Day 3 of training in Rabat. We’re spending a few days at the Hotel Chellah, a charming small hotel that’s completely overwhelmed by our group of 57. (We’re down one already; someone didn’t come to staging in Philly.)
It’s Ramadan, so our first experiences of Morocco are far from typical. Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset during the holy month, and while we are not expected to adhere to that, it’s uncouth to eat in public during the day. It also means the city is rather closed down during “regular” hours, but it comes alive after sunset. Today we got two weeks’ worth of “walking around” allowance – 400 dirhams, or about $53 – and were allowed to leave the hotel for the first time. Our time was limited, so by the time we’d walked a few blocks (past street vendors selling Western clothes/shoes/backpacks/etc.) we only had enough time to just peek into the medina. While it’s frustrating to have been here two full days and have seen very little as yet, as someone pointed out we have two years to poke around.
Instead, these past few days have been devoted to going over Peace Corps policies and getting to know our new colleagues. What good fortune to be part of such a group – so good-hearted, smart, funny and with such varied talents and backgrounds and travel experiences. I’ve heard of snobbery and cliques in other staging groups, but I don’t see it here. There isn’t one person who doesn’t have a fascinating story to tell.
We leave tomorrow for Azrou, a few hours inland. This will be our seminar site, where the entire group will gather periodically over the next three months of training. We’ll divide into our Youth Development and Small Business Development sectors and then divide into even smaller groups of five or six, to move to our training communities surrounding Azrou. We’ll stay with host families and spend our days learning the language, understanding the culture and training for our jobs.
Strange how my few previous travels seem so tied up in these early days in Morocco. Peering over the iron railing of our rooftop patio at the low white buildings below is so reminiscent of my home-stay balcony in Oaxaca. Navigating the narrow side streets, inhaling that strangely attractive mélange of dust and fuel and food, brings me back to Delhi. The wide, columned porticos of the buildings surrounding the medina like the mercado in Guatemala City. It’s as if everything up to now is culminating in this, as if my previous travels are giving their blessing.
It’s Sept. 11. The overall mission of Peace Corps is “peace through development and mutual understanding.” Without getting all soapboxy, I’m optimistic and hopeful about the positive impact this group can make over the next two years.
More Morocco facts.
* Peace Corps has 204 volunteers in country (plus our training group of 57)
* Morocco has more PCVs (Peace Corps volunteers) than any other country, is one of the oldest Peace Corps programs and is the longest-continuously served country
* 50 percent of Morocco’s population is under 19 years old. (Particularly interesting in the context of my Youth Development sector.)
* Morocco was the first nation to officially recognize the U.S. as a nation.
* Current U.S. approval rating here (according to State Department security officer: 7 percent
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2 years ago