The Peace Corps is an organization of transients. Always fleeting from one volunteer to the next.
For over 50 years in Morocco volunteers have cycled through the program in increments, formerly every 6 months. Due to recent changes in its programming however Peace Corps Morocco will now accept only one group a year, usually a large one, around 100 people.
What that means for this very moment however, is that currently we have four staaj’s in country. (A ‘staaj’ is the word used to describe the group of volunteers that come to Morocco at the same time. There’s some debate over how to spell the word. But I refuse to spell it ‘stage’ as it’s sometimes spelled, because the word is pronounced like ‘stah- ggg,’ not ‘stay-ge.’ My own personal ‘stick it to the man’ if you will.) A brand new staaj who arrived in January, my staaj who arrived in March 2012, the staaj before us that arrived in September 2011, and the staaj before them that arrived in March 2011.
4 groups for what I’m guessing is a total of 300-ish volunteers serving in Morocco at this moment.
Roughly the size of a high school in small town USA. But unlike a small high school, you don’t get to know everyone. (I’ll let you decide whether or not that’s a good or bad thing) Varying geographical locations, circles you roll in, timing, work opportunities, committee duties, and the fact that some volunteers didn’t join Peace Corps to make friends with 299 other idealistic or jaded Americans ensures this. It’s very possible to meet or work with a volunteer at one time during your service and never see them again. (Situation depending, like I said, this could be a good or bad thing)
Being the sentimental twat that I am, I sometimes find this very sad. Throughout my 11 months in Morocco I have found many of my fellow volunteers to be engaging, realistic, thoughtful, and more than anything else people who simply ‘get it.’ There are likely so many people that I could be good friends with should the stated factors above not be a barrier. But that’s Peace Corps. And in the words of Fitzgerald, “So we beat on…”
This past weekend however, I found myself at an intersection of all 4 staaj’s. An experience, I felt compelled to put to paper (figuratively speaking of course) as it happened.
Last September I was honored by my staaj and elected to serve on the editorial team for PeaceWorks, our program’s literary magazine of sorts. In order to edit and compile submissions we met in Rabat at the Peace Corps office to work together. There I had the pleasure of meeting and working with Mark and Cait, of the March 2011 and September 2011 staaj’s. When we weren’t editing or discussing PeaceWorks related items, we spent a lot of time talking. Talking about life, our parts of Morocco, work, Peace Corps, travel, religion, home, etc.
Mark belongs to the staaj that will be finishing their service this April-May. Their departure marks a huge departure from the way things used to be here in Peace Corps Morocco as well, as they are the last remaining staaj of the health and environment sectors. Peace Corps Morocco has decided to transition to a solely Youth Development focus, meaning that all future volunteers will likely spend their time working in and out of a Dar Chebab like myself. A decision that has been met with varying opinions.
On our last night in Rabat, Mark invited Cait and I to join his comrades for dinner, as this staaj arrived in Rabat for a week of what the Peace Corps calls ‘COS’ (Close of Service) Conference. Sitting and talking amongst them, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of nostalgia. Like I missed something I’d never even experienced. With their departure goes the Peace Corps from teeny, tiny isolated villages. They’ll take their knowledge of Tamazight and Tashelheet with them and will leave behind memories of a vintage kind of Peace Corps.
I’d never even met these people before, yet I admired them and felt honored to be included in their presence especially given many of the struggles they went through. I yearned to hear their stories and listen to their experiences because they represent a kind of Peace Corps that will never be again. They’ve reached a part of Morocco that few Youth Development volunteers will have the chance to, if at all. They’re largely relics in this modern age of Dar Chebab’s and large cities. I’ll miss what they stood for in this program.
And yet less than 24 hours later, I found myself amongst the group of newest volunteers as I decided to stop and visit the CBT of my old Darija teacher near Meknes. Answering their questions, listening to their woes of site placement, and telling them stories of my own was a fun experience. They’re bright eyed and enthusiastic; the future of Peace Corps Morocco. A nice reminder of my own CBT experience, that I don’t feel so far removed from.
So there I was. Caught in the intersection. But there was something to learn from both groups. The same lesson really.
And that is, the need to soak it all in. To soak up every sunset, brush of morning fog, handshake, and teaching moment. I don’t want to my close my eyes even for a second. I still yearn to drink this whole experience in and to appreciate every last drop. I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to intersect with both of these groups to learn what it means to appreciate all that I have here.