Evacuation, part 3. March 16, 2020 continued
But, back to the story. There was a little drizzle, the first hint of rain in weeks, but it did not materialize. We left my house right on time, at 9:00. I had intended to stop at the Gendarme, but forgot. I had texted my designated English-speaking officer, but did not hear back. We arrived in Sefrou early, but collected my friends in short order. They were saying goodbyes. Now the back and the roof of the taxi were filled with luggage. We arrived in Fes early, good, because my friend was one of the wardens. She had a lot of extra work organizing us and relaying messages. Peace Corps Volunteers use WhatsApp, a free texting and calling ap, for nearly all communications. I am not a fan, due to the privacy you sign away, but use it in these cases, on the Moroccan phone issued by Peace Corps.
The consolidation point for my half of the region is at the hotel next to the train station, in Fes. However, due to the virus, they were not allowing us to congregate there. Fortunately, we were still allowed to congregate at the train station itself. We were supposed to depart at 1:30, on a chartered bus. After breaking our necks to get there timely, we were getting the word that the bus was now coming at 2, then 3, then 4, then we finally left at around 6:30. It was here that I began to hear personal accounts of harassment of volunteers relative to Corona. Some had been screamed at, told to get out and not bring the virus, some denied public transportation. This seems to be directed at all foreigners, as the few cases were all coming in from the outside and people were beginning to become afraid. I had not experienced anything like this.
Meanwhile, most of us got something to eat at the coffee shop. Some ran errands. I had time to find the DHL and ship the box of documents that would have been over my limit. I knew I only needed a small percentage of those documents, but had no time to go through them. Had I known we would have so much time, I would have gone to the old Medina for some souvenirs. As it is, I am bringing nothing for myself, nor family and friends. Sorry to all. My Adjutant Gendarme called, wanting to know where I was, if I was ok. I don’t know what he did/did not know, but tried to explain the situation and my apologies for not seeing him. A truck came for our luggage, as the bus was pretty full. The bus picked up the first group at 1:30, far to the north, and we were the last group to load the bus. We had a motorcycle police escort all the way to Rabat, often running the siren.
The entire time we were getting updates and instructions. By the time we arrived, we knew that our Staj 100 would not be returning, whereas the new Staj 101 would be placed on administrative leave for up to 60 days before being classified as having their service “interrupted” requiring re-application.
As much as we did not want to go, I need to applaud our Peace Corps Staff for a herculean accomplishment of facilitating our evacuation. There were 182 of us, located all around a country the size and shape of California.
We were told to go directly into the hotel, and not leave for any reason. The government had made an exception for us, allowing us to have more than 50 people in one place, but only if we stayed in. Then, we were told that no more than 20 of us could be in one room. As each bus arrived from different regions, we were fed dinner. I think the last bus did not arrive until around 10:30 pm. Only essential staff, a few at a time, would be permitted to join us in the hotel. This put the nix on many of the departure procedures and ceremonies that should have been done. I was fortunate to room with my favorite 101er, a young woman, from Montana, who became the new volunteer for my first training site/village. People were generally depressed and exhausted. However, we slowly gathered a group and the mood improved. We entertained several friends, hers and mine, until 3 in the morning. One of her friends played the guitar. Other small groups gathered in rooms around the hotel and on the roof. We knew we had nothing to do until after 12 the next day, so it was good to decompress a bit. I was surprised at the general resentment toward their friends and family in America “that just don’t get it”. If you did not want to hear from them, why do you post on Facebook? I heard several times the complaints that “they say they are so happy I am coming home”, or such. How can you be bitter that someone is expressing love? Perhaps I am sensitive because I am always the person who says the wrong thing, even when I mean well.