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Volunteer Spotlight

  • 17 Feb 2020 by Johnny Garces

    This material does not reflect the official opinion of the United States Government or of the Peace Corps. The reader should be aware that birth and death rates, literacy levels, school enrollment percentages, religious preferences, life expectancy, health statistics and basic economic and population figures are often difficult to calculate in many countries around the world. Readers should be aware of this reality when they pursue information on Peace Corps host countries. Research updated 8/97.
    Research and format by Jeanne Pugh, University of Iowa and Stephanie Hallett, George Washington University and Cristina Everett, Educator. 


    Peace Corps Country Information for Peace Corps Day

    Country Information

    Name: Kingdom of Morocco

    Geographic Coordinates: 32 00N; 5 00W

    Land Area: 172,320 square miles, slightly larger than California

    Land Boundaries: Algeria, Western Sahara

    Coastline: 1,835 km along North Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea

    Highest Point: Jebel Toubkal 13,665 ft

    Principal Towns: Rabat (capital), Marrakesh

    Percent Urban: 51

    Date of Independence: 2 April 15 956 from France

    Suffrage: Universal at age 21

    Ethnic Groups: Arab-Berber 99.1%, other

    Population: 28.2 million (mid-1997)

    Birth Rate (per 1000): 26

    Death Rate (per 1000): 6

    Life Expectancy at Birth: 68

    Age Distribution: 36% under age 15, 5% over 65

    Literacy: 43.7% over age 15 (1995)

    Languages: Arabic (official), Berber dialects, French

    Religions: Muslim 98.7%, Christian 1.1%,

    Natural Resources: Phosphates, iron ore, manganese, lead, zinc, fish, salt

    Main Exports: Food and beverages, semiprocessed goods, consumer goods, phosphates

    Currency: 1 Moroccan dirham (DH) = 100 centimes

    Environmental Issues: Land degradation/desertification (soil erosion resulting from farming of marginal areas, overgrazing, destruction of vegetation); water supplies contaminated by untreated sewage; siltation of reservoirs; oil pollution of coastal waters

    Natural Hazards: Northern mountains geologically unstable, earthquakes; periodic droughts

    Peace Corps Entry: 1962-1991; 1991-

    Total Number of Peace Corps Volunteers: 3,347

    Average Number of Volunteers: 115

    How to greet in Moroccan Arabic

    Language: Arabic Greeting: Salam oo-alley koom

    Comments In Moroccan Arabic, as in Arabic everywhere, this is the standard basic greeting.  It translates literally to "Peace be unto you" and the response, "Oo-alley koom salam" means "and unto you be peace."

    Greetings in Morocco will go on for many minutes--sometimes up to 1/2 hour--and the parties ask about each other's health, faith in Allah, families, work, etc.  Other shorter greetings include "La bess?" meaning literally "No harm" or something like "How's it going?" "Salam," used when passing someone on the street you sort of know but don't stop to talk to, and "Ash khbarak?"--"What's new (with you)?"

    Moroccans will shake hands when greeting pretty much anyone, touching the heart immediately after the handshake to show that the greeting is sincere.  Sometimes instead of touching the heart, they will kiss their own hand after the handshake, as a sign of particular esteem or affection.  In the case of family or close friends, women greeting women and men greeting men will kiss each other's cheeks back and forth a few times.  In the north, it's right cheek--left cheek--left cheek. In other parts of the country, it could be right--left--right, or right--left only.  How much you kiss cheeks also depends on how much you like the person, or how long it's been since you've seen them.  The longer it's been, the more kisses are exchanged.  Women and men who are not related NEVER kiss.


    Celebrations Stories from Morocco for Peace Corps Day 1998

    Volunteer: Erin Dolat
    Years of service: 1996-1998
    Place and location: Missour, where I served is 400 km east of Rabat, 90 km from a small city (Midelt), and 200 km from a large city (Fes).

    One special day that is celebrated at Missour is a picnic at the site of a mausoleum. A respected man, Sidi Dowd, was burned a few hundred meters from my village. A small building has been constructed there and at various times, villagers visit his grave. Once a year a picnic is held. People from all over came by donkey or on foot for a day-long celebrations/commemoration of Sidi Dowd. Women make lots of couscous and families eat in the caves of a neighboring hill. Extra couscous is made to give to those who did not cook but still made the journey. It is like a picnic but with more sharing involved. This occasion is quite different than a typical picnic in the United States. People bring buta gas tanks, water, food, etc. I enjoyed this experience and look forward to it again next year.


