Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Morocco
- 1 Communications
- 2 Housing and Site Location
- 3 Living Allowance and Money Management
- 4 Food and Diet
- 5 Transportation
- 6 Geography and Climate
- 7 Social Activities
- 8 Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
- 9 Personal Safety
- 10 Rewards and Frustrations
During pre-service training, you will receive mail at the Peace Corps/Morocco office, which will forward mail to the training site at least once a week. Please do not have packages sent to you during training. After you are assigned to your permanent site, you will receive mail at a local post office or at your workplace. Packages should be sent directly to your site after training. Depending on the distance to your site from Rabat, mail may take anywhere from three days to three weeks to get to you.
Your mailing address during training will be:
"Your Name", Trainee
s/c Corps de la Paix
2, rue Abou Marouane Essaadi
Agdal, Rabat 10100, MOROCCO
It normally takes 10 to 12 days for an airmail letter to arrive from the United States. Surface mail takes from one to four months. Mail that goes through the Moroccan post office is subject to customs inspection, censorship, and currency control. Advise your friends and relatives that mail delivery is sporadic and that they should not worry if they do not receive your letters regularly. Also, they should never send cash through the mail, as it will seldom reach you. Please check the U.S. Post Service website at www.usps.com for the latest updates on how best to send your letter or package. Currently, the USPS recommends air Parcel Post (not surface mail) for packages, or airmail for letters.
Although having packages sent from home is not recommended because of the unreliability of mail service and the customs fees, if you do have packages sent, brown padded envelopes work well. Make sure they have the green customs label and are marked as gifts, which should prevent the imposition of fees. It is best to wait to have packages sent until you know your permanent address. Again, please do not have your family send you packages during pre-service training.
Telephone and telegraph services are available in all parts of the country. Volunteers in larger cities may have a telephone in their home. Many Volunteers purchase inexpensive cellphones in Morocco, an expense that is not covered by the Peace Corps. Public telephones (called teleboutiques) suitable for making direct-dial international calls exist in most towns. Collect calls can be made only at a post and telecommunications office, and you should anticipate a wait. AT&T and MCI calling cards work in Morocco.
The Peace Corps office in Morocco can be reached by direct dialing from the United States. During normal working hours, the office number (from most states) is 011.212.3.768-3780, and a duty officer monitors calls for emergencies after office hours. Volunteers are not permitted to use telephones at the Peace Corps/Morocco office to call family or friends unless the call pertains to an emergency and is approved in advance by the country director.
Computer, E-mail, and Internet Access
Volunteers, typically, are able to access e-mail and the Internet at cybercafes. Cybercafes are affordable, generally reliable and can be found in increasing numbers in just about any town or city. Most Volunteers do not have a cyber cafÃ© at their site, but most are within a few hoursâ travel from one. The Volunteer lounge at the Peace Corps office in Rabat is equipped with two computers, both with Internet access, and a printer reserved for Volunteer use. Volunteers are not allowed to use staff computers.
Some Volunteers bring their laptop computers, but they are responsible for insuring and maintaining the computers themselves. The Peace Corps will not replace stolen computers and strongly encourages those who bring them to get personal property insurance.
Housing and Site Location
You will be assigned to your permanent site towards the end of pre-service training. After your site announcement, you will visit your assigned site to meet your counterparts and other members of your community. Once you move to the site, you will spend your first two months living with a host family that has been chosen by the Peace Corps. This family has prepared for your arrival and will provide you with a safe and secure place to live while you continue to learn the language and adapt to the culture. An additional objective of this period is to help you integrate more effectively into the community.
After the mandatory two-month stay with a Moroccan family, you are free to change your housing, in accordance with the Peace Corpsâ safety and security criteria (see the chapter on Health Care and Safety). The Peace Corps will give you a modest settling-in allowance to purchase household necessities such as a stove, dishes, and furniture. Peace Corps will provide additional items, such as a carbon monoxide detector and water filter, if necessary. Volunteers in areas that experience unbearably cold winters can be reimbursed for the purchase of an appropriate heater. Depending on the site, Volunteer housing generally consists of two or more rooms and private bath and latrine facilities. Some Volunteers live in family compounds with one or two private rooms for their use.
