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Morocco

Final Thoughts

March 24th, 2013 · 1 Comment · General

Final Thoughts

There were many experiences, sights, and sounds that I will carry home with me. The last few days were busy – we taught classes, led a workshop for a group of about 30 Moroccan teachers from around Meknes, attended a “mock” wedding put on by the students, ate copious amounts of Moroccan food and dodged traffic, joining the endless game of chicken that is played by the people and cars. While I know I have not included everything that I have experienced in Morocco in my blog, I hope that I have given everyone a taste of the experience. While there were a million wonderful moments, a few things stood out to me on this trip:

* The generosity and warmth of the Moroccan people. Everyone we met was genuinely interested in us and what we were doing in Morocco. Everyday, I was welcomed to Morocco. Students and our hosts opened their homes to us without reservation. We were constantly fed delicious Moroccan food, and wherever we traveled, we were not allowed to pay for anything. I have never had my picture taken by and with so many different people. I can only hope that if a Moroccan teacher visited my home and school that we would behave as generously. It was truly amazing!

Students sing the Moroccan national anthem at the start of school on Monday.

* The traffic. You could not pay me enough to drive in Morocco. One of my traveling companions called their traffic circles the little “circles of death”. The only way to cross the street in Morocco is to literally walk out in front of moving traffic, an act that totally goes against my primal survival instinct. It reminded me a great deal of trying to cross the streets in Vietnam, except in Vietnam there were far more bikes, cyclos and motorbikes than cars. In Morocco, it is every man or woman for himself and may the fastest one win. I cannot quite explain the experience of standing in the middle of a busy street with cars whizzing by on both sides of you (or around you), while you wait for an opening to cross.

The train station in Fez, Morocco.

* The souks in the old Medinas. I love markets and Morocco did not disappoint. There were so many things to see, hear and smell. Shopping in a souk is only a small part of the experience. There were miles of winding roads between shops that sold everything and anything – pottery, scarves, cloth, olives, spices, meat, clothing, bags, electronics, leather, bedding, kitchenware, furniture, handicrafts, rugs…and it goes on. Bargaining is a way of life. You never accept the first price, and you are more likely to get the price you want if you set the item down and walk away. I am not gifted at bargaining (it takes a lot of energy), but I don’t mind bartering down a few dirhams or walking away from a purchase if the price is too high.

Souk in the old Medina in Meknes.

Street and shops in the Medina at Fez.

* The food! Moroccan food is wonderful. Couscous and vegetables or meat is the meal of choice on Fridays. Tajine is common dish served for many meals – essentially, the meat and vegetables and spices are cooked in a large, ceramic dish called a tajine. The top is removed and the plate is served family style. In general, Moroccans eat with their hands and the copious amounts of bread that is served at every meal. There are usually several courses, so you have to be careful not to eat too much during the first course or you will have trouble finishing the meal. There is a Moroccan restaurant in Spokane, and I plan on visiting it as soon as I can.

Salad, Moroccan style.

Chicken tajine.

* The students. I regret that there were so many of them I did not get to know well and so many classes that I did not get to teach more of them. They were wonderful and welcoming, and they went out of their way to let us know how happy they were that we were visiting. They obviously loved learning English and were very fond of their teacher, Khadija. Two highlights of our visit included their participation in a Public Speaking Contest and the mock wedding they staged for us.

– The Public Speaking Contest involved 15 students speaking on a topic of their choice for a couple of minutes and in English. The two things that really stood out for me were how good their English was given that it is a third language for them, and how interesting and globally relevant their topics were. While it was a bit stressful at times to be judging them, I was honored to be part of such a dedicated group of students.

– The Mock Wedding. Mike, one of the two other teachers I was traveling with, started a filming project with the students which involved them sharing what they valued and loved about their Moroccan culture. Groups of students divided into groups based on their interests – culture, tradition, football (soccer), food, etc. One group of girls decided they wanted to stage a wedding to be filmed. This grew into an event where all of us were invited to one student’s house. They literally threw their hearts into this endeavor and the end result was a truly wonderful experience! Kristin, Christine and I even had traditional Moroccan outfits to wear. The students were so excited and enthusiastic to share this part of their culture. I hope someday I can actually attend a Moroccan wedding.

Students in traditional Moroccan dress at the mock wedding.

Traditional Moroccan clothes donned for the mock wedding.

I am now on my way back to the states, exhausted and fatter, but much richer because of my experiences in Morocco.

Thank you to all of you who have taken the time to read and comment on my blog. See you soon!

