Au Revoir, Morocco

Well it is 3 am and we are about to begin out journey home. It has been an incredible two weeks full of many memorable, eye opening wonderful moments.
Our final day was spent discussing our varied teaching experiences and examine how we can use what we have learned in our classes. The Moroccan students are do very excited about making connections with American students. I hope that we will have students at home who feel the same way and teachers who can make that happen.
Later we travelled to an archeological site called Chellah which was built before 100 AD and was later used by the Romans. Being at a place that old certainly reminds us that we are here for a just a millisecond of time. It is a humbling experience.
Thank you Morocco for this wonderous, magical adventure. You are a rugged, mysterious, beautiful, hospitable, lovely country and it has been a pleasure getting to know you. I hope that for those of you who have travelled with me, you have been able to get a small flavor of this amazing place.

20120331-035007.jpg

So Many Similarities

After working with Moroccan teens during the last few days, it has confirmed the fact that adolescents around the world are basically the same. Some of their traditions might differ but the desire for independence and the feeling that their parents just don’t understand them is not unique to American teens. Virtually every students we spoke with said that their parents tell them what to do and that they quarrel with their parents regularly. And the issues were the same…school, going out with friends, too much Facebook or Internet, not doing chores. While they see American teens as being much more rebellious than they generally are, we perceive Muslim students as being much more obedient than they actually are. So yet again we are meeting somewhere in the middle.

This morning’s conversation revolved around gender equality in Morocco. Both the boys and the girls agreed that both sexes should have equal rights and they argued about who is to do the cooking and chores if both parents work during the day. Such a familiar conversation but one that did not happen in most Moroccan families until recently. It was agreed that these tasks should be shared and many of the students told us that it is shared in their families today especially when both parents work. One brave young man said that there are some jobs that women cannot do because they don’t have the physical strength but the same young man went on to say “if men had to give birth they would hate their children because men cannot tolerate pain”. Sound familiar! Below is a picture of the young man who happens to be a fan of American football. He is one of the smallest students in his class but getting a football team together is his dream

20120328-184311.jpg</a

Perhaps I have mistakenly given the impression that ALL moroccan students are highly motivated and very diligent. That is NOT the case. There are those who do not care and don't do their work but remember the stakes are higher here than in the US where there are other opportunities for students so as a result more students are hard working.

I also wanted to mention their love for American music. It is very surreal to be in a traditional Moroccan restaurant, eating a tangine, and hear Katy Perry's "California Girls". It makes us chuckle every time. However, the teens we have spent time with LOVE American rap. We were told that one of the major reasons they want to learn English is so they understand the lyrics of the songs.

Here are some pictures of the presentations we saw today. One was on culture and two girls wore some traditional clothing like the Kaftan. They also baked us several different types of pastries even though students are not allowed to have anything to eat or drink in school. The second presentation was about religious tolerance in Morocco ( These were given by students in their first year learning English). It was very enlightening to see these students make the same mistakes our students make: cut and paste off the Internet, putting too much information on the slides, reading the slides, etc. We were asked to point out the mistakes and I felt like I was in my own classroom in the states.

20120328-190725.jpg

20120328-190744.jpg

20120328-190801.jpg

20120328-190819.jpg

We learned that a Moroccan wedding can last three to seven days and costs the family $500,000 or more. That is NOT a typing mistake! I was flabbergasted and cannot imagine how they do this. The salaries here are much lower than at home but other than fresh food everything else is roughly the same price. What an incredible pressure for a family.

