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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Deep breath before the plunge...

Philadelphia, PA, USA

Well it finally happened, the looming departure deadline that I had been anticipating/dreading for months has finally arrived and I am sitting on a plane bound for the Peace Corps staging event in Philadelphia. Philadelphia is the deep breath before the plunge and, when the 24 hour staging whirlwind has dissipated, I depart for Morocco on the 2nd.

First I will be boarding a bus to New York, where I will be flying out from JFK airport direct to Casablanca. No stopovers or changes in Europe at all, which is very nice and means my incredible amount of baggage has little chance of getting lost along the way. Once on the ground in Casablanca, I board a bus to the red city of Marrakech and stay the night with my fellow volunteers at a hotel. Marrakech has been called the “Gateway to Atlas” that 13,000+ ft mountain range that the ancient inhabitants of North Africa believed held up the heavens themselves. From there we take another, longer, bus ride across the Atlas to the city of Ouarzazate, which is located between the Atlas and the “Sahel” the fringe country of the Sahara. It is here that my group of volunteers will settle in for our three months or so of Pre-service Training (PST).

I am sure I over-packed, but I can’t narrow it down much more. Will I be in the Atlas Mountains with the cold winters? Or the Sahara with the warm... well, everything. Or maybe the Rif Mountains and the National Park located on the rugged Mediterranean coastline? I have no idea and won’t know anything until over a month into training. I have been told that the Peace Corps selects your site based on your background and aspirations statement, and that the interviews during PST are just a formality. My best guess is work in the Atlas, that’s where a majority of the Moroccan National Parks are located. Plus my background is geared toward work in the mountains, what with growing up in Colorado and working at Yellowstone and Grand Teton for a couple seasons. It is a toss-up though, and I won’t know anything for quite awhile. I will be living with a Moroccan host family for the duration of my training and then stay with a second host family for the first 2 months at post. They will serve (in an ideal scenario, horror stories do exist) as a sounding board for my fledging language skills, be a window into Moroccan culture and family life, and also keep an eye on me during this crucial “break-in period”.

I am optimistic overall, and look forward to seeing the Atlas and the Sahara, learning about an entirely foreign ecology and geography, and being able to use this knowledge to further global understanding of conservation. I look forward to slowing down, getting out of the constant connection of the American grid, and learning. I brought journals and notebooks, art supplies, and plenty of reading materials. Although the initial PST is fast-paced and days are full, the first few months at post are said to be quiet and pass very slowly. I hope to use this time efficiently and learn enough about my village that I can determine how best to be an effective volunteer. I also hope to write plenty of letters or, ideally, answer plenty of letters (hint hint!). If I failed to give you my address before I left, contact my Dad via email at and he’ll give you my information. I would post it online, but that seems to be one of Peace Corps’ peeves.

The final goodbye to family and friends was difficult, but not nearly the tearful occasion that other PCVs had described to me. I think this was for a couple different reasons, first that I had been gone before with the National Park Service, and also that “long goodbye” phenomenon that I described in my previous entry. I feel that I left no loose ends and that I have no pressing obligations tying me to the states; I feel I can stay out for as many months, years, as see fit. I am 22 years old and single; I have plenty of time. Still, I know I will miss my family and friends, and my home in the American West; although I do feel blessed to have Morocco as my post, it is said to be stunning. To those of you reading this, enjoy your next two years and feel free to write me from time to time (or send me a book, but no packages before May 5th, as per policy).

Well l made it to Philadelphia and I am posting from my hotel it is full of confused Peace Corps hopefuls like myself. So it begins… I will update when I can, thanks for reading!