One year down, another to go in Morocco

As of this past November I have been in Morocco for one year and I have learned a lot of things – some useful, others weird and/or not useful.

1. Figure out who can actually help you and who just likes to talk about helping you or just want to improve their status by saying they “worked” with you or Peace Corps.  In this case – this applies to your counterparts (mudirs, Moroccan teachers etc), host families, Peace Corps Staff  and others.  It maybe that a youth you encounter in your Dar Chabab is more helpful than your actual counter part or other PCV’s.

2. Be you.  There is a lot of talk about blending into the host country culture.  However that doesn’t mean you need to assimilate.  It means when it can help you and prevent doing harm to your self or host country nationals – follow the motto, “When in Rome, Do as the Roman’s Do.”

In Morocco for female PCV’s this means dressing in a more conservative manner in most locations because to not do so draws unwanted attention and harassment.  For me as an American Muslim coming to Morocco – I understood it could be more socially conservative than American culture and at first I worked really hard to blend in specifically by wearing more conservative clothing than what I am use to wearing in America – but it began to stress me out not being me in that way – so I went back to wearing the clothing that made me comfortable and felt much better.

3. Stick up for yourself!  I including other PCV’s in Morocco have experienced harassment, anti-American sentiment and down right rude behavior from Moroccans (even by Islamic /Moroccan cultural standards).  When someone does or says something rude – its good to call them on it and gently let them know – its not ok what they said or did and it offended you – unless its harassment especially sexual harassment – in that case give them your wrath as best you can in Darija and when that fails – start in on them in English.

Some of my favorite phrases related to harassment include ( the PG ones)-

“Seer li Mamak” – Literally translates to “Go to your mother.”

“Wash enta huMuck?” – “Are you crazy?”

“sHuma alik” – “Shame on you.”

Ex. of an insulting situation -

The assistant of my Dar Chabab who like many Moroccan’s enjoy the use of Youtube decided to share that he thinks that America has no culture and Israel is our 51st state.  The statements he shared are 1. Offensive 2. Inaccurate and 3. Full of crazy conspiracy stuff.

I told him – America does have culture – we have the indigenous culture of the North American indigenous tribes and we have the cultures of all the immigrants to America.  It’s something unique to America that can be hard for people coming from such a homogenous culture to realize – IS actually culture – specifically American culture.

Another quick example is the difference between how American’s and Moroccan’s motivate people.  In the American classroom the teacher is usually going to expect students to be hardworking and are quick to applaud any improvements.  In the Moroccan classroom the expectation is perfection or as close to it as possible and if you are struggling the motivation comes in the form of negative comments such as,” You know nothing or Your worthless.”

You will also encounter the idea that you should arrive with fluency in Darija – if your going to work in Morocco from some Moroccan’s.

So when Moroccan’s say these negative comments – do your best to ignore them especially when it comes to learning Darija – Moroccan Arabic – do your best not to take these comments to heart.  I point out often to Moroccan’s – how many Moroccan’s do they know themselves included that would move to another country for two years with the intention of helping strangers – leaving everything they know behind to do so?

This shuts up most Moroccan’s because the answer is 99% of the time – no Moroccan THEY know would do such a thing – themselves included and it gets them thinking about how much volunteers give up to be here in Morocco.

4. Use the phone plan like its going out of style.

PC Morocco has a phone plan for its PCV’s – where its free to call other PCV’s and they issue you a phone as well during CBT.  Your phone plan can keep you from going crazy.  Yes I just said that – When something crazy awesome or horrible happens to me the first thing I do is grab my phone and call one of my BFF’s and have a vent/sharing session.  It makes you feel better to have someone to listen to you – even if there is no VSN (Volunteer Support Network) counseling involved.

5. If your going to vomit – don’t do it into a Turkish Toliet.  It WILL rebound on you if you miss your target of the hole.

6. Always carry toilet paper and hand sanitizer or soap.  You never know when you will need it.

7. You will pee on your shoes or socks learning to use the Turkish toilet at least once.

8.  You most likely will poop in your pants – at least once.  (It seems to be something of a Peace Corps right of passage)

9.You will get some outrageous marriage proposal at least once.  I have been proposed to over 5 time since arriving in Morocco.  While at times it can be flattering – it can also be annoying to when men or women continue to pursue you – after you have said no.

10.  You will deal with getting the “tourist” price vs the “locals” price.  It then becomes a question of how much is it worth to you to bargain for that item.  Pick your battles wisely.

11. You will learn to travel with everything you need in a backpack.  I went from hauling a huge duffel bag to a backpack in a couple of months after arriving in Morocco once I realized what the essentials are and what I could pick up just about anywhere here.  When I traveled home for the holidays this December 2012 – I only carried everything for me in a backpack (electronics) and a purse ( which held a tooth-brush, TP, deodorant and a change of clothes with a light jacket stuffed in on top.

Not including my single checked luggage (full of stuff for everyone at home) -which by the way – Air France and all international airlines suck except Royal Air Morocco who allows two checked luggage items for coach passengers – because they only allow a single checked bag for free – which is highway robbery after paying over $1500 for a plane ticket you have to pay between $50 – 200 even more for another piece of luggage in Coach?  WTF Airlines… seriously.  But that’s ANOTHER post.

12.  Always charge your phone and other electronics before going on a trip.  Make sure they have juice and the phone has $$ to call people.  It never fails to happen that something happens – the train breaks down or a freak storm hits and you are suck in the middle of no where or even a large city you are unfamiliar with and need some help.  You look down at your phone and – low battery, no battery or you need a recharge to call someone – and there is no store in sight to buy one.  Just avoid that situation by charging before traveling.

