Monday, February 14, 2011

On teaching...


Sometimes I try to think of stories that kind of "sum up" a larger experience that I am having here. They say a picture is worth a thousand words but sometimes I think a short anecdote can do the same thing. People often ask me what teaching in Morocco is like. I usually make a face that I can only imagine portrays the inner struggle that ignites at this question. How can I answer adequately and fully? Well, to put it simply, I can’t. I usually think for a few seconds and reply with something along the lines of Umm… It’s confusing. I’m always confused. It’s crazy. Err, I think I’m going crazy. It’s chaotic but also strangely relaxed. This leaves me feeling just as distressed about my answer as the question-er, who now regrets having asked me.

Well last week I had a brief interaction that might serve as just the anecdote I was looking for. So, as most of you know I gave my final exams on December 22nd and 23rd so that I could go home in time for Christmas. Last week, February 10th and 11th I gave make up exams for those students who had taken my exam and failed. Yes, that’s right - make up exams for an exam that my students had taken almost two months earlier. Yes, that’s right – make up exams mean that the next semester has not yet started. This caused me to think hmm, I really do wonder when classes will start and led to the following exchange between me and, for the sake of anonymity, an “important person” at the University:

I was wondering if you could tell me when the next semester begins. Sure, well I think that we will, yes, insha’allah, we will begin the semester next week. Oh really? I thought that next week was Mohammed’s birthday? Well yes, it is! Have you been in Meknes yet for Mohammed’s birthday? It is a very crazy day. No, not yet but insha’allah I will be this year. So, will classes start next week if it is Mohammed’s birthday? No, of course not. Okay, so maybe the following week? Yes, I think so. Probably. Insha’allah. Will the students attend the first week of classes? No, no. You shouldn’t come the first week, of course. So when do you think I should plan to have my first class of the next semester? Hmm probably in two weeks. Do you know what you are teaching yet? No, I haven’t been told yet but I have turned in my “wish form.” Right, well we will meet next week to decide the classes. Next week? What about Mohammed’s birthday? Oh yes, that’s right. Well the next week then. Okay so in two weeks we will decide the classes so maybe in three weeks classes will start. But the students won’t come the first week so in four weeks I will have to go class. Is that right? Yes, insha’allah.

Who knows, really. But if he’s right and I don’t start for four weeks that means I will begin my next semester the first week of March or about two and a half months after I gave my final exams of the previous semester.



Wednesday, February 2, 2011

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” - St. Augustine


Yes! I am still here. But phew, what a month it has been. On December 23rd I gave my last final exam and packed my suitcases full of Christmas presents and dirty laundry and made began my day long travel excursion from Meknes, Morocco to Madison, New Jersey. Yes, that’s right, I surprised everyone and went home for Christmas! I had a wonderful week of family, friends and food food FOOD! I even got an extra treat when on the Monday after Christmas a wonderful wintry blizzard was delivered to my front door. What a delight. What an even greater delight when I returned in from a family snowball fight to the warmth of a heated house and a bath in a jacuzzi. Despite being nervous that I might experience reverse culture shock similar to what I found in Germany, none happened. I slipped quickly and quietly back into my old life: I played with my dog (one of the first animals that I have touched in months), ate pork (oh pepperoni how I have missed you!), watched TV in bed, rented movies, went shopping, drank wine at my leisure and slept in arguably the most comfortable bed in the world. I even got a sinus infection! It was reassuring to know that even if I had left and was living a life far from “normal,” everything at home was waiting for me, pretty much as I had left it.
Snowy Home

After a wonderful week that arguably went by too quickly I again boarded a plane and returned to Morocco. I hurriedly graded over 400 exams and immediately headed back to the Casablanca airport to embark on one of the most wonderful adventures of my life. I met the 8 other Fulbright ETAs and our wonderful director and headed for Amman, Jordan where we would have a conference with the other Fulbright ETAs from across the region.
But first, we had a layover in Turkey. Well, I must say that I have never been so impressed with a country based solely on the presentation of their airport. The people were friendly, it was immaculately clean and it had all of the creature comforts one would want from an otherwise too long layover. Well there was one annoyance worth mentioning. We were forced to buy a Turkish Visa just to enter the airport but that just means I’ll have to schedule a return trip to make it really worth it. I certainly have no problem with that.
The Istanbul Airport

From there, Amman! Welcome to the Middle East. 

