Dear Friends and Family, “Hello from summer camp! I miss you all! The beach is my favorite part of the day…” How many letters have I written like that?
And why am I still writing these words, as a college graduate?
No longer the camper, I’m the counselor now—and I’m not on Cape Cod, or Maine, or even Colorado. I’m in the beachside town of El Jadida, Morocco. And the goal isn’t pure fun-in-the-sun: I’m a Peace Corps volunteer, a youth development leader with the El Jadida English Language Immersion Camp. In Moroccan society, English represents a way to get a good job—either in Morocco itself or abroad—and that is the opportunity we are offering. And to learn a language, you must live it. At the camp, English is not a course students take in school: it is also a way of life. As a Peace Corps volunteer living in the Middle Atlas Mountains, where very little French or English is spoken, I know how true that is. I’ve lived Arabic and Tamazight—the local Berber dialect—because that is what I need at the weekly market to buy my food. Onions and tomatoes for spaghetti sauce… I know these words well, and now many other words that I use in my daily life.
The most surprising part about this camp for me, so far away from my home, is the similarities these kids share with their American counterparts. Ages 13–16, they often travel vast distances across the country—from the urban, chic city centers of Rabat and Casablanca to the rural, small Berber communities of the Middle Atlas Mountains—eager to meet other campers and learn new things. As I was walking on the beach the other day, I watched them play together in the waves. Some kids, like Fatima from my village, wore jeans, a long-sleeved T-shirt, and her headscarf. Other campers wore string bikinis. And yet, they played with one another in the ocean, side by side, and the cultural differences between them were mere formalities.
Watching them, I’ve realized that I believe, more than anything else, in world friendship. I see it develop between the campers—and I was also touched to find it offered to me.
Last week the kids and a few counselors took a field trip to an old Portuguese cis- tern. When we arrived at the ticket window, we were told that it was free for Moroccans, but Americans had to pay 10 dirhams (about $1.25) to get in to see the structure.
It was then that “Fat Tony,” a skinny 15-year-old boy (who chose a moniker he thought an American rapper might say with pride) spoke up from the seat beside me. “Sherry is Moroccan,” he told the man at the booth. “She lives in Morocco. She speaks our language and she cooks our food. She should not have to pay.”
I blushed—and, as I didn’t want any conflict, I quickly paid the American fare. However, as we were walking back to the camp, I thanked Tony for what he had said about me.
“You are American,” he explained, “so you could be living in a house in America like the ones that they show on MTV cribs. Instead, you are living with us in Morocco—so you are Moroccan.”
World friendship. That’s what I am work- ing for, right? The effort to speak another language, learn another culture, live side by side: these are acts of friendship. If my com- munity development projects never come to anything, I know that Tony has shown me what it takes to build a friendship. UPFRONT