April 11, 2005: Headlines: COS - Morocco: Waukesha Freeman: Anne Herisson-Leplae says she still dreams about the two years she spent in Morocco as a Peace Corps volunteer

Peace Corps Online: State: Wisconsin: February 8, 2005: Index: PCOL Exclusive: Wisconsin: April 11, 2005: Headlines: COS - Morocco: Waukesha Freeman: Anne Herisson-Leplae says she still dreams about the two years she spent in Morocco as a Peace Corps volunteer

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Anne Herisson-Leplae says she still dreams about the two years she spent in Morocco as a Peace Corps volunteer

Anne Herisson-Leplae says she still dreams about the two years she spent in Morocco as a Peace Corps volunteer

Anne Herisson-Leplae says she still dreams about the two years she spent in Morocco as a Peace Corps volunteer

Corps beliefs


April 11, 2005

Caption: Shorewood’s Anne Herisson-Leplae says she still dreams about the two years she spent in Morocco as a Peace Corps volunteer. Photo: John Roberts

Where the Sahara Desert sands blow up against the Atlas Mountains in the kingdom of Morocco, Anne Herisson-Leplae lived among the Berber people in the large village of Midelt. The tattooed, very fat, seven-times widowed woman she lived with wanted to know if Hanane (Arabic for Anne) had done something wrong that her family had exiled her from America.

Quite the opposite:Herisson-Leplae was a Peace Corps volunteer, and proud to be one. "The Peace Corps was a natural for me," she says. "When I left Macalister College, I wanted to save the world. I still dream about my life there." She’s not the only one to have had those ideas or dream about the two years spent far from the United States.

The dreamers committed two years of their lives because of a speech John Kennedy gave at 2 a.m. at the University of Michigan in 1960. He challenged young people to do something for their country by helping the developing world. The proud, select club known as Returned Peace Corps Volunteers numbers 170,000; they’ve served in 137 countries. This year 7,733 volunteers will be stationed in 71 countries.

Volunteer demographics show a slightly higher percentage of women serve than men, 84 percent are single, the average age is 28; the oldest being 81. They serve their host countries in education, health, environment, business, agriculture and youth outreach. Well-known Wisconsin RPCVs include Gov. and Mrs. Jim Doyle (Tunisia 1967-’69), U.S. Rep. Tom Petri (Somalia 1966-’67) and former University of Wisconsin-Madison President Donna Shalala (Iran 1962-’64).

Herisson-Leplae lives in a different kind of village now — Shorewood. Since 1998 she has helped English speakers learn French as the director of Alliance Française. In Midelt, she helped Arabic speakers learn English. Even though she was fluent in French when she arrived in Midelt, she quickly needed to learn Arabic. Her first impression of Morocco was leaving the airport in Rabat and finding herself on a bus that could scarcely move due to the thousands of pedestrians streaming down the highway to the coliseum for a soccer game, the country’s national pastime.

While two years in an exotic location sounds romantic from the living room of a heated/air-conditioned home in Wisconsin, Herisson-Leplae, like all volunteers, confronted harsh realities and experienced culture shock. Only half of her initial group of 200 lasted the two years.

"Midelt, like most Moroccan towns, is built of mud bricks or cinder blocks. Some might not think it attractive, but I thought it was paradise," she says. "I lived on the second floor of my host family’s house. There was no electricity, and we had no running water because the region was suffering a severe drought when I was there from 1984 to 1986. My family was so good to me. One of the best things about Morocco is the food. Couscous is special for Friday, their Sabbath. Women like to brag about making the whitest couscous from scratch. Our family of seven might have a chicken wing and thigh to share. We ate lots of pumpkin, tomato, onion and rancid butter. The butter takes a little getting used to but then I really enjoyed it. Since there are no utensils, you roll the couscous into balls with your hands and dip in the other foods."

Most Moroccans wear a combination of Western and local clothing. "Women wear frilly satin-like or polyester Western dresses with the traditional djallaba or tunic over them. Men also wear the djallaba over Western pants. Everyone wears whatever arrives in the latest shipment of plastic shoes from China."

The Berbers are the indigenous people, not Arabs, and for millennia were nomads. When Herisson-Leplae’s parents visited on vacation, her host family arranged for them to meet some nomadic cousins. "We drove out to the desert where they lived. Imagine my parents when we all gathered in large tents made of woven goat hair. We ate lunch from common bowls while the family’s goats wandered in and out. They were quite proud of the television, which was on the entire time showing ‘Dallas’ reruns dubbed in French. The TV was powered by a car battery."

During school breaks, Herisson-Leplae worked with Catholic Relief Services conducting research for household water needs among families in the Rif and Atlas mountains. "This was a very rural area. The women work so hard. They are up at dawn gathering wood for tea and the bread they bake, which is exquisite. The men get up late. Hashish is a common crop in this region. The women feed their chickens hashish seeds to keep them mellow."

Herisson-Leplae took the long way back to the United States by staying in France for two years as an English teacher. Despite the lapse of some 20 years, the lessons from her tour in Morocco remain integral to her life. "I saw how you can have a rich life with few belongings. Our days and weeks were rhythmic, governed by the two market days per week, walking to the reservoir for water and the call to prayer five times a day. You feel closer to the earth and more in control of your life."

After Sept. 11, tourism dropped to zero in Morocco, so Herisson-Leplae joined a charter flight of former Moroccan volunteers returning to their host country to illustrate its safety and boost the economy. "They booked us into four-star hotels because the cost was so cheap then, but I quickly headed out for Midelt," she says. "I didn’t know if my family was even alive after 15 years, but I ran up to the house and knocked. When they opened the door, it was as if I’d never left. I was so happy."

When this story was posted in April 2005, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Story Source: Waukesha Freeman

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Morocco



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