Ok, I was asked some great questions about the language in which classes are taught and how do they handle controversial religious topics such as evolution. Surprisingly, the second question has an easier answer than the first so I will start there. Topics such as evolution are taught as a scientific theory that you can believe or not. You are, however, expected to understand the scientific ideas. Just like what many of us do at home. The national curriculum also discusses contraception and abstinence until marriage. Many of the more modern teachers discuss teen relationships and sex and they will reinforce the teachings of Islam which require abstinence (isn’t that what most world religions expect?). Now for language…it depends on if you are in public or private school. In private school, you begin learning French on day one and you will be taught in both French and Arabic. English begins in sixth grade. High school science is in French and Arabic. In public school everything is taught in Arabic. French begins in third grade and English in tenth. However there are two concerns within the country. Because of the many dialects throughout the Muslim world there is tremendous difficulty communicating with Arabs from other regions. Moroccans who have traveled to Egypt or other Muslim countries find themselves unable to communicate. There are few people who can read, write, or speak classical Arabic. Students hate learning it and do not want to study in it. (Our host’s 13 year old son is struggling with it. His father offered to help but Yassid said “How can you help, you are worse at it than me!” …Aren’t teenagers the best?) This problem is a major concern here in Morocco and throughout the Arabic speaking nations. Secondly, students learn all of their science and math in Arabic and then when they get to college everything is taught in French. As you can imagine, this is a major frustration for students.

20120328-193241.jpg

20120328-193300.jpg
Here are two interesting pictures I wanted to share. The first is of a computer lab in the public school. Notice there are only girls. That is because only half the class is there and you can see that even with half the class they are in groups. The second is looking out the window of another computer room in which we had class. There was a rooster out there who definitely wanted to make his presence known. While we were in class, I was sitting right in front of that window and chicken feathers were flying into my hair and clothes, plaster was falling from the ceiling onto a girl sitting in front of me and there was dust everywhere. Not the best environment for learning but the students thought it was amusing. Our final class was supposed to be from four to six but as it got darker we tried to turn on the lights ( The switch was more than six feet high on the wall. I could not have reached it) and one 10watt bulb came on so we had to let the students leave an hour early because they could not see well enough to complete their work! But those lights will Not be repaired anytime soon.

My final story from the last two days is about a soccer game. Kristen, the IREX leader, travelled with Jim and I to Beni Mellal. Kristen is a very good soccer player and several of the highschool boys asked her to play in a match with them. Keep in mind that girls and boys DO NOT EVER play together and soccer is their life. Kristen ended up scoring two goals. I thought all of our diplomacy was shot! The poor goalie was mortified and I am sure his friends will never let him live it down. Here is a picture if the infamous match.

20120329-163322.jpg

20120329-163343.jpg
The Beni Mellal teachers and our fabulous hosts, the Massaqs.

The Tough Questions

We met with four different English classes today. For two of the classes it was their first year speaking English. You cannot imagine the proficiency of the conversational skills after only one year. America is way behind in our methodology of teaching foreign language. The students here are immersed in the language and they practice by having conversations and assignments dealing with real issues such as pollution, citizenship, equality, etc. It is truly impressive how quickly they acquire English which, as I said before, is their forth language. It puts us to shame. Also ALL students here take physics beginning in sixth grade until they graduate. They also take math, geography, philosophy, classical Arabic (there are several different dialects and since people cannot understand the different dialects everyone must learn the classical form), English, French, etc. for a total of eight classes daily. The rigor of their classes far exceeds what we are doing.

Students do not have jobs outside of school. When they are not in school much of their time is spent studying because your score on the national exam determines whether you go to college or not. (That is not to say that they do not enjoy extracurricular activities. They are video game and Facebook junkies just like students in the U.S. and many are involved in sports.)

For people who do not go to college jobs are very limited and do not pay enough to support a family comfortably. College here is free to everyone but they are very selective and it is your test score that means everything.

Here are some of the tough questions that were asked today by the first year English students:
Why do you hate Islam and Muslims? (Sad to think that these kids believe an entire country hates them)
Why do Americans have so many emotional problems? (This student got this idea from watching MTV reality shows-scary to think that teens throughout the world are basing their opinion of us on the “high quality” programming of MTV)
What do you think about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? You started a war, destroyed a country, and say that it was a mistake! (ouch!)
Do you have gangsters? 🙂 He meant gangs and believed that the Bloods and Crips are in all American schools.

Isn’t the media doing a great job portraying America!

20120326-192353.jpg

20120326-100929.jpg

20120326-100915.jpg

20120326-100805.jpg

20120326-100734.jpg

These are pictures of the Hassan II high school of about 2000 students. The campus is made of about six buildings like the one you see. The other rooms are the science classrooms! This highs bool has 12 working microscopes and most of them date back to 1969! P.S. All students have to buy all of their own textbooks!

