Essaouira, the “Little Rampart”

Essaouira (“es-swera”) is a port city on the Atlantic. Though it was formerly named Mogador, its current name means “little rampart”, referring to the old fortress wall that surrounds the old part of the city.

It is a very touristy place which, if it was like Marrakesh or Fes, would usually mean shop owners would harass passersby to come look in their shop and consider the “very good price” of random items. However, Essaouira is not like Marrakesh or Fes. It has a familiar aura of a beach town in America: people are more relaxed, life moves more slowly, and everyone really seems happier; plus, it’s cooler and breezier than any place inland.

Arguably its best quality – as I observed during my… two days there – is its focus on the arts. Rug makers, musicians, artisans, weavers… it’s known particularly for gnaoua music and has art galleries on virtually every corner.

When I visited Essaouira I brought along my DSLR, as I intend to do the next dozen times I visit, inshallah. These photos are some of my favorites.

House Hunters: Morocco

Volunteers in Peace Corps Morocco have a mandatory eight-week stay with host families in our final sites.

This is to enable us to maintain a level of comfort and safety while we integrate into our communities. Following the eight weeks we are free to find a place of our own or continue living with our host family. Most PCVs in my staj are moving to new homes, while others are renting apartments owned by their host families.

Me? I’m moving out. I love my host family and I don’t think I could’ve had a more welcoming, understanding, funny, progressive family in my site. But there are benefits of moving out; namely, location. The video below explains more.


Matt is a single, out-of-his-element Peace Corps Volunteer looking to rent a home in his permanent site. Though he understands he will need to be flexible in his search – as amenities vary greatly from place to place – he is hoping for a relatively private house in the center of his new city.

Which house will he pick? Find out on February 1st.

Scary Stuff

Halloween 2016: the day I learned where I will serve for two years. Scary stuff.

On November 1st all trainees in my staj dispersed across Morocco to visit our sites. I won’t post the name of my site here for security purposes.

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My site is a mid-size town of 18,000 people in mideastern Morocco, only around 50 miles from the Algerian border. The closest big city is Errachidia.
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I will work both in the town and outside of it in a few duwars – such as the one pictured – which are sparse neighborhoods along a main road.
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I first will live in this house in a duwar on the border of the town oasis and the desert mountains. The second story is currently under construction.
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My host family is very patient and welcoming and great at cooking. I have parents, three sisters, and a little brother, plus two other brothers and another sister who live elsewhere.

I’m already in love with my site. I can’t wait to swear in as a volunteer and return here in December!

Life in Three Bags

Somehow I have to fit my life into three bags. One will be a carry-on during my flights; two will be checked.

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Here’s everything.

Certainly I will buy many things in Morocco, but there are some things money can’t buy. Flags from every country I’ve visited… a pennant from my university… a tiny framed poster of Frodo in The Two Towers. You know, things that money can buy but have certain memories attached to them.

Then there are those things that a lot of my money went into buying. A laptop… a Columbia Omni-Tech coat… a camera. Obviously those have to come with me, too.

And finally there are those things that I could buy in Morocco but may not be of good quality and/or are ridiculously expensive. Bed sheets… soft underwear… hiking boots. I’m bringing those as well.

So how do I go about packing everything?


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Bag 1 (21.5″H x 14″W x 11.5″D)

My carry-on. An Evecase DSLR/Laptop backpack with all sorts of pockets. An inch and a half deeper than what Southwest Airlines allows – and two and a half inches deeper than American Airlines allows??? – but smaller in height and width. (Nobody tell them.) This bag is the only one of the three with expensive valuables, aka…

  1. Laptop
  2. Kindle
  3. iPod
  4. DSLR camera, including lenses, memory cards, and accessories
  5. Audio recording equipment, including microphones and accessories
  6. External hard drives

This bag will essentially be permanently attached to me – thanks to the waist and chest buckles – from Portland to Casablanca. No theft here.


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Disclaimer: picture does not include clothing.

Bag 2 (24″L x 16″W x 8″D)

Checked bag 1/2. The bag that goes with me to training. It’ll include most of my clothes, towel, some toiletries, bed sheets, office supplies, shoes (like my new, unofficially-required Chacos), and a small jar of honey. This last is a gift for my host family.

This bag flies free on Southwest and on American! Cha-ching!


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Disclaimer: picture does not include clothing.

Bag 3 (27″L x 18.5″W x 9.5″D)

Checked bag 2/2. The bag I’m leaving in Peace Corps storage in Rabat (see Bad Dreams), meaning it won’t have anything I will need for the three months of training. Bye bye, hiking boots, kitchen utensils, a couple pots, room decorations, and cleaning supplies. I’ll place some of my more wintry clothing in here because training ends in early December when my bag and I will be reunited.

