Could you describe to me the Peace Corps culture (in Morocco)? I know you talk a lot about your “stage” (the volunteer group with which Cheng trained and arrived in Morocco). When I came (to Ksar El Kbir), (I realized) you guys really feel like a family, with all the inside jokes, they way you were cooking together, everyone’s cleaning up, everyone’s helping each other. I’m wondering how that developed, and if it’s a specifically “Morocco” thing.
I think that it’s Peace Corps worldwide, because I’ve had other friends who’ve done Peace Corps, and they become very close to their training groups. We call our training groups here in Morocco “stages.” It’s a French word. In Morocco, at least recently, the stages have been really big. (My stage) started with 95 people.
But (Peace Corps) is a difficult experience.
Students at University X can easily protect themselves against unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections: they have access to emergency contraception on campus as well as confidential counseling and medical services. They can freely find condoms at one of the town’s four pharmacies as well as at a downtown bodega and the public hospital.
On campus, however, rumors regarding STIs, unplanned pregnancies and abortions, in particular, swirl. When asked about rates of abortion and STIs on campus, students invariably mention stories concerning “a friend of a friend” or someone “who used to be at the university.”
What about learning Darija (Moroccan Arabic)? Tell me about that.
It was a struggle at the beginning, just because it’s so different from all the other languages (Cantonese Chinese and Spanish) that I speak. I think that for me it was a little bit easier to learn, because I am multilingual already. My problem is actually where I live, I speak a lot of English, because a lot of the counterparts and people I work with speak English or understand English pretty well. Additionally, where I live it’s an Amazigh site, so the only time I hear Arabic is when people are talking [directly] to me. Otherwise they’re just speaking to each other in Tachelhit. I’ve gotten to the point where I can understand… generally, what they’re talking about. I know what I know, and I’m able to do the work that I need to do.
11 p.m., springtime, somewhere between Ifrane and Fes. In a hospital that has already closed for the night, a potbellied man in his fifties and two young women negotiate the price for an illegal procedure: 2,500 Moroccan dirhams for two injections and a pill. Hugging one woman, the man leads her into a back room and tells her to pull down her pants and underwear. O., graduate of University X, asks herself if this is a nightmare. (more…)
What is your project (in Tazarine)?
All Peace Corps volunteers in Morocco are here at the invitation of the Ministry of Youth and Sports, so we focus on youth and community development. We’re all assigned to work at the local youth center or the local women’s center. I work at the local youth center in Tazarine, and I do youth development activities, but then I also do a lot of community development activities outside of the youth center. I also work at the girls’ boarding house, and I’ll do activities with them.
During that shining weekend in Ksar El Kbir, I was lucky to score an interview with Melanie Cheng, 27, an Ohio State alumna currently in her second year as a Peace Corps volunteer. Cheng is applying her emphases on international studies, Spanish, women’ studies and public administration to youth and women’s empowerment in the city of Tazarine, southeastern Morocco’s watermelon hub. In a house filled with stained glass windows, she spoke to me about teaching women’s exercise classes and challenges she faces as an Asian American in Morocco.
All opinions expressed here are Cheng’s own, and do not reflect views of the Peace Corps or U.S. government.
Could you describe your Peace Corps site?
Part 1 is here.
The men ended up playing music for about an hour, and thereby Tam Lin-ed most of the people present. After awakening from our stupor, we, along with our enchanters, partied the night away, J-School style. Meaning we talked. A lot.
The next morning brought us to Achraf’s chicken restaurant, which prepared a wonderful Moroccan brunch for us.