20120326-193121.jpg
This is a rural public school in the mountains above Beni Mellal.

20120326-211708.jpg

20120326-211725.jpg
These two pictures are to give you a sense of the beauty that is here. However the first picture shows what happens in many developing countries that do not have a system for waste disposal…garbage everywhere.

In response To Kathy’s post about wearing veils, it is not necessary in Morocco. They are extremely accepting of other people and I have seen women in short skirts and tank tops while other woman are fully covered with only their eyes visible. Sometimes these two styles are seen walking together. I did learn that the white lab coat uniform that the girls wear is to keep cleavage, bellies, and fannies from showing! Sounds like a great idea for America, sorry girls!

Had a very American dinner of roast beef and potatoes tonight and it was a perfect taste of home. Missing everyone including all of my kids at home and at work!

The tourist

We are back from our weekend in the beautiful city of Marrakesh…definitely my favorite so far. It has many gardens and wide streets with palatial hotels, wonderful shopping in the medina and in artisan shops, incredible food and a fascinating history. There are also snake charmers who not only charm the Cobra but can charm your money right out of your pocket. Suffice it to say that with two snakes wrapped around your neck you quickly forget how to convert into dirhams and end up paying too much for having the snakes removed. I felt a little better when I learned that others paid more than I did 🙂 There are lots of pictures to share with you today.

20120325-195027.jpg
This is the Menara which was built in the 12th century. There is a lake on the other side which was built so that the ruler could learn how to swim before going on a sailing expedition.

20120325-195528.jpg
Here I am, learning how to make one of the lovely wool rugs one wool thread at a time. These women work on every aspect of the process. They shear the sheep, spin and dye the wool, cut the fibers into three inch pieces and then knot each piece onto the rope base of the rug. It is very tiresome work . After putting on about two dozen threads, I thought that if I had to do that job daily it would make me crazy.

20120325-200548.jpg

20120325-200629.jpg

20120325-200605.jpg
The first picture above is one of the fountains in the city and you can see the city wall built in the 11th century to protect the city and medina. The second picture is the Koutobia minaret which is part of the Koutobia mosque. This mosque was constructed in the 12th century and is still one of the most important mosques in the Muslim world. The final picture is a garden in front of the most famous hotel in Africa, La Mamounia. Truly spectacular! $1300 dollars per night for the cheapest room! Want to book it for the weekend?

20120325-202755.jpgu
This picture is of a “waterman”. You can find them in public areas and the medinas and they will sell you a cup of water. They also charge you to take their picture so I had to be sneaky about this and cut off a bit of the crazy hat, but you get the general idea.

20120325-203152.jpg

More pictures of the old city wall, the entrances into the medina and the bitter orange trees which line the roads in every city. You cannot eat the oranges but they do use them to make cough medicine. However, they smell amazing and add another sensory sensation to this city.

20120325-203841.jpg

20120326-071111.jpg

Count our blessings

Yesterday I visited a private school and was in awe of the beautiful facilities. Yet as we began touring the school, I noticed a tremendous lack of equipment. Classrooms have bare walls, and a chalkboard. There was ONE microscope which they couldn’t find. The science supplies that they have would not have covered my front desk. They have a room for a library which is the size of our DL room but they do not have one single book. They did have one computer lab with perhaps 15 computers but none in the classroom. If you want to show something using a computer you have to bring in your own computer and projector!

This morning we went to the public school that has about 2000 students. I do not have words to describe to you the conditions in which these students and teachers are working. Chalk boards, no chalk, desks with broken chairs with wood slivers or metal posts sticking out, garbage and dirt everywhere, walls or stairs breaking apart, rusted out sinks, etc. You simply cannot imagine it unless you see it for yourself. Yet despite it all, the students and teachers are so friendly and they are thrilled that we are here. They are so appreciative of every bit of education that they are getting. They asked if America is like what they see in the movies. We said that it depends on the movie and they suggested Twilight. I laughed and said that I didn’t know many vampires.

