I woke up, the pain was back, and I was looking at this:

Peace Corps InjuryI had a lot planned for Sunday, so I didn’t end up worrying too much about the bump.  I jammed a baggie full of ibuprofen in my pocket (provided by the Peace Corps) and carried on with my day.  It was the first day after getting paid (after a month where I didn’t manage my money very well).  So I caught up on grocery shopping.  I got myself a Panini.  Then I went to a cafe to wait for a friend.  From the time that I woke up to the time I was done shopping, my little bump was all grown up.  In fact, the skin stretched so far so fast that it couldn’t keep up…

Peace Corps InjurySorry for the gross picture.  But that’s what it looked like as I watched my DENVER BRONCOS kill off yet another team on Sunday night.  At that point, I had showed off my finger to the other football fans.  I haven’t had a real injury in country until this one.  Although I wasn’t worried, there is a strange sense of unease.   You don’t want anything to get serious because you don’t want to have to go to a local hospital.  I would much rather have the Peace Corps Medical Office help me out–for several reasons.  So, before going to bed Sunday night, I contacted the medical office and attached these pictures.  By nine the next morning, I got a call telling me I needed to come into Rabat to have it looked at.  I jumped on a train and was there by late afternoon.

The cleaned it and wrapped it up for me.  They put me up in a hotel and told me to come back the next day.  They did everything necessary to make sure it wasn’t serious.  They made sure the bone was broken (it wasn’t).  They made sure the bone wasn’t infected (that idea kind of scared me).  In the end, several cleanings and a bunch of antibiotics were all I needed.  It’s rather fantastic to have such a great medical team to put my mind at ease.

I spent my night in Rabat hanging out with other friends with other medical ailments.  Also, I go to say goodbye to a friend who had to cut his service short.  In the end, my short time in Rabat was great.  My finger started getting better and I got to hang out with people who m=put my mind at ease (Plus, Amazing pizza and salad at the German Institute).  Anyway, two days later, and I am feeling great.  The finger looks gross but it is obviously healing.  Peace Corps Injury

Sorry for the gross update. =)  Kinda.

28 Things to do before you leave for Peace Corps Morocco

1.  Watch The (Unofficial) Peace Corps Theme Song

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=koUWaAr-itY

 

2. Get An External Harddrive.  I didn’t think about this one before I left.  I vividly remember looking at my hard-drive and putting it in the “do not pack” pile.  What a horrible decision.  Externals are the life-blood of volunteers.  It allows us to trade illegally downloaded TV shows, movies, and books whenever we get together.  You will also get a rather large collection of workout videos—a necessity to stay sane since it usually feels awkward to exercise in public.  I would recommend getting a Terabyte hard drive.

3. Talk to a few volunteers who are in-country.  Most of you will find this blog when I post it in the Peace Corps Morocco Facebook group.  That Facebook group is your most valuable resource when preparing to come to Morocco.  While reading through all the material Peace Corps gives you to “prepare,” you will be plagued with many questions.  The best people to answer these questions (most of them) are actual volunteers.  I love talking with newbies and getting to know you guys before you come into country.  Get to know a few of us and get a few perspectives on some of your questions.  Different volunteers will have different answers.

4. Watch “So You Want to Join The Peace Corps”

5. Ask yourself if Peace Corps is right for you.  This one sounds strange, I know.  But it is important.  You spend so much time convincing the Peace Corps that you are the right candidate that you may gloss over this important question.  That is what happened to me.  I spent the first several months in country coming to terms with a simple question, “What am I doing here?”  If you can start asking those questions now, you will be doing yourself a great service (pun intended).

6. Prepare yourself for Boot Camp.  I just said goodbye to a volunteer who had to leave because his wife was being medically separated.  When I asked him if he would come back, his answer was simple: “Yes.  So long as I don’t have to do CBT again.”  CBT is Community Based Training.  It is the boot camp of the Peace Corps.  After your introductory week in Rabat, you will be divided up into small groups (5 or 6) and sent out to different cities for 10 weeks.  Your mind will be flooded with language 6-10 hours a day, six days a week.  When you aren’t studying, you’ll be with a family that expects you to practice your language with them.  Meanwhile, your stomach will be adjusting to the food and water.  You will be getting used to pooping in the hole in the ground.  Oh, and it’ll be the middle of winter—which brings us to number seven.

