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Alumna in the Peace Corp

We have been exchanging email and gifts with a former student of our school. Sharon is serving in the Peace Corp. She is helping people care for new born babies in Morocco. Our Jordan Road volunteers sent an assortment of snacks for Sharon to share with the local village children. Sharon sent the typical snack - figs!!!

Mon, 06 May 2002
Everything here has been going along as always. The Moroccan king is in the United States (a fact someone points out to me almost daily) have you seen him on the news? All of us health volunteers are on our way to Agadir for training this week. I'm not so much looking forward to the training but rather the week on the coast with people I haven't seen since we all left for our villages in October. That and the opportunity to speak just in English. Just over a week ago we got back from our version of Take Our Daughters to Work when the volunteers in the Azilal region met in Beni Mellal with 19 girls to show them life in the city. The girls had never been in cars before (and were throwing up the ENTIRE way from motion sickness) and never did figure our how to work the door handles or the window rollers. While in Beni Mellel, we all went to a college (which is actually the junior high school) where they got to speak with girls who had come to the school from small Berber villages like theirs. Any student from my village wishing to go on past 6th grade would end up at one of these colleges which are set up like boarding schools. They also got to see a university art school where women art students helped them paint pictures to take home with them. There was a theatre show with clowns who later taught a class on puppet making which was a big hit and then the girls split up to go with women to their workplaces to see things like a doctor; hairdresser; shop owner, seamstress, etc at work. The whole long weekend was a hit with the girls but they were pretty exausted and ready to go home by the end of it all. I think they enjoyed watching the traffic and the way people in the city dress as they walked down the street as much as the actual events. But that was the point. All the girls stayed in a women's center so it was really just a massive slumber party all weekend long. The volunteers who were there (when we weren't worrying about someone getting run over by a car) couldn't get over trying to see things through the eyes of these girls who have never so much as seen a paved road before and were suddenly confronting a world about 100 years ahead of life in their own villages. It would be nice if these girls could go home and say to their parents that they really want to continue their education now in the city but children out in the rural areas rarely have that much choice in their own futures. I hope that at least one of the three girls I brought with me (whose father is a shopkeeper and thus a little better off and worldly than most families in Ait Blal) might get the opportunity to finish school. But the real goal of the project for me was to just give these girls the chance to know the rest of the world exists. Then, when they have daughters, perhaps they will push their husbands to send them to school when the time comes because they will remember this trip and know their kids will have more chances in their lives if they send them to school. This is probably 20 years down the road, long after all of the volunteers will be back home in America, but it is worth shooting for anyway. So that was our big week in the city and everyone made it back without getting run over so we at least accomplished our short term goal.

Sharon

Date: Wed, 17 Apr 2002
There was a minor incident at the post office when I tried to send the note to your class in the box with everything else. For reasons passing understanding this is apparently illegal. So, there is a box coming eventually I hope. Actually sending the coin was illegal too, I am racking up quite a record over here in Morocco. I am returning home after attending the swear in ceremony for the new volunteers. Unfortunately the ambassador couldn't come as is the custom since she is helping to prepare for the king's visit to America this weekend which has the embassy in a bit of an uproar. Also the ceremony was somewhat curtailed since it is temporarily illegal (there is a disturbing theme to this email) to hold any kind of celebration in Morocco to sympathize with the recent tragedies in Palestine. Even the king cancelled his own wedding reception last week. People here are understandably upset to say the least but there haven't been any riots or violent protests here yet so we'll see. Colin Powell dropped by for a meeting with the king here last week on his way to Israel and every person in my village with a shortwave radio ran over to tell me about it. I think they were happy to be included in the arab world's important players. Otherwise, all is normal and if Allah and Mother Nature agree I will be going back to my village tomorrow. There have been a lot of rain and, something new, mud and rock slides pretty well cutting us off from the rest of the world at times. Next week, very exciting news, we are participating in Take Our Daughters to Work Day (Moroccan-Peace Corps style) and the volunteers in my province will be meeting in the province capital with girls from our villages to introduce them to city life. They will get to see a music school, the high school, the women's center, go on field trips, the whole exhausting nine yards. These girls have probably never been out of Ait Blal before, never seen even a paved road in their lives. I'll be sure to give you an update when it's all over.
Until Then
Sharon

