Every Peace Corps site starts somewhere: an empty youth center, an enthused supervisor and a hesitant community. Years of conversations over tea, lunch invitations, and endless stares from the locals will hopefully produce a willing host family and a group of supporters ready to engage with the unknown: a random American who will live among them for two years. This American will accidentally eat with their left hand, confuse words and awkwardly struggle towards being a part of the community life. The American will also dance at weddings, hold newborn babies and do their best to enrich the lives of the youth. It's a sacrifice, not just on the part of the volunteer, but on the part of the community. They open themselves up to the outside world and all the strangeness and conflict that comes with advantages.
Yesterday, my site-mate and I became a part of this delicate and exciting process. Biking three hours to a town nestled between Tazarine and Zagora, we discovered a unspoiled village of 5,000 people. A paved road has opened in the area in the last five years, but even with this advancement, foreigners are rarely seen. Melanie and I peddled our bikes past dilapidated kasbahs, groups of women brilliantly dressed in shades of crimson all the while children called after us in broken French for pens or money. After asking various members of the community, we were led to the youth center. Devouring snickers and water, we waited patiently for the man with the keys.
Taghbalt has remained without a volunteer for several years. There have been previous visits to this town by Peace Corps staff and volunteers, however it's always been determined that the level of poverty is too high. Finding a suitable host family is a struggle and support for the work of the volunteer is lacking. After meeting with the 'supervisor' (the president of a local association who merely holds the keys to the to the youth center), we felt discouraged. Apparently the youth center is being used solely for women's literacy classes and the supervisor doubted that the volunteer would have space to work or even interested children. The fatigue of the morning bike ride and frustration with the supervisor started to set in. Let's have some tea.
Everything changed over our three cups of tea. Suddenly we had not just one member of our Tazarine community with us, but four! We were joined by our supervisor at the Tazarine Dar Chebab, an English teacher in a nearby community and an English teacher working in Tazarine but originally from Taghbalt. To improve matters, this English teacher brought three other teachers in the community for support. Talk about your game changer! Over the next three hours we heard conversations ranging from the creation of an association for the Dar Chebab, work possibilities for the new volunteer and even our Tazarine supervisor gushing about our good work. It was the kind of meeting Peace Corps volunteers dream of: our counterparts convincing other communities that the sacrifice is significant, that our work is worthwhile.
The day ended with not one, but two lunches. At a certain point, it no longer mattered that Melanie and I were present. Our counterparts had the energy and were passionate about working with the youth all over the region. One of the rarely stated goals of Peace Corps is to put ourselves out of business. To make our work sustainable in communities and pass on our skills to the local people instead of depending on a foreigner. Yesterday in Taghbalt, I saw the fruits of our labors. We are rapidly putting ourselves out of business in Tazarine, and I couldn't be happier.