Thursday, January 18, 2007


I hit the four-month mark last week. Does that seem like a lot of time or a little time? I guess it seems like both to me. That, combined with receiving lots of holiday cards asking me how I’m doing here, gave me some pause for reflection. What is it like compared to my expectations? More to the point, what exactly were my expectations?

I feel that the reading I did over the summer prepared me well for the Peace Corps, at least so far. Training was as described – a lot of information at once on a variety of topics, not a lot of downtime, close quarters with fellow Americans, a community-based component with a homestay family. And my initial time at site has been as described – not a lot of structure, focus on community integration rather than starting anything major, again a homestay. And I think I know what to expect when I finally do start working, having read up on the Peace Corps approach and now been through training. If there’s any surprise it may be that all the language, which seemed like an information overload at the time, prepares you for basic transactions and interactions and that’s pretty much it. I’m learning more, of course, but I feel I have yet to make that quantum leap where I understand more than I don’t.

What about Morocco, though? Given time to reflect, I realize that I really didn’t have a lot of expectations. I knew I would be bringing my tour books with me so I didn’t really look at them before I left, focusing instead on books that were not coming along. I remember being surprised at the California-type landscape and the variety from semi-arid to fertile. I knew it wasn’t going to be like the movie “Casablanca” – but now that I mentioned that, I do have a haiku containing some of my favorite lines from that movie –

Of all the gin joints
Vultures, vultures everywhere
Play it, Sam – I’m shocked

I also knew it wouldn’t be all dunes and camels, but that might be what I pictured when I first heard about Morocco. The recruiter said Middle Atlas mountains – did I think Appalachians? No. Rockies? No. I don’t think I conjured up a visual image. I guess I didn’t think I would be in a place as urban as it is – though I don’t want to give anybody the impression that this is like any city I’ve lived in before. But there are a lot of buildings here, most of them maybe three stories high, with cement probably the primary building material and tile roofs. I guess I pictures more of that castle-type blockiness. I did have in mind the Islamic architecture with mosaics and Arabic script and the big arched doorways and the casbah-type fortresses – either from someone’s pictures or from travel magazines. I pictured courtyards with fountains and cobalt blue, maybe from the garden exhibit I went to in Chicago this summer. There’s cobalt blue somewhere; I just haven’t found it yet. The picture is of the courtyard at the artisana - broken fountain and overgrown, so maybe that's a good example of expectations vs. reality. It's still a nice space; it feels very peaceful back there! I’ve been to Moroccan restaurants enough to have an idea of the cuisine, so that fir my expectations; the fresh fruit and vegetables have been a delightful surprise. The Peace Corps manual hinted at the communal plates and glasses and we had some early culture lessons so if it was a surprise at first it doesn’t seem like one anymore. I’ve found people to be more open than I expected – I thought there might be much more gender separation, for example, and there may be in other parts of the country but Azrou is pretty liberal. I’ll have to think more about this question – in a way I feel used to things and in a way I am still seeing them through the eyes of someone who just got here.

I realized something else though – so far I haven’t felt like a tourist. I’ve always prided myself on being a tourist in my own city, doing lots of exploration, learning history, exploring culture. I think I’ve been a great tour guide whenever people have come to visit me. But I haven’t felt that way yet here, and I’ve become more aware of it as my sister and I have been discussing the upcoming See the World Tour stop here in March and as other friends have approached the topic of visiting sometime. I don’t feel prepared with the exploration and the history and the culture. Part of that is the nature of the training – we didn’t get out much, and I haven’t had the time to really sink my teeth into the tour books, reading only about the places I’ve been to for weekends. Part of it has been the weekends too – as much or more to see people rather than things, knowing I’ll be here for a while and with limited space at the homestay not being in souvenir mode just yet. Though I do hope I’m doing a decent job of traveloguing the excursions….Part of it is the tour books too. They’re comprehensive, which is good for someone who will be here for two years and wants to see a lot, but not good for designing a one-to-two-week vacation. Part of it is lack of internet access – I might have time for a blog entry and quick e-mail but not for research; not yet, anyway. I hope to be better prepared to be a tour guide by the time people get here – I know I can show off the highlights of Azrou! And my reading up does give me some comfort level on the trips I’ve taken. But there really is a difference living here as opposed to sitting in Chicago and planning a trip to Morocco.

I also am still stressing about the housing. I’ve decided I’m either overthinking it or making a mistake. I find myself questioning people’s motivations for showing or recommending certain houses – is there something in it for them? And I really don’t want to think that way. Due to complications, the rental agreement has to be renegotiated, which gave me time for more tossing and turning and more second thoughts. I think I’ll feel better once I get in there and get settled. And it is only for two years – it just has to be a place I feel happy going back to and having guests in, not my dream home. But if there was any joy to be found in looking for a home, it has been drained out of the process for me. I'm getting texts and e-mails from stage-mates who are excited and I wish I felt that way (also getting some from other people stressing - always good to know I'm not alone in how I feel).

