Marilyn L. Charles (Morocco 1962–64)

Monday, November 21
7:27 pm

This summer I had a unique opportunity to become acquainted with Moroccans in a “big family-like” situation where I was accepted as the sister of all in the community. I spent 6 weeks at a camp on the Mediterranean, near the Algerian border, just outside the resort village of Saidia. Another PCV, Dave, and I were members of the general staff, which overlooked the activities of the 400 campers, mostly little boys ages 7-14.

Actually, our position was rather honorary. Our time was occupied with assisting informally in the art workshop, with sports, in the health dispensary (I was the camp nurse for 8 days when the regular nurse was absent by virtue of the fact that I was the only female in the camp), and learning Arabic. The latter activity was a necessity since Arabic was the major means of communication in that particular camp.

I well remember one of the most “fun” type evenings we had at Saidia with the general staff – and it all began with marshmallows! Before leaving Rabat for Saidia, Dave and I had racked our brains for things to bring to camp and had come up with the idea of marshmallows – as typical American summer campish as you can get – which we procured circumventively at the US military base PX. Until that night, I’d wondered whether it had been a particularly good idea to lug that heavy bag of “bonbons” all the way to Saidia (8 plastic bags of marshmallows aren’t light!).

There was a bed of coals smoldering near the outdoor dining area where peppers had been roasted late that afternoon. So – impromptu fashion – we produced our American sweets and began to toast them. Pretty soon, human nature being as it is, somebody wanted to know what we were doing. After the first brave soul had tasted a “bonbon” and pronounced it good, the others gradually joined us in squatting around the coals, holding sticks scoured from the beach, speared with white blobs. They were a big hit!

After the rationed supply of goodies was devoured, there was a pretty relaxed, congenial atmosphere. The radio was playing, comme d’habitude, only instead of the monotonous Arabic music which was the usual fare, it was tuned to Western dance music. Houssin, the sports director, was gyrating around in athletic dance fashion when, for some reason, he jokingly held out his hands for me to join him. Much to his surprise, I did – and to my own, too, since I had never danced there before. The opportunity had never arisen nor is it the custom for women to dance in public. Poor Houssin – for all his gracefulness in spinning around by himself, he didn’t know how to dance with a girl! We kind of swayed to the music, holding hands at arms length! He was obviously pleased that I’d taken him seriously and seemed eager to dance “right.” So, after a brief intermission, I suggested we try it again with a step I knew – the dependable and variable box step. We practiced it side by side while the rest of the crew sat agog. When we ventured it in regular dance position, after I showed him how to put his hands, we really wowed the audience – and Marilyn Murray was in business! I was amazed at how eagerly, without any coaxing, several of the fellows began imitating the step. Chances are they won’t have too many opportunities to ever use it, but at least they can now say, in all truth, that they know how to dance!

That was one evening in the life of a PCV, memorable for me, and I hope for 15 Moroccan men who learned a little more about Americans, and who danced for the first time.

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