While many Volunteers in Morocco have running water and electricity, you may not have these amenities and may collect your water from an outside faucet or well and spend your evenings reading by candle or lantern. You need to be very flexible in your housing expectations, as there are no guarantees of continuous electricity or water.
Depending on your program and assignment, you may be placed in a community that ranges from a large, semi-urban town to a very small rural village. Some Volunteers share a site, while others are quite a distance from other Volunteers. Peace Corps staff members visit all sites to ensure that they meet the Peace Corpsâ safety and security criteria. Staff also visit all Volunteers intermittently to provide personal, medical, and professional support.
Living Allowance and Money Management
As a Volunteer in Morocco, you will receive four types of allowances. The first is a one-time settling-in allowance, currently five thousand Moroccan dirhams (MAD 5000), that is used to buy basic household items when you move to your site. This amount is reviewed once a year through a âsettling-in surveyâ to ensure that the allowance is sufficient. You will receive a monthly living allowance, currently MAD 2000, to cover your basic expenses, i.e., food, utilities, household supplies, clothing, recreation and entertainment, communications costs (e.g., cell phone cards, internet access), transportation, reading material, and other incidentals. Your monthly rent will be covered separately by the Peace Corps. The living allowance is paid in local currency and is sent to Volunteers during the third week of each month for the following month. The living allowance is reviewed once a year through a market survey to ensure that it is adequate. You may find that you receive more remuneration than your counterpart or supervisor.
You will also receive a vacation allowance of $24 (currently MAD 220) per month and a travel allowance to cover the cost of work-related trips (pre-approved work-related leave, official Peace Corps events, etc.). The current travel allowance policy is under review.
Most Volunteers find they can live comfortably in Morocco with these allowances. Volunteers are strongly discouraged from supplementing their income with money brought from home, as they are expected to live at the economic level of their neighbors and colleagues. Nevertheless, credit cards are handy for vacations and travel and can be used in several establishments in the larger cities. Travelerâs checks can be cashed for a small percentage fee. ATMs can be found at most major banks in large cities.
Food and Diet
A wide variety of fruits and vegetables are available year-round, and all meats except pork are readily available. Dairy products like yogurt and milk can usually be obtained. Although maintaining a vegetarian diet should not be difficult, you will be confronted with cultural issues when visiting Moroccan families, as they will offer you, and expect you to accept, traditional foods. Thus vegetarians need to be flexible about sharing the Moroccan diet when visiting friends and neighbors.
Fresh bread is widely available and is an important part of the Moroccan diet. Pastries are available in larger towns, and pasta is available in almost any small shop.
Mint tea is a Moroccan's favorite drink. It is traditionally very sweet and is served throughout the day. The numerous cafes in Morocco, which are mostly frequented by men, also serve coffee and fresh orange juice. Because Morocco is a Muslim country, beer and wine are not usually available in rural areas.
Most Volunteers travel within the country in commercial buses or long-distance taxis (grand taxi). Local taxis (petit taxis) are available in all medium and large cities. If required for their work, Volunteers are issued bicycles with bicycle helmets. To reduce safety risks, Peace Corps/Morocco prohibits Volunteers from driving or riding on any two- or three-wheeled motorized vehicle (such as a motorcycle) for any reason. Nor are Volunteers allowed to own or drive private cars. Violation of these policies may result in termination of your Volunteer service.
Geography and Climate
Morocco is sometimes referred to as the cold country with the hot sun. The sun shines most of the year, but the cold can penetrate straight to your bones. The country has a varied geography, with beaches, mountains, desert, and agricultural land. The north tends to receive more rain than the south, so the majority of agriculture occurs in the north.
