TOUBKALLA!

I just realized that I never ever talked about climbing Mount Toubkal! That is crazy… considering now that it was OVER 3 months ago.

Well first things first… for those that have never climbed a mountain before (and before this one, I hadn’t). It is THE* most physically challenging thing I have done, to date.

I went with 7 other fabulous girls and it was an ADVENTURE!

We all decided to go after our Mid-Service Training that took place at the end of June. From Rabat we took the train to Marrakesh, then a taxi from Marrakesh to Imlil. Our taxi thankfully dropped us off at our hostel, which was wonderfully comfortable and quaint. We were all soooo excited! We got up early the next morning, had breakfast, and began our trek.

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on the train!

The guy at the hostel made a fabulous little map for us and OFF we went! We were so excited!!!! I remember that feeling of not really knowing what was coming and a little nervous but still thinking- this is going to be FUN!!!!!!

1045212_10100849976676993_592084913_nbefore the hike!

So as we were following the map, I didn’t realize that we had a small hill to climb before we even reached the base of the mountain…..so we start going up this hill and here I am thinking that we were already climbing the actual mountain- BOY WAS I WRONG!

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breakin…1044145_10100849977555233_1224670042_nwalking up the hill!

We got to the river bed, which at the time I didn’t realize was the base of the mountain, and well, we took a well-deserved break!

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Then as we started to really climb… we started to realize how serious it was. We were climbing a mountain- CLIMBING A MOUNTAIN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Woof! I remember someone telling me before we went that it would be a nice, lonnnnggg walk.

Well. It. wasn’t.

Now, I feel like I am climbin’ aboard the complain train. But, it was really hard, we climbed for 7 hours the first day, with food breaks and short water breaks. The lovely girls I was with- we made goals for ourselves… okay, make it to that rock, okay we will walk for 15 minutes, twenty minutes. It was crazy how difficult it would be at points to keep going, all I wanted to do was stop and take a break. Sit and enjoy the wonderful view….

1276_10100849982325673_1061020295_n 1000984_10100849989196903_564023852_nthis was actually on the way down, but more on that later

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A very big POSITIVE, we saw a herd of mountain goats with their incredibly cute kids and by kids I mean, baby goats!

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So we climbed and climbed before we FINALLY made it to the refuge!!!! Let me tell you, my dogs were barkin’- LOUDLY!

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We had dinner and decided to head out at 6am! Fortunately for me, I was able to fall directly to sleep- um not. I actually didn’t get one ounce of sleep, which was to say, very exciting.

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We headed out in the dark to get to summit… this was the most difficult part. If I had known about this part the day before, I might not have complained so much….might not have.

998177_10100849983388543_1261546251_nAt one point, I could only describe myself as straddling the rocks like a frog, crying and saying…. this isn’t worth my life.

Mayyyyybbbbbeeee a tad dramatic, but have you even been on the side of a mountain with loose rocks falling every which way? Well, I hadn’t either.

After three hours of climbing almost straight up, we could finally see the top. These three hours included all types of climbing- big boulders, small rocks, loose rocks, sand…. ziggin and zaggin. I am sure that I was a sight at times, I remember another time where I wasn’t sure which rock to grab and I look over and several Moroccan climbers (who I am quite sure they had either rock climbing ancestors, related to spiderman or had more monkey in their blood than me) were jumping from rock to rock like it was an every day occurrence. Hmmmm….all the while, when I was straddling rocks holding for dear life, I couldn’t help but think about how the climb up the mountain related to my Peace Corps service.

Serving in Peace Corps is so similar to climbing a mountain, its pretty scary. With everything that someone goes through…. learning a language, adapting to the culture, leaving life behind, building a new life, leaving friends and family, building new relationships with new friends…. it is SO much! And is all really within a short period of about 3-4 months, it is necessary to know when you need a break but it is also really vital to knowing when you need to push through the hard times and just keep on going. The people that are there to support will provide words of encouragement or, it is just them being there going through it with you that is important. There were times climbing to the summit, we were quiet for hours (I know it is difficult for some of you to picture me quiet for more than a few minutes) but it happened! And it was going through it together that was important, it was being there at the top with others that made it feel that* much better.

IMG_0084almost there!

IMG_0080WAHOO! we did it!

IMG_0085puffy fingers and all!!!!

Little known fact (to even myself before this), that I am terrified of heights. Completely and utterly terrified, I couldn’t really stand up on the top! Who knew?

1043982_10100849984910493_846887774_nps, it was REALLY cold up there

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So… after awhile, we started our descent! We were planning on going ALLLLLLL the way back down to our hostel in Imlil…. and all I could think was, here we go, this has GOT TO BE easier than the way up. Well folks, if you thought that too, then we were both wrong.