The conference itself was fine, but it was particularly nice to visit with the other Fulbright ETAs. We had originally met in July at a pre-departure orientation in Washington, DC. Needless to say a lot has changed since then. It was nice to get together, swap stories and see how different all of our countries are both socially/politically and in what we are being asked to do. With the Fulbright group we went to:
the Dead Sea:
The Dead Sea

the Baptismal Site of Jesus:
Me at the Baptismal Site

Some Moroccans in Jordan
It really looks just like Jesus of Nazareth
A Church at the Baptismal Site. Between where I was standing and the church is actually part of the Occupied Terrotories. 

and explored Amman’s nightlife (no picture available for this).

A few of us had decided that we were going to stay in Jordan for an extra week, but in typical Moroccan fashion decided not to plan that part of the trip. The night before the conference ended, I went out for Jordanian shisha while the more responsible members of our group planned the best way to tackle the next seven days. We awoke early, ready to start our adventure. But first, we needed a car.
Yes, we did somehow manage to get a "Diplomat" car. 

And a driver/navigator combination…

Matt and Erin.


Armed with snacks, a makeshift map and an America-inspired radio station we began our journey.

My adventure. 

In the interest of time and space, I will use photos to depict most of my trip.

Trip 1 (the black Route) : We packed our car to the brim and drove South to Petra. 
Petra is where they filmed Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. I HAD to ride a horse. 

Oops. No really mom, it's totally safe. 


Trip 2 (The Blue Route) : Aqaba
For those of you who know me, you know that one of my top 5 favorite pastimes is snorkeling. I can tell you that in my mind when I think of Aqaba I think of heaven. The snorkeling in the Red Sea was spectacular! I even saw a giant sea turtle and was able to follow it for a while. Despite learning that there are fatally poisonous fish in the water, my friends and I braved the seas and spent two glorious days at this beach town in the South of Jordan. In fact, Aqaba is so far south that the resort where we stayed is only 10 km north of the Saudi Arabia border. From the shores you can see Saudi to the South, Egypt to the West and Israel to the North West.

That's me! Right before I spotted the turtle. 

Sunset over Egypt. 

Trip 3 (The Red Route) : Winding our way back to Amman
We departed, a day later than anticipated, from Aqaba and stopped at the Shobak Castle for a quick tour with a hilarious guide who was unabashedly jealous of Matt’s luck at having three wives. 
Our fearless group. 

After yet another delicious lunch of Falafel sandwiches, we were off to Ma’daba where we dropped off Natalie and Erin for a tour of a “Mosaic” town while Matt and I headed back to Amman.

Trip 4 (the Green Route) : Heading to Ramallah
 Once I decided that I would end my trip in Jerusalem, it became evident to me that I wanted to first go to the West Bank, Ramallah specifically.  As most of you know, Ramallah is in the West Bank Occupied Territories. We are lucky enough to have a Fulbright ETA posted there and she graciously hosted Matt and me and showed us around the city. Ramallah was a wonderful city with friendly people, great food … and a wall. The wall was a stark reminder of all that is being suffered on both sides of a seemingly endless conflict and walking along it was, for me, a life changing experience.
The wall. 


Trip 5 (the Purple Route) : to Jerusalem
Matt and I decided to cross into Jerusalem from the West Bank, a process I’m not sure many Americans have endured. It was a difficult experience but one I am very thankful to have had.
In Jerusalem Matt and I parted ways and I went on a wonderful tour of the Old City and somehow managed in an afternoon to see most of the sites. The Old City was beautiful and the majesty of being in a place with so much religious and political history was overwhelming. 
The Dome of the Rock. 

The Church of the Holy Sepluchre. 


After almost two weeks and nearly all of my money, I returned to Morocco. Exhausted but nonetheless pleased with a successful trip, I returned to Meknes… for one day. I again boarded a train and went to El Jedida, a delightful beach town about an hour South of Casablanca where Erin, a great friend of mine and fellow ETA, lives. After a few days there, we went to Fes to visit Matt and a couple Jordan ETAs who had extended their vacation to come to Morocco. From there, we went to Rabat for a potluck at our Fulbright directors house and finally, with a revolution underway in Egypt, I returned to my quite city, Meknes.

Alhamdulillah for a safe and fun month full of adventure after adventure.  Oh, and Happy 2011. 

Monday, December 13, 2010

Taxi! Taxi!

Today, I took the taxi to school as I do almost every day. There was nothing remarkable about this taxi ride. I paid my 12 dirham, exited the car and walked into University Moulay Ismail prepared for whatever the day would throw at me. My cabs are my “thinking” time, 6 minutes to relax and mentally prepare my lessons for the day. I think about the encounters I will have and try to remember anything that I may have forgotten to do.

