So here we are in Azrou-for additional information sessions and language training. This is all in anticipation of our Language test (more later) and official swearing-in next week in Fes-then we're official Volunteers!
OK, so my trip from Ribat El Kheir..... w/o stopping, it could be driven in about 1 1/2 hrs...took 4 1/2 hrs. Travel in Morocco is not for the weak and timid! It is a test of endurance. OK, so I wait for 40 min in REK for the "nuckle" (think van) to fill (they don't leave until all seats are taken and seat 15-20 people), 30 min to El Menzel where we stop for more riders (constantly stopping along the way to drop off and pick up passengers). 1 hr to Sefrou (big city). Petit taxi across town to a different grand taxi station. 20 min to fill that taxi. 30 min to Imitzer. 45 min to gather 5 passengers (need 6-4 in back and 2 in front w/driver)-I pay for 2 seats in the front so we can get going. 45 min to Azrou. Petit taxi to the Auberge. Whew! Who knew? Total cost for the entire trip (5 different transports) was 78DH-that's less than $10. Afterwards I found out that I can take a grand taxi direct (but the opposite direction) to Fes-abut 1 1/2 hrs, then a 1 hr grand taxi from Fes to Azrou. Even if I wait an hour for the taxis to fill, that is 1 hr less in travel and far fewer vehicles. Note to self-check out this alternative next time!
It's good be in Azrou for a little bit-the bad weather has passed and it's warmer here and sunny-great to walk around w/o an umbrella. It's also great to catch up w/everyone-lots to share about our one week site visits to our final sites-all kinds of stories, as you can imagine-from one person in a site w/no plumbing at 7,000 feet where it gets below zero, to another person who is sleeping in the same room w/8 family members (although we're supposed to have our own rooms-she was told there's another room w/o heating and no bed-she could buy a bed and sleep there if she wanted). There's one couple who arrived in their host town to find that their host family was gone for the weekend. Another trainee gets to his final site to discover that his host family backed out last minute-the mom was sick and wouldn't be able to cook, etc. Another family took him in the next day w/o knowing him, what the Peace Corps is, how long he was going to stay, really no information-talk about a welcoming family! Endi zzhr (I'm lucky)!
So about that Language Proficiency test. There are 3 levels of Proficiency (Novice, Intermediate, High) and 3 levels within each Proficiency Level (low, medium, high). The "requirement" for swear in is to be at Novice High, however it appears that if you don't get to that level, you are still sworn in, but get a language contract w/certain requirements and additional testing. Anyway, we checked that box yesterday. I'm speaking Darija at an Intermediate Low level (think 3 year old). So nice to have that behind me, but the work is really only beginning. Just wait until I'm back at my site-alone, without the LCF safety net-that's when the learning really starts! We also are provided w/a tutoring allowance of 400 DH/month. That apparently works out to 10 hrs/month. Given that any travel and translation has to come out of that same allowance, the money doesn't go very far. Since this is my #1, #2 and #3 priority in the first several months, I plan on supplementing the PC allowance w/my own $$ to front-end-load my learning.
We have 3 more days of sessions-getting us prepared for life on our own in our sites-swear in on Thursday, and "home" on Friday. We are required to live w/our host families for 2 months, but I'll need to also identify a place to rent pretty quickly. It shouldn't be hard to find a place (a couple of alternatives have already been identified), but the Peace Corps has to come out and approve our rental before we can sign a lease, to ensure it is safe, secure, etc., and that can take some time.
P. S. Did you know that there are 3 sectors of Peace Corps? Posh Corps (those that had 2x our rent and 2x our tutor budgets), the Peace Corps and the Hard Corps (no running water or "du" = electricity)!