Sunday, March 25, 2012
Staging, Arrival in Morocco and Pre-Service Training
Monday in Philadelphia continued with a long day of staging activities, meeting numerous volunteers and a fantastic introduction to life as a Peace Corps trainee (PCT). For the first time, I didn’t have to explain my reasons for volunteering in Morocco since my fellows PCTs understood and shared my wanderlust. Bonding over our common anxieties, dreams and lack of drawing ability, this group of complete strangers started to feel increasingly familiar as afternoon faded into evening. With a delicious meal of sushi and dishing about former and current loves, my roommate and I enjoyed the final night in the U.S. A fire alarm forced all of the PCTs from the comfortable beds of the Holiday Inn to the street at 7:15am Tuesday morning; I am still convinced it was a ploy to make sure we were all prepared for the 9:30am checkout (sneaky, sneaky Peace Corps!) We loaded into three buses and drove from Philadelphia to New York’s JFK airport for our evening flight. Moving as a group of 120 people through check-in, security and boarding meant that we spent nearly the entire day in slow transit from point A to point B. Prior to boarding, PCT feelings about the impending departure ranged from quiet nervousness to mild intoxication (thanks airport cocktail bar) to euphoria. Following a plane ride of turbulence, a medical emergency relating to another passenger’s allergies and zero sleep, we landed in the Kingdom of Morocco at 6am Wednesday morning. Casablanca’s brisk morning wind and glowing sunrise greeted me as I took my first steps in my new home. On the two hour bus ride from Casablanca, I saw my first camel and compared the countryside to a combination of Sicily and California before passing out until our arrival in Morocco’s capital, Rabat. The rest of Wednesday was a blur of our first meal (they eased us in, providing hamburger and spaghetti along with traditional Moroccan fare) and an overview of the rest of our week. By the end Wednesday’s training sessions, our sleep-deprived group had grown quietly disruptive; it was time for bed. With the aid of coffee, Moroccan tea and pastries, we hit the ground running with three days of intensive training. We were given additional vaccinations, met with the entire Peace Corps staff and the American ambassador to Morocco, and trained on everything from basic Darija (the Moroccan dialect of Arabic) to where female volunteers should sit on a solo taxi ride between small towns (backseat, closest to the door). The mix of formal training sessions, small group discussions, panels of current PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers) and informal communal meals has encouraged me to be my own advocate and determine what I need to keep me sane in a conservative Islamic country for two years. As Peace Corps has made abundantly clear, you need friends within the PC community to “make it.” I have already been blessed with strong connections within our training group and cherish the shared awkward moments, dance parties and 4am conversations, As one of my fellow trainees put it ‘we tear off our bandaids, expose our wounds and share a part of ourselves;’ instantaneous friendships are forged in a matter of hours. Today (Sunday), we were finally given a day of rest. I took advantage of long relaxed meals, explored Rabat’s Medina, souks, and beaches as well as running across a small political demonstration. Ready or not, I am heading into another intense week of language before heading to my CBT (community-based training) on Friday morning. CBT is a period of roughly 2 months in which I receive intense language and cultural training while studying and living with a host family. The language facilitator (a Peace Corps staff member/Moroccan teacher) and the six trainees will travel from Rabat to a small town roughly 45 minutes north of Fez where I will complete this portion of the experience. As far as I know, I will spend the morning and afternoon learning conversational Darija and written standard Arabic through class work, field trips and participating in daily life. In the late afternoon, I will head to my host family’s residence for dinner, studying and ideally a lot of sleep. From what I am told, this is an exhausting period of time but essential to my success as a volunteer. All I know if that I can’t wait to attend my first Moroccan wedding! Kyla’s current state is excited with a side of pumped- despite my fatigue from jet lag and last night’s dance party (WOOT), I love this time. I feel prepared to move into the heart of Morocco and get a better understanding of where I have chosen to spend the next two years of my life. Huzzah for life!