As I walked to class today I found myself chuckling at something that had happened en transit. I then began to think about the entire cab ride and literally could not stop smiling. I have become so used to “strange” situations that I had somehow lost sight of how hilarious my daily life here is.

I decide to write about my cab ride today and share with you all so that when I forget how wonderfully delightful life is here, you all can remind me.


A Petite Taxi in Casablanca (red) 

Today I exited my apartment and made the thirty second walk to the center of the Ville Nouvelle (Hamria) in Meknes. I crossed the street Frogger style, stuck my hand into the air and, almost immediately, caught the attention of a cab.

The taxi driver made a popular move here where one switches from their lane to the other with literally no warning and then stops the car. The bus (think huge, city bus) behind him angrily beeped his horn and proceeded to move from his lane to the other (again with no warning) and immediately stop so as to let out passengers who had reached their destination.

I cheerfully jumped in to my car, admittedly a little distracted by the speed with which the bus passed us and the inch (literal centimeters) that marked the space between our two vehicles. I greeted the taxi driver and presented him with my destination. 
A Petite Taxi in Meknes (light blue)

He realized that he preferred the shorter route which was, unfortunately, the opposite direction of our one way road. I, knowing this already, told him it was no problem to me to go straight (and a little bit longer – literally about 1 dirham further) but he insisted on the shorter way. He put his right arm around the passenger seat, got the determined look on his face of someone concentrating on a particularly difficult math problem, and began to reverse down our one way, very busy main road. I held my breath and exhaled happily when we successfully reversed the 30 meters and u-turned at an intersection. I smiled and made some universally acknowledged noise like “Phew!” And we were off. 

I leaned back in my seat, looked out the window at the sun still very low in the sky and began to think about my day.

A few minutes later my cab driver begins to slow while saying “oh la la; oh la la” in a very distressed tone. I look ahead and see lots of traffic. I make a frustrated sound and look back out my window. “OH LA LA” he shouts, more loudly and surprised this time, and I turn my attention once again to the front of the car. On the other side of the road a motorcycle was lying on the ground, a sure indicator of what was coming. I inhaled and prepared for the worst, and sure enough, there it was: an older man lying on the ground bleeding… profusely. Apparently the victim in one of what I assume are thousands of accidents daily. Driving in Morocco seems to be challenging; driving in Morocco on a motorcycle (especially weaving in and out of cars who already don’t feel particularly inclined to use turn signals) seems nothing short of reckless. But, I understand, for many people it is the most efficient option. I’ll admit after waiting 30 minutes for a taxi by myself (sometimes in the dark now that the sun sets around 6 o’clock), I have even toyed with the idea. Luckily the man seemed “okay” and my driver and I lamented over his sad fate, sharing a few sympathetic words.

No sooner had we moved past this incident than the before mentioned “popular move” was tried on my driver. Out of nowhere a grande taxi (so named for their larger size and the fact that they take up to 8 people at one time) zoomed into our lane, causing my driver to aggressively slam on his brakes. My driver began to swear and motion angrily at the offending car. The offender pulls back into his original lane and slows down so he is now even with our car. Both windows are rolled down and the men engage in a sort of verbal battle driving down the road. After a sufficient amount of words are exchanged, my driver pulls back and falls behind the grande taxi. I, feeling like I should comment on the event, mention my belief that the other taxi driver is hamuq (crazy). My cab driver, excited by my statement (and perhaps taking it as a symbol of my support for his cause), accelerates and pulls up next to the other car once again. Again, windows are rolled down and angry statements exchanged; this time, I can’t help but notice the word hamuq is used quite often. I smile to myself and, mid-fight, fall back into my daydreams. The window rolls up and my cab driver, now deciding he indeed likes me (which usually happens after I use a surprising word in darija  ie: hamuq) begins to question me, who am I? how do I speak Darija? Etc. etc. We go back and forth a few times  (in Darija) until we get to that inevitable interaction:
“Are you married?”
Ana? La.” Me? No.
Why, you ask. Because I don’t want to be. Will I be one day? Yes, one day. In America? Yes. Not a Moroccan? Why am I not interested in a Moroccan? Oh hmm. Well insha’allah I will marry a Moroccan. Would you like to marry me? No, thank you. Why not? Because I don’t want to marry anyone. Not me? No thank you. That is nice though. Do you have a wife? Yes, this is no problem. I see, well no thank you. Maybe one day? Insha’allah.

I paid my driver, whose name is Abdelaziz, and walked to class.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Viva Barca!

