This is a guest post from Jake Stern, current Peace Corps volunteer serving in Ouled Moussa, Beni Mellal, Morocco where we set up one lab during our Morocco October 2014 trip. His post describes our time at Ouled Moussa including our final day at the lab where we setup networking and taught a class. His original post is here.
These past couple of days have been the most busy days of my Peace Corps service thus far. Beginning last Sunday, I have consistently gotten up at 8am and been finished with work at 8pm with only a lunch break in between. Now this may sound trivial to the average American schedule but in PCV and Moroccan terms this is intense.
For the past seven months I have been working with an American organization called Kids on Computers. Back in May I submitted a proposal to receive 8-10 computers in order to help jumpstart my Dar Chebab as well as provide tools to underprivileged youth to access information, learn Math Science and English and have a more advanced grasp on technology. Kids on Computers is a completely volunteer based organization in which American software developers, and IT specialists bring donated computers and funds to critical needs areas and help in the assistance and set-up of computer labs. Their members are from across the United States and they take time out of their ordinary schedules to help.
So, last Sunday, I went to the airport in Marrakech with a RPCV named Sasa who had previously served in Ouaouzeight which is a town just over the mountains from me. We were going to meet up with 4 Americans from the organization, Randy, Fareeda, Avni and Chase. After waiting around in the airport a while for everything to get cleared through customs we started on our trip back up to Beni Mellal and my site to purchase the computers for my site.
Driving us were some of the staff from Sasa’s towns’ boarding school. This bus was such a time warp; with huge glass windows all around the vehicle it must have been from the 1970’s at least. None the less, it ran well and we all got up to Beni Mellal just fine.
In Beni Mellal, we ran into our first challenge. The owners of the computer store didn’t have everything arranged so we had to redo the prices on everything being bought and do a new tally. This essentially negated all of the bargaining and haggling I had done for the past six months but at least they had all the equipment. Finally ironing out a price, we headed out and I got dropped off at home while they went up the mountain to town. Despite the fact that it was late at night, this was a great experience to know that after just 9 months in country, I can handle myself in a professional business situation and make sure all parties are satisfied. It was a lot of fun doing this and is something I think I excel in.
The next day we set-up the computer lab arranging the tables and chairs, installing the software and wiring the system. In the middle of the day though we went to my host mothers cooperative where we had a HUGE lunch. My favorite lunch here is this chicken they make by first boiling the chicken in the pressure cooker and then somehow, someway browning the thing to perfection. I genuinely think it is sorcery due to the juicy, crispy super-seasoned nature of the chicken. So amongst 5 people we split 3 chickens, french fries, salad and desert. Needless to stay we were stuffed and could barely walk back to the house and then to work. Unfortunately we had to go back into Beni Mellal to exchange some things but my friend Jake was with me and all of the volunteers were super nice so we all had a good time piling into the mudir’s car and running errands in town. The fact that lunch was so good definitely outweighed the tedious nature of Moroccan business dealings.
Tuesday was the last day for the KoC volunteers in Ouled Moussa. We finished the wiring of the network, installed the new software on a couple more machines and fired the room up. Kids began to trickle in and by evening we had a packed house for me to lead my first class in the new center. It was a bit of chaos but thats Morocco for you. Kids were so excited to checkout all of the new programs on the computers and play the different typing and math games. I left the session feeling exhausted yet really happy because this was the first real class I have held in my site so far!
The KoC folks just left the region today and as I have been able to reflect on the experience I have to say I am really happy with the result. Indeed there were major bureaucratic hurdles in the process of getting these computers to Ouled Moussa and at times I didn’t think it was going to work out. Only now do I realize how much energy, effort and emotion I have put into this project over the past 7 months and how great it feels now. I have never actively worked towards giving something away and to see the reactions of all parties involvedmade it all worth it. This is Peace Corps. Not the bringing of materials to a community, rather, the full investment of emotion into a community you had no previous connection to and working your hardest for them just because.