It was interesting that in the public school all of the girls have to wear what looks like white lab coats as a uniform but not the boys. No one really explained why but that is the way it is.

It just started to rain and everyone is thrilled. I hope for them it is a good soaking rain.

The rest of my afternoon was spent at two orphanages. These children, many of which have disabilities, were left on the street by their mothers because being an unmarried mother is forbidden. It was heartbreaking to see these beautiful children and know that they will spend the rest of their lives in this institution. Imagine only getting to go outside to play twice a week. I posted some of the pictures from my day with them. They were fascinated with the iPod and thought Talking Tom was hysterical.

I will give you some hints about where I am going this weekend…can anyone figure it out? It is about two and a half hours from here to the north. It is famous for its shopping and you can ride camels or go skiing. We might even find goats climbing Argon trees.(That I truly hope to see!). It is also famous for its tradition of story telling and it was an important trading post. There was also a popular song about an “express” that you can ride to get there.

20120323-220757.jpg

20120323-154709.jpg

20120323-220847.jpg

Into the Heartland of Morocco

As we are riding in the bus to Beni-Mellal, I keep having to remind myself where I am. It just doesn’t seem real to be here. We are driving through the countryside which has a great deal of agriculture and boy is it flat! This area is pretty green despite the drought but you can see that if there is no rain soon things will be very scary for the people and livestock throughout the summer. It seems this year’s crazy weather had effected people worldwide.

While the northern cities we were in earlier were quite westernized, these areas are much more traditional and I am seeing and hearing more Arabic and less French. We are doing a lot of communicating using gestures and body language…like charades. But so far everyone has been wonderful to us. When my luggage got stuck in a street drain several men came to help which is not what would have happened in other cities I have visited

I just saw a school bus like the one I showed you in yesterday’s blog and it must have had 40 or more children crammed into it! They are going home for lunch and then will go back to school in the afternoon. However I have also seen many young people not in school but hanging around in the streets. They do not see that if they do not get some type of education they will never escape poverty. There was a quote on a teachers wall yesterday which said ” We are all born equal, it is education that makes us different”. That is certainly true here in Morocco I wonder what my students at home think?

I can just see the peaks of the Atlas mountains and they are snow covered. That is where I am heading. Maybe some of my students could try to figure out where I am and give me some ideas about what I should go do or go see!

I met my host teacher today. Her name if Fatimahzra and she is lovely. We joined one of her classes and the first question I was asked was what did I know about Islam and why do Americans not like Muslims? Talk about jumping into the heavy stuff right away! The students were so excited to have us in their class and I think it will be a joy to spend a week teaching and learning with them.

The pictures below are some of the scenery we passes on a bus ride and the first views of the Atlas Mountains. The buildings are homes.

20120322-220730.jpg

20120322-124625.jpg

20120322-123450.jpg

20120322-122312.jpg

Casablanca schools

Our first school visit was wonderful. We watched an English class that had at least 30 students. We were amazed at how respectful the students were not only to the teacher but to each other! When the class ended they treated us like rock stars. They asked for pictures and wanted to talk to all of us, they sang to us and waved to us as we left. We were very likely the first Americans that they had ever met. It was a very strange but flattering experience.

Interestingly, many public school teachers are on strike today. They are fighting for smaller class sizes and better working conditions…same issues no matter where you teach.

Our second visit was to a private school which is known as the best in the country. The students from this school consistently receive the top scores on the nationsl exams. That being said the school is extremely selective of the students who are accepted and they invest heavily in teacher training. The school is so focused on scores that when you first walk in the student exam scores are posted on the bulletin board. In addition, all teachers are expected to use a significant amount of technology in the class and if you cannot then you are asked to leave.

This afternoon we met with the district school inspector. After all the flattery was done he asked us for our professional opinions regarding how to improve their educational system. Well don’t ask if you don’t want to hear the answer. I jumped right into the fire and told him that having 40 students in a class was not the best way to enhance learning and another teacher said that standardized tests were a tool good only for the politicians and certainly not for education. We were given the standard responses and then told it was time for us to leave. Same issues and same responses all over the world.

