I can safely say that being a Peace Corps volunteer in Azrou, Morocco has been the hardest thing I have ever done. Until I had to leave. Then that was the hardest. Two years ago I said goodbye to my home, my family, and my friends in America. That was difficult, but it wasn’t the same. Whevever I leave home I always know that I will return. Leaving Morocco is hard because I don’t know when or if I will ever be back.
Friday May 9th, 2014 was my last full day in the Middle Atlas town that I called home for two years. I had already gone through a lot of the necessary goodbyes with other volunteers and community members as well as had my final class at the Dar Chabab. For me, this Friday was all about soaking it all in.
Ron, another volunteer in Azrou (who came in a year after me), met with me for tea at a café close to my house. This is something we would do almost every day during the week to chat about work and other happenings around town. This time there wasn’t much gossip, instead there was more talk about the future. What happens after Peace Corps? Saying goodbye to something is always hard, even if it is something small like drinking tea at a café. Despite our age difference, Ron has been one of my best friends while in living here. That’s one of the beauties of this job; I get to cross paths with people from all over the US, people I would have never met if it wasn’t for Peace Corps.
Like any other Friday I went over to my friend Kawtar’s house for couscous. The moment I walked in the door I was presented with a beautiful light blue takchita (traditional dress) that Kawtar and her sisters, Kenza and Sou3d, handmade for me. Most of the extended family and family friends came over to have a final meal with me, of course right away they wanted to see me in my new dress. Out came two big pots of tea and everyone gathered around as I modelled my gift. About an hour later the couscous was ready and I helped set the table like always. This week extra vegetables were prepared for my farewell meal. The giant bowl in the middle of the table soon became a mountain as it was sacked high with pumpkin, carrots, turnip, cabbage, and chickpeas. As soon as lunch was over Kawtar and I headed to the kitchen. For my last day her family wanted to host a small party for kaskrut (Moroccan afternoon tea) and there was a lot of cooking to be done. While Sou3d made what seemed like hundreds of little cookies Kawtar and I made milawee. Milawee is one of my favorite Moroccan foods. It is a fried bread that is kind of a mix between Indian Naan and a crepe. One creates a basic bread dough and then sections it off into pieces that are then flattened and folded with oil and a little corn flour, forming layers. This layered and flat piece of dough is then placed on a frying pan and lightly browned on both sides. Milawee is generally eaten for breakfast or kaskrut but it is also very popular for fast breaking during Ramadan. On this particular day we made two large stacks to serve, probably the most I have ever seen in one sitting. Once again we all gathered around to eat. Kawtar’s nieces had arrived with her two older bothers and to my surprise the family that adopted my dog Hazel showed up as well. More tea was served to the room and then more gifts began to come out. Hazel’s new family gave me a pair of traditional Moroccan slippers, Kawtar’s sister-in-law gave me a hand embroidered tea cloth, and her mother gave me two candle lanterns. I brought gifts for all of them as well, including markers and stickers for the kids and decorative serving plates for the rest of the family. Saying goodbye to this family was one of the hardest for me. They have all done so much to take care of me while living in Azrou. From the tremendous hospitality that never fails, to teaching me how to cook various Moroccan dishes, to wrapping me in wool blankets in the winter. Since the beginning they have always treated me as an equal and not like the outsider that never knows what is going on. Together there have been many times that we have been able to sit, listen, and discuss topics of religion and politics and fully understand each other. Before I left they all told me that when I get married I have to have one wedding in America and another wedding with them in Morocco. To this, I could only reply with Inchallah (God willing) and that’s really all it comes down to. Inchallah I will come back to Azrou. Inchallah some of my friends from Morocco will get to visit America. Inchallah when (if) I get married I will be rich enough to have two weddings.
After kaskrut I went to Azrou’s ‘center’ building where meetings and other official gatherings take place. There they were having an appreciation ceremony for all of the major associations in town and they wanted to recognize me as well. Of course right away I was served more tea and taken to my seat at the front of the room. I looked around and saw many people that I knew, people that have helped me with projects, people that have hosted various activities at the Dar Chabab, people that I have met at a few community events. I was extremely touched by all of the people that came up to shake my hand and thank me for my service, especially when they already do so much for the community. As the ceremony went along I was called up to say a few final words. Although it was nerve racking to speak in front of a room full of leaders in the community it was important for me to say thank you for everything that they do for Azrou. After the ceremony was over I had to say goodbye to the co-workers/friends that have aided in making the last two years of my life a success.
Before I knew it the day was over, all of my bags were packed, and the rooms in my little house were empty. Nikki and I got up early on Saturday morning and headed to Rabat. Here I will spending my last few days in Morocco with the group of volunteers that will be closing their service with me. More goodbyes and a few dinners together before we bounce off to whatever is next for each of us. Trek Salama!