Integration Part 1

I got to my permanent site about a couple of weeks ago and everyday has been an adventure! I am meeting lots of people and learning about the history and culture of my town. Everyone has been very welcoming and nice! I am constantly amazed by Moroccan hospitality- I have gotten invited for lunch and snack numerous times by youth I have met at the dar shebab or neighbors of my host family. In the US, this isn’t normal.

When I walk around town, people often stare at me and some come up to me and say hello. People ask me: Where are you from? What are you doing here? It is sometimes overwhelming to get all this attention! I feel like I am famous! Children scream my name from across the road or houses or fields where they are playing and shabab (youth) crowd around me. Hahaha. Lots of people tell me they want to learn or practice their English. Some people already call me “teacher.” The previous volunteer’s focus was teaching English. I also plan on starting with English classes since there is a need but have other ideas.

In CBT, I was part of a group of other PCVs but in my town I am the only PCV! I think the closest volunteer to me is an hour and a half away and the PC recommends not leaving site for three months to get adjusted. I have found it hard to be the only foreigner in town. The culture is pretty different from back home in the US and Spain.

After people find out that I am American and Spanish and I work with the PC people ask about my family. As I have written before, family is the center of Moroccan culture. One is judged by ones family. People are often shocked when I tell them that my mother lives in the US, my father in Spain, and my sister in England! Most people in my town do not have the means to travel outside Morocco and even within Morocco. They also do not want to leave their families and homes.

People here get their information about the US from American movies and music. There is lots of TV watching here (The TV is on during meal time) and there are a couple of channels that show American movies with Modern Standard Arabic subtitles. People though are very curious about learning more about American culture and especially food. They ask me: What other foods does America have besides hamburgers and hotdogs?

Some other common questions I get are: Are you Muslim? Are you married?

Everyone I have met here is Muslim. I can hear the call to prayer here 5 times a day and sometimes people stop what they are doing to go pray and sometimes people wait and sometimes people pray in public or in private. People are happy when I tell them I studied the Koran in college and I fasted during Ramadan when I was in Palestine.

People often mention that the volunteer before me converted to Islam and married a Moroccan woman. Some people joke that I will convert to Islam when I am here! When this happens I try to introduce another topic into the conversation. Hehehe. Religion plays a big role in my site. In the US, where I have grown up, in Williamstown, MA, and where I went to college, Bard, it doesn’t. I think this will take the most getting use to.

Women here often marry before 25 and are housewives though there are some working women. People have joked with me that they are going to find me a husband here. I tell them that I am focusing on work! I thought that because my town is a 45 minute bus ride to Marrakesh it would be more liberal but it is socially conservative. I also have to define myself apart from the previous PCV. My goal the next couple of months is to integrate into my community. The first part of integration is understanding and respecting the culture. My work will only be effective with the support of the community.

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