I’ll keep a second jar of honey in this bag for my second host family in my permanent site.

This bag flies free on Southwest! Hooray! It costs $100 on American. Boo! This ultimately shouldn’t be a problem, however. Simply showing the desk agent some of my PC documentation should waive the fee. If not, PC will reimburse me.


Bonus: personal item

My camera tripod in its carrying case. It’ll probably hang out next to my feet during the flights, but if I can manage to get it in the overhead bins… again, don’t tell my airlines.


Although I have never really had issues with packing for extended international trips, this time is different. It is more difficult knowing that I’m moving to another country rather than visiting. It is more difficult to decide what stays and what goes. It is more difficult having to leave certain things behind, things that I want but don’t need.

It’s gratifying to have trouble fitting my life into three bags. It’s disappointing that I can actually accomplish it.

 

Bad Dreams

Two suitcases and a backpack lie open before me. I look over the piles of clothes, video and audio equipment, electronics, linens, and home decorations that I somehow have to pack into the three bags. Sigh. I can do it. In no time I fill the bags to the brim and zip, clasp, and lock them shut.

Fast forward a few days and I’m no longer in my Portland, Oregon room. My plane has just touched down in Casablanca, Morocco, and the other volunteers and I are approaching our shuttle. But before we reach it, a Peace Corps staff member takes one of my suitcases and says it will be returned to me in three months. WHAT. I have things I need in there – a power adapter, bed sheets, underwear. He can’t just take them away from me!

And then I wake up. I’m not in Casablanca; I am in a cold sweat at my sister’s house in Atlanta. The overhead fan freezes my sweat as I get my bearings. It’s still the middle of the night… it’s still August, one month from departure. I fall back asleep.

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I don’t have any image to actually show my dreams, so… (source)

The next night brings another bad dream.

There are only four friends milling about my Portland kitchen, but there should be fifteen. Uneaten hamburgers cool on the counter. Warm soda goes flat. Whatever. While we watch some DVD, I drift to sleep and wake instantly in a different place… it appears to be a beach-side cabin. But I can’t find my four friends anywhere, not on the couches around me like they should be, and not anywhere else in the house. They’ve disappeared.

I wake up for real in Atlanta. What’s the deal?

Normally I don’t remember my dreams. The times I do, they tend to be short and vague, and I hardly recall details. But clearly the past two nights were different. I only assume it has something to do with my impending move to Morocco.

My first dream happened the night after a conference call with my staj and PC Morocco staff. The staff addressed many questions my staj had about logistics for both getting to the country and what we are doing once we get there. For example, what phone plan we’ll have, how we’re going to open Moroccan bank accounts, and the like.

Some of the more relevant points for this blog post are as follows:

  • Staging (one-day PC orientation) will happen in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on September 19th.
  • I have booked my flight from Portland to Philadelphia for September 18th and will have a reserved room at a Marriott hotel for the nights of the 18th and 19th.
  • On September 20th my staj will catch buses to JFK Airport in New York.
  • We have a direct flight from JFK to Casablanca. Once there, PC Morocco staff will take one of our two larger suitcases and store it in the PC warehouse in Rabat. I will not have access to this second bag until after three months of training, hence my first bad dream.
  • Pre-Service Training (PST) will last eleven weeks and is broken down approximately like this:
    • Week 1: We will stay in a hotel in Rabat.
    • Week 2-6: All of my staj will go to our hub site of (UNESCO heritage site) Meknes. We will break into groups of four or five trainees based on familiarity with Arabic. Every trainee will stay with a host family and continue language, cross-cultural, and technical training in our small groups.
    • Week 7: Each trainee will learn where we will serve for the next two years, and then we will visit our permanent site for a week.
    • Weeks 8-11: We will all return to Meknes to debrief about our assigned site and to continue training. Some of us will need to learn another language in addition to Darija (Moroccan Arabic), depending on site requirements.

So I’ve described how my first dream came to be. My second bad dream has nothing to do with the conference call or PC emails. It’s just that, once I booked my flight from Portland to Philadelphia, I solidified my send-off party date.

After solidifying the date, one of my friends from Los Angeles – who was also one of my roommates during college – RSVP’d saying she could attend the party. I was very surprised that she’d be able to get the weekend off work, but it turns out she only RSVP’d to say she’d be there in spirit. Thanks, Camille. 🙂

And that’s why I had the second bad dream. I really, really, really hope my local friends aren’t there only in spirit!