    Volunteer: Sandra Vines
    Years of service: 1996 - 1998
    Place and location: Rabat, the Capital

    During the first week in March, Moroccans all over the country celebrate Throne Day which is the day their king, Hassan II, was first recognized as the new official ruler of Morocco.

    At first glimpse this holiday appears much like an American holiday because there were green and red lights everywhere in the streets which reminded me of Christmas. However, I soon realized that these were the national colors of Morocco. At night, there was a parade attended by almost the entire city of Rabat. Women, men and children were all lined along Avenue Mohammed waiting for the Royal Cavalry to appear. The sound of the beating of the drums in the distance reminded me of the homecoming parades in my hometown of Athens, Ohio.

    The enthusiasm exhibited here was much greater than any I had ever seen for a football team. As the parade first appeared, children were scaling the wall of the post office to get better view, women began to yell yu, yu, yu! in lieu of
    applause. Men in beautiful red uniforms with long capes and blue geometric shaped hats were riding pure bred Arabian horses. Others were carrying brass lanterns on a pole while those in the middle stopped to play their trumpets and drums in front of us. There were flags everywhere. People were cheering and pushing their way to the front, so much that the men on horseback could not move forward. For me this national celebration was another example of the solidarity and the passion of Moroccan people.


    Volunteer: Kerry Foley
    Years of service: 1997-1999
    Place and location: Beni Mellal, the site where I am serving, is about 300 km southeast of Rabat at the western base of the Middle Atlas Mountains.

    During the summer I was invited to a Moroccan wedding in Salé, Morocco (a suburb of Rabat). A Moroccan family used henna to dye my hair and to make a beauftiful design on my hands. I was dressed in a long dress, with embroidery around the neck and a gold belt. The groom wore a western-style dark blue suit and the bride wore a similar outfit to mine, but in white with a crown of white and a veil. The wedding celebration had begun two days prior to the wedding day with a truck filled with presents parading down the streets of Salé. At the wedding party, which I attended, the groom walked into the dance hall while the bride was carried into the room on an intricately beaded platform by four groomsmen. She sat on the platform with delight and fear, or so it seemed. The band played Moroccan music from the late evening until the next morning. It was quite a remarkable experience.


    Volunteer: Amy Mawry
    Years of service: 1997-1999
    Place and location: The site where I am serving is El Jadida, Faculté des Lettres, Université Chouaib Doukkali, which is 90 km south of Casablanca on the Atlantic coast.

    On Novenber 6, Moroccans celebrate a day in honor of the "Green March" or the movement of a group of people into Western Sahara. There has been some dispute as to what country could rightly claim western Sahara. Morocco's government, in order to claim this land, asked Moroccans to move into it and occupy it. Over 350,000 people went willingly, and the Western Sahara was claimed in part by Morocco.

    This event is celebrated much as we celebrate Martin Luther King's birthday. People observe the event and its significance by closing shops and offices, and it affords many people the opportunity to travel to be with family and friends.


    Volunteer: Pauline Salser
    Years of service: 1997-1999
    Place and location: I am serving in Douar Amzough Takarkoust, about 52 km south of Marrakech.

    I briefly visited a family celebrating a circumcision of their four and a half year old son. It was a much greater celebration for the extended family than for the little boy, but he did receive small gifts and a great amount of attention and love from each person that attended throughout the day. The only resemblance to a celebration in the United States might have been a birthday party that totally catches participation of adult males of a family.


    Volunteer: Erica Clark
    Years of service: 1996-1998
    Place and location: I am serving in Tazarte (Fig), which is 60 km northeast of Marrakech in the mountains and plains.

    On Ashora, children go from house to house asking for 10 centimes pieces (like a penny). If you don't give them one, they can throw water on you, or use a squirt gun, etc. Usually mass water fights break out in the streets between everybody, adults and children alike. It is similar to Halloween in the "trick or treat" spirit of things. A super soaker water gun is our ultimate wish for the day -or a giant hose! It is a simultaneous water fight throughout all of Morocco.