Also, I didn’t get that many pictures on the way up to summit- it is pretty difficult to take pictures when you are straddling rocks.

992775_10100849986227853_1238347087_n 1009886_10100849986098113_611560775_nwhy yes! That would be grabbing onto rocks with fear of falling, on the way down. But again, even when sliding down on my hindquarters on slippery rocks… I couldn’t help compare it to my service. At the year point (our Peace Corps summit), I remember thinking… okay! It all gets easier from here right? I am integrated, I can somewhat communicate, I have everything I need!!!

Not exactly… the second year has shaped up to be a difficult time as well! Yes, I am integrated, yes I have completed a project, yes I have a schedule and people who know me, but* how do I really make my time here worth it? How do I get to know people better? How do I keep from going crazy with the prospect and excitement from going home?!?! I’ll let ya know as I am still currently on my Peace Corps mountain descent.

IMG_0097the refuge in sight!!! Note* this is still about an hour away

Well, it took us another three hours to climb down back to the refuge (a total of 7 hours). We had an hour break for lunch and then kept on truckin!!

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 little goat!!! IMG_0119

just some fellow mountain climbers… with their chickens and sheep IMG_0116

I was hoping that the trek down would only take us 5 hours and we were really well on our way… until we got a little lost.

Which… I am sure is the way that I will feel when we have about a month left. Unfortunately, I kept insisting that we were on the right path… when in fact we were the complete opposite of being on the right path. Mer 😦 Fortunately, I was with really really forgiving people who weren’t mad at me for too long, I hope.

IMG_0127do you remember the first small hill? It was a glorious site!

With getting lost, we ended up walking for about an hour and a half extra…. so it turned into about 6.5 -7 hours… which if you were calculating that would be 14 hours of walking. After a day of walking 7 hours…. woof!

IMG_0128ALMOST THERE!

We literally collapsed when we arrived at the hostel. Thankful that it was over and in awe of ourselves that we did it.

I think maybe next time, it maybe easier to start with something smaller and not climb North Africa’s tallest mountain as a first mountain climb… but hey! Go big or go home right?

1011821_10100849989646003_1982187727_nOur congratulatory McDonald’s meal

The most important aspect though, that both Peace Corps and Toubkal have shown me, is that I am capable of much more than I think I am. The human will is profound.  When pushed there are soo many possibilities! There is an incredible amount of strength inside that sits stationary and quiet until it is tapped into. I am grateful for the opportunities to learn that about myself and consider myself blessed to be able to learn those lessons early in life.

Who knows what mountain I will climb next?!

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GLOW- Last dayy…..

Last day…. surreal in so many ways… it really was only a morning of ……

IMG_0133pictures

IMG_0136filling out post-camp surveys

IMG_0156signing t-shirts

IMG_0173crying

IMG_0166hugging (and for volunteers being EXCITED for the hugging/success)

IMG_0149and did I say, pictures?

IMG_0180the volunteers!

And then… it was over. As quickly as it had started… it finished just the same. The center was empty, the rooms that had been buzzing for the past six nights felt lonely and the areas where the girls had come together and formed relationships were just that, areas. All of our hard work had paid off- the camp had gone off with a couple of glitches, but just minor ones. The project that we had talked to death was over….

it was done.

Which leads me to my funk. Although I have been a little more busy, I am still trying to figure out what this project means in terms of my service. I will probably never know that impact that it truly had- and that is okay. Sometimes life is better with ambiguity.

The tangible products of my doing that camp are:

1) I have developed stronger ties with many counterparts- gotten to know them in new ways and learned some of their strengths and weaknesses

2) I have new faith in my mudir

3) It is possible to do projects in Larache

4) I may have made some enemies in the delegation- whoops!

5) everything really is shwiya b shwiya (little by little)

6) I have experience in writing grants!

7) I already knew this but Tyler is an incredible support system and without his never-ending patience with my vents/outbursts/emotions, it would not have been possible

I feel like I should have more take-aways, but that is possibly the source of my funk. I am not sure how to think about everything or how to go about the reflecting process. This is the biggest planning thing that I have ever been apart of- that the volunteers were COMPLETELY in charge of- without us, it literally would not have happened. If I just take a moment to let that sink it- it is a wonderful/overwhelming/crazy feeling. So… as I attempt to start a new project I will treat the feelings of success with humility because the next project is different, the expectations are different, I won’t have the direct involvement of other volunteers as a means of support and well, the project itself is different.

Marching forward…. a little over 7 months left and attempting to live every day with vigor and excitement-without looking forward to going home TOO* much.

I am ready for anything…..

