Thursday, September 14, 2006


First impressions: As we descended through the (unexpected) clouds, the land looked flat and brown – I’m not sure what I expected – I suppose I expected to see the ocean and then a skyline of sorts and something more lush – or at least some palm trees. There were some outside the Casablanca Airport, and the airport itself had a beautiful mosaic and fountain, but I missed Casablanca entirely, outside in the distance from the bus. The ride between Casablanca and Rabat was interesting – fields that didn’t seem to have a lot growing in them but had cows and sheep grazing, men and women walking, small villages the color of sand with lots of rectangular buildings at various heights, small windows and satellite dishes, the occasional donkey cart crossing an overpass. I dozed (in retrospect I wish I had dozed more – I ended up listening to one of the day’s presentations with my eyes closed, shall we say, and I had a jet lag/dehydration headache) and when I woke up we were in Rabat. All the buildings are white (by town decree – each city picks a color and all the buildings have to be painted that color), the ocean is off in the distance, there are some wide, tree-lined boulevards. We couldn’t leave the hotel yesterday – not until today’s security briefing. We met the Country Director and some of the staff. To a person (I should mention that quite a contingent met us at the airport and gave us snacks for the bus too) they are great – completely dedicated to taking care of us. Would that every job would start with an orientation like this! We had coffee/tea/water and I took a shower and did handwash (since Woolite was the last thing I bought in New York) – in retrospect I wish I had taken a nap though, or napped on the bus, to avoid the aforementioned doze and headache. At one point during another break I told someone I didn’t have the energy to talk and that usually I was quite chatty, so that she was perhaps lucky to see me at an energy low as opposed wishing I would stop talking! We had short presentations on medical, security and IT.

A good night’s sleep makes a big difference – I’m not saying I’m over the jet lag but I do feel much better. Today we started with shots – here I thought I wouldn’t need any because they said not to get any in the States. Turns out I need quite a few – today was MMR and the first rabies shot, I think. And we had our first (informal) language lesson – I was impressed with how eager we all sounded to repeat the words and get the inflection. We then had a briefing from the embassy security officer – sensible things such as varying your routine and not going out alone at night. I do lock my doors and I do keep a tight hand on my pocketbook – I’m a New Yorker, after all – but I also have done a lot of walking alone in the Chicago years, including at night. I won’t do it here though – not only is it potentially not safe, but it’s not done – Moroccans don’t do it – so it’s culturally not a thing to do. Most important, though, breaking the policies can get you kicked out of Peace Corps. The Country Director then went over several more policies that can get you “administratively separated” – out-of-site, alcohol, drugs, and more. Then we had a long presentation about diarrhea – I guess it’s inevitable – and we got our medical kits and mosquito nets (those are to prevent mosquito bites - no malaria here). Then the ambassador came – that was cool. The ambassador sat next to GWB at HBS and then made a fortune in Silicon Valley. He’s very supportive of the Peace Corps and also listed several other U.S. initiatives in Morocco (including the Chicago Sister City relationship!).

Then we had free time! Great to take a walk and to see some of the city. A group of us went to the medina and then to the ocean, where the sun was close to setting. We also went to a graveyard – very interesting to walk around (not a cultural don’t, but later I was told that it was a place for the homeless – so it’s good that we were in a group). Dinner on the rooftop and a chance to see the stars – my friend the Summer Triangle – looks the same from the roof here as it did from my roof in Chicago. A quick e-mail update in the hotel (French keyboard a challenge for quick typing – I don’t think of myself as a touch typer; I look at the keys, but it turns out that I do know where they are on a QWERTY keyboard and kept typing q instead of a, for example – so I kept it to a minimum. Now I’m writing on my roommate’s laptop and saving it to a Traveldrive – and wishing I had brought a laptop of my own).

Long day tomorrow, so I’d better call it a night.
Written September 13

Welcome to Morocco -

Never before so glad you that you are such a great writer, as I am now! Hope you keep at keeping us informed - incredibly interesting
Hmm. Presentations on diarrhea sound deadly, depressing and dreary. (You're into haiku; I'm into alliteration.) But the rest sounds fascinating. Thanks for keeping us posted!
Thanks, Debbie! I have told some people that this might be like a holiday letter without the discipline of editing it down to two pages...and I keep having more to say than time to write...I expect that to balance out when I get to my post, but then it may be access that's an issue. Anyway, thanks!

And thanks, Edie. I'm a big fan of alliteration too, not to mention limericks, though I haven't done one in a while. The health presentation was one of many we will get - but diarrhea is by far the thing we're most likely to get here. Several people have already had it, and have been having a rough time, but so far I've been OK (more or less - I'll not get into it further than that).
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