 

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Volubilis: Roman Ruins Outside of Meknes

March 22nd, 2013 · Comments Off on Volubilis: Roman Ruins Outside of Meknes · General

MONDAY, MARCH 18 – VOLUBILIS

We spent Monday morning at Lalla Amina High School and then in the afternoon, Muhammed, a former colleague of Khadija’s drove us out to Volubilis which are the Roman ruins about 30 miles outside of Meknes.

Volubilis

Roman Ruins in Morocco

The ruins are amazingly well-preserved, especially some of the mosaics.  It is incredible to me that the Romans lived in conditions remarkably similar to what we have now – cities, homes with rooms for eating, sleeping, dining, entertaining. Baths and toilets. Hot and cold running water. I will put some links here and on the History page if you would like some more information about Volubilis.

The center of the city.

Main road into the town.

View of the countryside from the ruins.

After our visit to Volubilis, our wonderful guide Muhammad treated us to coffee at a local hotel. One of the best parts of this experience, besides viewing the ruins, was a chance to be out in the countryside. Because Morocco has received so much rain this spring, the entire countryside is incredibly green. While Meknes is a wonderful city, I could feel myself physically relax when we were finally out in the fresh air where you could hear the birds and feel the sun without breathing in gas fumes and hearing the sound of horns honking.

View of the hotel pool and the countryside by Volubilis.

For my last post, I will try to summarize so many of the wonderful places I have seen and the people I have met. I wish that I could have brought all of you with me to share in this experience. It has been incredible, frustrating, stressful, amazing and life-altering!

I will be stateside tomorrow! See you all soon!

 

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St. Patrick’s Day in Fez, Morocco

March 21st, 2013 · 1 Comment · General

SUNDAY in FEZ, MARCH 17, 2017

Spent St. Patrick’s Day in a World Heritage site – the city of Fez.

History of Fez

We met up with Khadija at the same Dolphin cafe (it is actually the Miami Dolphi Cafe or Miami Dolphin cafe) before catching the train to Fez. It turned out to be another beautiful and warm day, although a bit overcast as it was supposed to rain in the afternoon.

Blue gate into the old Medina of Fez

We arrived in Fez and met the guide that Khadija had  arranged for us. Fez is very old and the Medina is massive. There are 80 thousand shops and 100s of Riads, or homes, where people live. While many of the homes are lived in, a number of them have actually been renovated and turned into guest houses. No cars are allowed in the Medina as the walkways are way too narrow, although there are bikes, carts and donkeys everywhere.

Donkeys are allowed in the Medina!

You can find anything in the Medina!

We visited several different shops – carpet, the leather shop where you could see the process of tanning the leather and an art gallery. We spent the day wandering up and down the Medina past wedding shops, food stands, butcher shops and finally stopping at the guesthouse of Khadija’s friend where we had tea and a tour. It was truly a beautiful and amazing place!

View of Fez from the Riad.

We hopped a wild taxi ride back to the station and had to run for our train that we barely caught. The storm broke during our ride back to Meknes, but it was not raining when we arrived back at the hotel around 6:30.

We had an early night as we had school at 8:00 in the morning!

Au Revoir

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Other Blogs

March 19th, 2013 · 2 Comments · General

There are 10 teachers who are part of TGC (Teachers for Global Classrooms). Three of us are in Meknes, three are in Beni Mellal, two are in El Jadida and two are in Tiznit. Check out the map of Morocco to see how far away each of these places are from Rabat, where we started out.  Each of these regions has a distinct Moroccan culture.

Every group has had a very different experience of Morocco. Diverstiy is a big part of Moroccan culture. I am including some of my colleagues blogs if you would like to see and learn more about how incredibly rich Moroccan culture is.

Tiznit – Leanna Buckwalter – trythepigeonpie.wordpress.com

Tiznit – Elena Steadham – mssteadham.blogspot.com

Beni Mellal – Marty Sprague – mspraguesite.weebly.com

Meknes – Christine Kennedy – moroccantravels.wordpress.com

 

El Jadida – Bruce Sadler – myexperienceinmorocco2013.blogspot.com

El Jadida – Libby Munro – worldlypearls.blogspot.com

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Old Medina in Meknes

March 19th, 2013 · 1 Comment · General

Saturday, March 16, 2013

We were given sometime to sleep in this morning as we did not have to meet our students until 11. At 10:00, we met Khadija at the Miami Dolphin Cafe for breakfast and then walked up to the school to meet the students. Mike went with three students, Christine went with two, and I had two girls, Imane and Karima to be my guides for the day for the old part of Meknes. The weather was the warmest it has been the entire time I have been in Morocco. It was about a 20 minute walk from the school to the old Medina. The girls shared with me some of the history of the old Medina, which was constructed by a Sultan who had hundreds of wives and thousands of children. (I put a link in the History page for more information about the Historic City of Meknes).

