Back in the Good Ol’ U.S.A.

Today marks a month since I left the Peace Corps.  It’s been a strange, yet fantastic month back. Next week I turn 25.  More than ever before, I finally feel like an adult preparing for a whole new phase in my life.   Within two months of that time, I will have a full time job (likely within the US government) in a new city.  I can’t wait to get started.  Until then, I’m just working on making my transition home a healthy one.  I decided to wait a month to write my reflections.  This weekend I finally sat down and wrote it out.  Here it is:

on Peace Corps

The Staj of Love: The Story of Zero Early Terminations

Swearing In Ceremony

I am going to write this entry as carefully as I can.  As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I am advised to write about my experiences rather than the Peace Corps itself (as is the case with all government jobs).  But something special is happening here in Morocco—and I feel I must address it.

95 new volunteers came to Morocco on the 16th of January.  This size is fairly large—but that’s because Peace Corps is rather active in Morocco.  On average, each incoming group will lose around 1/3 of their group over the two years in country.  A lot of these are volunteers are lost during the intensive training process.  Many more are lost when the work dies down for a month or two.  In the end, every group losses a significant part of the group.

My group has been in Morocco for 20 weeks.  There are still 95 of us.  No one has left.  We went through the same intensive training and have not lost a single volunteer.  We made our adjustment to our final site and have not lost a single volunteer.  Many volunteers have been extremely sick—but they have not left.  One of our volunteers even lost his father—but he returned to his site after the funeral.

One of the best parts of Peace Corps is that you can Early Terminate whenever you like—no problem.  You will not receive the benefits of being a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, but you are not punished or given a “dishonorable discharge.”  This great policy, however, also plagues the Peace Corps.  Without any real punishment, it is extremely difficult for them to curb the 30-33% crop out rate.

So what is happening in Morocco?  I’ve spent plenty of time talking about this subject with other volunteers.  The longer we last without losing anyone, the more we feel like we are becoming part of something special.  That being said, the longer this goes on, the harder it will be for someone to leave if they feel like they need to.  So, I want to let the other 94 volunteers know that none of us will look down upon you if you find the need to go home.  Our mental and physical health comes first.

All Peace Corps Morocco Volunteers are about to hit the difficult season.  Summer in Morocco gets so hot that many cities and youth centers shut down for an extended amount of time.  However, the PC administration in Morocco seems to have listened to the troubles of past volunteers.  We were brought into country in January so that we would be somewhat integrated before this downtime.  Plus, we have plenty of opportunities to continue working through the summer.

But what I really want to point out is the people.  We refer to ourselves as “The Staj of Love.”  With 13 married couples and several volunteers with significant others back in The States, we have far fewer single volunteers than most incoming groups.  But what I find most impressive is the way our group has bonded.  We have built such a support system amongst ourselves that each person seems to have an outlet and a mentor.

I, for one, have severely considered the idea of Early Termination twice so far.  Both times I have talked with fellow members from “The Staj of Love.”  They helped me change my perspective.  They helped me realize that I am here for several reasons that I had never realized.  Although I have only become close to a few members of our group, I have witnessed and heard of the support that we have been giving each other—and I can’t help but be impressed.

I know our “Zero Early Terminations” headline will soon disappear.  There are too many circumstances.  Difficult situations in site.  The death of family members back home.  Unforeseen circumstances.  I know that we will not go our full 27 months without seeing someone go home.  But that doesn’t matter.  The fact is, we are about to go to a training that will bring us to five month in-county.  Five months in Africa without losing a single person.

I am proud to be part of “The Staj of Love.”

A Day in Peace Corps Morocco

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I’ve come to realize that most of my writings revolve around specific events.  However, in order for you to understand those events in a larger context, you need to understand what daily life looks like in Morocco.  In order for you to understand, here is my average Wednesday—the strangest and fullest day in my week.