7. Think Alaska, Not Africa.  This is one motto of Peace Corps Morocco that I stand by.  Your training is in the middle of winter.  The temperature will always fall to the 40s at night and sometimes fall to the 30s.  It’ll will be slightly colder inside than it is outside.  We had two days in my training where we actually had freezes.  I’m from Colorado.  When I took off 9 months ago, the temperature was -10 degrees Fahrenheit.  I thought I would be fine with the cold.  The truth is, no one is ready for this.  The simple fact is Indoor Heating does not exist here.  You will not warm up for months at a time.  If you are lucky, you will placed in front of a propane heater for a short while.  You will love hot lunches.  You will sleep under 3 or 4 blankets while wearing three layers…scared that you can see your own breath.  Lesson: Pack appropriately…but also:

8. Think Africa.  I live in one of the coldest sites in Morocco.  This past summer it still got to 108 degrees Fahrenheit.  Down south, it is common for there to be days or weeks at a time where the high is above 120 degrees.  In short, the reality is that you need to find a way to pack for warm and cold.  Cold is the priority since that is what you will be experiencing first.  By the time you hit your first summer, you will have the language skills to buy clothes.  Still, be prepared.

9. Start Following these two Tumblr accounts HOW A PCV PUTS IT GENTLY and KULLYUM.  These tumblrs are run by anonymous PCVs.  I am pretty sure the Peace Corps administration will hate that I am directing you guys to these, but they are fantastic sites.  They show the life of a PCV—without holding anything back.  If you don’t understand one of the memes, there are 180 volunteers in Peace Corps Morocco who would be glad to explain.  Find one of us.

10. Make a list of all your favorite foods and restaurants.  Eat. This was one of the most important things I did prior to leaving The States.  Although there are some places in Morocco where you can get western food (mainly Rabat and Casablanca), you will largely have to convert to the local diet.  Have your last Frappuccino.  Get some hot wings.  Enjoy Chipotle.  It doesn’t really matter if you put on some weight.  You’ll lose most of it turning the two and a half months of training anyway.

11. Stop stressing out about the language.  In my final two months in The States, I memorized the Arabic Script and learned a few choice phrases.  It was irrelevant.  The Peace Corps teaches you from the ground up.  You are not expected to know anything when you get into country.  Those who already know a bit of Arabic will be in a different training group entirely.  So, put the script away.  Stop stressing.  There is enough language stress coming your way.  Now is the time to spend with family and friends.

12. Make friends in your staj.  The last I heard, you will incoming group (staj) will be over 100 volunteers.  This is the group you will get really close to.  The 100 of you will experience things at the same time and rely on each other as your support network.  What’s the harm in meeting a few before you leave?  Remember:  Everyone is in the same boat.  We all want to talk—young, old, married, single.

13. Internalize this.

peace corps what i do

14. Put Morocco on your news feed.  There are a lot of interesting news events in Morocco.  Some volunteers decide not to read the news.  Others follow it closely.  I follow it closely and recommend you do too.  You will be asked questions.  Even if you decide you shouldn’t give your opinion, it is best to know what is being asked.  For example, I had a group of kids ask me if I heard about “Danielle” a few months ago.  After a few questions, I realized they were talking about the child rapist the King accidently pardoned the week prior.  They wanted to talk about it.  I let them and faked limited language skills  to stay out of the conversation.

15.  Pack a computer.  Not a Tablet.  This is where laws and reality collide.  Peace Corps does not require you to bring a computer.  But you need a computer.  The reason Peace Corps doesn’t REQUIRE it is a legal one.  If they required it, they would have legal responsibility if (and when) it breaks.  So, make sure to bring a good computer.  Tablets are generally not a good idea for two reasons.  First, you need to be able to access stuff on a USB.  Also, you are required to fill out forms to explain what you are doing in your site.  The program is difficult or impossible to get onto a tablet

16. If you are vegetarian, be prepared.  Moroccans do not understand the idea of vegetarianism.  If you go to a restaurant and ask for the vegetarian option, you will almost certainly get something that has fish and/or the Moroccan equivalent to Spam in it.  But that is something you can figure out.  The hardest part will be during homestay.  Even if you are vegetarian, your family will almost certainly serve you meals with meat.  You’ll be able to eat around the meat, but not the meaty juices and whatnot.  It’s a difficult endeavor during training.  But afterwards, when you live on your own, you can easily live without meat.  But be prepared for 3id.