13. Bring your own water.  On trains in Morocco – no water is drinkable – so you need to fill up your water bottle before you get on the train or pay for over priced tiny bottles of water.  You also know that your water is germ and other bad stuff free.  Its really best not to get diaherra  aka the D train while traveling if possible.

14.  Always carry Pepto.  I never leave home without it.  Sure your stomach will get toughened up but sometimes – you get invited somewhere new and you eat at your hosts house and your on the D train again.  It may happen you decided to eat at a new restaurant – and it turns out kitchen hygiene isn’t so great – D train time again.  So be prepared.

15.  Never give your phone number to Moroccan’s without establishing their level of Nishan (honesty/ straightness).  I as a general rule never give my phone number to any Moroccan man.  I now have a large collection of phone numbers from random Moroccan men – who finally gave me their number when I wouldn’t give mine up.   It usually ends up with them calling you endlessly and “beeping” you all hours of the day and night as I have learned from other female PCV’s.   A “beep” is when a individual calls you – lets it ring a couple of times and hangs up.  This way the caller never spends any money – as long as the receiver of the call never picks up – once the call connects the caller starts paying.

One of my friend when she has someone harassing her via the phone – she answers the call and then sets her phone somewhere and leaves it.  Not talking to the person on the other side but eating up their minutes and money by keeping the call connected – eventually the person either disconnects the call when they realize she isn’t talking to them or it eats all their money.  If the harassment won’t stop – thats when you call PCHQ and request a phone number change.

16. Moroccan’s are way more emotional or emotionally expressive – than American’s generally are.

I have found amongst my Moroccan youth that they are quick to say they love someone or become crazy over something or someone.  It really took me aback to see and then experiance it.  My small group of students are very very emotionally attached to me – when I went home for vacation or I have to travel on PC business they are always concerned that I will come back and that I travel safely.  When PCV’s leave at the end of their service – often there are many tears on the part of Moroccans, there are tears at the end of camps and at the end of trainings.

It can feel a bit like your a celebrity in your site because everyone knows who you are even if they don’t know you personally.  In my case its taken 15+ months for Moroccans to realize I am an American – and now I am getting random youth calling my name on the street or people staring and saying “Look at the American woman,” in Darija.  It can also be dangerous – meaning that people who could be criminals etc know who you are and can target you more easily because of the communities awareness of who you are.

17.  Do what you know.  You might be assigned to your country of service as a “Youth Development” Volunteer but perhaps as many of us PCV’s in Morocco find that’s not the skill you end up transferring or your strength.  PCV’s in Morocco are minimally trained to teach English – however does that mean you have to teach English? No.

Do what you know – if you have a background in banking – do a training on how banks work and how to be smart with money – with your youth.

If you worked with software and computer – teach computer literacy.

You will find it much more rewarding and confidence building to do what you know – and so will your youth.

18.  Work together with other PCV’s.  Don’t have a lot going on in your site?  Your Dar Chabab is empty as a day old can of tuna after the cats got to it?  Ask how you can help other PCVs who do have activities and events happening in their sites.  This way you get out of your site, you see more of your assigned country, you will get new ideas and you get to see what other PCV’s are up to.

19.  Peace Corps is a political animal.  Enough said.

20. Make sure to go home for vacation at least once.  I think this is one of the most important ways Peace Corps volunteers can self-care for themselves.  Touch based with the people who matter to you and enjoy all the things you can’t get in your country of service.  I was so happy to have deep dish pizza and a heated house.  In fact I think the headed house beat everything else out hands down.

21. Trust your instincts.  No one knows better than you what is going to make you happy and feel safe and secure.  So if like some of my fellow PCV’s have – you find PC service isn’t what is making you happy – there’s no shame in going home and finding out what does.

4 responses to “One year down, another to go in Morocco

  1. i luv this post. if i ever was afraid to travel or volunteer anywhere i am not now having read this.

  2. When do you plan on getting married? Are you going to stay in the country? I LOVE reading your posts. So much information. I bet your mom is very proud of you and your work there… GOOD JOB!!!

  3. Thanks so much for this post! I was nominated for Peace Corps for this July in Community/Youth Development, not sure where I would have been posted, because I decided to withdraw my app as I’m not feeling quite ready to leave yet and am having mixed feelings about the commitment. I know you’re supposed to be flexible about your region and area of work for Peace Corps, but as a hijab-wearing African-American Muslim woman, I’m nervous about going into a community that is not going to accept me and will make it less safe and welcoming for me to work in by myself for 2 years. I want to work in African/Middle East countries or anywhere that Muslims have a decent population so Morocco would be perfect. Is that a reasonable request to make to Peace Corps? I haven’t seen this issue addressed in the diversity of Peace Corps members, mostly just racial. I am still interested in serving next year, but only if those considerations can be made. Any advice on that process?

    • Salaam Alaikum Nesima,
      Your concerns are completely valid. You can state your preferences to Peace Corps HQ in Washington D.C. but that doesnt mean you will get what you ask for. Indeed your invitation is more based on your qualifications in terms of skills than your preferences in most cases- this I have gleaned from taking to a lot of RPCV and current PCVs. I also wear hijab and was really happy to end up in Morocco thinking that being a Muslim in a Muslim majority country would be less of a challenge and it would make things a lot simplier. However that is not always the case- being that I am an American Muslim convert there are a lot of conflicts between religion and culture that occur on a daily basis from how I dress to how I practice my religion vs how Moroccans would like me to practice my religion or conduct myself as a woman.

      There are about 20 something countries on the current active PC countries list – that I researched- that have signficant Muslim populations. I really wanted to be some where Arabic was the main language not just a Muslim country to hopefully improve my Arabic skills in. Which I have to say my Moroccan Arabic skills impressed my family but I still have a long way to go to being fluent in the language.

      I am going to follow up by emailing you – feel free to ask further questions via email.

      Wa Alaikum Salaam

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