    School Life

    I worked in an orphanage in Rabat so it is hard for me to remember the public school calendar. Most schools were organized on the French system. I know they would go home for a lunch siesta and then return to school. Most kids went to school from ages 5 to 18. There was a great deal of rote memorization. Most children attended from Monday to Friday, but some students went on Saturday too.

    There were many national holidays and shorter days during the month of Ramadan. Summer vacation was like our summer vacation period in the States.

    I taught at the Rabat American School. That school was organized much like a school in the United States.


    Food in Morocco from Peace Corps Day 1998

    Couscous is what Moroccan cuisine is most known for. In my area, it is eaten on every Friday, holy day. It is prepared in big batches. There is always more than we can eat. It is steamed and a sauce with vegetables is put over it. There will be a piece of lamb or beef in the center, carrots, cabbage, squash, peppers and other vegetables around the meat. In the cities it's eaten with spoons but the traditional way is to eat it with your right hand. Take a handful and by squeezing and tossing, shape it into a ball of couscous, pop it into your mouth and eat it. PCVs usually make a big mess in their eating area with this method and provide lots of entertainment for the Moroccans.

    Weather in Morocco from Peace Corps Day 1998

    In Morocco the climate and seasons are very similar to California. Cool on the coast all year long. Reaching into the low 90's during July and August. Inland it is hot. Summertime in the north gets to be in the 100's; in the south about 110 and up. The mountains get snow. The southern region may get 2-3 inches of rain per year. The humidity is low except on the coast. Spring and fall are beautiful, but they last only about 3 weeks each. The winter in the north is very cold. Typical desert climate.

    It was very hot in the summer and very cold in the winter in Taza. Snow fell in Taza for the first time in 40 years while I was there. It stuck and lasted for 3 days. Most people in the town had never seen snow, but all enjoyed the work holiday that it created.


    • Site: Chefchaouen
    • Location: Northern Morocco in the Western Rif Mountains, about 2 hours inland from the Strait of Gibraltar (about 150 km).
    • RPCV: Kristyn Leftridge

    Morocco is quite temperate. It's more or less summer there 8 or 9 months of the year. The term for winter is "shtah," or "rain"--it's supposed to be the Moroccan rainy season, but over the last few years there has been a serious drought problem and winters are merely damp and occasionally drizzly. There is snow at the higher elevations, and even some skiing down near Marrakech. There are 2 major mountain ranges in the country ,the Rif and the Atlas, the latter being separated into High Atlas and Middle Atlas. They also have a slight affect on the weather. Generally, though, the climate all over the country is warm to hot and dry--very low humidity. The summers can get well over 100 degrees, with the spring and fall hovering around 85 or so.

    Proverbs from Morocco for Peace Corps Day 1998

    There are many, many proverbs in Morocco. My favorite was "shweea b shweea, l'jamal imshi f'sooksoo" meaning, "little by little, the camel goes into the couscous." This is also stated by saying, "nqta b nqtaqay amal l'oued"--"drop by drop flows the river." Time is simply not important in Morocco; everything happens at its own pace, and everyone is important. Eventually the camel will get into your couscous when you're not looking, and yes, that river seems powerful when you watch it flowing along, but you must remember that millions of little drops make up the strength of the river.

    Of course, the most important word in anyone's social vocabulary is "Insha'allah," meaning "God (Allah) willing." This is used in situations ranging from asking about the weather ("Do you think it will rain tomorrow?" -- "Insha'allah, we need it!") to avoiding an invitation you don't want to accept ("We'd love to have you over for dinner this week." -- "Insha'allah, I will be there.") to finding out about travel arrangements ("Will this bus be going to Rabat today?" -- "Insha'allah!"). If things don't happen the way they're supposed to, it just wasn't Allah's will.

  • 17 Feb 2020 by Johnny Garces

    (published- November, 1999)

    PeaceWorks: So Tom I guess we should start from the beginning and find out a little about your background. Where do you call home back in the States?

    TB: Well I originally come from a small town called Cotulla in south Texas, but most recently I had been living in New Mexico [Said with a strong country-western twang].

    PW: What is it that drew you to Peace Corps?

    TB: Adventure, travel, and the opportunity to help people. I had seen PC fliers around my college campus and it always looked like something I might like. It was after I began working at the Alameda Park Zoo as a Zookeeper that I decided to take a chance and go see the world.

