I have now spent two whole years in Morocco. Where has the time gone??
In honor of my second year in the ol’ Maghrib I thought I’d take a look back.
Here are my favorite moments of 2015.
JANUARY – My site-mate Laura put together a 2-day workshop intended for teachers and caretakers of people with disabilities. I was able to help by leading sessions on communication methods and using yoga as a tool to develop exercise habits and calmer behavior. During the workshop, one mother came up to Laura and said to her, “We thought we were the only ones….” She had no idea that there were other families in the community experiencing the same things that her family was. It was a transformative weekend in my service. It also helped me develop relationships with local counterparts that would be instrumental throughout the remainder of the year.
FEBRUARY – I led a Girls Leading Our World (GLOW) Camp for 30 local girls aged 11-17. The goal of the camp was to work with the girls on leadership, female empowerment, and practicing healthy lifestyles. I couldn’t have done it without the help of 4 amazing Moroccan women who have become very close friends of mine. (Read more here.)
MARCH – As an English teacher at the local youth center, I get to assist my students with their English learning in a variety of ways. One of these is by preparing them to compete in a Spelling Bee! If you knew me when I was younger you probably remember that Spelling Bees are a really big deal to me (and that I won the Booth Hill Elementary School Spelling Bee in 5th grade… just saying), so sharing that excitement with my students was so cool. First, I hosted a local spelling bee at our youth center with 21 participants. Then the top three finishers of the local bee and I traveled to compete in the district spelling bee in Guelmim, more than 5 hours away! Traveling with my students was hilarious and involved a lot of selfies. It was the first time many of them had traveled without their parents and many of their first time staying at a hotel. One of my students came in 2nd place at the district bee and therefore placed to compete at the national bee in the capital the next month. Needless to say, I was beaming with pride. These kids are so intelligent and hardworking and I am so lucky to have the opportunity to help them along their paths.
APRIL – Laura (my site-mate) spent the majority of her third year in Peace Corps organizing Ability Camp, a 6-day overnight camp designed to be inclusive of campers with and without special needs. I was a counselor at the camp alongside 5 other Peace Corps Volunteers and some incredible Moroccan staff. We worked with 45 youth from our town, 15 of whom have special needs, to build an accessible playground at our local special needs association. During the camp we also played sports, did art projects, went on a field trip to a nearby oasis and put on a crazy talent show (in which I regrettably participated in a robot pop-locking dance). It was a week that I will never forget – and I’m so excited to say that I am currently planning Ability Camp 2 for this year!
MAY – I traveled to Essaouira to work at the Gnaoua Music Festival with the ALCS, a Moroccan association that helps people with AIDS. Although the infection rate of AIDS in Morocco is still relatively low, there still remains a lot of stigma and misinformation about the disease. About twenty other Peace Corps Volunteers and I worked at the festival and had conversations with festival-goers about AIDS and encouraged them to get free testing done at the ALCS booth. By the end of the festival more than 1,100 people were tested! (Oh, and we got to see amazing live music each night.)
JUNE – During June I had a brief period of homelessness and decided to live with my Moroccan family for about 3 weeks. After living in homestays for my first 4 months of service, I never thought I would want to repeat the experience (personal space is my friend). But living with them was so much fun. Each day I would run around with my sisters, practice English with my brothers, shoot the shit with my baba, and try and fail to help my mama cook. Then at night we’d all snuggle up outside underneath the stars and have tickle fights before we fell asleep. Now if I am away from their house for more than two days I’m greeted with “where have you been??” before I can even walk through the door.
JULY – Laura’s contract with the Peace Corps ended at the end of June and then we went on a trip to Portugal together! She had a huge role in why I had such an incredible and successful first year in Peace Corps and I am so thankful for the friendship and guidance she has given me. We had an amazing trip in Portugal discovering hidden beaches on the edges of cliffs, indulging in things we’d missed while in Morocco, and working on our tans. Living in our desert town without her here just doesn’t feel the same.
AUGUST – In August I traveled to Spain where I met my mom and grandmother for ten days of travel through Madrid and Barcelona! It was a hilarious trip. If you ever thought that I have a loud laugh, then you should meet my mom and grandma. And then imagine us sitting together at a restaurant sipping sangria. It’s definitely a sight to see.
SEPTEMBER – After seven months of searching, I finally moved into a new house in a small village at the edge of town. I made the decision to move because I wanted to be closer to my favorite people in town and to integrate and share more in their unique Amazigh traditions. Other perks include living on the edge of the oasis (there are tons of palm trees right outside my back door), cooler temperatures, a giant private roof, and a quieter neighborhood.
OCTOBER – 2015 was a big year of travel for me. Not only did I take vacations to Portugal and Spain, but I also made my way back to America for the first time in nearly 2 years! I spent time at my parents’ house in Texas, visited my sister at the University of Texas at Austin, made my return to Washington, DC, and went to my friends’ beautiful wedding. Even though I don’t miss America very often, I do miss the people that live there a lot. It meant so much to me that I was able to see all of my favorite people.
NOVEMBER – When I returned to my town in the desert from America I found out that my youth center had been shut down for construction. It was originally only supposed to take two weeks, but I wasn’t optimistic that things would finish that quickly. I relayed this information to my students, and a group of them refused to halt our classes just because the youth center was closed. For the next two months, my book club students and I met at the café at the pool each week for our classes. Their dedication and enthusiasm for learning English continues to inspire me and drive my teaching.
DECEMBER – I’m really lucky because several of my closest friends from college also joined the Peace Corps. We’ve been able to bond and empathize with each other throughout our services as we go through similar journeys. In December, my friend Kara completed her service in the mountain kingdom of Lesotho and then came to visit me in Morocco! It was so surreal to have her by my side and to share Morocco with her. Traveling with her also made me fall in love with Morocco all over again. At nearly every restaurant we went to we were given free pots of tea, a tile maker in Chefchaouen chiseled each of us small blue hearts as gifts, and a calligraphy artist in Assilah wrote both of our names in Arabic calligraphy for us after I complimented his work. I felt so much love for the country that is now my home and to the people who made my trip with Kara so wonderful.
More than anything, it was the people in my life that made 2015 so memorable. This next year has a lot of changes and unknowns in store for me, but I know with these folks by my side I can handle anything.
(Want to read more? Check out my 2014 Peace Corps recap.)