The prequel to my story is that I am now teaching an additional class called “Language Awareness” to students enrolled in the Licence Professionnelle post BA program. These students are generally older than me and currently teaching English in private schools etc. They are hoping that graduating with the Licence degree will help them teach English in the public sphere (I think – I’m still a little confused on the details). This class has become a huge breath of fresh air for me. First of all, they have all struggled through the hamuq (crazy) Moroccan University system and have survived. They have clawed their way through 3 years of confusing modules, professors who occasionally show up and arbitrary grading. These are the top students and their English is amazing! Alhamdillilah! After hours a week dealing with “this is Mohamed, he is four sister and she also has too brothers” I get to sit down with my twenty (20!! Not 100!) students and discuss interesting issues and, generally, have fun. The class is called “Language Awareness” and basically it is a class where they refine their speaking skills. I have no responsibility to teach them anything except spoken English; finally, something for which I am qualified!! I polled them on the first day to see what would be the most beneficial way of conducting the class. Surprise, surprise, I found that these students had never (literally never before) given a presentation in front of a group of people. Not only are some of them already teaching but they all hope to be teachers within the next few years. The biggest problem I see with the current university system is that the classes are too large for any sort of individual attention. Therefore presentations or any verbal participation more than a minute or so is impossible. We discussed how to give a presentation and signed up for different days. Tomorrow will be the first time a student gives a presentation and I am excited bzzef (very).

So to my story...
Last night I became a Moroccan man... and I loved it. 

So last week after class I was chatting with a student about the then upcoming Barcelona – Madrid futbol game. Big game. For all of you soccer fans out there, you understand. To the rest of you, I’ll briefly explain. Barcelona and Madrid are arguably two of the best teams in the world. They play against each other twice a year and these are generally incredibly fun games to watch. Many of these Spanish players played together for the World Cup this past summer and have not met on the field since then. It was bound to be fun. Futbol matches are watched in cafes in Morocco, a generally male dominated domain. Sure, as a woman I can go if I want to deal with a 99% male clientele that stares at me 99% of the time. It’s not a place I usually fit in and choose the much more comfortable (and female dominated) Café Florence.  During this conversation I became internally sad that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the merriment of the upcoming match. I commented that I didn’t have a TV so I would follow the game on my computer. My student exclaimed “No, Ms. Monica. You must come with us! We all watch the game together in the café and it’s a great time.” I decided to take him up on his offer and made plans to meet the following week before the game.



And I went! 


I entered the smoky, jam packed café full of chain smoking and espresso drinking Moroccan men. I sat down among my students (all thrilled that I was there) ordered a café noir and fit right in.  Two hours later not only had I not been stared at all (that I noticed), I had not been approached or made to feel uncomfortable at all. It could perhaps be that I walked in with a man and it was assumed I was his girlfriend or it could be the magic of soccer. I tend to think the latter. The magic of the soccer game (which by the way was a crushing 5- 0 defeat of Madrid) took all attention away from me and I was able to fully enjoy a night that is usually reserved for men only. After the game we exited the café to a full on fiesta in the street. Thousands of men pouring out of cafés were waving flags and cheering for the victorious Barca! They then piled into cars where they progressed slowly through the streets chanting and blowing their horns. I couldn’t believe the excitement! My student told me that Moroccans love Spanish soccer more than any other sport and Madrid-Barcelona games are always the craziest. It really was. Last night I saw another side of Morocco, a side I probably won’t enter into many more times during my year here. But this very fun, very exciting night made me even more aware of how big of a role gender plays in your social experience (here? everywhere?). 

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Monica in Meknes Madrid Munich

So I’m sitting in the Madrid airport on my layover sipping on a Chai Latte from Starbucks looking back on my week spent in Germany (what a superb run on!); a wonderful trip back to what I will call my “real life” or, at least, life that is a lot more similar to my “real life” than what I have been living for the past few months. The past seven days in Munich have taught me many things but probably most importantly, that I have changed. Morocco has changed me in ways I would have never been able to identify or understand without leaving. Now, here I am about to go back, and can’t help but wonder if the next time I set foot in Europe, or America for that matter, I will see even more changes.

Jenn and Me at Hofbrauhaus

I will share a realization and then a story that I think perhaps highlights two ways in which my behavior has radically changed since September. I am going to preface this entry with a statement that maybe has been implied before but has not been outwardly expressed (by my at least): life in Morocco as a [Western] woman has its challenges. For fear that explaining more fully what I mean by this statement will open a Pandora’s box of cultural debate, suffice it to say that there are certain lessons a Western women learns quite quickly upon moving to Morocco. Arguably the first, and most important, lesson is generally to avoid men one encounters on the street, in restaurants etc. This sounds awful, I know, but it’s a helpful rule of thumb. Obvious exceptions exist but it is prudent to keep one’s eyes on the ground, ignore the catcalls and, if possible, avoid asking the opposite sex for directions or some other bit of help. It’s a reality of my life that I am letting you in on today. It’s a reality of my life that, while I’m not entirely used to it, has become such a part of my daily existence that it is rarely thought about. I have blended culturally in Morocco and I feel safe and at home on the streets, especially in Meknes.