    PW: How about your site, Tom? What's it like?

    TB: My site is in the town of Azrou, [about an hour to 90 minutes south of Meknes and Fes respectively] in the Middle Atlas Mountains, where ice falls from the sky!! [Laughs all around]

    I am working with the DPA out of Azrou.

    PW: Yeah, I hear it is quite cold in Azrou ( I try to get Tom to give me one of his world famous Texan sayings that never seem to make quite complete sense).

    TB: Hell yeah it's cold! We had snow in early November! Remember, I'm from Texas, not Minnesota (Eyeing me with suspicion; knowing what I'm looking for).

    PW: So when you were back in New Mexico and getting ready to come over to Morocco, what did you see yourself doing in the Peace Corps?

    TB: Actually I saw myself working in a more under-developed area in terms of resources then Morocco has proven to be.

    PW: That's right Tom, weren't you originally supposed to go to Lesotho in South Africa?

    TB: Yeah, but the idea of seeing such a large personality as myself [Tom is a true Texan- and you know everything is bigger in Texas] sitting on top of a truckload of grains as a "Food Security Agent" just didn't sit very well in my mind's eye. (I had visions of Kenny from the South Park episode when he got shipped to Africa). So I decided to accept the next assignment, which was Morocco.

    PW: I guess it all worked out in the end, because didn't Lesotho get mixed up in its own revolution?

    TB: I think they did and the Peace Corps got Evac'ed, but it would have been nice to be warm for a while.

    PW: What projects have you become involved with so far?

    TB: Since my "nedi" [a women's education/artesianal center] idea didn't pan-out, I've been working on a fuel efficiency stove project with women in the area in order to cut down on deforestation. I have been collaborating with two wonderful sitemates, PWEE's Seana Lammers (2nd year) and Megan Myers (1st year). I have also been working on pulmonary disease control for livestock with lime distribution centers.

    PW: Sounds like a lot Tom?

    TB: Just enough to pull your hair out!! But I have also been trying to coordinate a community meeting to address erosion control in the area with two UNDP reps from Azrou.

    PW: What has been your biggest challenge while working in all these projects?

    TB: Patience. I get frustrated when I work so hard to get everyone together and people miss these appointments. One of the difficulties in working with so many people is getting the logistics of transportation, etc., etc., down pat. And the whole idea of "Inshallah", uh, that is so hard to get used to and can still bother me. There is no visible incentive and it can make situations difficult to motivate people.

    PW: Any last thoughts on Peace Corps?

    TB: I think PC-Morocco should begin to phase itself out and turn the reigns over to the Moroccan government. There are plenty of talented and educated Moroccans to do the jobs that many PCV's are currently involved in. Sometimes it feels as though PC-Morocco has become a crutch for the government to lean on when they have the ability to do it themselves. All they lack is the confidence.

    PW: Overall your experience-good, bad, what?

    TB: I've learned a lot about myself and Morocco. All these things I will take back with me. It's been real, and it's been fun, but it ain't always been real fun [Laughs].

  • 17 Feb 2020 by Johnny Garces


    Jennifer Gillet

    (published November, 1999)

    Ah northern Morocco where all the women wear funny hats, the men are all abnormally happy and all of the children are above average.  I keep house in a little village called Ben Karrich on the road between Tetouan and Chefchaouen.  On a good day I wake up around six and walk to the bottom of my hill (about two K's) At the bottom of the hill I wait between two minutes to two hours for transport to a spot about 25K away. It is here that work begins I stop in at the house of my favorite family and have the usual country breakfast of tea, olives, bread and an egg (or two if the chickens were busy). This egg or two is usually split between seven and five people all of which live in a room that is six meters by 12 meters.

