What kind of opportunities are you looking for?
My education, work and volunteer background, it’s all related to working in the public sector. I would be happiest working for the government, an NGO, research facilities, research in social and economic policies. Ideally, I would want to work for an organization that dealt with social and economic development, or progressive social and economic opportunities for underprivileged or underserved populations.
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.
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.
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?
Could you explain your philosophy on women’s rights?
As a Muslim citizen, (some Muslim) people perceive women in a very weird way. That is to say they take Islam as an excuse to make inequality between men and women. There are a few people who believe that men should be superior to women. He should be the leader, making the decisions, he should have more responsibilities in comparison with women. They believe the woman should just take care of the children, take care of the housework.
Ouiam Mallouk is a graduate student at Al Akhawayn University. Originally from Fes, Mallouk, 24, is pursuing a master’s degree in International Studies and Diplomacy with a focus on the Middle East/North Africa region. Recently, she and I discussed Moroccan culture, gender issues and how Islam plays into Mallouk’s ideas on women’s rights.