I had forgotten that I wasn’t always so familiar with the bottoms of my pants and the tops of my shoes. I had forgotten that my normal resting face isn’t a look of disgust that clearly says “stay away from me.” I had forgotten that when men pass you on the street and smile it is generally safe to smile back. I had forgotten that sometimes there is just chatting with a stranger, and it isn’t always shameless flirting that ends in what can sometimes be seen as, in the positive view, a flattering “meet cute” but more commonly an exchange bordering on harassment.

And, with theses things forgotten, I walked into Munich.

The Bavarian Lion

Well actually first I walked into Madrid. Phew. Wine! White people! Wine! Spanish! Pork! English! Wine! Sandwiches! Cosmopolitan magazine (albeit in Spanish)! Starbucks! Brand recognition! Euros!
After three hours of sensory overload and my mouth literally hanging open, I boarded my second flight and traveled to Germany.

I arrived and immediately saw a familiar face: JMac, or as my adult self is now calling her, Jenn!! Sigh. A friend! From America! She had a car! And an iPod that plugged into the car! And a house and a mom and a dog and a boyfriend and a couch and the Food Network (oh Ina and Giada, how I’ve missed you!)!!! And although completely overwhelmed, I fell in step with life in Germany very quickly and experienced everything I had been missing these past few months. We ate linguini with a truffle cream sauce (probably my best meal in months), drank wine, went to a REAL bar (no prostitutes!), drank Starbucks, ate fastfood, saw the sights, ate Thai Food, went for a walk in the woods, went for a drive through the Alps, watched as Christmas decorations (!!!!!!) were put in place and lounged around watching movies (including going to the premiere – in English – of Harry Potter!). Within a few days I was back to my old self and my old life. Really, on the surface it doesn’t seem like I have changed at all.

Putting Up the Christmas Tree!

The Christmas Tree at Night


Oh, except for my mini panic attack on the Munich subway when I literally couldn’t keep up with normal English (perhaps American is more appropriate here) banter. The back and forth proved too much for my brain that is used to struggling to piece together sentences in foreign languages and communicate with people who speak English as not a second but maybe a fourth or fifth language. After three months in Morocco all of my intelligent thoughts are in my head, not on my tongue. After three days of expressing myself verbally, I was pooped. My brain had had enough and forced me to take a break. What? Me! Yeah me, probably one of the most verbose (on paper and in life) people I know. Well not anymore. Apparently three months of primarily talking to yourself and your parasitic friend (who is unfortunately back and now named Gerhard) will affect the way you interact with others. Almost every weekend in Morocco my Fulbright friends and I travel the country exploring, laughing, eating and, wherever possible, having a drink. However, we are all in the same mindset. Our experiences are, more or less, the same. We reflect on our times and bounce ideas off of one another. We think about what the other said, compare it to our own experiences and then give a well thought our response. I think we’ve all slowed down. Long gone are the days when the sarcastic, witty banter common to America, and shows like “Friends”, made sense to me. It only took three days for my brain to say enough is enough, take a chill. Now today, as I sit at the other end of this trip, I think my mind is almost back to “normal”. But it is shocking to think about how difficult it was to get back to this point.

