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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Swearing In


This last week and a half has been a blur of training and testing, hellos and goodbyes. Training ended and service began, and that two year clock is ticking…

When I began this entry I was sitting in the Bab Sahara Hotel for what was likely the last time for the duration of my service, unless I am asked back to Ouarzazate for anything. Ouarzazate really has treated us (my stagemates and I) well and we have gotten to know it far more than I thought we could. It doesn’t seem strange or foreign anymore, and it’s only that I still can’t speak the language that reminds me that this is not actually my norm. But it was time to move on and that meant moving up to my site.

Getting my luggage consolidated was a bear, I have 2 big duffel bags and a suitcase and I had to get on the bus to Errachidia; then another bus from Errachidia to Rich and finally on the 4 hour transit ride to… my site. Oops, almost slipped there… Once I got to my site, I just needed to get my bags to my host family’s house and then, save moving into my house in July, I was done moving for 2 years solid; which will be longest I have ever stayed anywhere at one time since I moved out of my parent’s house in Colorado after college. In the past 3 years I have moved 6-7 times for my job and for Peace Corps. So, in some ways it is a comfort to know that I can go somewhere and not move for awhile.

As of now shoulders are still sore from carrying my things all over the country, but I am here and settled in with my host family. The very beauty of this place still makes my heart beat faster. But this entry is not meant describe my initial time in site; that entry is next. No this is about saying goodbye to a family and swearing in as a volunteer. Please allow me to backpedal…


My last week in training was somewhat slow, especially after the excitement of site visit, and the relief knowing what I was in for, brought to me. No, my CBT group and I worked our way through some final language lessons and took some final walks through the fields. The fields were in full flower and the wheat was waist high and hissed as the breeze rushed through it from the river. The roses reached above our heads and the almond branches drooped heavy with fruit. I realized that we really had been in our training site for a full season; that trees that had not even leafed out when we arrived here in March were now casting dark pools of shadow upon the path and that the flowering trees were now green and bearing fruit. The river was no longer fast and viscous with silt, but was then flowing cool and clear with no hint of its earlier turbulence.

I had a nice introduction to Moroccan humor from a stately Berber woman who, after I was able to adjust to her voice, told me that she liked my Moroccan name (Hassan) and that if I was to change it in anyway, even back in the states, she would then ritually slaughter me… She said this in a sweet, old lady kind of way, so I knew that I was in no danger of being killed in a ritual fashion. I replied in halting Tam that I would inform my parents back in the states that they couldn’t use my given name anymore. She laughed at this and general hilarity ensued.

The LPI, or Language Proficiency Interview, took place toward the end of the final week and consisted of speaking with one of the Moroccan Staff (not our LCF) for about 15 minutes on various topics. I scored “Intermediate Low” which was fine, and more than I was expecting. I will be interviewed again at the end of June when I go up to Azerou for technical training and debriefing from my initial experiences in site. After the LPI was over, it was just a matter of waiting for the training to end.

We went to Kelaat M’gouna to buy supplies for the party we were throwing for our host families and, after setting everything up and laying it out, our families arrived in varying degrees of lassitude. Soon the house was full of Moroccans and it was essentially a giant tea party. I gave a speech to my family in halting English (I think all of my language is halting nowadays) and my LCF translated for me. I presented them with the certificate of appreciation that Peace Corps had prepared for them and which we had had framed that morning. After my speech was finished, I heard a scraping noise and realized that my host father, who I did not think was going to attend due to difficulty of approaching the house in his wheelchair, had hauled himself up the stairs and into the tea-room. I was quite touched by this, as were most of my CBT mates, and my family and I settled down to listen to rest of the festivities. My host mother and host sister both gave speeches about how nice it was to have me as guest and how I was part of the family now. After a group photo, we all dispersed back to our respective homes for family time.

My host sister took us on our final walk where we got tea at two different houses and visited with her friends and family. The cook for our CBT accompanied us on our walk as well and I was glad she did. She has been a great friend to all of us and has spent more time with us as a group than anyone else in the village. She has been patient with our halting attempts at language and many times she and I laughed until we cried when I went to talk to her in the kitchen; granted, this was usually at my expense. After the walk, she cried and hugged us tightly (even the guys) and then ran off in the direction of her house. My final dinner was eaten late that night with my family and all of them promised to be up to see me off the next morning.

The final goodbye was oddly formal, but I sensed emotion just under the surface. This suspicion was confirmed when my host sister suddenly burst into tears and hugged me. I assured her that I would be back at least twice, once with my American family when they visit next year, and once in the fall for my host sister’s wedding. My host brother, and a couple of his friends that had stayed over the night before, helped me with my bags and walked me to the taxi which took us away to Ouarzazate.

After a week in Ouarzazate we attended the “Swearing In” ceremony which took place in the opulent Ouarzazate Palace of Congress, signaling the end of training and the true beginning of Peace Corps. Both the American Ambassador and the governor of Ouarzazate were in attendance and gave inspiring speeches to us new volunteers. We went to a reception afterward and ate French pastries and drank chilled banana juice. We mingled, shook hands and walked back the hotel in the hot sun.


I have been a Peace Corps Volunteer for just over a week now and am thoroughly enjoying my site, although I have been sick off and on. My village is beautiful and, on one of the days when I was feeling up to it, I climbed one of the mountains above the town to get my bearings. The mountain is a near vertical monocline that has eroded to the point that it is climbable. It was covered in fossils of shells and corals and it felt almost like I was beachcombing as I climbed. The mountain topped out at about 9300ft and the view was incredible in all directions. The hike is a vision of what I have to enjoy for the next two years in Morocco, and it was comforting to get out alone and do something familiar… or almost familiar. I packed many of the same things and used the same gear that I have hiked with for years. But this time there was no blue dog following close behind, no friends or family to go home to, no cold beverage waiting in the car; hell, there was not even a car waiting at the trailhead. None of familiar comforts of routine; a routine I hadn’t even known I had.

There were other reminders that I wasn’t home anymore, the presence of sheep on adjacent hillsides, the call to prayer echoing from the distant Mosque, far below in the village. No trees on the hillsides, only scrubby, cushiony plants that people gather to use as firestarter. The valleys are fields, wall to wall and the rivers are severely channelized—a consequence of 3000 years of agriculture. At one point as I climbed, I looked over to a nearby ridge and saw an Amazigh man, clad in a black Jelaba (full, hooded robe) and white headscarf, silhouetted against the sky and surrounded by his sheep. I am guessing I could have climbed this mountain anytime in the last three millennia and beheld the same scene.

From the summit of the mountain I could see many villages and many other mountains in all directions. I pulled out my GPS and marked a waypoint. Using the device I calculated the distance between my mountaintop and my family’s home in Colorado (also stored as a waypoint, marked with a shower icon): 5524 miles. Well it’s official, I am very far from home. But I love it here and will try to write and entry once a week from here on out, now that I am here for the long run.

Thanks for reading,