I have been in Morocco now for one month! It's not so much that I have been neglecting my blog as I have been throwing all my energy into my new life here. Plus, the internet availability has been a bit sketchy. But enough prologue; time to fill you in.
When I stepped off the plane in Morocco in the early morning of March 16, 2011, I stepped foot on the continent of Africa for the first time in my life. We were met by a warm rain which somehow made it more magical. We were told that guests who arrive when it's raining will bring good things. From that moment, we were scooped up by the Peace Corps, ushered through the diplomatic line at the airport - which gave me a thrill - and onto busses where they gave us bags of yogurt, fruit and candy bars for the journey.
We sped through the Moroccan landscape, watching as it changed from flat and green, to flat and brown, to brown and rocky, to rocky and mountainous. I was dazzled by our hotel in Marrakech - sprawling lawns, villas and a sparkling pool that made me drool. It was too cool yet to swim in it, but sitting by it and soaking up the rays – plus being fed three sumptuous meals a day – made me feel that Peace Corps is the life!
Though unfortunately, we had only limited time to enjoy it. We spent hours every day in trainings for safety, security and some basic language.
Three days later we all took the recommended Dramamine and got back on the bus for the three hour ride through the mountains. I was shocked and touched to find that we had a royal police escort with a siren the entire 4 hour trip. To me, this spoke volumes about the incredible hospitality of Moroccans. The cop on the motorcycle made all the other cars pull over when we passed. Even on narrow mountain passes!
The bus swayed quite liberally, and often there were no railings. I was sitting right in the front and had several mini panic attacks that were purely traffic-related.
I was struck by the dramatic change in the landscape - we had desert to green rolling meadows to rugged mountains and back to desert again. All in a mere 204 kilometers (or 126 miles).
Upon our arrival in Ouarzazate we were greeted by the sprawling grounds of the Atlas Studios: the biggest movie studio in the world. It includes a replica of Jerusalem, and was the site for the filming of Lawrence of Arabia, Kingdom of Heaven and Babel. Our hotel was on the main square in Ouarzazate, and from the roof, you could see the charming desert medina stretching out before you.
I was enchanted, running on adrenaline, and started to realize for the first time I was in Morocco! But we were most excited to learn that we had more internet access in this hotel so we could be in contact with friends and family from home.
We spent the day in sessions, being familiarized with everything from Peace Corps policies to how to avoid committing faux pas with your family to how to use the Turkish toilet. Last but not least, we learned our assigned language - either the Berber dialects Tashelheit or Tamazight, or Arabic - and our assigned training community. I was assigned to learn Arabic! And being sent to a small town called Oulad L’Arbiya about 45 minutes away from Ouarzazate. It was right on an oasis and the primary oasis was pottery. I thought it sounded lovely! We met our LCF (Language and Cultural Facilitator) Mohammed who would be going to our village with us, teaching us language and culture for 8 hours a day, and just generally holding our hands through the cultural integration process.
Immediately after learning our languages, we had our first lesson. The thing that struck me about Arabic was how difficult and harsh the sounds are. There are about four different kinds of throat growls you have to produce at different levels. And if you get it wrong, you just said a different word. And it might be like “penis” or “gambling”. So no pressure at all.
The rest of the time just went by in a blur. I was on a high for the next day or so and enjoyed a bit of relaxation and basking before ... dun dun dun!... it was time to meet our host families! Ulp!