    If we were lucky enough to get some rain I hike out to eight sample sites and collect rain water samples with the help of my family's father. I am working on a project that is funded by USAID, this projects goal is to reduce erosion in the watershed between Tetouan and Chaouen. If it is not raining I hike about an hour to the douars on the opposite mountain ridge here I talk with the ladies about goat milk sanitation or the men about improving irrigation and reducing erosion. One of the most enjoyable things for me is to help with production agriculture in my area; to plant, harvest and thresh wheat, to collect and braid onions into long strings for storage and to go with the women when they scavenge for firewood. Spending time with people and seeing how they live their lives and being allowed to live with them has been my most rewarding experience

    If the rains did come, I spend some time with the family and then pack out 8 liters of water into the next vehicle going my way. I then take my samples to the CFRD lab near Ben Karrich. I put the samples in the oven to evaporate the water and weigh any samples I may have put in the oven the day before. Once my labwork is done I may cruise over to my CT and tell them I am alive, but I personally avoid the Ct like the plague, lest they try and get me to sit at my desk or get married. From there it is a two K hike up to my house where I knock off the mud from my boots and clean up some before I try and decide which house I should go to for dinner. Stop by the hanoot and get some jelly or fruit for the family that will be feeding me and spend the next couple of hours watching TV, crocheting, and eating before I crawl back to my house so the next day I can do it all again. If you have read this far thanks and please send in your day in the life of story or else you will be stuck hearing more about my life and we all know no one wants that.

  • 17 Feb 2020 by Johnny Garces

    (Published November, 1999)

    Christian Fowkes in Tazekka National Park

    "Salaam. Labas. Sb'hare, labas? Hum Du'lah."
    (Hello.  How are you?  Good Morning.  How are you? Thanks be to God.)

    "Labas Karim. Friouato?"
    (How are you, Karim?  Where are you going?)

    "La, Bab Bou Idir."
    (There, Bab Bou Idir)

    "Wah Ha, Y'allah."
    (OK.  Let's go)

    And so at seven in the morning I hop into a Grand Taxi, pay the mol-taxi my fare of 10 Dirhams and wait for 20 minutes or so until we begin our ascent into the mountains surrounding the small city of Taza. For me this is an above-average day because I will be getting the opportunity to do what I love to do -hike through the Cedar forests of Jbel Tazekka.  An added bonus is the fact that I get to do it as a part of my job while working with the Department of Water and Forests.

    I am currently serving as a Parks, Wildlife, & Environmental Educator (PWEE) Volunteer in the Tazekka National Park. My title obviously has many implications as to what I may be working on in the Park, but in fact don't let the title fool you. As many Volunteers will tell you, our titles can be deceiving, because in fact we can work on a variety of projects that can cover a vast area of subject fields. Currently I am involved in continuing the development of the Park's hiking trails.

    Slowly, the struggling taxi climbs over the first of the steep ridges on its way to Bab Bou Idir. Rising from about 800 meters in Taza to over 1980 meters, Jbel Tazekka towers over the area. After about an hour of traveling around hairpin turns on a one lane highway, we arrive at Bab Bou Idir. Built by the French and used as a summer camp by the French colonialists and French Nuns, Bab Bou Idir continues to be the central gathering area for the surrounding valleys. It is here that I exit my taxi and begin to trek up the road towards the towering landmark that is Jbel Tazekka.

    Luckily, I flag down a camion that is on its way towards one of the several villages located deep inside the Park. Graciously I squeeze into the already jam-packed camion and struggle to breathe as we screech around curves, the force smashes the weight of the other three occupants against my compressed diaphragm. But hey, it's a lot better than walking the 6 km. up to the trailhead.

    "Shukran sahabee, laiown."
    (Thanks, friend.  God be with you)

    "Laiowm, Karim."
    (God be with you, Karim)

    Solitude. Silence. These two words can describe Peace Corps to many Volunteers, and they say a lot about how service itself can feel sometimes. But today I have sought out these exact circumstances. Today solitude and silence will be the scaffolding which I will use to slowly inch up this difficult trail and reach the peak of Tazekka.  Tazekka may not reach the heights of some of its cousins outside of Marrakech, but it is still a tall reminder of how little we can be sometimes. With this in mind I begin my hike and mark the entrance of the trail with a quick pass of the fluorescent spray paint. Now anyone who wishes can follow me and enjoy these beautiful woods.

    Continuing throughout the day, I check the trail for trash, mark confusing turns, clean debris out of the way, and generally make the trail just a little bit better than before. But it isn't always as nice as this, because villagers sometimes don't like the fact that the old goat trail now has some weird paint marks. Talking with them, it seems that they do not fully understand why someone would want to 'walk around without any goats'. Vandalism is constant and trash is reoccurring, but in the end everyone seems to pitch in and leave the trail markers alone. But then again, what could be more fun than throwing rocks at a sign when you are 12 years old and watch sheep all day?

