I was officially sworn in as Peace Corps volunteer about two weeks ago.
I’m staying in the High Atlas for the next two years. My final site is almost five hours southeast of Fes. I’m in the southern part of the Oriental region, the northeast region of Morocco, which borders the Mediterranean and Algeria. My new town has an urban center with a population of about 10,000, with the full rural commune (including surrounding duwars, or villages) at about 18,000 people, a pretty large site by Peace Corps standards. It’s an isolated town with a thriving center surrounded by picturesque mountains. Photographs coming soon, walking around with my camera like a tourist is not the first impression I’m trying to make here.
Throughout December, I will be observing the community and existing programming before I plan the first of my own projects in January. Most of the people I have met are eager to get working and learning, and, although I feel some pressure, I’m lucky to have an enthusiastic and active community. I’m in the process of apartment hunting while currently living with my new host mom, dad and two brothers, nine and eleven. They also have two teenage daughters who are away studying in different cities. When I tried to pay my new host mom rent, she asked if I needed that money because if it was an issue for me she didn’t need it. Having me here sleeping and eating is no burden, just like having one of her daughters home again. I made sure she took the money, walking to bed feeling the comfort of home.
The other day I bonded so hard with her. Last week she mentioned her sewing room upstairs. And I responded, oh cool! But then she took me up, and she actually has knitting machines. I’d never seen anything like them, but they knit pieces of different patterns and sizes, and she sews the pieces together to make various articles of clothing. So I sat staring, enthralled while she made some pieces for blue beanies and a pair of brown pants. It was revolutionary to me and reminded me of my abuela, who taught me to knit. I, of course, sent my abuela a video and told her that I want to learn how to use the machine, to which she responded, you should always learn as many things as you can. At one point in my awe session, only increasing its intensity, my host mom explained that she sells these pieces and makes money, her demeanor demonstrating how gratifying that independence is to her. Her pride is priceless because pride is power. And not the empty, arrogant type. Genuine, worthy pride in yourself means you feel valuable. Finding your inherent value can take time, trial and error, but once discovered, I think investing in it is the only way to become powerful. I can hear her on her knitting machine as I type this.
I get all the feels here, learning about people I never even imagined meeting. Sometimes while walking outside my mind’s suddenly overcome by my location. I’m walking in North Africa, surreal. The thought of coming here, let alone living here, was nonexistent before Morocco became my Peace Corps option. I actually had to Google Morocco when I was reassigned from Peace Corps Peru, knowing nothing beyond the beautiful tile. It’s something I would have never chosen on my own, but I couldn’t deny the challenge. I’ve never questioned my choice. Not sorry to sound cliché, this experience has already humbled me. Joining Peace Corps, I knew I wouldn’t have access to all the same material luxuries, but using a Turkish toilet and taking bucket baths aren’t the hard part. The difficulties are joining another culture, not speaking the local language, abiding by new societal norms. My greatest accomplishments didn’t prepare me for this. I learn every day, little by little, how to just exist in Morocco. Who to talk to, what to say, how to say it, what to wear, where to go. How can I not be humble? When I start to have a condescending thought, I’m reminded that I haven’t even learned their language, and those around me probably speak three languages, so joke’s on me. I’m not more advanced, I just possess different skills. It’s easy to feel big in your comfort zone, then you step out and realize there are worlds of things you don’t even know exist. The condescension often stems from my US ideals- timeliness, cleanliness, manners, education. But those ideals don’t exist in the same ways here, so Moroccans aren’t incorrect. I’m incorrect, I’m thinking in the wrong culture.