Well, it's been quite a week-has it really been only one week?
The front end of the week was spent in Rabat. This is where the Morocco Peace Corps headquarters is located and we had a chance to go by there on the way to our hotel in the downtown area. Rabat is the capital of Morocco, so it was not a big adjustment, staying in our Western hotel in the heart of the city.
Over the next several days we met the outgoing and incoming Directors for Peace Corps Morocco and the US Ambassador to Morocco. We had a number of orientation workshops-getting lots of information and additional reading material and our first set of vaccinations. About half the group brought laptops and on the balcony outside our conference room we were emailing like crazy while we had wireless access. Each evening we’d watch the sunset from the roof and listen to the firecrackers that note the end of the Ramadan fast and the call to prayer from mosques around the city. All the horn honking and noise of the city quiets down as residents celebrate the break fast with their families
(On another Ramadan note, several of us were thinking that on our flight from NYC that it was rude for the flight attendants to wake people up 2 hours before our flight landed for a breakfast snack. Geez, couldn’t they have waited another hour? Of course, they were getting the snack served before the sun came up so those who are observing Ramadan could have something to eat before starting their daily fast.)
We're now in Azrou, in the Atlas Mountains. (Azrou in Berber it means rock). It finally feels like we're in the Morocco we're going to live in for 2 years, although it's still a fairly large town. We’re now into our technical, cultural and language training, alternating between this hostel and our homestays. The group is now about 30 strong-just the Small Business Development group now.
Today started our first language training and we're all feeling a little anxious for all we have to learn. The time off is pretty limited (6 days/week with Sunday homework and curfews each evening), but it's given us time to walk up into town and thru the medina and souks (think market areas) and try out our limited Darija (official Moroccan Arabic language) to make purchases. The hostel living is easing us into our homestay living-doing our own laundry, sharing limited bathrooms and shower facilities. I'm adapting well, but it's early yet! Got in a short workout today on the roof w/some of the others using the stretch bands I brought-still need to get some workout routine going that will work here. Given the schedule and learning to be done, the stress relieving benefits can't be overlooked. Plus, much to my chagrin, in the Medical Handbook (one of many received to date), it was noted that for some unexplained reason, male volunteers seem to lose weight while in Morocco and the women tend to gain weight. Great! Of course there's always the jelhaba (think zip up caftan w/a hood) that so many Moroccan women wear. Wait-the hood could cover the grey as it comes in!
We have the day off tomorrow (Sunday), but have homework and language to learn. There's a PC volunteer working in Small Bus Dev w/artisans here in Azrou and she's coming by in the afternoon to take anyone who wants to go to the Artisanal, her home, favorite places in town, to pepper her w/questions about here experience, etc. Should be interesting. Hopefully I'll also have time to get a cell phone during the day. It seems they're pretty essential, one of the providers serves most of the country, and will be very useful w/in country, not so much for US calls. Will keep you posted on that when I have a phone and more info.