Tuesday, November 11, 2008

At home.

My new host “mother” (right) with her niece and eldest daughter.

Just spent a week in my new home, a dry, warm, beautiful small village in the south of Morocco. If you look on a map and find the beach resort city of Agadir down south on the coast, and Taroudant a ways inland, I am in between the two. For security reasons, I won’t name the town here on my blog; drop me an email if you want more information.

I am already so in love with this place and look forward to doing some good work here. Originally, I’d requested a large site, but as soon as I saw it I knew this was a good fit for me. Close to a large city where I can find anything I might need and get away on the occasional weekend, but the town is very manageable and I won’t face as much harassment because everyone will know me. Even so, during my visit I got the usual leers and catcalls from (mostly) young men, and some little boys threw rocks. It’s all part of the celebrity dynamic though, and it’ll die down as soon as people get to know me.

This is a very small (population about 7,000), new town, created in the ’50s when the king sold off royal land so Berbers could create orange groves. That’s the main business, and the village is surrounded by duoars, or neighborhoods, full of orange grove workers. A lot of corn fields lie further east, and also a lot of olive trees and argan trees; argan oil is very expensive and supposedly the best for both cooking and facial products. Goats like to climb the argan trees and nibble the leaves. I’ve also seen a few camels around.

The landscape is amazing … very southwestern U.S., with red soil and prickly pear and sagebrush, with craggy mountains surrounding and snow-capped peaks beyond those. Kind of like Arizona’s mountains bumping right up against the Rockies. It does get chilly at night, but nothing like the alpinelike villages where we’ve been training. Sure, it’ll be 120 or so in the summer, but I can deal with that in exchange for a temperate winter!

The surrounding orange groves are a short bike ride away and will be a lovely, peaceful place to exercise. Apparently the youths at my dar chebab love to take long weekend bike rides, so that will be a great way to get acquainted.

The people here seem quite nice, and there’s a lot of potential for work. Besides the dar chebab where I’ll do most of my work, there’s a nedi neswi, or women’s center, that teaches life/marriage skills to young women. I hope to do some type of work there, as well as at two boardinghouses for teenagers from the duoars who live in town during the school week. Some type of girls club seems like a natural place to start; girls especially have little to do here.

My new host family is quite sweet and quite poor. They have satellite TV and Internet, but virtually no furniture. The salon (living room) has become my bedroom, which I feel badly about because the family could use the space. I sleep on a mat on the floor, wash with a bucket of warm water, and wake to the sounds of the goats and chickens living on the roof. I am trying not to be a sissy about a way of life that is normal for the vast majority of the world. I still can’t believe it sometimes, the adventure I’m having. But there are times when it’s quite difficult to adapt.

The volunteer I’m replacing was a godsend during my visit. She’s so organized and went out of her way to help me get introduced and acclimated around town. And she’s short like me, so she’s leaving me her bike and a lot of her clothes! She was the first volunteer the town has ever had, and she did a lot of good work, so I have a lot to live up to.

One highlight of last week was staying up all night with said volunteer to watch the election results roll in. They sure were able to call it quickly – it was about 3 a.m. our time. I’m pretty cynical these days, but even I teared up at Obama’s acceptance speech. I’m pretty proud to be representing the United States at such a pivotal time in history.

Other volunteers live in several nearby sites, so I’ll have friends to hang out with on the weekends. And I’m 3 to 5 hours from Marrakesh, the wonderfully bustling international tourist enclave that will be my overnight point when I travel. Spent one night there on the way down and was enthralled by the tiny taste it gave me of Djemma el Fna, the main square where anything and everything can happen.

When I return for good I’ll get a post-office box set up, and then bring on the care packages! One or two Polarfleece or long sweaters would be great, but otherwise I shouldn’t need the warm clothing I’d begged for earlier. Hamdullah! A few cheap things from Target would mean the world to me. But I’m also learning to adapt to what is available here and (inshallah) what I can afford.

Language barriers will make things hard for a good while. I’ve got a line on a good tutor, an English teacher at the high school. It was inspiring to see how fluent the current volunteer is after two years; she swears that when she first arrived, she was as tongue-tied as I am now.

Nervous as hell about returning and negotiating my new life without being able to communicate easily. But I am truly thrilled with the location, I can see innumerable (that’s for the Bookstore Maven!) opportunities for working with people here, and I can already see ahead six months to when this will truly feel like home.

Swearing in is Nov. 20, two days after my 41st birthday. Hard to believe this new life less than two weeks away.

Photos from my new village.

Hanging in the dar with my host sister.

Rooftop barnyard.

Front door of the apartment where I hope to live after my homestay.

The street where I’ll live … note the dentist’s sign, Dad!


vmh said...

I love reading your posts! Thank you!


Melissa said...

Ah, news from Morocco! Your words come just in time because I was dying to know the latest. Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you for posting to take us with you on your journey.

Anonymous said...


Hi, my name is Brian Bentley. My daughter is Jenny, the current PCV at your village. I just spoke to Jenny tonight and it sounds like the two of you are a very good match. My wife and I visited your community in June of 2008. We would like to keep in contact with you and your new community. I have a special bond with the boys at the Dar Chebab and would love to send them and you care packages throughout the year. If you are interested in our assistance, please contact Jenny for our e-mail address. Take care, you are in a beautiful village with warm and caring people all around you.

Brian Bentley

Kari said...

Oh Becky, just reading this made me feel so good about you and where you've ended up after a long and sometimes very hard journey. I feel a little like crying for you but in a happy way. (And that says a lot when one is on 40mg of Prozac!)
Seriously, I am very very proud of you. I can't believe you are the same woman who I met in Lincoln more than 10 years ago. You are amazing. I am cracking up, though, at your wish list requesting certain lip gloss shades. thankfully some parts of you will not change too much.
Anyway, please send me your address. I have so many books and things I could send. I am thrilled to get to support you. Love,