There’s no looking back! Tomorrow, my fellow volunteers arrive to start this GLOW camp (Girls Leading Our World), which I will write more about later. I haven’t been very vocal about the planning of this project… mostly because it has taken quite a bit of time and well, failure sometimes seems imminent so I didn’t want to jinx myself. I have been trying to reflect during the process and will definitely do a lot afterwards.

One of the most apparent realizations, to date, is how important and vital the support of other volunteers has been. I have said before that other Peace Corps volunteers serve as sort of a new makeshift family during a Peace Corps service. This family of volunteers that has helped to plan and support the project in so many ways and overall made the process a much more worthwhile experience. There are still quite a few kinks to work out… not at all unsurprising even though there are T-3 days until the launch of the camp… but I am somewhat calm. I am really excited to give the girls a new opportunity and spend some time with some of my volunteer family members.

In order to prepare for the camp, I visited souk today and found one of the best finds ever!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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10 dirhams= $1.20

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15 dirhams = $1.90 with my belt that I bargained for at a thrift shop in Dublin!

And last but not least… ladies and gentlemen- you all are never going to believe this!

So the story goes… walking around my main hangouts at souk, saying hello to my homies and getting a feel for what’s going down. Generally, Saturdays and Wednesdays have been my best purchase days but I don’t like to get my hopes up, it is really about getting the feel and trusting your instincts. My strategy is alllllll about the instinctual vibe, if I am looking through a pile and I don’t find anything good within the first couple of minutes… I peace out. Now, yes… this may mean that I might be missin’ out but so far my strategy has led me to some pretty good finds. Anywhoodles, I am at a table of a man who I have been frequenting lately. I am a big fan of the sellers who come back day-to-day and set up in the same locations. I notice he has a lot of pajamas and I am going through them- who knew you could find Winnie-the-Poo satin pajamas? I couldn’t find the bottoms though, so that was a no-go. Then, a kind lady (I like to refer to her as my guardian angel) turns to me and says (obviously paraphrasing), “This is good for you”. I kind of shrug her off and pull up the beautiful garment and this, my friends, is what my eyes beheld…

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Obviously, the excited me was not in the snug and warm cuddly-ness of the ONESIE yet! Yes! YES! I found an adult ONESIE for 5 dirhams! THAT IS A LITTLE OVER FIFTY CENTS! AND, and I know you are thinking there couldn’t possibly be any more benefits to this, WITH A POCKET! With this find, I just can’t go back for awhile… this is like hitting a jackpot on a coin machine in Vegas! All I have been able to hear when I think about my new pjs with a cartoon mouse for entertainment on them- is the ching, ching, ching of the coins!!!

I am ready for this GLOW camp, whatever it has to offer, with my onesie by my side.. I am ready for anything!

In the swing of things!

camelNo no no…this is not a camel from Morocco… but he seems pretty excited about Wednesdays!!! Which is something that he and I have in common… WEDNESDAYS!!!!! I am not really sure why I like them… but my affinity for them has increased tenfold since I learned that Wednesdays are our best souk days!!!!

This summer was not as slow as the last, in fact, it was really busy! We had some amazing visitors and recently had a SUPER successful day camp at our Dar Chabab. Of course, we could not have done it without three incredible other volunteers, I mean seriously, these girls were rock-stars! Pulling out icebreakers/songs/activities out of nowhere! Friendships bracelets, hands of Peace, collages about self worth! It was beautiful!!!! Here is one collage/poem that a boy wrote about himself that I found particularly charming….

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And then we were blessed with wonderful gifts from our mudir and the kids… it was amazing!

We will have another camp this coming week, which Tyler and some more rockstars will lead. I am stepping to the side on this one to focus on my girls camp coming up the first week of September. Inshallah, both will be a success!!!!! Then hopefully after the camp we will have a little downtime before our schedule kicks-in in October!!!!

The girls and I also had some really really really GREAT luck at souk last week, here are some of the items that I found!

bootsBooties – 10dh = $1.20

blouseWonderful Blouse (the little polka dots are actually hearts!) 14dhs = ~$1.80

blazerBLAZER! 15 dhs = $1.90

I have been asked to focus my spending exploits on specific items… so I am going to try to find nice office clothes! Plenty of blazers, booties and hopefully blouses and pants! We shall see!!!

HAPPY HUMP DAY EVERYONE!

The best prize is a SUR-prise!

note* this post was supposed to be for two days ago but I have been having trouble uploading pictures to my computer – so* READ this as if it were two days ago!

a huge GIANT hug who can name that* movie! Anywho- I just wanted to let you all know I am OFFICIALLY OUT OF MY COOKING COMA! This is so exciting!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And* plus on the plus! It has been making Ramadan go by quickly! I had a goal for Ramadan to try 4-5 new recipes and I have exceeded that goal- which is obviously SUPER exciting!

