Site visit and international women’s day in Morocco!

Last week I was on a visit at my permanent site! I am going to be in a town an hour away from Marrakesh. The town has about 5,000 residents and 10 different neighborhoods. It has 3 mosques, 1 hospital, 2 pharmacies, 1 kindergarten, 1 elementary school, and 1 middle school and high school. The Peace Corps recommends not giving out the exact name of the town for safety and security reasons. If you’d like to know you can email me and I can tell you!

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My new host mom, sister, and friend walking around town

I stayed with my future host family who are really welcoming and nice. My host father, Mohammed, who is in his 60s, is the Sheik of the town and my mother, Salka, in her 50s, is a housewife. The Sheik is a major political and administrative figure in the community. Some parts of the Moroccan system are still tribal-based, which I don’t quite understand but I’ll learn. For now I am happy to be placed with a family that is well-connected in the community.

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View of typical landscape of my permanent site

Their daughter, Nadia, in her 30s, also lives with them with her two cute daughters, Hala (6) and Marwa (4). She is also a housewife but recently started a women’s association with some friends. She said she is excited for me to collaborate with them. I actually had the opportunity to sit in on a meeting when they reviewed their first event- a marathon and celebration for international women’s day (March 8). They showed me photos, and it looked like a great success! Nadia’s husband, also Mohammed, is a truck driver and spends most of the time on the road. When I move to my permanent site in April, I will live with them for a month until I find a place of my own.

New host sisters eating icecream in Marrakesh!
New host sisters eating icecream in Marrakesh!

It is typical in Morocco for extended family to live together or nearby in the same town. Family is an important part of the social structure; it is the source of status and provides financial support. Married life is the expected norm for adults here, and if someone decides to not marry, they live at home with their parents. It is strange for people to live alone. I do see changes in the family structure with the current tough economy. In my host family in Fez, two uncles live abroad. My dad’s sister lives in Canada and my mom’s brother lives in California. In my host family in Marrakesh, my sister lives in Italy. I feel like my host families understand me more as a foreigner because they have family living abroad. They have heard about the US, Canadian, and Italian cultures, values, and traditions through them and are thus more exposed and open. My families, however, have not traveled outside of Morocco except for my host grandparents in Fez.

Got invited to tagine at a friend's house during my visit. This is the kids table...hehehe!
Got invited to tagine at a friend’s house during my visit. This is the kids table…hehehe!

In my permanent site I first met with the Pasha and Gendarme of the town and gave them a copy of my passport and a letter from the Peace Corps. Later I will apply for a residency card. The Pasha is part of the tribal and political system that I have yet to fully understand. It is difficult to find equivalents in the US when it comes to politics in Morocco. The Gendarme are a type of police. Then I met the mudir (director), Anaas, of the dar shebab where I will work for two years who is happy to have me there to collaborate! The dar shebab was constructed in the 1980s. Previously my town had two PCVs that worked in youth development. The first volunteer was a recent (male) college graduate and the second was an older male volunteer. I heard that he converted to Islam, married a Moroccan woman, and lives in Marrakesh now. He finished his service a year ago, and the PC decided to wait for the town gossip to quiet down before placing another volunteer there. I am sure my experience will be different than both of these PCVs. The town recently finished building a nadi neswi (women’s club), a youth sports club, a youth work center, and two boarding schools, one for boys and one for girls. The dar taliba (girls boarding school) opened this past year, and I was lucky to attend a wonderful international woman’s day event there during my visit.

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Beautiful decorations and yummy snacks at the women’s day event

The dar taliba is not like what you think of a boarding school in the US. It is for girls from duars (farming villages) who do not have middle and high schools there. At the event, the girls presented an essay about the development of woman’s rights in Morocco, a couple of songs I could not understand (my Darija is no where near fluent), and two excellent plays: The first was about the hijab in Morocco and the second about the development of dar talibas in Morocco. Then they presented awards and I was invited to the stage to shake their hands and offer them congratulations. What an honor! Everyone also asked me to take photos with them. The mudir of the dar taliba and the raisa (president) of the dar taliba association told me they looked forward to working with me. Overall the site visit was positive. My permanent site has lots of great people who are eager to work and new resources to use.

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Photo from hijab play…photos from iPhone are not so great…
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