Date: Thu, 31 Jan 2002

Dear Class,
I am waiting for my train out of Rabat and I thought I would try to get a message to you before the weekend. You asked about the weather. Well, in my site it is spring. There are hordes of new lambs bouncing around (lambs do actually bounce which is yet another thing I never knew before moving here) and everything that was brown a few months ago is bright green with new crops coming up. It rarely rains in Morocco which later in the summer creates water shortages that become very serious in many areas. I've heard that the country is in either its fifth or seventh consecutive year of drought. I get my water from a rock spring running out of the mountains which is wonderful since I am one of the few volunteers here who do not have to bleach or boil the water before I drink it. In many villages people get their water from irrigation ditches that are also used for doing laundry, bathing, and watering the animals. Drinking this water without treating it first spreads all kinds of diseases and helps to explain why so many babies die in these areas. Someone mentioned in their note to me last time that Morocco is a third world country. That's not entirely true. I agree with you that where my friends in the Peace Corps live it can seem like that, but Morocco is a much more diverse country than most of the countries we used to call "The Third World." Just like in the United States, in areas such as Appalacia and the Mexican/Texas border, there are communities of people living in pretty horrible conditions while others in the same country live in nice subburbs and wealthier areas. Right now I am in Rabat, the capital which I am sure you already know, and looking around the room I can see a crazy amount of differences in the people. Of course, they are all city people and all fairly wealthy and probably well educated but some are wearing the same kind of clothes you have on right now. The woman to my left has on a business suit, high heeled boots, make up and has her hair down. The woman across from me is wearing a jelleba and a head scarf. Out on the streets you can occassionally see a woman go by, in the middle of the busy city streets, with the ultra-conservative clothing where everything but her eyes and hands are covered. Rabat itself is a modern city with traffic, a huge train station, tall buildings, and everything else, but the people come from all over. What makes the situation in Morocco different from the one in the United States is that the people who live in the poorest areas are more or less trapped there. They have no realistic chance of ever coming to the cities or seeing the world beyond their village. Part of this is because of money and education and all the things that create problems for poor people everywhere in the world even in America, but part of it is also psychological. There is a strong line drawn between "bled" or rural people and city people and the two sides never have anything to do with one another. It is hard to describe, but a good example I guess is the language problems. Many, if not most, of the most rural people in Morocco are Berber and speak Tashelheit or Tamazeirt instead of Arabic. But it is illegal to teach school in Tashelheit. None of the government officials, even the local ones who live out there, speak Tashelheit. There are no Tashelheit radio stations or TV stations since they are also controlled by the government. These people live in the "Third World," cut off from the rest. But Morocco itself isn't a desperately poor country. So, anyway, the point of all that was that Morocco is technically a developing country but even in that category it still is pretty well off compared to most. Do you know about USAID? It is the government agency that distributes American foreign aid money to developing countries. Well, they are still in Morocco, but they are less active than they once were. The whole idea is to give the country a start and then allow it to take care of itself. The money gets less and less and Morocco itself is expected to support the projects that USAID helps to fund in the beginning. It is a good sign when that happens and it is happening, slowly but surely, here in Morocco.
OK, a lot of that whole letter didn't have a lot to do with Peace Corps but I've been out of my village all week so maybe I am a little out of the loop. I have been eating pizza, speaking English, and sitting in chairs (in my village everyone sits on the floor). I even took a real shower this morning though it was still cold. At least I'm awake now. And there are quite a few other Peace Corps volunteers in town for doctor's meetings or whatever so we cause quite a stir around town. Yesterday a group of us went to lunch and when we, not really thinking about it, used a few words of Tashelheit to the waiter, the other 6 waiters in the restaurant came over to listen to us talk. So there we were, 5 Americans and 6 Moroccan waiters (one of whom was Berber and spoke Tashelheit himself) standing in the middle of the restaurant, shocking all of the Arab speaking city folk by busting out the language of the poorest farmers and sheep herders. We confuse everyone in the cities... they can't understand how this group of Americans could possibly speak this obscure language and not speak a word of French which they associate with all wealthy people. It can be a great deal of fun. Sharon

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