    After four hours on the trail, I reach the summit of Jbel Tazekka. Cedars as wide as a car tower over me. Their majestic limbs reach out, trying to cover the head of this mountain. Halfway finished, I stop to relax under the 'woosh, woooosh' of the wind blowing through the trees. The only thing I don't like about Tazekka is the small radio tower on top of it. However, there is a work crew that watches over the tower. There are actually two crews, they rotate on one week intervals. I approach the gate and exchange the usual round of pleasantries and learn that they remember some of the previous Volunteers. While we share stories and tea, I convince them to let me climb up the radio tower. Reluctantly, they agree but only up to the first platform. Perfect!: It's about 10 meters clear of the treetops.

    Fes. I can see Fes...a city that is over 100 km away. I have never seen anything like this incredible, unbelievable view. From this vantage point, I can see the entire Taza Gap, the same pass through which the the Arabs passed en route to the Atlantic over 1000 years ago. I take it all in again: the silent solitude on top of that mountain. I smile and begin my descent from the radio tower. It is time to resume doing the job I have come here to do. Half the trail still remains to be marked and the sun is setting fast.

    For me this trail is an example of what Peace Corps can be all about. You struggle through winding and seemingly endless paths, some of which abruptly dead-end, causing you to turn back. At times all you want to do is stop and you look for the quickest way out of your current situation. But in the end when you reach the zenith and take that deep breath, breathing in the air of confidence once again, you begin to look around and see just how many little accomplishments it took to get you where you stand. That new point of view is what makes the experience so worthwhile... so enjoyable, so beautiful, and so memorable.

    I have seven more trails to mark, and at least as many more times to enjoy the view.

  • 17 Feb 2020 by Johnny Garces

    (published November, 1999)

    Cheryl Zainfeld

    My home in the States is in the Sonoma Valley north of San Francisco; specifically the little town of Glen Ellen which is surrounded by vineyards.

    Prior to Peace Corps, I worked for Macmillan Publishing which is based in NYC., but I was in their west coast division of marketing and advertising.

    I decided that, at a certain point in my life, I would go into volunteer work and Peace Corps was the obvious first choice.

    My one daughter, Sarah, is in a masters program at Mills College in Oakland, California. She is greatly looking forward to the day when her Mom will be happy to sit in a rocking chair on the porch and read or knit, rather than adventuring in a strange country halfway around the world.

    For the past few months I have lived and worked among the Berber people in Ben Khlil in the Province of Khenifra. It is a little village of about thirty families at the base of the middle Atlas mountains south of the market town of Khenifra.

    My dream in coming to Morocco was to work with rural women in helping them in some way toward self-empowerment and self-sufficiency. Just by seeing me live and work alone among them and provide for myself was a beginning. As time went by and I learned to communicate with them, I was able to learn possible ways of contributing to the community through my skills and previous experience.

    Over and over again I heard from everyone how much they wanted to have a nedi in the community, where they could learn new skills like sewing and knitting while passing on their knowledge of weaving to those who hadn't been taught The carpets and capes and pillows which are woven on large hand hewn looms in each woman's home are incredibly beautiful. I immediately saw the potential of additional income for the families if their craft products could be marketed

    I approached the director of the extension office about using an old school building where we could set up the looms, I approached a local NGO to donate an old Singer sewing machine, and I convinced three families to drag their old looms out of the rafters in the barns. We were off and running.

    Fortunately, my Grandmother had a treadle sewing machine which I used to play on when I was a child, so I started giving sewing lessons. The first week, fifty women and girls came to sign up for the sewing lessons; on one machine! We went to the local souk and bought old sheets to use for material and, at the same time I bought raw wool for the first carpet (Digs is now the proud owner).

    Throughout this process, I learned that the women didn't know how to sign their names or read Arabic script. I asked them if they would like to learn. Their response was an enthusiastic "yes". Someone suggested that we ask the local preschool teacher if she would be willing to volunteer some time after her classes to teach basic literacy at the neddi. The classes were scheduled each night before the evening meal.

    There are now thirty women who can write their names when asked.

    Of course, there were difficulties along the way, and still are; the cold in the winter, the polluted drinking water. The time when I returned from being in Rabat late at night, only to find that the little boys had stuffed debris in the lock on my front door so the key wouldn't work and I had to climb the wall and climb through a window to get in.

