I’m sitting in my house typing this up because I can no longer stand the French keyboards in the cyber cafes. Unfortunately, the cold is back for now and I can see my breath inside. I should have brought more sweaters, but the word is that warm weather is coming back this next week.
This week has been absurd. Our group had our first teaching experience through the spring camp. The Moroccan Ministry of Youth and Sports decided to put on dozens and dozens, maybe hundreds, who the hell knows, spring camps throughout the country, in part to inspire more of the young Moroccans to come to the Youth Houses. The Peace Corps partnered with them on this project and so we showed up at the local school where the overnight camp was being held. A volunteer from a nearby mountain town stayed with the kids the entire time while his wife worked at the other spring camp in the city. Since we taught and ran activities in the mornings, we couldn’t devote much time to studying Darija, but the experience in the camp was worth it.
Firstly, the kids, at least the ones at these camps, are pretty awesome people. Most of these were between 13 and 17 or so. They’re more respectful and more willing to listen than your average US teenager, and they’re probably better educated too. I am continually astonished by the level of education here. I expected it to be like Egypt, in that everybody lacked the most basic knowledge of everything going on in the world, and the only ‘facts’ in common knowledge were propagated by the government-media complex run by Mubarak. Anyway, the camp ran well- our group of six split into pairs to co-teach three different classes, one of which was advanced (the best friend eagles). There are hundreds of pages of resources for different lesson plans, and we had almost absolute freedom as far as what we wanted to teach. My primary goal was for the kids to enjoy English teaching, and hopefully inspire them to show up to their Dar Shababs in the future. Content, for me, was secondary- I don’t expect any of the kids in the “Barcelona” group (beginners, almost all guys between the ages of 14 and 17) to remember “yellow” or “blue” or “go left”, but I do expect them to remember “louder” and “clap”. They’ll probably forget “softer” and “slower” though. My goal for myself is to try and get over the nervousness of standing in front of a group of people not much younger than myself and having no clear picture of how much of what I’m saying is understood. Things worked fairly well, and I’m stockpiling good and bad practices for the future.
Things got really crazy at the end. On Friday, after teaching classes and leading activities and having lunch at the school with the kids, we headed back to Saeed’s house, which is our home-base for lessons and where my laundry is currently drying out, hanging across the living room. At lunch I showed the girls at my table some pictures of my family (hopefully the picture of our table makes it up onto this thing). One of them was very interested in Andy. I think she’s 17- she was asking if he’s married and talking about how good-looking he is. Andy, you should probably come over here. Although this talk of marriage seems fairly commonplace; I was offered somebody’s cousin, who’s in Belgium and known as the best-looking one in the family, just last night over dinner.
After going on about how hot my brother is the girls tried to explain to me that I should become Muslim because after I die I’ll go to hell otherwise. I guess that’s nice of them- looking out for my best interests. Given my few short weeks of Moroccan Arabic experience, it was fairly difficult for them to get this idea across, and something may have been lost in translation. Scratch that- I’m sure a lot was lost in translation. So after lunch we went back to Saeed’s house, hung around, did some studying, and I went out to try and buy dvds for a slide show of the camp for the Ministry of Youth and Sports, as well as pick up some bread. First I went to my favorite Hanut (shop) where Mohammed runs the show, usually accompanied by his 5 or 6 year old daughter. I met two kids there, probably around 16 or 17 who were hanging out and talking to Mohammed. They both had limited English and so we sort of went back and forth between Darija and English. So about that well-educated stuff- one of them asked what I studied in college, and after hearing it was philosophy, he started asking my opinion on Kant and if I liked Sartre and so forth. Apparently here they consider conceptual math to be philosophy, and people like Einstein to be philosophers as well. It was nuts- I was not expecting to find that here. Saeed, our LCF and one of my closest friends here, also knows all about number theory, advanced math, and philosophy, but he worked as a construction worker and sold fish in his 20s. I have a growing sense that what Moroccans need is greater opportunity, not necessarily a re-vamped education system. That said, one thing I do not understand is why the Baccalaureate exists. Everybody spends a year or two or three studying to pass this standardized test-which would drive me absolutely insane and probably isn’t the best possible indicator of someone’s abilities.
I left from Mohammed’s hanut to try and find some dvds. On my way a group of maybe a dozen kids threw something at me, but I didn’t really think much of it. I looked for DVDs and bread and so forth for maybe half an hour. Failed on the DVDs and on the kind of bread I was looking for, ran into my host father and talked for five or ten minutes, then headed back. The kids were still there and as I got closer to Mohammed’s hanut and Saeeds house, they threw a bunch of little rocks at me and a few of them used slingshots. Nothing hit me but I was pissed off, so I went to talk to Mohammed about it, asking things like “do you know their parents, those kids threw rocks at them, I don’t want it to happen to any of the other volunteers”. Mohammed called them over and chewed them out, told them off, explained what I was doing here and said a great Moroccan phrase which basically means “give respect to get respect”. Surprisingly, to me at least, a bunch of the kids went in to his shop and bought little snacks afterwards, so I guess little kids will respect adults here who discipline them. One of them said something obnoxious I didn’t quite catch as he was leaving, and one of the older kids I was talking to earlier at the shop cuffed him. It’s good to have friends in the neighborhood. The little kids weren’t dangerous, they were probably only like 11 years old or something, but we keep on being told that the streets aren’t safe at night, so nobody leaves their house after a certain time.
Anyway, the spring camp. We went back that night for the end-of-camp party. Things got weird really quickly. For some reason there was a brass band of young Moroccan women wearing heels and skirts and playing traditional Moroccan music every once in a while. Things got started only an hour later than they should have, and different groups of campers did a bunch of various short plays and dances, all incredibly well-coordinated and run. A few other campers were dressed up and acting like court jesters or something, pumping up the crowd. Some were dressed like clowns and one 16 year old kid who usually greased his hair and made a little trouble in class one day was wearing a native-american costume and had painted his face like a mime. Next up was a dance with about a half dozen of the girls from camp doing a number for Allah. I couldn’t make out all of it, but it was in Darija, which is sort of strange because I thought all that stuff was supposed to only be in classical Arabic. Safe to say, if the same thing had been done for Jesus it would have been at least as oddly creepy for me. Juxtaposed with that was group of girls, many of them the same as from the first group, dancing to Akon, with one of them wearing a very short skirt and a sleeveless shirt. At a government-condoned event, it was odd. I got to thinking that there is almost certainly going to be some sort of feminist revolution here probably within the next decade or two. It will be interesting to see. The event ended around midnight and we rode home. All we had was the truck of Krista’s host uncle (or host brother, I can’t tell). He runs some sort of food delivery business so he has a small truck and the back is a refrigerator. Seven of us somehow managed to squeeze into the fridge, with Saeed hanging his legs out of the back. Two more fit up front in addition to the driver.
Tomorrow, it’s back to class.