I wake up every morning around nine in the morning.  I may live on the edge of town, but it is busy enough to wake me up.  I live in an apartment complex over a builders’ supply store.  I often wake up to the owner negotiating with customers.  If his voice doesn’t wake me up, it will be the fishman.  Every two or three days, a man will walk up and down my street at eight in the morning, yelling, “Aji!  Hut!”  This means “Come! Fish!”  His voice has never failed to wake me up.  I often go out and watch him.  A lot of the wives in the neighborhood buy from him (my town is known for having fantastic fish).  I enjoy watching the feral cats try to steal the small leftovers.

I make a simple breakfast every morning—usually just eggs and cheese and olive oil.  Since everything is so expensive here, my only form of cooking is by turning on the equivalent of a propane tank which is hooked to a portable stovetop.  After I finish, I turn off the propane so as not to die a couple hours later.  I eat breakfast while watching a TV show (currently, I am watching Community).

When I’m done, I go to Souk.  Souk is the weekly market.  In Bhalil, it is Wednesday.  I walk down the tall hill by my house.  Overnight, the dirt field by the taxi stand turns into a massive market.  I squeeze to get into one of the two small entrances.  I go mainly for vegetables (a kilo of potatoes, tomatoes, onions, or oranges only cost 3 dH….with is about 30 cents).  Once I stockpile a week worth of vegetables and fruit, I trek back up the hill back to my apartment.

Lunch usually consists of a vegetable stir-fry.  I tend not to eat meat on my own because I don’t like buying meat here….I don’t like watching them kill the animal I intend on eating.  Plus it saves me money.  Anyway, I tend to watch a movie over lunch hour because I don’t have anywhere to be until the late afternoon.    After the movie is over, I gather up my things and head off to the Youth Center.

I got an apartment far away from the Youth Center so that I have to walk each day.  After lunch, I make the long trek to the other side of town.  I usually show up early so I can set up for my English Class.  Class starts at 4:00.  Students usually don’t show up, to be honest.  I’ve had a couple show up a couple times, but I’ve had a hard time getting these classes going.  I usually stop class by 5:45pm.

I get to the Cyber nearby by 6:00.  I have a regular class there.  This is my group of BACH students.  BACH is the program that all youth have to go through in their final two years of high school.  I help them build their English.  Usually the lesson evolves into more of a cultural exchange (because I am not really here to teach English…I’m here to encourage student to become active in their community).  This class usually ends around sunset—which is 7:30 right now.

I stick around the Cyber and talk to Adil (the owner) and some of his friends.  Meanwhile, I use his Wi-Fi to download movies.  We talk about everything t from movies to religion.  He’s become one of my closest friends in town.  After a while, I head back home and piece together dinner.  I watch a movie or a couple TV shows.  If I need to plan for classes or do any Peace Corps work, I do it.  If not, I read or relax.  I’m usually in bed around midnight every night.

That’s a busy day.  There are plenty of days that don’t have that much.  Those days usually involve a couple hours at the Cyber Café.  Some days I want to get away and I head up to Fes.  The one constant is that every day has strange complications that make it extremely difficult to define a “normal day.”  I hope this explanation helps you understand life here.

At a Crossroads

I am definitely at a crossroads right now.  As my closest friend prepares to leave the state and I prepare to enter the Peace Corps, everything seems different.  I’m trying to find myself a new social life.  I’m continuing to edit The Stagner Chronicle….and it is so clean that I think this will be the last edit.  I still want to edit and self-publish all four of my works before I leave for the Peace Corps.  I think I can pull it off.

My writing of late has taken a strong non-fiction turn.  I do not know if this is temporary, but I’m not going to fight it.  Whatever comes, comes.  I need to get back to a writing project, though.  I have two non-fiction ideas that I’ve started and one fiction idea.  They all seem incredible.  I think I just need to write out the basic outlines and see which ones are doable.  I’ll let you know when I figure that out.

With Love,
Richard