100 Days Into My Peace Corps Experience


100 Days In

100 Days Down.  700 to go.  The past week has changed everything for me.  It started with Spring Camp.  That gave me the first experience of interacting with kids in Bhalil.  Once camp concluded, I got to work on some of the most important aspects of my time here.  First, getting a house of my own.  As of yesterday, I have the key to my very own beautiful apartment.  I will be spending the week ahead furnishing it and moving in.  Secondly, I am filling my schedule with classes.  I already have three English Classes scheduled in the week ahead.  I am likely to get a couple more over the next couple days.  Most of them will be reoccurring.  This will be the core of my service.  All of my projects will branch out from the kids that I teach.

Starting to be successful is changing a lot.  There have also be recent changes back in America.  It has all brought me to a strange understanding.  I now know what I am doing in Morocco.  I now know the full extent of the sacrifice I made by leaving America.  The combination is strange.  On the up side, my feet are planted firmly in Morocco and my service will benefit from that.  On the down side, there is no going back to the way things used to be.  I knew Peace Corps would change my life.  But what surprises me is how it changed me.

The emotional roller coaster that was 100 days of homestay is over.  It made me realize how many emotions can be active at the same time.  There was one point when I almost exhausted my vocabulary for emotions and honestly felt all of them simultaneously.  It is exhausting.  However, considering I was an anxious wreck only six months ago, this is a great change for me.

The other aspect is Love.  I have come to realize the true meaning of love here.  In all forms.  I have never truly understood how much I love my family…because I have never had to miss them this much.  It is a great thing to realize.  The same happens for friends.  I coming to realize who I was close to because they were around…and who is honestly a good friend (and how I can be a better friend).  As for romantic love, that is a whole other can of worms.

I am ready for the second 100 days.  I know that I do not know what they hold.  That is clear.  I barely understand what tomorrow holds.  But that is part of the beauty of Morocco and Peace Corps.  You never know what is going to happen…but is usually turns out for the best.

Like being ushered into a random house and given cake, peanuts, and tea.

Morocco is awesome.

The Fishbowl Effect

Sad T-Rex

Sad T-Rex (Photo credit: iJammin)

There’s a pain that comes with Peace Corps service.  At least it accompanies the first 100 days of service.  I can’t pretend that it won’t also be a part of the next 700 days, but it will be less intense.  It’s something that Peace Corps warned us about.  When they told us about it, I didn’t understand.  How could I?  Now I’ve been through it.  Now I understand.  Now…how do I explain it?

Peace Corps’ description: You are always “on.”  In the Peace Corps manual, you will find a list of Core Expectations.  I have number five circled: “Recognize that you are responsible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for your personal conduct and professional performance.”  Add that on top of the reality that you are the only American in town, and you’ve got yourself quite the fish bowl.

This hit me hard today.  I wanted to do some writing.  I needed some inspiration, so I looked through some old pictures.  The pictures stabbed me with memories.  Beautiful memories of a time that feels so long ago.  Whenever I get like this, I like to go for a walk.  It clears my head.  But I can’t go for a walk.  My host family will ask where I am going.  I’ll tell them I want to walk.  They’ll tell me it’s not safe with all the dogs out at night.

How do you deal with this?  My host family has a puppy.  I thought I would love it.  The thing is, that little dog reminds me of my two dogs—who died within two months of each other right before I left for the Peace Corps.  But I can’t be sad.  I can sneak into my room—because that comes across as antisocial.  And I can’t cry.  Having someone ask questions would only complicate the situation.

But…I move into my own apartment in 13 days or so.  That’s the small light at the end of the tunnel.  It’ll be nice to have a whole apartment rather than a small room.  It’ll be great to control my diet.  It’ll be nice to not be expected home at a certain hour.  Most of all, I can go for walks whenever I want.  It’s this beginning part—these first 100 days of service that have worn on me.

I know there’s a part of me that will always be “on.”  That part of me will either learn to adjust or sigh a long awaited sigh of relief when I finally hit American soil in 2015.  That’s such a strange thought.  The idea of being here two years is realistic now.  The thought of returning home is so…surreal.  All the food.  The flat sidewalks.  Movie theaters.  Strong Internet.  Not having trouble understanding someone in a basic conversation.

I feel like I’m in a constant state of over-alertness.

I need a vacation.

Cultural Misunderstandings & Moroccan Integration

English: Extension of Moroccan Arabic (Darija).

English: Extension of Moroccan Arabic (Darija). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I need to talk about yesterday. Out of nowhere, yesterday became my biggest step forward with regards to integration.  At the same time, I made a mistake that will likely come back to bite me.  All in all, the day was busy and worthwhile.  I went to sleep unsure of how to interpret everything…but that is happening more and more here in Morocco.

The day started normal.  I woke up late.  I walked around town.  I read at the park.  That part of my routine is set.  It’s perfect for what I want to accomplish here.  I need to integrate, so walking around daily is a must.  I meet at least one new person a day.  The reading in the park is something that came out of nowhere.  After being told that “I’ve never seen a person in Bhalil read in public,” I decided to do it every day.

When I got back, my family whisked me off to lunch at my mother’s parents’ house.  I’m starting to get to know everyone in the family.  More importantly, my Host Uncle has taken a liking to me.  He tries harder to communicate with me than anyone I have met here in Morocco.  After lunch, he took me to his barbershop.  At first, I thought I was going to be forced to get my hair cut.