I thought you all would want to join in in my excitement so here are some pictures of my recent recipes… PLUS of course, a SURPRISE at the end!

IMG_2720Cake donuts with chocolate, peanut butter and powdered sugar as toppings

IMG_2724Lentil-Basil Burgers

IMG_2749Cheesy Onion-Garlic Bagels

IMG_2759Lemon Sugar Cookies with Buttercream Frosting

IMG_2760Peach-Strawberry Oat Muffins (these have no added sugar!)

So, I actually have two surprises!!!!!!!!!!!!! Isn’t that a surprise in and of itself? I guess that would be three? Hmm… anyway! We are starting to develop quite the tomato crop- and by crop I mean SIX WHOLE TOMATOES!!!!!!!!!!! Considering last year we had two the whole year, I would say we have tripled our crop! LOOK OUT!

IMG_2744photoFEAST YOUR EYES ON HOMEMADE COTTAGE CHEESE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Its so easy, I am troubled by all of the squandered time in Morocco without my (almost) favorite delicious treat! AND* did I mention how easy it was? Amazing, I tell you, amazing!

Isn’t life full of such fun little surprises?!

Life’s a gamble!

First things first– for those of you who don’t know… we are OFFICIALLY volunteers!!! We arrived in Larache on Thursday and have spent the time with our new host family and catching up on things.

Previously, volunteers in Morocco were required to stay about a month with their host family. Within that month-they would get acquainted with their Dar Chabab (youth center) or wherever they were working, find a house, get a post office box, and become integrated in their community. What our first month looks like, however, is a little different. The Peace Corps has given us only* two weeks with our new host family– which means 14 days to find an apartment/house. This process of finding an apartment/house, as you can imagine, is VERY different than that in the US.

Here are the differences that I have noticed:

1) We don’t speak the same language— although I have been able to use quite a bit of Spanish (a small hooray for me), we still have a barrier because we are speaking to each other in a second language. And I am generalizing a bit here– I know that there can be language barriers anywhere in the world.

2) There is no forum for listing all of the apartments that are available… like Craigslist or classifieds, anything like that. And even if there were– it would be written in standard Arabic– which we can’t read anyway. Also, there is very* little even on the internet… so who do we talk to?

3) local store owners… people on the street, the Peace Corps has advised us that once you build relationships with people or even when you first meet them– they will be happy to help you find something.

4) the price of an apartment is negotiable… depending on your relationship with someone. For example, because we are Americans– people will assume we can pay a lot, maybe 2000 dirhams for a place that is normally 800 or 900 dirhams (note: that 1 dollar is about 8.7 dirhams). So if we can convince them that we are volunteers and working for free– that will help. Also, if the landlord has a good relationship with someone you know.

So…. knowing all of this- Tyler and I accepted the challenge. We are absolutely determined to find a place to live in two weeks, so in order to keep ourselves motivated… I am going to blog about our experience in finding an apartment!!

Note: there are quite a few volunteers in our group that either have volunteers near them to help with this process or have a volunteer in their site that may have scoped out some places. But* because we have a new site and a relatively new area for the Peace Corps to be in… we don’t have either. So that adds another dimension.

Our progress thus far:

Thursday-May 24: Our host dad asked us how long we would be in Larache– when we told him two years, he looked a little overwhelmed, like maybe we would be living with him for two years. Although we had decided beforehand to mention our needing an apartment later– we thought this would be the optimal time to tell him so that he didn’t freak out.

Friday-May 25: We mentioned to our boss (also known as a mudir –pronounced MOO-DEER) and supervisor that we were looking for a place to live. In broken Darija, I accidentally said that we needed to find it after* two weeks, rather than during these two weeks. Hopefully… that can be changed.

Sunday-May 27: We were lost trying to find our way to the Dar Chabab (which is about an hour and a half walk from our host family’s house) and we stopped to ask a store owner where it was. A really nice and jolly man offered to take us there. Since he was so nice and jolly… we decided to try our luck and asked him if he knew of any places that were for rent. In French, Spanish and Darija– he told us that he knew of some places. AND* that he is friends with our mudir at the Dar Chabab AND* our host dad! Who knew that in a city this big– we would randomly meet someone like this!!! Very* exciting! So after we were done at the Dar Chabab– our mudir took us on a walk and said that Mito (pronounced Me-toe), the nice,jolly man, would help us and that we would try to talk to people as well. So we went to a baker and then another store own, and hopefully tomorrow we can see an apartment!

That is all for now– hopefully we have a positive update for you tomorrow!!

Days until we should have our own apartment: 10