17. No matter where you stand on the digital versus physical debate, BUY A KINDLE.  In the years prior to Peace Corps, I refused to buy a kindle.  I had my own small little library instead.  Unfortunately, that is not realistic.  We do have a librarian who lends out plenty of good books, but it’s still incredibly annoying compared to a Kindle.  You can download almost any book in the world for free and you won’t have to worry about returning the book to the Peace Corps Headquarters.

18. Spend some time thinking about who you are and how deal with that in a new culture.  We all come in with identifiers attached to ourselves.  Old.  Young.  Atheist.  Protestant.  Jew.  Muslim.  Gay.  Straight.  Asexual.  Married.  Divorced  Single.  In a relationship.  For each identifier you, have, there is a Peace Corps support system (there is a Facebook group for Peace Corps Volunteers over 50, there is a PRIDE group, etc.).  If you want to talk to someone about “What is it like to be _____ in Morocco” you will get the opportunity once you are in Rabat.  If you want to talk to someone now, post on the Facebook group.  If you want a more private setting, message me (or anyone else) and we will direct you to the right people (I am a Volunteer Support Network Representative and am good at not repeating sensitive information).

19.  You will hear people reference a 20/20 report about the Peace Corps.  Just watch it now and get it over with.

20.  Talk with someone who hasn’t mastered the English Language.  This is something a friend of mine did before she left on a semester abroad.  If you come across anybody who obviously hasn’t mastered the English Language, try talking with them for a few minutes.  Be patient and let them try to get out what they need to say.  Take note in how they talk around words they don’t know and guess at grammar half the time.  That is how you will sound to Moroccans.  Most will not be patient.  The rest will expect you to know French.  Enjoy the ride.

21.  Take a step back from politics.  This is something you can start now or when you get to country.  I left just after the 2012 Presidential Election and the Sandy Hook shooting—so this break from politics has been good for my soul.  You will still hear and read about what is going on, but it won’t be the same.  Without a basic hookup to the annoying cable news channels, you will get a new perspective on politics and world news.  It is a great feeling.

22.  If you are a gamer, here’s the rundown.  Computers tend to break here.  Make sure you have a computer rated for extreme heat and extreme cold.  I would even recommend bringing an extra battery altogether.  You are about 75% likely to be in a final site where you can get wifi in your house (it is affordable on the stipend provided).  It is sometimes fast enough to run Steam.  Either way, be careful.  It’s easy to fall in the trap of never leaving your house.  Try not to get too addicted to a game….and I would stay away from MMOs entirely.

23.  Get to know the country you are about to live in for 27 months.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lgN-HBTsxRQ

 

24.  Get on the Plane.  If you have any doubts about whether or not you should get on the plane in January, get on it.  When I left for the Peace Corps, I was about 90% I would Early Terminate.  I decided to give it a try anyway.  Now it’s been 9 months and I am only getting more dedicated to my service.  If you end up leaving, you’ll know that the Peace Corps wasn’t for you and you can start on your next journey.

25. Be okay with the fact that you will be rather unprepared for the work you are expected to do.

Peace Corps Africa

26. Buy a Journal.  The best gift I got prior to leaving was a leather-bound journal.  I dedicated myself to writing in it every day.  Living alone leaves us with a depleted amount of resources to cope.  Having a journal has allowed me to work out daily struggles.  When I’m doing well, I like looking back at past entries and seeing how far I’ve come.  Plus, when service is over, it’s going to be one of those trophies of service.

27. Know in your heart that nothing that I tell you can prepare you for what you are about to experience.  This experience is yours alone.  Your experience will be unique and a result of what you make of it.  Have fun with it.

28. Get Excited

Basketball Camp & 20% Completion of Service

1044895_539994996065350_544270240_n

During In-Service Training, there was a session that a large number of our Staj missed.  During that session, there was one quick comment that went something like this, “We also have a basketball camp coming up.  If you are interested, come see me after we are done.”  That was it.  I jumped to the front of the room when the session was over.  He put me in contact with the man running the camp and told me it started only a few hours after In-Service Training ended.