Oh yeah, then there’s the issue with men. I had been in Germany about 24 hours when we decided to go to a beerhall for dinner and a drink before going out to celebrate a birthday. I ate insanely filling German food, drank a German beer and felt pretty good. I excused myself to go to the bathroom, proceeded to get completely lost (I’m still convinced I used the staff bathroom), wound up upstairs (the people with me didn’t even know there was an upstairs) and had, overall, a hilarious time wandering around. On my way back down, however, I got legitimately turned around and couldn’t find my friends in this huge, now full, beerhall. I hadn’t realized how large it was and couldn’t seem to locate them. I wasn’t stressed, I wasn’t nervous, I was thinking about how funny this was, but my face clearly didn’t show it. A waiter at the beer hall looked at me and said something to me in German. I responded normally, or so I thought, with something along the lines of shaking my head, looking at my feet, taking a step back and saying “no.” Apparently, this reaction was more normal to me than to him. The man, clearly offended and also clearly worried about me cautiously took a step toward the now-retreating me and said “whoa, whoa (as if I was a horse that needed to be quieted down) I’m like… a good guy. You can talk to me. It’s okay.” I was mortified. My face, my body language and my one word response had conveyed everything to this poor German man. Things I forgot I was conveying: not only that I was uncomfortable with his approach but my “get away from me” attitude. Horrified, I stumbled over my words trying to explain to him I just lost my friends and was fine. I finally found my friends but couldn’t shake the feeling that I had become rude. I explained the situation to my friend and her boyfriend and the three of us laughed. But not before the boyfriend admitted that he had noticed that I never looked at him and my eye contact was awful. For the rest of the week I tried my hardest to look at men, to pay extra attention and still, I found I couldn’t. My eye contact used to be so good! It was actually something I was proud of and now I found I couldn’t even keep the gaze of my tour guide at the Dachau Concentration Camp. As if he’s going to propose to me, or ask me for my phone number or follow me home. After a week of trying my hardest to get back something I once considered a visible measurement of self-confidence, I am going back to Morocco and obviously have to re-assimilate to the culture in which I now live. But, this realization was a good “wake up call” to see all the ways, for better or for worse, I am changing. Insha’allah, as we say, next time I leave Morocco I will be more self-aware of my new cultural hurdles to jump. I came to Morocco nervous that I would be “too-American” to assimilate and fit in. Now as I leave Morocco, it seems, the opposite has happened.

Yikes.

I’m now at the gate of my plane going to Casablanca reading over this entry and making some changes. I’m surrounded by Europeans and I just looked up see the sole Moroccan man (I know he is Moroccan because he just started speaking Darija to a woman who returned from the bathroom – perhaps his wife?) staring, or as they say “gazing”, very intently at me. Welcome back. Marhaba l’Maghrib.

Hey, my shoes are dirtier today than they were last week.

View of the Alps from the Linderhof Castle 

Thursday, October 28, 2010

An Unlikely Success

Everyday the sounds of protesting echo around the campus where I teach. It’s usually led by some boy with a loud voice, vehemently yelling (in Darija) to a crowd of varying sizes. Sometimes the crowd agrees and chants back in response. Sometimes people simply listen. The administrative line on this activity seems to be “this is the problem with free education.” The thinking behind this is that if the students had to pay for education they would stop protesting everything the administration does, or doesn’t do, and go to class. But because it is free, they feel allowed to argue, fight, not go to class and ultimately fail “on principle.” This position certainly has some merit. Students at Wake Forest would probably not feel comfortable skipping their classes to walk around campus shouting about the unfairness of the system all day. This would, I imagine, be due in large part to the fact that we pay a hefty sum to attend classes. And the majority of students, in my experience, felt at least some desire to attend, or at least pass, their classes. If, for no other reason, than the mighty ass-whooping that would be dealt from mom and dad at the end of the semester when grades are received. I do agree that this lack of financial accountability has probably led many Moroccan students astray. However, over my past few weeks as a Moroccan University Professor, I have started to investigate the actual complaints that these students are voicing. Sometimes they call for accountability on the part of the professors. Such complaints include:
1. Professors don’t assign grades throughout the semester and then “arbitrarily” (in the eyes of the students) hand out grades on the final which suddenly count for their entire grade.
2. Professors refuse to discuss grades with students. Therefore, if a student receives a “0” on an exam, he or she is unable to meet and go over the exam with their professors.
I cannot attest to the validity of these arguments (although I suspect they are based in some truth) BUT if they are true, I certainly understand the frustration on the part of the students. A frustration that is probably not experienced by their peers at Wake Forest. Today, I got a first hand look at this frustration.

My 8 am class went by without incident. I heard protesting that was louder than usual and it seemed like the students were marching around. I dismissed it and continued teaching as normal. My 10 am class began much like the one before. I delivered a “pop quiz,” explained the updated syllabus and discussed both the concept of a “midterm” exam and what would be on theirs (to be given in two weeks). At about 10:45, and right before I was about to begin teaching the new lesson, I heard a knock on the door. A common occurrence, three boys I did not recognize walked in and asked for permission (in Darija) to speak to the class. I have recently begin to deny these students access. They, in my opinion, disrupt class unnecessarily. They proselytize from the front of the room and generally speak about things my students do not care about. I came to this conclusion after letting it occur for the first few weeks of class and asking my students their impression of it after the protestors leave. My students always expressed the same sentiment: “they are protesting the administration, we don’t care, let’s get on with the lesson.” After a few of these disturbances, I simply started refusing the protestors permission to speak to my classes. I always tell them “if you can do it in English, go ahead! But my class is an English-only environment and I won’t tolerate speeches in French or Darija.” This usually does the trick and after a few “puppy-dog” looks and beseeching pleas, usually in horrible English “Please Mrs., just two minute of time” they retreat defeated.

