Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A day at the beach.

with Vish, one of my closest neighbors and favorite PCVs
In Morocco, Peace Corps volunteers arrive in twice-annual waves -- health and environment volunteers in the spring, youth development and small business development volunteers in the fall. Sadly, on that same schedule, a group of PCVs must depart to make room for the newcomers.
Thus, a group of us down here in the Souss gathered in Agadir last weekend to bid farewell to Tom, a health volunteer making his way back to the States after two years of patient, earnest and meaningful work. That sounds cliche, I'm sure, but Tom really is one of the most dedicated and optimistic volunteers I've met here. We'll miss him.

Tom and Ian on the beach

I don't travel to Agadir very often; the taxi ride is expensive and exhausting -- 45 dirhams ($5.50) and nearly four hours round-trip. It's a temporary treat when I do get there. Agadir is a beach town rebuilt, after a devastating 1950s earthquake, to cater to tourists. The beach is clean and lovely, restaurants abound, wifi and alcohol are widely available, and the shopping approaches that of any western city. Fun for an afternoon, but beyond that I begin to miss my quiet, dusty Moroccan village, which feels a continent away.

But we did it up right last weekend. A quiet afternoon lounging lazily on Zach's -- sorry, I mean Z Star's -- incongruously purchased Playboy beach blanket, trying to entice Moroccan toddlers to play with us, trying to avoid staring at the overly disrobed, moon-white skin of European tourists. Lunch at an authentically Indian restaurant, with some of the spiciest and best samosas I've ever had. Drinks at the English Pub, followed by Tom's rousing (to us, anyway) karaoke performance of "Folsom Prison Blues."

Later, though, the celebration pointed up a sad commentary on my personal habits: I am completely out of training. One samosa, one plate of dal, and a single Beck's, and my stomach was tied in knots for the entire evening. Spicy food and beer are no longer in my daily routine, and my body didn't seem to know what to do with the combination. I fear for my future.

The big event.

Essaid discusses ways of contracting SIDA

Workwise, the big news of the past week was the SIDA (AIDS) education event we pulled off at the dar chebab on Friday night. The theater group failed to materialize, but its leader was instrumental in helping me pull the event together and I know it wasn't for lack of effort. The SIDA awareness group ALCS Taroudant gives a fabulous presentation, low-key but factual and informative. We had 20 kids show up, which was about 18 more than I allowed myself to hope for. All of them male, nearly all of them teens or young men. A candid and enthusiastic discussion about whether talking about condoms promotes forbidden sexual activity; the ALCS folks handled some pointedly accusatory questions with an equal passion for preserving the health of their country.

I think we can count the evening as a success. Vish showed up for moral support, and I'll go to a similar event at her dar chebab this week so we can compare notes.

For those of you keeping score at home, yes, the dar chebab is still closed. I miss my kids, but I'm keepig plenty busy with my women's classes, a new English class at an association that teaches homemaking and literacy skills to adult women, and making arrangements for English camp in July.

Every summer, Peace Corps, the U.S. Embassy, and Morocco's Ministry of Youth and Sports puts on four two-week English immersion camps in the northern coastal resort town of Al Jadida. I've spent the past week lining up the five students I plan to take to camp with me on scholarship.

I'm so proud of my group; they're all on the young side (13 and 14), and none has studied English yet in school. But they are good kids, motivated to learn and eager to interact with me. Most of them come from families that could never afford to send them on an opportunity such as this. I really look forward to watching them bloom, make some new friends and realize some new talents later this summer.

In meeting their parents to make the arrangements, I've also made some new friends that I already cherish. Nothing beats randomly meeting a woman in a taxi, realizing she's the mother you've been trying to track down for a week, and in the half-hour's drive home become giggly and sisterly, carrying each other's packages down the street and landing in her home for tea, a look through the family photo album, the squeals of delight as her daughters enter the living room to find me sitting there.

As if all that weren't enough, I'm in the midst of switching houses, a topic for another post. I hope to secure a new place, pack and move all within the next week -- before leaving for a week's training with my stajmates in Marrakech next month. After in-service training, a week's respite back home before going to Rabat for a meeting of PC Morocco's Gender and Development Committee. By then it'll be nearly time for summer camp. And not long after that school will start again, the dar chebab will be back in business (inchallah), and I'll be marking my first year of service.

While individually days sometimes move unbelieveably slowly, on the whole these past nine months have passed in the cliched blink of an eye.

I’m still here ...

Early on, I noted that people here have trouble saying my name, and I liked to suggest that it sounds like “bakiya,” which means package, or like “shebekia,” a sticky-sweet pastry served during Ramadan.

Lately I’ve been thinking about two other words that sound similar to Becki: “Bki,” the present-tense form of “to cry,” and “bqi,” a conjugated form of a verb which that means “to remain” and is usually used to imply that something is continuing and/or is sticking around.

There is metaphor here, too. In short, sometimes I cry … but I keep going, and I intend to stay right here.

... And here's one reason why.

In our country director’s latest weekly email, he included a portion of the speech given (in Tashelheit, translated here) by the language “valedictorian” of the newly sworn-in group of volunteers. I don’t have permission to use it and so haven’t included the author’s name; I hope he doesn’t mind. He says so eloquently what I think many of us hope to achieve here:

“‘Why are you here?’ The answer may have changed during the last two months, and may change again tomorrow. But for all of us, the answer is more than “I work for hay at salam.” [Arabic for Peace Corps] I’m here because my Moroccan [host] father thought the US, Canada, Mexico and Argentina were all rich states ruled by Barack Obama. I’m here because my American mother was afraid for me to live in a Muslim country and last week she said ‘ssalaam ualakum’ on the phone to my Moroccan mother. I’m here because last week my friend in Boston joked and asked if I had met Bin Laden yet, and because I don’t want my Moroccan brother to think all Americans are like Vin Diesel in ‘The Fast and the Furious.’ I’m here because I believe a peaceful world is a world in which and women of different nations, cultures, and religions understand each other despite their differences."

Currently grateful for: The dear family and friends who keep me not only in their thoughts but in their lives; the Mizzes Krista, Amy, Melissa and Cinnamon; my folks and my brother, who keep me in their hearts, the tax returns in my bank account and the care packages in the mail; the many friends who randomly send little things not only for me but for my dar chebab (thanks most recently to the Mizzes Jill and Nealy and again to the Marvelous Melissa!); my fellow PCVs who keep me grounded and sane and laughing, especially but by no means limited to Candace, Vish, Anny, Tricia, Matt, Linley and so many more.

Currently obsessively listening to: “Raising Sand,” Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, iTunes gifted to me ages ago by the darling Miz Jill, but which I just managed to download

Currently halfheartedly reading: “Double Fault,” Lionel Shriver, possibly the most overwritten novel I have actually continued pursuing in my life


vmh said...

This is a really beautiful post. Thank you.

katie said...

Truly, a very lovely post. I read it avidly from beginning to end. Thank you so much.