When our training ended, I jumped on a train with ten other volunteers.  Three of us got off in Rabat.  We made our way to the camp site.  I was blown away by the campus.  It is as close to an American School as you will see in Morocco.  We met with everyone and were shown our beds.  The guys all slept in this big yoga room on mats.  Throughout the week, we would have 20 overnight campers in the room with us.  Their late night would lead to my gradual exhaustion as the week went on.  It didn’t help that the NBA finals were going on at the same time.

Camp started on Monday.  We had more than 100 campers.  I was assigned to the Juniors (8 through 10 year olds).  It was perfect.  I love working with young kids.  Since I’m not all that great at basketball, my limited knowledge went a long way.  We went over basic Basketball skills in the morning.  We usually followed that up with art and pool time.  The afternoon was reserved for competitions.  To my surprise, these youngsters got really into the competitions as the week went on.

There were plenty of highlights from this crazy, tiring, and amazing week.  My favorite happened after art class.  One of the young girls came up to me and told me “I drew a picture of my favorite coach.”  The picture had blue eyes and a full beard.  I seriously felt like I could have melted right there.  It was amazing.  By the time the week came to a close, many of the campers were asking me if I would be back next year.  I told them I would try my best.  In all honestly, I really want to bring a couple kids from my town on scholarship next year.

This weekend has been all about catching up on sleep.  I completely skipped the Cherry Festival in Sefrou.  Instead, I went straight home and slept for 13 hours.  I now have a good five days to catch up on everything before I head back out to camp (this time for ten days).  This summer is going to fly by.  I have a vacation to Gibraltar in July and will spend the whole month of August in an SOS orphanage.

I am at 20% completion of my Peace Corps service…and I can feel the time flying by.

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.

 

Day 56 in Peace Corp Morocco: The End of Training

I am 7% done with my Peace Corps adventure.  It’s becoming increasingly difficult to understand time here in Morocco.  It’s only been eight weeks since I left the States.  It feels like it’s been a year.  The thing is, my time here feels like it is flying by.  It just doesn’t make any sense.  To add more to the confusion, everyone back home is now an hour closer to me since Morocco doesn’t do Daylight Saving Time.  We found this out by trying to explain to our Language and Cultural Facilitator what DST is.  We confused her and came away with the understanding that there is no DST in Morocco.

Sorry for the sabbatical.  Studying is intense in the first few months of Peace Corps.  The thing is, it works.  I’m holding full conversations with my host family now.  I’m sure it’ll be easier to keep updating once I get to my final site.  Below is my first full piece of writing while in Morocco.  I am still doing a lot of writing–just not anything I can put on here.  I write in my journal on a daily basis.  I’m also doing well on the script I started a few weeks back.  It’ll be a long process, but it is definitely coming together.

Here’s my full Peace Corps Update:

Saying Goodbye to Mom and Dad

 

A Week into PCT

Blog Update for Fes Training One (January 29th)

So my training site has zero internet.  Period.  Even with an internet stick, it would take about an hour to load Google.  So my updates will be few and long until late March when training ends and we are sworn in—finally changing from Peace Corps Trainees to Peace Corps Volunteers.  We have to two months until then.  That time with be jam-packed with Darisha (Moroccan Arabic) lessons, culture lessons, working with kids at the Dalshabob, and the like.

IMG_0795

Our adventure truly started when we left Oscar Hotel in Rabat.  After a week of training, we were truly on our way.  Three bushes took us from Rabat to Fes.  This two hour drive included a 20 minute break in which I got to experience Moroccan candy and impatient Bus drivers who wanted to leave even though there were people going to the bathroom (lucky for us, Peace Corps facilitators are amazing).

IMG_0863

The drive was beautiful.  I became very close with Carrie and Amanda during the drive.  We spent most of our time talking about TV shows (Doctor Who and Breaking Bad).  We frequently stopped to ohh and ahh at the changing scenery.

IMG_0859

We got to the Dalshabob in Fes in the afternoon.  We went out for a nice lunch (I got cheeseburger).  Then we all went back and started saying our goodbyes.  There are so many Peace Corps volunteers in our group that we won’t see a lot of people that we got close too until we are sworn in two months from now.  Our group was the last to leave because it’s hard to get a Taxi on Mohammed’s anniversary—especially when you are going to the middle of nowhere.

