For the past 27 (roughly) weeks, a group of volunteers and I sit down one night a week for a few hours to play Dungeons and Dragons. It’s a nice social break where I can be American and speak English for a little while. On this particular Friday night, September 8, 2023, I sat down like normal and jumped on the call. I was eating my breads and cakes that I always get for the occasion and was laughing with my friends.
Then I felt a rumbling in my chest, the kind that you feel when a train passes by. The windows across the room started to rattle and my computer screen shook back and forth. It took me a few seconds to realize that a magnitude 6.8 earthquake had hit. It felt strange to stand as my apartment floor shook. Outside, I heard the neighbors making their way outside in a panic. I put my shoes on and followed suit. By the time I got outside, people had conglomerated away from the buildings and away from anything that could fall. One of my neighbors approached me and asked if I was fine and if I’d ever felt an earthquake before. This was his first one, too.
Not soon after, the calls and messages started to come in from everywhere: Peace Corps staff, friends and family from home, and my Moroccan friends and family. My host family from training called to check-in. My LCF, Maryem, who taught me language during training called. My host family here who just experienced the same thing I did called as well.
We were waiting outside for a while, expecting aftershocks. All my neighbors were telling me “kay-3awd” (كيعاود) to mean that it is going to repeat and no one wanted to be inside when it did. I got tired of just sitting there so I went and took a lap around town. The closer I got to the center of my rural town, the more people were flooding the streets. Families were sitting outside on curbs while the children ran around without a care in the world. Some had started to bring rugs, pillows, and blankets outside to wait in mild comfort. There is a big new mosque currently under construction here and as I neared it, I got more and more afraid I would find it crumpled from the shaking. Thankfully, there was no apparent damage anywhere in the main part of town.
By the time I had gotten back home, my neighbors had pulled out their rugs and pillows and set up a nice little spot in an open area outside of our homes. They were all making light conversation and trying to get the kids to calm down and get ready for bed. It was decided; we were sleeping outside for the night. It was around two in the morning by then but I wasn’t particularly tired. I sat down on the curb and returned some more messages and phone calls. A little while later, my neighbor (I, admittedly, forgot his name and at this point it’s too late to ask) called my name and beckoned me over. He gave me a little area on their rug next to him and his family. There was a pillow and a blanket waiting there for me. I didn’t want to impose but he politely insisted that I was welcome. I laid down and tried to get some sleep as my neighbor tried to get his son to stop asking me questions and go to sleep.
I woke up a few hours later at around seven in the morning. It was foggy and my jeans and sweatshirt I had slept in felt damp and my glasses had a layer of condensation on them. I rolled over to find most of my neighbors gone and an older lady still sitting on her little stool exactly how she had been the night before. I also noticed an even heavier blanket had been laid over the top of me while I was asleep. I rubbed my eyes and got up, in a daze from the lack of sleep. I assumed people had went back inside so I folded up the blankets and made the short stroll home.
In the days that followed, there were all kinds of relief efforts to help those affected. A lot of the damage was up in the mountains where there were rock slides and people’s homes aren’t as structurally sound. Associations all over the country came together with community members to prepare care packages of food, blankets, and clothing to deliver them to the remote villages.
I often feel like Morocco is just one big family, of which I am eternally grateful to be a part of. Even (and especially) in the face of calamity, Moroccans band together to care for their brothers and sisters. While the fear and loss felt was devastating and debilitating, the heart of Morocco will recover. The communal spirit, the very culture of Morocco, keeps it strong and resilient.
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