Today was different.

Today, these three boys refused to leave. They stood quietly behind me for a few minutes while I continued my lesson. I tried to get them to leave but quickly realized I had no actual power to do so. They refused to leave and I couldn’t physically force them. I continued teaching and quickly tried to come up with solutions in my head. A few of my students told them to leave, and they still refused. A verbal battle ensued, me vs. head boy, but because I refused to communicate with them in Darija, this accomplished nothing. Yes, I could have expressed my wishes in a language other than English. However I was not about to allow myself to get into a verbal exchange with such angry students in a language that was not my own. I turned to my students and asked “who wants to hear what they have to say?” No one raised their hand. I asked again, “raise your hand if you want to hear what they have to say.” Again, no hands. After a few minutes of continued angry glaring, and even yelling, they left. Cheers arose from my students, “Yay Miss!” “Miss Monica, good job!” and a million apologies for the disruption. I smiled, laughed with my students, and began my lesson once again.

And then the door opened again.

In walked five male students this time. They dispersed around the room and began yelling at my students. My students engaged and soon there were 5 or so shouting matches occurring. Then, before I knew it, 5 more boys entered the room. It became clear to me that these protestors were different. They were organizing a “strike.” Although this wasn’t a strike like I was used to; they simply went from room to room and forced the students to leave. They stayed, and bothered the class, until the professor agreed and told the students to leave. When I realized this, I regained control of the room and asked my students: “who wants to leave?” No one raised their hand. Okay, try again: “If you want to leave, please do. I’m not stopping you. Please leave.” In unison, they all shouted “we don’t want to! We want to learn! We want them to leave.” Hmmm. What to do, what to do? “Ahha! I got it!” I [naively] thought. I peered outside my class and saw a vacant room across the courtyard. I quieted down my class and the protestors, through some intense yelling and glaring, and said “I am going to the other room. If you want to come with me, come! If not, don’t worry about. I have your attendance already, you will all be marked as present for today.” I walked out of the room and into the other class. So did every single one of my students. EVERY one. I could have cried, I wanted to hug them all. But one student who had been battling especially hard with the “head protestor” came up to me and said “Miss Monica. I am so, so, so sorry. This is so embarrassing. But he just told me that they will follow us wherever we go. They will not let us learn today.” I sighed and thanked him for telling me. I told the students they should go and handed out the homework for next week. My students took the homework and still refused to go. The shouting matches continued, but this time it was my students fighting for their rights. They were angry, angry that these protestors were making them leave class. I was so proud of my students. I AM so proud of them. I will make up the class time, I assured them. This won’t hurt you in the end, I promised them.

After I handed out all of the papers and haphazardly collected homework etc. I entered into a conversation with another protestor, who was called in, who spoke English. He and I debated the merits of strikes, who is actually being hurt by them (in my opinion the students, not the administration) and the issues at hand. He said they have 49 complaints with the administration. I asked to see them. Hopefully he will give them to me. I told them that in principle I do not disagree with some of what they are asking for but their approach is, in my opinion, wrong. I listed reasons for this:
1. They are hurting the students. They said that they are protesting the fact that when students get “0”s on the exams, they can’t fight their grade. I countered by saying that by making my students leave class, and miss the lesson, they significantly increased the chance that they will fail, and deserve the “0”.
2. They are pissing off the administration. They said that the strike will show the administration that they have support. I countered by saying that they are angering moderate faculty members, like me. By angering people like me, they are hurting their cause.
3. They aren’t actually accomplishing anything. Most professors who need to teach the lesson that was missed will simply reschedule (like me). So what’s the point?

My points were all well taken. To be honest, I doubt any faculty member has really discussed these issues with them. But it really got me thinking, what is the point? There has to be some benefit of demonstrating and striking, but what is it? For these students, is there a better way? I have no idea. Today my students didn’t learn the difference between the present perfect and the present perfect continuous, but they discovered that they have the desire to learn and I learned that they have this passion too.

For me, today was a success... but I probably got my first gray hair.