    After that, I decided I needed to find a way to involve the boys of the community in the project, so I asked a neighbor to bring his mule and plow up the back yard to make a children's garden. The boys dragged in brush to fence the plot and found some old boards to make a gate to keep the sheep and chickens out I sent home for some seeds, which they proudly showed me how to plant. From then on, the little boys became working members of the neddi and would never think of harming it.

    One day I noticed a young girl in the neddi looking longingly at my bike. I asked her if she would like to ride it and she said she didn't know how. The next thing I knew was running behind to hold her upright as she went hooping and shouting across the yard. That was the beginning of my bicycle riding lessons. My dream is to find someone to donate several used bikes to the neddi for the girls to ride.

    Last summer, the new AG and PWEE volunteers were at my site for three weeks. It was so much fun for me to be able to share my community with all of them. They were all so completely supportive to me in my work there. They did demonstrations of tree plantings behind the neddi which were meant to grow into a pleasant hedge. Unfortunately, an unexpected rain storm caused a flash flood which sent three feet of rushing water into the garden. My bamboo chicken house (with my four pet chickens) and all the trees were washed away. Volunteers came to the rescue with there pants and skirts hitched up, wading through the red clay looking for the lost hens. Incredibly, they all survived and are alive and well today. Although, I threaten them each day with the tagine pot if they don't start giving me eggs.

    As I go into my second year, I am overwhelmed with ideas. There are so many possibilities and so little time. In a few months time, I will be looking back on all of this as a memory. It is being one of the most enriching times of my life.

    Peace Corps experience is a gift which Americans give to themselves.

  • 17 Feb 2020 by Johnny Garces

    "You must have run out of everything at the same time," said the CVS Pharmacy cashier, glancing down at my overloaded basket of lotions, pastes, cremes, and gels. Embarrassed by my zeal for health and beauty aids, I started to explain.

    "I just came back from Morocco," I said "I was a Peace Corps Volunteer."

    The cashier stopped. Putting down my bottle of Aussie Miracle Shampoo, she looked me in the eye and said "God bless you!" with such earnest admiration it frightened me. She called out to another lady, who was inspecting a box of Altoids. "Did you know this young woman just got back from the Peace Corps?!"

    "My goodness," the Altoids lady joined in. The two looked me down from head to toe seemingly in search of some lingering Saharan sand. Suddenly conscious of my fingernails, I fumbled around for my pockets.

    "All that you must have been through! What was it like?" Before I could answer "it was great," the Altoids lady shook her head and clicked, "Tsk, tsk. You poor thing! What a great sacrifice you made!" After  ringing up my $42 purchase, the cashier picked up a Hershey's chocolate bar from the candy counter and pressed it into my hand, saying "That's for you."

    For over a week--a record for me --I left the Hershey bar untouched. Then, in a fit of"re-entry" depression, I ate it (for medicinal purposes only). As I suspected, it stuck in my throat, like the words I didn't say.

    The CVS ladies weren't the only ones who considered my Volunteer service a "great sacrifice." I didn't see it this way, and I struggled to ex\-plain. Once I practically shouted, "Moroccans gave me much, much more than I ever gave them!" to my Aunt Ann. Judging from her beatific grin, I knew that, in her eyes, a golden halo was shining over my head, more brilliantly than ever before. This frustrated me immensely, since I sensed that underlying such good-hearted intentions was a misperception not only of me, but of the developing world as well.

    Growing up in middle class suburbia, my introduction to the "Third World" was the Evening News. According to Walter Cronkite's reports, wars, famines, and natural disasters were daily occurrences in the world beyond the Jersey shore.  Later, at college, I stumbled into an anthropology class and gained a larger world view.  For many of my relatives and childhood friends, however, the most vivid images of the Third World continued to be photos and newsreels of devastation.

    In Another Africa, Nigerian writer, Chinua Achebe--concerned about the effect of such images on the world psyche--quotes a joint statement made by Amnesty International and the International Committee for Photography. "The apocalyptic vision of the newsmakers does not accurately document the world community. Nor are they particularly helpful in forming a picture of our common humanity." Achebe then goes on to support their appeal to "document authentic humanity."

