In the past two weeks, I attended our In-Service Training (IST) that Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) have after their first three months at site, and then a Training of Trainers (TOT) for young people that want to help run Moroccan camps. Attending a training for American volunteers, and then subsequently a training where I was the only participant not from Morocco, invites comparison.
Of course, having the opportunity and time to attend trainings to develop my #skillz, at no cost, is a big privilege. Same thing goes for “serving” in Peace Corps. So, in particular, at the risk of sounding basic AF, the thing on my mind most is gratitude. Incidentally, attending the Moroccan training reinforced my observation that Moroccan culture has mastered this whole gratitude thing as compared to Americans.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Complaints
During our Peace Corps orientation, a friend and I did stand-up comedy making fun of us volunteers. We introduced to the group our scientific concept of “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Complaints,” with the main idea that if volunteers can’t complain about basic things, our complaints become more and more ridiculous. The top of the pyramid was entitled “Posh Corps;” if we’re so comfortable and taken-care of by the staff in Morocco, how are we supposed to have a “real” Peace Corps experience? The sketch went over big—because everyone watching was thinking, this is so true. At every Peace Corps training, when I exercise this right to “free speech,” no one looks twice.
But at the training with all Moroccans, I started on my complain train about how there was no time for sleeping. I didn’t get too much backup. Our sessions lasted until 1:30 AM each night, and we had to wake up at 7:30 AM each morning. Lectures went on too long, there were no clean toilets, and we never got a rest. But people still participated in every activity with excitement and appreciation for the trainers, who used their own vacation time to run this TOT for free. My friends reminded me that since this training is only one week, we have to be patient and make the most of our time here.
Of course, you could argue that American culture is more complainy because of our democratic tendencies. Contentment leads to complacency, and we cannot afford to be complacent when there is so much that’s broken in our country. At the same time, I don’t think that gratitude and complacency are the same thing. At the end of each day at the Moroccan training, we still had time to share our feedback with the staff. I guess the trick is seeing gratitude not as an absence of criticism, but rather, a presence of eagerness and thanks.
A Happy Sidekick
The thing that I personally am thankful for are the Moroccan peers I met at the camp, who, like me, want to contribute to positive youth development in Morocco. Given the high rate of youth unemployment (38.8% among Moroccan urban youth in June 2016), I had received a picture of hopelessness among youth in Morocco from Peace Corps trainings and individual conversations. But this picture is an oversimplified façade. After attending the Moroccan training, I’m reminded once again that everywhere, there are young people who are driven, innovative, and looking for ways to give back.
To open the TOT, the trainers explained that the impact of the training is bigger than one kids’ camp; the impact will be multiplied by every child with whom every person at the training works. If each of the 30 people at the training works with 20 children, 600 children will benefit.
Along this concept of capacity building for high impact, I thought of a presentation a fellow PCV and I gave during our In-Service training, on how Peace Corps Volunteers are not like superheroes, but rather “sidekicks” for motivated people in our community, who are the real heroes. The people I met at this training, my peers, give me renewed energy and purpose for how I can help as a Peace Corps Volunteer; not just by direct service like teaching English, but more so by supporting and building capacity for Moroccan counterparts.
Save Me a Seat?
The word “counterpart” in Peace Corps lingo means work partners at our site. But first and foremost, counterparts are friends, with whom I feel very comfortable asking work-related questions or posing ideas. Honestly, the fluidity between counterpart and friend is a surprising change coming from my own experience in DC. At conferences or trainings in DC, I feel like when I want to exchange contact information with someone, there is a skepticism that I’m being disingenuous or only talking to them to expand my “network.” In my Moroccan community, absent the trope of the insincere networker, this same skepticism doesn’t seem to exist. I feel more comfortable approaching people about work.
At both trainings, it felt great to be among peers that were always there to reflect, vent, goof off with, and discuss ways to work together. Having close friends by me during the Moroccan training, despite the fact that my cultural background and language skills were so different from the rest of the group, gave me all the warm fuzzy feelings of international exchange (you can make fun of me if you want to).
The little things like saving your friend a seat at lunch, checking if their name is on some list, whatsapping memes during sessions, listening to digestion-related grievances, lending a pen and paper for the 100th time, grabbing a forgotten bag, or bringing them coffee and bread when they miss breakfast, makes you feel taken care of, regardless if those friends are from the U.S., Morocco, or outer space. Despite cultural differences surrounding affection and how we express it, love between friends is a universal concept. Just go into any training in the world and look at the small interactions between the people sitting next to each other.