IMG_0890

The taxi drive was very exciting.  Apparently the name of my town is the name of a neighborhood in a large town nearby.  The driver thought we were going to neighborhood.  When we got there, our facilitator told him we needed to go to the town.  They all got out of the car and argued for nearly ten minutes.  Lucky for us, our personal facilitator is amazing.  She made it so we weren’t left on the side of the road.  We got into town, divided, up, went with our families, and were shown to our rooms.

IMG_0893

The first few days in this town have been all over the place.  In the end, however, I have become very comfortable.  In just three days I went from feeling like a guest to feeling like a part of a family.  I still can’t speak with them very well (no one knows English).  I live in a house with a father (Hadima), a mother (Fatima), two sons (Sofian and Mstaffa), Mstaffa’s wife (Miriam), and their four month old child (Aness).

IMG_0897

I was not among the lucky PCTs who receives a Western toilet.  Luckily I stocked up on toilet paper in Rabat (I just can’t do the left hand thing…………I just can’t).

IMG_0918

We have language lessons every day at the Dalshabob (and anywhere else we go).  My brain in saturated with Darisha.  I am taking it a little at a time.  The sun even came out a bit the last two days…which allowed us to come out from our classroom for our Saturday lesson).

IMG_0916

On Sunday we explored the village and its surrounding area.  The snow-capped mountains were finally visible.  I honestly feel like I’m back in the Rocky Mountain.  There is no indoor heating, so that does mean these months will be cold.  But I came prepared.  I wear three layers days and night and sleep under four wool blankets.  It is worth it to be somewhere so beautiful.

IMG_0939

I am now 2% done with my Peace Corps service.  I hard to think I was still in America only two weeks ago.  This had already been the experience of a lifetime.  I will keep you—my faithful readers—updated as often as I can.  Make sure to subscribe so you can see every time I update.  If all goes well, there should be 26 months of experience ahead of me.

 

End of my first Week in the Peace Corps

The orientation week for the Peace Corps has been tiring.  We have full schedules everyday (except today–that’s how I explored Rabat).  The pictures should be below.  I have three more days in this city until I head off to the Atlas Mountains to start my Pre-Service training….which includes some extreme 4-hours a day language training.  I already got a hold on basic Moroccan Arabic.  I hope I can continue making this kind of progress.

I finally found an Internet Cafe that has stable internet.  I was able to Skype with my whole family plus my girl.  It’s been great to catch up with everyone after a week with sketchy internet.  I hope you enjoy the photos.  I am going to continue posting old writings while I get settled here in Morocco.  In honor of President Obama’s second inauguration  here is a piece about the Presidential Election of 2004.  Enjoy my first attempts at political writing (from back when I was 15).

November 2nd, 2004

 

Beautiful Rabat

Today has been a good turn around for me.  Yesterday got a bit stressful.  I was extremely tired and lost a vital plug.  Plus the language training was bogging me down.  Today was much better.  I realized I was doing great on the language (for having only three days of training, that is).  Then I went out with a few friends.  We went to a Café, practiced our language skills, and generally enjoyed ourselves.  I also bought a new vital plug.  It doesn’t work….but that doesn’t matter.  It only cost 5 Dirham—which is about 75 cents.  So I’ll try again tomorrow.  I may even shell out 10 or 15 dirham.

Tomorrow is our free day.  Plans include going to the Madid (the walled downtown that was the whole of Rabat before European Colonialization).  Then it sounds like we are off to the beach (Atlantic Ocean).  That sounds like a great way to spend the day.  A few people are even talking about going to an Internet café in the evening—Which sounds great considering how broken the connection is at the hotel.  I would love to check up on the news, work on the blog, talk to a few people, and so forth.

At this point, I must say I am seeing very little that makes me want to go home.  Language and overall anxiety were my biggest fears.  I have gotten past both.  Anxiety seems to fade with every day and every lesson.  With my amazing language instructor and lots of practicing, I do not fear the language.  My only major problem is being away from my girl.  We now have about four days until we go off to our training sites (mine is in the Atlas Mountains off of Fes).  I can’t wait to get there and meet my host family.  I will be there until March 26th with four other volunteers.

Bislama!