    "Documenting authentic humanity" is what Peace Corps Day is all about. For me, Peace Corps Day offered an opportunity to (finally) clear my throat; to answer all those questions that no one was asking; and to depict a personal portrait of the developing world that was alive with common joys and common sufferings.

    At 9 AM on March 3, 1998, I traipsed up to the doors of the John Eaton Middle School in Washington, DC. Wearing a pink djellaba and toting my biggest, brightest meeka bag --bursting with baubles and teapots, veils and slippers--I felt like a Moroccan version of Mary Poppins. Once inside the sixth grade classroom, I was unnerved to find the students sitting so quietly at their desks. With arms folded, they stared at me with wide-eyed passivity, suggesting that they had already tuned in to their own inner Nickelodeon channels. Luckily, my cassette of Berber music knocked Nick's reception into static, causing the class to twitter and squirm.

    "Is this the kind of music they listen to?" one boy asked, obviously unimpressed. I gave him my Marrakeshi hand drum. Then, digging into my bottomless meeka bag, I passed out four sets of gourds and two tambourines. I divided the rest of the class into Stompers and Clappers. Soon, happily and noisily, we caught the Berber rhythm. And, we were awake.

    Although our virtual tour of Morocco ran the gamut from Arab history to the word zweena, I discovered that students were most curious about my own (minor) triumphs and (major) guffaws. I also found that, not only did I have a large collection of stories, I had recurring themes. There were animal stories ("The Camel with Indigestion" was a big hit); transportation stories (generally involving death-defying bus rides and chickens with indigestion); and food stories (here, I waxed poetic on the wonders of couscous and Fez fish tagine). But the stories about my Moroccan neighbors, students, and friends sparked the greatest enthusiasm. Like the story about how my neighbor, Araina, and I chased runaway sheep during Ramadan; or the story about how a little Berber girl, living at the edge of the Sahara, insisted on giving me her doll, made from scraps of cloth and wood.

    "A Berber girl made this?" asked one girl, holding the doll close. The doll's raw beauty resonated with a spirit, joyful and content. "She's so nice!," said the gift, transfixed. I wondered if she was admiring the doll or the little Berber girl.

    "Did you always know that you wanted to be a Peace Corps Volunteer?'' asked a girl wearing florescent-green overalls. I had to stop for a moment to think. My usual response to this question was either too standardized ("anthropology has had a significant influence...") or too vague ("I think, maybe, I saw a commercial somewhere...?').

    Then, it hit me. When I was 11, "Huckleberry Finn" and "Harriet the Spy" were my heroes. I liked Huck Finn, because I understood what he meant when he said he didn't want to be 'sivilized." He wanted to find out about the world for himself and not be force-fed answers by "society." I liked Harriet because she was smart and curious about people. One day, I heard about the Peace Corps and was relieved to know that I could be true to the values of Huck and Harriet and not be imprisoned.

    "... So, yes, I always wanted to be a Volunteer.  It just took me a while to find the name for it.'

    Staring straight ahead, one boy half-whispered, "Very, very cool!" Yes. Very cool...

    Distill it down to its most essential element: Peace Corps Volunteers are wordsmiths. We arrive in a country offering words about health, words about education, words about technology. We translate, trade, share, and weave words enwrap-ping ourselves in dialogues and stories, histories and fables.

    If peace is a conversation, where words flow fresh and plentiful, then war is a painful silence, where words stop, and stagnate. In the face of ignorance and devastation, what is there to say?

    Peace Corps Day is an opportunity for Volunteers-- past, present, and future--to celebrate our medals of service: the words and stories given to us by neighbors, friends, and students.

    Speak to clear your throat of the stories welling up inside. Speak for the sake of peace. Keep the conversation alive.

    Note: Each year on Peace Corps Day, thousands of returned Volunteers mo\-bilize to share with our nation~ students the knowledge and insight they gained from their overseas experience. But Peace Corps Day is only the beginning ...many educators and returned Peace Corps Volunteers establish educational partnerships that continue throughout the year Peace Corps Day, 1999 is March 2. For more information contact: Peace Corps, 1111 20th Street, N.W. , 2nd floor, Washington, DC 20526, (800) 424-8580, press 2 then ext. 1961

    e-mail: / wws / events /peacecorpsday99 /index. html

    Published in Global Teach Net March-April 1999 p.4-5