PRATT — Pratt High School graduate Courtney Blankenship spent the past 18 months creating a new life in a new home for herself in Morocco through the U.S. Peace Corps, but her 27-month term was cut short when she was evacuated and returned home to Pratt earlier this month because of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Blankenship’s life in Morocco began to change two weeks ago after the United States banned all flights to and from Europe, excluding the UK on March 16.
During this time, her mother, Kirsten Blankenship, and grandmother, Marilyn Brock, were planning on visiting her and arrived in Melilla, a Spanish city on the border of Morocco. They had to make an emergency border crossing at midnight because they got word that Morocco would be closing its borders at 6 a.m. the next morning.
Blankenship met up with them, and for the next few days, plans changed every few hours.
“We rerouted flights to countries not yet banned only to find those countries banned hours later as well,” Blankenship said. “It was a disaster.”
When Morocco decided to suspend all flights in and out of the country, all Peace Corps Morocco volunteers were placed into “stand fast” mode. They were told to pack their bags and remain at their sites until further notice. Shortly after, they were told all volunteers would be evacuating from Morocco. A decision later was made to permanently suspend all 7,000-pluss volunteers’ terms of service.
“Peace Corps volunteers did not just lose jobs this week, but many of us had less than 24 hours to pack up our houses and evacuate the lives we have spent the past 18 months building,” Blankenship said. “Some volunteers only had a brief chance to say goodbye to the communities that have hosted and supported us, while other volunteers never even had the chance to say goodbye.”
Blankenship and her family members were all able to take the same flight, and made it home safely on March 19.
“We are currently in quarantine at home, and we are feeling healthy but exhausted from the whirlwind of events that took place last week,” she said.
During the 18 months she was in Morocco, she learned Moroccan Arabic and some of the local Amazigh language of her site, Tarifit.
“(That) allowed me to communicate and get to know people in the most genuine and indescribable sense,” she said.
Moving forward, Blankenship plans to pursue a career in foreign diplomacy, using what she learned from her experience in Morocco.
“I have shared laughs and cries, stories and picnics — I have had some of the hardest days and some of the best days of my life,” Blankenship said. “I became a part of a community and learned that through the life I built, I have a home in Morocco, too.”