I said I’d talk about furniture and I may not get everything at once, but I think I’ll feel better once I get started there too. We get a settling-in allowance of 5000 dh, which is more generous than the allowance in most other Peace Corps countries but still doesn’t go far. Based on the PCV houses I’ve seen, it buys a mattress on the floor, a couple of ponjs on the floor (twin-bed-size couches with no frame or back), a coffee table, maybe a desk or bookcase, maybe a dresser, plastic table and chairs, a forno (burners) and an oven with the butagas to go with it, blankets and pillows, and plates/ dishes/ utensils/ bowls/ glasses/ pots/ pans/ buckets/ broom/ squeegee. Luxury items – such as a bed or couch frame, a hot water heater, and a refrigerator, may exceed the budget. Well, I did an exercise years ago, pairing up 64 dreams and desires NCAA-bracket style, and determined that nothing is more important than a good night’s sleep, so I am prepared to spend more than I otherwise might for a mattress and bed frame. Hot water heater to me is a must. For a space heater, by the way, we can spend separate money and send in the receipt and be reimbursed; I might do that rather than get a wood stove. I might try living without a refrigerator for a while but I can’t imagine not getting one sooner or later. Not everyone gets an oven – I could try going without that, since I make a lot of stovetop meals when I cook. I don’t want to accumulate a lot of things – and we’re supposed to be living to the standards of the people we’re working with – but I want to be comfortable. I also want to welcome guests, so I’m willing to spend on couch frames or even additional ponjs. I think that shopping for all of these things will be fun – my host mother may go with me, because I think it would be good to go with a Moroccan; Amanda has offered as well, and she’s been here long enough to be somewhat savvy. I also think it will be stressful, and again, I’ll feel better when I’m settled. There are the big things but also the little ones – light bulbs, clothespins, a floor mat….The 5000 dh arrived at the post office, so I can get started, but I’m not going to do that until Peace Corps receives and approves the revised rental agreement (just in case there are more complications) and I get the keys from the owner so I can start putting the things I buy in the house. For safety and security reasons, I won’t post a picture of the outside, but I will e-mail it on request, and I will post pictures of the inside when I get in there and of my views (speaking of which…I went by the other day and they were breaking ground across the street. Will I lose my view? Or was it just another reason to overthink?). What am I going to do with all of this in two years? Some people sell their stuff and then use the money to buy the souvenirs they will take home. Often the next volunteer gets first dibs. Some people give it to Moroccan friends or family who have helped them. As I write this, the call to prayer is going on outside. At the cyber and the artisana, it is background; at my host family, it is loud. I haven’t been by my new-home location at that time of day to see how loud it is, but I don’t think there’s a mosque that close by (though one is never far). I’ll find out soon enough!

Oh, and I found a donut man in Azrou! It would have been nicer to find a hiking boot store, but our donut man has big ones as well as well as mini ones!

4 percent is done
the great times are still ahead
can't wait to hear more!

(the haiku gods are groaning!!!)
If you can furnish your place in less than 2 years, you are doing far better than we are.....(no dresser yet)
I suppose you'll have to rename this blog "23moremonthswithoutbaseball"...

Or else start a team!
Can you spend your own personal money on things, or are you restricted to using only your Peace Corps allowance?
Debbie - I know there are people here who might disagree (one of whom commented below you) but I think there's no such thing as a bad haiku....

MO - You'd better get that dresser before I get back!!! And of course, when I get back I will have more furniture shopping to do!

Jeff - Blog name is incentive not to ET (early termination)! And after all, everyone is without baseball now - it's really about 14 without...but that doesn't have quite the same ring to it.

Amy - I can spend my own money (already have been to the ATM a couple of times) but since we are supposed to live at the level of the people we work with I don't want to be too extravagant. However, I am of the opinion that a hot water heater AND a refrigerator does not count as too extravagant!
Dream home? Sounds like definition of that may change after this experience. Did you say that your artisans do rugs? Was wondering who you would be working with in terms of artisans/artisanas. Beth H :)
Beth - I still have yet to meet the people who I believe will be my primary artisans - they are weavers, and make rugs. Some people's weavers also make bags and other, more portable projects - I have to see how far along these weavers are in terms of product diversity and whether they are interested in weaving other things. I also work with a rock-carver, and here there are other artisans who I may or may not work with - woodcarvers, the metal worker (I took his products to the craft fair), embroiderers, a shoe maker, tailors, a musical instrument maker, a potter, a painter...

And further on the budget - I cannot exceed a certain monthly rent amount, different for each site but set by the Peace Corps. I can go to the ATM to supplement my settling-in allowance, monthly living allowance, and vacation allowance (which is $24 a month, so it's likely that I will exceed that one).
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?