I moved into my own apartment a month ago, and it feels great! I liked living with my two host families, especially important for integration and language, but it is really nice to have my own place for some independence and privacy.
It was frustrating finding a rental due to the time of year and price range. Rental units become available at the end (June) or beginning (Sept/Oct) of the school year. Most people live with their families in houses that are half finished. They buy the building and finish (install electricity and plumbing, put in tiles, and paint the walls) the first floor, and when they have enough money, they build the second floor. Often the second or third floors are for married sons or daughters and their families. Peace Corps has a set of requirements, mostly about safety and security, for volunteers’ houses—including that it has to be finished. Most houses in my area are brick and cement construction and are not insulated, and they definitely don’t have central air or heating. I wonder how I’ll manage in the winter! For the summer period–temperatures are already in the high 90s, I’ll survive with a fan.
Because my site is a 45-minute bus ride from Marrakesh, rent is higher than the average PC budget in Morocco, 1000DHS or 100USD. In comparison with rent in the US, and especially in NYC where I lived prior to PC service, this seems ridiculously low, but the economy in Morocco is very different! With patience and help from my Regional Manager to negotiate the price, I signed a lease to an apartment in a new neighborhood for a much higher rent than the PC allowance. PCVs are expected to live at the level of community members. For instance, our stipend is 3000DHS (approximately 300USD) a month. PC Core Expectation #3 states:
“Serve where the Peace Corps asks you to go, under conditions of hardship, if necessary, and with the flexibility needed for effective service.”
This Expectation has become most relevant in my living situation though it has not been so onerous. Since I did not overlap with a previous volunteer, I did not inherit an apartment or any furniture. The settling-in allowance of 4000DHS (400USD) has been most helpful to purchase essentials. These basics are PC property and cannot be sold after completion of service- they should be given to other PCVs or community members- a reasonable policy.
Rental units here don’t come with a stovetop, oven or hot water like in the US. As my Regional Manager said, “You rent the walls.” Luckily, my host mom’s best friend, Fatima, lives in my neighborhood, and she and her husband Mohammed helped me to move my stuff in and purchase and set up a stovetop and fridge. There are a couple of places to buy household items in my town, and I preferred to buy locally rather than paying for transport costs from nearby Marrakesh. We tried to negotiate the price of the fridge, unfortunately without success. I don’t fully understand what you can negotiate and what you cannot. Hahaha! Stovetops, ovens, and water heaters are run by butane gas. I actually received instructions on using butane gas during my PC training period.
This is a photo of my kitchen:
A kokut (pressure cooker) and burad (tea pot) are must-haves in Morocco! Everything is purchased in the weekly souq.
The mudir (director) of the dar shebab pointed me to buy ponjs at his friends place. Ponjs are Moroccan sofas. I splurged on these beautiful flower covers and pillows:
Usually they have wooden supports underneath the cushions. For now, the ponjs serve as a comfortable bed until I can furnish the bedroom. Actually, most Moroccan salons (living rooms) convert into bedrooms at night.
This is my rose tablecloth, table, and breakfast. Moroccan homes don’t have dining rooms like in the US. People bring a table close to the ponjs to eat.
This is my “bedroom” and “dresser:”
The first 3 weeks in my apartment I had to wash my clothes by hand. Laundromats aren’t common so I traded tips with other PCVs on techniques. I finally gave in and took a bus ride to Marrakesh to shop at Marjane, the largest supermarket chain in Morocco, where I bought a mini laundry machine for 400DHS (40USD) with my personal savings. I know that this isn’t the case for some of my friends in remote sites- like in a small Berber village in the south, 5 hours from a “city” or in the middle of the Atlas Mountains. Marjane is located only in big cities.
The laundry machine works pretty differently from ones in the US. I had to Google translate the instructions in French! Hahaha! You plug it in, put in the clothes, add water (it has a tube at the top), and turn on the wash button. When the wash is done, you empty out the water (it also has a tube on the bottom), take out the clothes, put in the spin basket and clothes, and turn on the spin button. Finally, you hang out the wash to dry on the clothesline on the shared roof terrace!
My Western toilet is a prized possession. My PCV friends and I exchanged photos of our houses and the first thing they noticed was not my beautiful ponjs but my Western toilet! Hahaha. Most homes have a Turkish toilet (I’ll let you look that up!). I have a showerhead but no hot water heater. Cold showers are refreshing with the summer heat, and I can always boil water and take a sponge bath and pretend I’m in the hammam (public bathhouses).
I plan on saving up for a hot water heater for the winter and an oven to make chocolate chip, peanut butter, and sugar cookies and apple and pumpkin pie to thank all my neighbors for their invitations to lunch and teatime. I haven’t actually cooked much since moving in! Everyone says I am a poor thing for coming all the way from the US, far from my family and friends, and living alone. I enjoy their friendly invitations for couscous, tagine, tea, and bread with olive oil.
I really like my neighborhood and neighbors. My neighborhood is less crowded than the center of town, houses are spread out, and it’s closer to nature. From my window I see trees and small mountains, which is peaceful. However, by 8AM sharp the area is teeming with construction noises for all the new housing – boom boom boom and knock knock knock.
My neighbors are young and old families. Sometimes I join the women sitting on the streets after dark and talk. We watch kids playing soccer or tag and riding their bikes on the streets. There aren’t any cafes, where mostly boys and men gather to drink tea or coffee, smoke, and while away the day. Two of my neighbors are goat herders! One of the herds is of a breed of goat that I’ve never seen before- dark brown, small and kind of haunting. The other herd has the more common breed with light brown and white speckled fur. I smile when I hear their aaas. I have always loved goats.
I feel very happy, comfortable, and safe here thanks to my mudir’s brother who helped me look for apartment, my neighbors and friends, Fatima and Mohammed, and my Regional Manager. I approach any “hardship” with a positive attitude and humor (which is proving more and more to be necessary for life). Above all, I am blessed with a happiness that comes from meaningful relationships, experiences, and work.