Turns out I was wrong.  The barbershop is kind of a local hangout.  A dozen people came and went throughout my three hours there.  I met several friends of the family.  We had conversations about language, indoor heating, money, and clean energy.  It was fantastic.  Later, the English teacher at the local high school dropped by.  We had a long conversation and suddenly I have another counterpart in my work here.  Those three hours at the barbershop integrated me as much as a week’s worth of walking around town.

I headed back to my family’s house.  As we ate, the conversations somehow turned to how long I’m spending in Morocco (two years).  That quickly turned into whether or not I would marry while in Morocco.  This isn’t the first time a conversation has started about me being single.  Back in Bouderham, it was an ongoing joke between the postman and I.  So when the topic came up, I gave an overenthusiastic, “No, no, no, no.”

This is the first time the subject came up with my host family.  They were confused why I was so adamant.  It’s not that I’m adamant against it…it’s more that I can’t see it.  Back in America, I really wanted to have a house and a good job and be more like 30 when I started a family.  If my ideals play into it—religion, writing, etc..—I just don’t see marriage anywhere in the picture during my two years here.

Problem: How do you translate that into a language you’ve been studying for two months?

I missed my opportunity to explain myself.  Instead, my host mother asked me if there was a girl back home.  I said no.   My mother decided my “no” was a little sheepish and interrupted it as a “YES I DO!”  Before I could do anything about it, the conversation flew by me.  I was only asked one more question, “Is she still studying at University in America?”  Unsure of what else to say, I just said yes.

So my host family things I’m halfway to engaged.  This being on the heels of me suddenly feeling single again.  I want to set the record straight with my family…but bringing it up would be inappropriate.  The best I can do is set the record straight if they bring the subject again.  But what am I supposed to say?

Back in America I would explain it eloquently, “We never officially dated, but we were defiantly together.  We never officially broke up, but we are definitely not together anymore.”  In Darija, I will inevitably sound like a bubbling idiot.  I live in a culture where dating is considered inappropriate.  I quickly discovered that it’s not as much of a big deal as I was led to believe.  Still, it is quite a strange situation.

Every day here is unexpected.

I love that.

But it’s exhausting.

My first month in the Peace Corps

I will continue to have extremely spotty internet connection until I am sworn in in late March and (cross you finger) placed in a site that actually has internet.  Until then, we will have to do with these long updates.  Luckily they come with lots of awesome pictures.

1. On warm days, my host dad spends hours basket weaving:


2. The finished product is incredible:



3. The view from the view reminds me of home.  I miss Colorado:


4. Me with my host parents:


5. The gang on a walk to “the lake” (It’s kinda just a river…but their language doesn’t differentiate)


6. Kids playing by the river to the Darisha version of “Ring Around the Rosy.”  Their version involves brushing your teeth rather than mass death by plague.


7. Art looking at the beautiful Mid-Atlas Mountains:


8. People ride donkeys (hamal hashak) here all the time:


9. A beautiful view from the town over:


10. When it rains, it gets mighty cold.  No indoor heating means its 10 degrees colder inside.  We’ve already had several nights where we can see our breath as we go to sleep:

[No Picture for this one]

11. A quick view of my small town:


12. A view that makes this area seem not so poor:


13. A beautiful sunset over my city:


14. The Mosque in my town is easily the biggest building around:


15. My host mother presenting couscous.  It’s a Friday special:


It’s been a good couple of weeks since my last update.  It may be cold, but I am getting used to the routine that the cold creates.  As for being disconnected…it’s kinda nice to get away for a while.  I got my second shower of homestay today—which was nice.  We get one a week it seems.  The time is kind of flying.  In five weeks, it’ll be my 24th birthday and I will get my final destination—where I’ll spend my entire service.

I’ve been writing sooooo much.  I write at least one letter to America each day.  I’ve gotten to know the postmaster of this town quite well.  His name is Ali and he is intent on getting me to marry a Moroccan Woman (not gonna happen).  I also write in my leather-bound journal once or twice a day (thank you Sofia).  In the first four weeks here, I have covered more than 40 pages.  I honestly think I may fill up this entire (rather large) journal before I reach six month.  It is great writing practice.

I’ll update again the next time I have internet.



Day Four

Casablanca from the airI just practiced my Arabic for a good hour or two.  I can now count from one to ten, introduce myself, go through the basic greeting and say goodbye in the dialect of Arabic that works in Northwest Africa.  I feel like I need to as much or more language practice compared to the other people here.  I have always had a difficult time learning languages.  I just don’t enjoy memorizing.  But I am—slowly—getting it down.  I am going to have to do this every day to keep up with the lesson.  If all goes well, I won’t be kicked out when training ends because I just can’t get by with the language.

I have continued journaling on a daily basis.  This will be my main form of writing while I am here.  During my training, I doubt I will get by fiction writing done.  Once I get into my two year service that may change.  That isn’t until late March.  I still need to master the language to the best of my ability.

Today is my girl’s 21st birthday.  It has been especially hard today being away from here.  Part of me wants to be where she is.  Part of me wants her to be here.  In the end, it honestly does not matter where we are.  I just want to be with her and celebrate with her.  As I complete my fourth day of 800, I can’t help but imagine what the next 796 days will be like without her.

This is going to be hard.  But amazing.