Friday, May 23, 2008

Why not? Anything is possible!

It's official - I'm a volunteer. Our stage swore in on the 19th and took the oath of service. This all happened at probably the swankiest hotel in the region - a 5 star resort built exclusively to cater to movie stars coming through town to film in Ouarzazate. We spent the afternoon lounging by a beautiful pool surrounded by cushions and palms. It was a weird contrast to what we were about to go into.

I am settling into my site pretty well, visiting people in the village, learning how transportation works, registering with all the correct officials, setting up a PO box (in a language I do not speak), and all sorts of other daily challenges. I'm glad right now it's the hot months and I'm not allowed to leave my site because I have a long road of settling in and integrating ahead of me. My host family has been wonderful, though, cooking me vegetarian food, serving me tea WITHOUT sugar (a rather unusual request around here!), and helping me learn Tamazight.

Right now I am updating from my souq (market) town. It's about two hours from my village and in order to get here I have to leave at 5:30 am. This is my nearest internet cafe, grocery store, pay phone, etc., and I should be here one every week or two weeks.

In other news, we hosted a volunteer talent show at the end of stage, which was a really good time. Someone had suggested that I fire spin, which I declined because 1) I am nervous in front of crowds and 2) did not have my fire poi with me in Morocco. At a friend's insistence, I agreed to do it if he could find me the materials to build fire poi, giving him a ridiculous, impossible list of hardware to source - in Morocco - not knowing any of the local words. I should have known better. Peace Corps Volunteers are notorious for ingenuity and resourcefulness. A few hours later I had some rotating keychains, lengths of chain, paraffin and 4 meters of wick! It turned out pretty well actually until flaming bits of it started flying off, though no one seemed too terribly concerned about this. I am 100 percent certain that if I tried that at a hotel in the US I would have been escorted out!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

My Site

I've been given my final site assignment. I will be in the Zagora region of southeast Morocco - not terribly far from the Algerian border. I think it is officially part of the Sahara. It is definitely desert there, at any rate! Most people in my stage were really glad not to be assigned there, but I'm really excited. The desert has a really distinct beauty that I've always been really drawn to.

As for my village... it's fairly isolated. It will take me two hours (on a good day) to get to my nearest town with internet and a grocery store. (Read: updates will be sporadic!) Because it's so isolated, a lot of the community has intermarried, causing a good deal of health problems from generations of people marrying first cousins. I don't know yet whether or not this will be something I can address as a health volunteer, though.

My work in the site is probably going to start with the water supply. I was really sick when I visited there for the first time. I didn't figure out why until I realized that my family was drinking water from an open-air cistern with contaminants openly floating in it. Protecting and treating water sources is definitely priority Numero Uno.

The rest of my work there will be rather unstructured. I officially work in the local clinic, but there is no doctor and only one nurse who works there, and he is rarely in the clinic at all. When I first met him he told me how much he hates my village and doesn't want to be there. Which, I gather, is a sentiment held by most government employees sent to the region.

The challenges don't stop there, but that will be subject matter for later posts. There are some perks. My host family there are really, really nice people. They have hosted a volunteer before, so they know about Americans and our weird ways and are really sensitive to my vegetarianism. I have an oasis just outside my site with really deep water and you can jump off the rocks into it. Nearby is a naturally sparkling spring. (side note: I was not aware that this actually happened - bubbly water from the GROUND?! Who knew??)

So, overall, it is going to be a difficult two years and lots of hard work. But as I keep telling people, I didn't come here to join the Vacation Corps - I knew it would be challenging and I knew what I was getting myself into. I would have been disappointed with anything less.

In other news, I passed my language exam and in only a matter of days will be swearing in to be a Peace Corps volunteer. Wow, three months went by quickly!

Until next time,