Monday, October 25, 2010

My New Friend


I’ve been procrastinating writing an update because (get ready for it) I’ve been having a mild case of culture shock the past two weeks and was hesitant to write for fear that my mild negativity would come through. What I realized this morning, however, was that I shouldn’t be afraid to admit that when I’m having a hard time. I’ve had a joke for the past week or so that although my mind loves Morocco, my body doesn’t. This joke was due to the fact that I really haven’t been healthy for about three weeks. Two weeks of generally not feeling great culminated last Sunday night for me when I was up all night with a fever of about 102.7. After getting on flu medicine and breaking my fever, I was upset, and mildly concerned, that I wasn’t feeling 100%, or even 80%, better by Friday. So, I took the advice of my family and friends and went to a doctor. After two appointments with him and a few trips to the “laboratorie,” it is confirmed – I have “Entameoba histolytica”. This is a parasitic protozoan that is extremely common in Morocco. According to my doctor it is “sometimes” difficult to get rid of, but he assured me we will get rid of it… eventually. I spent the past three days on a Moroccan version of the “BRATT” diet – eating nothing but rice, bananas, boiled carrots, black tea and mineral water. This regime was awful for me. The sickness, the awful diet restrictions and the fact that I have gained weight in Morocco (due, in part, to my new friend living in my intestinal tract) I have had a rough couple of days. Apparently my new friend has been sucking the nutrients out of my diet (which is also why I’m more susceptible to other diseases – aka the flu) which has also made my body go into a kind of survival mode – making me convert most of the food I’ve eaten into fat. Great, right? So let’s just say I’ll be happy to see him go. My “body hating Morocco” has infected my “mind loving Morocco” and I’ve been kind of frustrated with my current state.
But I’m hoping that I am on another new medicine, and I can go back to eating semi-normally, things will start to pick up.

On most other fronts, life in Meknes is still great. Teaching has been going really well, which is actually a big accomplishment given my physical ailments last week. I had to postpone my Darija tutoring because of my sickness, but this week it will begin once again.  I bought a stovetop which is wonderful because now I can begin to really cook my own meals. I currently have two big pots of chickpeas soaking so that I can make hummus and chickpea soup later on today and tomorrow. Matt visited me this weekend and was a savior because he brought me the rice and carrots that I needed for my BRATT diet. Because I did not yet have a stove, I had been eating only bananas up until that point and was pretty grumpy. On Sunday he and I went to the Marjane (very similar to a Walmart in the United States, but fancy for Morocco so maybe more like a Target) where we wandered around and marveled at all of the things they had to offer: oysters, worcestershire sauce and really anything you would ever need (except, much to his chagrin, Heinz ketchup). We even found Tahini oil so that we can make perfect hummus! It was great to have a friend visit this weekend because we were originally supposed to all make the trek to El Jedida for the annual horse festival but I had to cancel due to my new friend, E. histolytica. Well, there’s always next year, right? : )

It’s October 25th, which is insane. Last night I was lesson planning and trying to figure out when I wanted to give my classes their midterm exam. Eid Al-Adha is arguably the biggest holiday on the Islamic calendar and falls this year on November 17/18th. This means that we won’t have classes that week. I realized that this means that I must give my midterm exam before the holiday so that they can get them back the week after the holiday and have enough time left in the semester before the final to fully understand where they stand in the class (grade wise). I looked at the calendar and realized that this means my midterms will be on November 10th/11th. This sounded good, until I realized that that means that I only have two class before the midterm! Yikes! Time is FLYING! Before we know it, it will be Thanksgiving! Thanksgiving is a strange holiday for me. Arguably it is my favorite holiday of the year because I love that everyone regardless of religion etc. in the United States celebrates it. I love that I can go home and have wonderful family time and then see all of my friends who are celebrating in similar ways. I also usually love that it is so close to Christmas; it’s like a little preview of real quality, relaxing time with family and friends. I really love this holiday, a lot. But for some reason out of the last three years, I have spent two Thanksgivings outside of the United States! It’s weird to think about my life in this t way. Two years ago I was in Florence, Italy thinking about how it was sad that I was missing Thanksgiving at home. Today, I am in Meknes, Morocco having a very similar thought. I love travelling but I really wish, call me a Harry Potter nerd, that we could all apparate to see those that we loved on special occasions.  Thanksgiving will be wonderful in Morocco, though. Our gracious Fulbright director believes that it is necessary (which it absolutely is) to have some “in-house” training and “regrouping” around that time so he has invited us to spend Thanksgiving with him in Rabat and then spend a few days having seminars etc. The other ETAs have become my family here in Morocco and, if I can’t be with my family and friends at home, there is nowhere else I’d rather be than with them on this, as my students say, “preferred” holiday.

Thanks for the emails, comments and facebook messages. I miss you all!

For those of you in the states, I hope you are enjoying a beautiful fall. I miss fall and leaves and pumpkin and apple picking.

I also miss Chai Teas from Starbucks, so drink one and think of me.

Love.