Monday, February 28, 2011

World Wise Schools Teaches Me a Lesson

As part of my Peace Corps application, I volunteered for World Wise Schools, a program that matches a PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer – might as well start using the jargon), with a school back here in the States. The object is to further understanding of the foreign country by Americans and vice versa.

My former wife teaches seventh grade social studies here in West Michigan and was enthusiastic about participating in the program, so we became a match. I live only an hour from the school, so we decided it would be good to for me to do a pre-departure school visit rather than waiting till I was already in Morocco to start the contact.

Last Friday was the day of my visit. It went well, though it was exhausting. I talked to five classes of 7th graders and by the end of the day I was whipped. Not that they were bad. On the contrary, they were very good – not only in their behavior, but in their preparation. They knew where Morocco was. Some knew about the unrest in North Africa. They’d studied Islam a few weeks ago and astonished me by volunteering all kinds of information about it, including the Five Pillars of Islam. They were curious and smart and active and all so different. Engaging with them for a whole day was…intense. I must say, teachers really earn their keep.

The objective of my visit was not so much to talk about the Peace Corps and Morocco, but to let them get to know me as a flesh and blood person. They asked terrific questions, like why did I join the Peace Corps, what did I think I would miss the most, what did I think was the most important thing I was taking with me, and of course lots of personal questions about my age, family, etc.

To help objectify what I was doing I took all of my packed bags with me and wore the clothes I plan to wear on the plane when I leave. Basically, I took with me all of, and only, the things I plan to take with me to Morocco. The kids were interested not so much in what I was taking but how heavy the bags were. Several offered that I could put them in my bags and still meet the 80 pound weight limit, which prompted all kinds of smart remarks.

They really liked seeing Arabic written, which I discovered by accident during the third class, when we finished early. The teacher had stepped out of the room temporarily. In desperation to fill the time, I wrote شكراً (shukran – thank you) on the whiteboard. A kid asked me if I could write his name in Arabic. Then the word spread, so that in the remaining two classes, kids asked early on if I would write their names in Arabic.

I also played a short mix of “travelin’ music” as class was beginning. And I made my first-ever video, “The Further Adventures of the Earl of Luggage,” as part of my presentation, and I’ve attached the video here for your entertainment. Haven't figured out how to attach music to this blog yet, so I've listed the tunes here: "Movin' Right Along" (The Muppet Movie); "America"(Simon & Garfunkel);"On the Road Again" (Willie Nelson); "Ramblin' Man" (The Allman Brothers); "Everybody's Talkin'"(Harry Nillson); "Like a Rollin' Stone" (Bob Dylan); and, of course, "The Marrakesh Express" (Crosby, Stills and Nash). I'd be curious to know what tunes other people would add to the list.

The school visit was a great learning experience for me in many ways, but the really BIG LESSON came out of my packing early. As the video shows, even though I pared back the items I wanted to take with me in order to meet weight, I still was unable to fit them all in my bags. If I had followed my usual behavior, I would have been packing on Sunday, March 13. And what would I have done then? At least now I have some time to make adjustments, though not a clue yet to what they will be.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


I didn’t realize that it had been so long since I last posted to this blog. A lot has happened in those two weeks.

The Great Blizzard of 2011
First, there was the Great Blizzard of 2011. I went to bed late the night of February 1, it was snowing but there was only an inch or so on the ground. When I got up six hours later, at 6:00 a.m., there was over a foot! The plows got the road cleared by the end of the day. Then the winds (30 mph) started, and by the next morning there were a couple of six-foot high drifts blocking the road. But storms like this are exciting, especially when you’re in a warm house. I remember only two others of comparable intensity in my lifetime, in back-to-back years, ’78 and ’79.

Then I spent a couple of days helping my younger son Joe clean up his apartment in Kalamazoo and move back to Grand Haven. He plans to work through next fall at the blueberry farm where he’s worked the past two summers, then hopes to go WWOOFing (?? – I didn’t know what it meant either when he first mentioned it to me).

The next day the winds began

And I’ve been taking care of some of the details of departure. I found a buyer for my car. We’re going to close the deal on March 10. He’s then going to drive me to Grand Rapids to my older son Robin’s home, where I’ll be staying the last few days before departure.

And this week there’s been a buildup in preparations from the Peace Corps. We’ve had several emails with questionnaires relating to language learning, personal information for host families, and program developments. That culminated today with “Staging” instructions. I just got off the phone making my plane reservations. I’m still scheduled to leave in mid-March.

I’m excited. But I won’t let myself get too excited. I’m not on that plane yet.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Countdown Begins

On Friday, I received an email from Peace Corps informing me that I should receive a call from their travel office this week to make my plane reservations. I’m being intentionally vague at the Peace Corps’ request. No specific dates or flights or locations. No names of others in my group, etc. Suffice it to say, I’m still scheduled to depart in mid-March.

The countdown begins, and I’m pleased. Emotionally, I’m ready right now. In practical terms, I’m in good shape, too, though I still have a few things to do. And I could always use more time for language study and reading. I’m not using exclamation marks this time, because I know things can change, even at the last minute. Last fall, my assignment to Lesotho was cancelled 16 days before departure.

The unrest in other parts of North Africa and the Middle East are a concern, of course. Will Morocco also be affected? As a monarchy, Morocco’s government has more legitimacy than those in the other countries, ruled by strongmen who seized power sometime after independence and created authoritarian regimes to hold onto power. Morocco’s king, Mohammed VI, is well-loved. He took over in 1999 and introduced a number of liberalizing measures. Still, there are considerable similarities among the countries.

I’m sure the Peace Corps is monitoring the situation closely and will act appropriately to the situation. A friend of mine, who’s in the Peace Corps in Peru, emailed me the other day and quoted a Quaker proverb. I’ve adopted is as my motto: Proceed as the way opens.

IMPORTANT NOTE: The postal code in my Morocco address has changed. The correct code is 10080.