We ended our day with a visit to the Hassan II Mosque which was built in 1989 after the king died. Every Moroccan was asked to contribute to its construction. The pictures do not do it justice as it is one of the most spectacular buildings that I have seen. We then strolled along the ocean walkway of Casablanca wishing that I could stay there longer and enjoy the cosmopolitan flair of the area.

Tomorrow I am finally on my way to Benimellal to get back into the classroom and meet the host teacher and her students.

20120321-212741.jpg
Public school in Casablanca and the school bus- yellow the world over

20120321-212950.jpg

The Hassan II Mosque- beautiful

20120321-213113.jpg

Day 3:Moroccan education

We spent a lot of time in presentations regarding the educational system and for all of you who think our system is a mess, it still has many strengths. Morocco has more than a 30 percent illiteracy rate and 90 percent of the students do not complete high school. The educational system has to work in multiple languages and there is a tremendous teacher shortage. The problems are even worse in the rural areas where students live so far away from the schools that they simply cannot get to school everyday.

I did have one uncomfortable experience today. As we loaded the bus I chose the seat by the open door. A beggar man came right up to the door and began yelling at us but since I was right by the door he was directly in my face. One of the teachers in our group handed him a tin of Altoids which he seemed to like because he quieted down and moved away. Once he left the man who gave him the Altoids said he thought the beggar was our bus driver who was mad because we all had mints and we had not offered him one. The Altoids were not returned. This type of event is quite common and can be very disturbing. Poverty is everywhere here. In the medina yesterday I saw many beggars. Many were blind, or handicapped, or children, or disfigured,etc. It is certainly not the nicer side of Morocco.

Here are some pictures from the top of one of the administrative offices we were in today. These are pictures of Rabat.

20120320-230058.jpg

20120320-230146.jpg

Finally our day ended with a trip to a craft market in Sale. What beautiful items they sold and we purchased!

I also wanted to share with you some of the unbelievable food we have been enjoying. It has been overwhelming. Lunch is 3 courses and dinners are 4 or 5 courses. Today for lunch I had a salad with goat cheese, beef stroganoff, and chocolate and caramel mousse. I was still so full that dinner was a struggle. No worries about us being hungry.

20120320-230930.jpg

20120320-231001.jpg

20120320-231017.jpg

Tomorrow we are off to Casablanca, where I hope to hear Sam play it again!

A Day of Learning

It is strange learning about a country which is thousands of years old rather than hundreds and in order to learn about its culture you must begin by talking about the Phonecians! America is just an infant compared to Morocco. I am also surprised by the amount of diversity and acceptance of other cultures that is a part of Morocco. Morocco has been influenced by cultures from Europe, the Middle East and numerous sub Saharan countries not to mention the obvious influence of the west, specifically the US. Like the US, Morocco is a melting pot of languages, religions, cultural values, music, etc. We were surprised to learn that Christians and Muslims all celebrate Christmas, valentines day, Halloween. They even have Santa Claus.
We visited with the Minister of Education and discovered that although Morocco has a long history their educational system is not very developed. Compulsory education is new and there are no special services for students. Everyone takes the same classes and all must pass the same National exams. If one does not pass then he/she leaves empty handed.

20120319-223300.jpg
Ministry of education

Now for the fun: Shopping in the Medina…so much fun trying to barter with people who don’t speak English. However, there is no way that I would ever let a language barrier prevent me from getting a good deal on some beautiful gifts.

20120319-223911.jpg

20120319-224034.jpg

20120319-224131.jpg
Some amazing mosaic tiles

20120319-224327.jpg
My hotel and below is my garden terrace…not too shabby

20120319-224651.jpg

Morocco: The Land of Surprises

We were told to be prepared for some surprises from Morocco. We have not landed yet and I have experienced several.
1) Snow covered mountain peaks along the northern coast.
2)Eating cold smoked fish.
3) expecting to land in Rabat but instead arriving in Casablanca which is a two hour drive from Rabat.
It has already been an adventure. Looking forward to what tomorrow holds.

20120319-113013.jpg