Moving southward, the landscape changes to desert, turning into the Sahara in the deep southeast. Morocco boasts a popular ski resort in the Atlas Mountains outside Marrakech, and on either side of the mountains are flat, hot, and dry plains. Summer is hot all over Morocco, with coastal areas experiencing greater relative humidity than inland areas.
Morocco is more tolerant than many other Muslim nations toward Western cultural norms. But while people in large cities tend to dress in Western clothing, those in rural communities are still very traditional. Most Volunteers live in small towns or rural settings and need to conform to local customs. Men have more external freedom than women do in that they can circulate freely outside the home. Cultural norms do not allow men and women to mix freely outside the home, and women tend to spend more time in the home, taking care of domestic affairs and socializing with other women. Moroccans are known for their hospitality, and you should expect invitations to dinner, weddings, and other social functions.
Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
The people of Morocco take pride in their personal appearance. To gain their acceptance, respect, and confidence, it is essential that you dress and conduct yourself professionally. Dress standards for Volunteers are generally conservative. Women may wear pants with long-sleeved shirts for normal work-related activity, but are expected to wear long, casual skirts or dresses for more professional activities (e.g., meetings and/or workshops with Ministry representatives). Men are expected to wear long trousers for most activities.
Adhering to the conservative dress codes in Morocco is a test of your motivation and commitment to adapt to your new environment. If you have reservations about this, you should consider the amount of sacrifice and flexibility required to be successful and reevaluate your decision to become a Volunteer.
The Peace Corps expects Volunteers to behave in a way that will foster respect within their communities and reflect well on the Peace Corps and on the United States. You will receive an orientation to appropriate behavior and cultural sensitivity during pre-service training. As a Volunteer, you have the status of an invited guest, and thus you need to be sensitive to the habits, tastes, and taboos of your hosts.
Certain behaviors can jeopardize the Peace Corpsâ mission in Morocco as well as your personal safety and thus cannot be tolerated by the Peace Corps. Engaging in these behaviors may lead to administrative separation, a decision by the Peace Corps to terminate your service. The Volunteer Handbook provides more information on the grounds for administrative separation.
More information about the Peace Corpsâ approach to safety is outlined in the Health Care and Safety chapter, but it is an important issue and cannot be overemphasized. As stated in the Volunteer Handbook, becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer entails certain safety risks. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment (often alone), having a limited understanding of local language and culture, and being perceived as wealthy are some of the factors that can put a Volunteer at risk. Many Volunteers experience varying degrees of unwanted attention and harassment. Petty thefts and burglaries are not uncommon, and incidents of physical and sexual assault do occur. The Peace Corps has established procedures and policies designed to help Volunteers reduce their risks and enhance their safety and security. At the same time, you are expected to take responsibility for your safety and well-being.
Rewards and Frustrations
Although the potential for job satisfaction is quite high, like all Volunteers, you will encounter numerous frustrations. Because of financial or other challenges, collaborating agencies do not always provide the support promised. Moreover, the pace of work and life is slower than what most Americans are accustomed to, and some people you work with may be hesitant to change practices and traditions that are centuries old. For these reasons, the Peace Corps experience of adapting to a new culture and environment is often described as a series of emotional peaks and valleys.
You will be given a high degree of responsibility and independence in your workâperhaps more than in any other job you have had or will have. Often you will find yourself in situations that require an ability to motivate yourself and your co-workers with little guidance from supervisors. You might work for months without seeing any visible impact from, or without receiving feedback on, your work. Development is a slow process. Positive progress most often comes only after the combined efforts of several Volunteers over the course of many years. You must possess the self-confidence, patience, and vision to continue working toward long-term goals without seeing immediate results.
To overcome these difficulties, you will need maturity, flexibility, open-mindedness, and resourcefulness. The Peace Corps staff, your co-workers, and fellow Volunteers will support you during times of challenge as well as in moments of success. Judging by the experience of former Volunteers, the peaks are well worth the difficult times, and most Volunteers leave Morocco feeling that they have gained much more than they sacrificed during their service. If you are able to make the commitment to integrate into your community and work hard, you will be a successful Volunteer.