Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The first 2 weeks

This is the email that I call "explaining it all". This should bring you up to speed at least up to my first 2 weeks here in Morocco.

OOOK! I am going to try to fill you in on everything that has gone on thus far, because I know you are in the dark. This is going to be a mix of facts, observations, and feelings. Please forgive me if it is all over the place because that is basically where my mind has been since leaving home. So I left Detroit 2 weeks ago today (Tuesday). I arrived in Phili where my entire group (stage, pronounced sta-j..some French word) met and had orientation for a day and a half. This was a nice time because it was a pretty nice hotel and it was fun meeting everyone. Everyone seemed so great right off the bat. We got to go out for a nice dinner and drinks in our last night in the US. So then the next day we had to travel 2 hours from Phili to NYC to fly out of JFK. We left the US at about 9pm. We flew through the night and arrived in Casablanca at 7am Morocco time. For us it was like 3am. We traveled from Casa to a small beach town north of Rabat (country capitol) called Medhia. This was our first taste of Morocco. Come to find out this place was pretty nice, although we didn’t think so at the time because we had no basis of comparison. We stayed 2-5 to a room and had communal bathrooms. We had all our meals prepared. The room I was in had a nice view of the Atlantic. It was literally a stones throw from my window. I went swimming in it twice and ran along the beach once. So we were in Medhia together as a group of 63 for 5 days. During this time we had lots of orientation lectures…about health, culture, safety, policies, etc. We really had our days completely packed. But also in this time we were about to get closer to the group. I think I spoke with just about everyone, but I did get a little group going on. In our group I would say the majority are 20 somethings, a handful of 40s, and a couple handfuls of 50s/60s. I really like the older crowd. I have always gotten along well with adults and these are really cool people with very interesting personalities. Ok so in our group we are broken into two sectors. Youth development (me) and small business development.. The two sectors do their training separately. We each have a “hub” city. For me it is Azrou for SBD it is Azilia. So there are about 30 something people who use the Azrou hub, and about 20 something that use the Azila hub. From the hub we are then broken up into groups of 5 or 6 living in I think 5 different cities. As it turns out my city is the farthest from the hub 2 hours car ride. So when we need to travel to the hub we have a long commute. My city is called El Kbab or (Lakbab). It is small (about 2000) and it is on the side of a mountain-you saw the pics. So I have 4 others in my training group-Chris, Rachael, Yorda, and David. (however David has decided that he is going to go home because now is not the right time for him to do PC…long story) so actually we are down to 4. The 4 of us share one language and cultural facilitator (LCF). He is Moroccan and his name is Lahcen. He comes across as such a dork but he is so COOL. He is responsible for teaching us language, survival skills, cultural things, and so much more. He describes himself as our teacher, friend, guide, and helper. Literally he is our hero. He is funny, fun, interesting, fluent in 5 languages, understanding, supportive and anything else that’s great. We do our daily classes at his house, that PC pays for. It is about a 5 minute walk from where I live. So my family life…I have a 33 year old mother, Malika. An 11 year old brother, Taha, and grandpa 80 who is just called Haj. (it’s because he has made the pilgrimage to Mecca) I honestly think this is the place I was truly meant to be. I have a nice room to myself. It is for the most part quiet and calm here. Taha is so helpful to me when I am trying to learn and study and Malika is so supportive, understanding, loving, comforting, laid back, and funny. I can barely understand her ever, but I can already tell we are a lot alike. She is so playful like I am and she gives me the love that I really need here. She hugs and kisses me all the time and within a few days of being here she said “I love you”. She really makes me feel love in a place where it is hard to find comfort. I will be living here until November 8th or so, while I complete my training. Then my entire group of 63 will come together again for about 5 days to have more group training and go through our swearing in ceremony. This is the big graduation from training during which we go from Peace Corps trainees to Peace Corps volunteers. I am excited for this to come. After we swear in we will go to our permenate site were we will be working for 2 years. In the first 2 months we will live with another host family in order to get acquainted with that site as well as find our own housing. Once we find our house we have to set up a home. PC gives us money for our settling in but I have heard it is really not enough. But if you are replacing a PCV who is leaving usually they will sell you their stuff quite cheap. There are 2 PCVs in our town right now and we have been hanging out with them, learning the ropes, so to speak, from the veterans. It’s helpful and overwhelming all at the same time. Listening to what they have accomplished so far, even just basic living skills, makes my head spin. We not only have to learn how to effectively survive and function in a new culture but hopefully do some work to make even the tiniest difference. When you can’t even mail a letter on your own, or barely even buy yourself toilet paper, it’s hard to wrap your head around buying home furnishings, getting Internet, and paying your electric bill. Even though there are about 500 things daily to think about I still feel ok for whatever reason. One of my biggest coping mechanisms right now is calling my life back home my “real life” and my life in Morocco my make believe one. I mean honestly it’s hard to wrap my head around all this being real. I often feel like I am in an alternate universe. It actually helps me to not take anything too seriously and to take things with a grain of salt. Humor is also another huge coping method we all have. We get laughed at daily by children and adults alike, stared at as if we are naked, and forced to accept norms that are so far from the truths that we have known all our lives. Living in a Muslim country has a whole set of challenges that are very specific. Being a woman is worse. So far I have not gotten much of anything bad but it is just the things that I am not allowed to do that bother me. To be honest I could really do whatever I want, but it is all about reputation. Being a PCV you have to get people to trust you and so you have to build up a good reputation in the town to gain their trust. You have to constantly be aware of how things affect your reputation. Since we are Americans we have some wiggle room, because the locals don’t hold us up to their standards. But as women touching a man in public, walking alone with a man, even putting on lip balm in public makes you look like a prostitute. I mean right now, maybe I’m naive, but I am going with the same mentality that I have developed in the states. I am what I am, and I don’t care what people think. I mean yes, I am culturally sensitive in many ways, such as dress, but I am not going to completely abandon who I have been for 23 years just to make every single Moroccan like me. I have been glad to see a lot of my qualities, habits, and characteristics have still shone thorough in this environment. For instance I am still very organized, health conscious, studious, frugal, and goal orientated. Not that I was expecting my personality to dilute overnight, but I wasn’t sure if I could still be all those things here. I really am the exact same Alex, I just can’t really express myself to my Moroccan family all the time. By the way the first night here they decided to give me a Moroccan name and it’s Layla. I love it. At first I was having trouble with time management here, which is never a problem for me in my real life. It is hard to find a balance between class, time with family, study time, community integration, and me time. After a week I think I am slowly getting a grip on it. But you know me I need structure and I always need a plan. I need focus. I am getting better, and I try to analyze everything to find focus constantly. Peace Corps is about making tiny goals and getting at them the best you can slowly. Like my goals for yesterday were get toilet paper and go to the internet cafĂ©. And these aren’t just any errands. They are errands on steroids. When you cant communicate getting what you want is no easy task. But the little things to accomplish not matter how trivial, feel so good here. Soon I know I will be even more focused and get myself into a good routine and schedule. You defiantly have to be ok with yourself in your real life before you can ever begin to do something like this successfully. I know that the confidence and self-respect that I have built up over my years is what is getting me through this life right now. I respect myself enough to be patient and kind, and not too hard on myself. Because that is key. Even though we all have so much support and love from so many loved ones the most love needs to come from within. Because lots of others can believe in you but if you don’t believe in yourself you can’t make it. Right now I wouldn’t say I am discouraged or even worried about what is ahead of me, the word I would use is apprehensive. I know that I will get to a certain place but right now it is hard for me to wrap my head around how that will happen. I can’t wait for two years to go by and compare my feelings from now to then.