Christine and I at one of the Medina gates in Old Meknes.

Our first stop brought us to a small museum that showcased some very old aspects of Moroccan culture – pottery, clothing, agricultural tools, jewelry. From the museum, we walked down to the main part of the Medina and into the Souk. Here, the smells were especially strong, the bees where thick and there was everything for sale – fruits, meat, candy, cookies, olives, spices. In the main courtyard, there were several vendors selling traditional medicines – snake skins, ostrich eggs and other unusual things. Apparently, ostrich eggs are eaten by women who cannot get pregnant.

Spices for sale!

 At this point, my camera battery died! We stopped at a small cafe for coffee and then continued around the Medina and the palace of the king. The king has a palace in every major city in Morocco. We visited the underground prison of the Sultan where up to 50,000 prisoners were thrown and left there until they died. The actual prison has been condensed and blocked off because it runs so far under Meknes that people have been lost forever in it. After the prison, we walked about the grounds a bit more before heading back to the hotel.

Street in the old Medina of Meknes

I am going to put my trip to Fez on Sunday in the next post. The internet is incredibly slow at the moment and it is taking me 10 minutes to upload one picture!

Au Revoir!

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Lalla Amina HS and Public Speaking Competition, Day Two

March 17th, 2013 · 4 Comments · General

 Day Two, Lalla Amina High School, March 15, 2013

 We met Khadija in front of her classroom at 7:50 (class starts at 8). She usually teaches from 8 – 12, but because of the Public Speaking Competition this afternoon, she only taught three classes today. Khadija only has chalk and a chalkboard, so she has fashioned white boards out of transparent page covers and paper. The students use these to write their responses on and share their answers with the class. They started out sharing what they knew about the U.S. and then asking us some questions about the U.S. What is truly amazing to me is how good their English speaking skills are even though some have only been speaking it one to three years. They are fluent in both Arabic and French (they learn both these languages from an early age), and many of them go on to master even more languages. An American working in Rabat called the Moroccans “linguistic geniuses” – I think he is correct!

Khadija instructs her English language students. Notice the whiteboards!

Mike, Christine and I join Khadija’s classroom.

After classes, Khadija took us back to her house for lunch. She served us the traditional Friday meal of couscous which was wonderful and then we had some time to relax in the sun and take a walk around her neighborhood.

Khadija’s neighborhood in Meknes

View of the Meknes countryside from Khadija’s neighborhood.

The most amazing part of the day was the English Public Speaking Competition. Although it was to start at 2:30, it really did not get underway until about 3:30-4:00. There were 15 students participating and they spoke on self-selected topics such as “The Problem of Obesity,” “Islam and Terrorism,” “Culture and Climate,” etc. The three of us and another American teacher from the American Language Center (Morgan) were judges. The students did an amazing job, speaking in English, utilizing excellent voice and inflection and providing visuals to support their arguments. It was hard to believe that most of them had only been learning English for three years, and this was their third language. Interspersed between the speeches were performances – singing, rap, beat boxing, etc. It was an impressive display put on by the Lalla Amina students.

Khadija congratulates the winners and the participants!

 Tomorrow we are touring the old Medina with some of the students from Khadija’s classes, and Sunday we will spend the day in Fez. I am a little behind in my blogging, but hopefully I will have the pictures of  the old Meknes and Fez up soon.

 Thanks for reading my blog!

 

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First Day in Meknes

March 16th, 2013 · Comments Off on First Day in Meknes · General

Thursday, March 14, 2013
We were up early to head to the train station for Meknes. Our other traveling partners (Kristin, Bruce and Libby) were headed to El Jadida, which is a city south of Rabat and on the coast. Christine, Mike and I headed to Meknes on the 9:17 train. The train ride was comfortable and it was great to see more of the countryside.

Christine and I waiting for the Meknes train.

We arrived in Meknes at 11:30. We got off at the 1st station, but Khadija and some students were waiting for us at the 2nd station with a banner! They did finally arrive about 11:45, and we headed to the hotel where we visited with the students and Khadija while our rooms were readied.

Ibis Hotel and Lalla Amina Students

We had about an hour before Khadija picked us up and took us to Lalla Amina High School to meet the administration, the staff and some of the students. The campus is larger and there are about 1800 students, including about 320 boarders who stay on campus for the week and go home on weekends. We met many teachers and students and spent a significant time in the Supervisors/Principal’s office where we had tea and cookies. We also were paid a visit by the Moroccan Minster of Education who is in charge of all of the schools in Morocco. This was apparently a very big deal. Before we left, we were asked to sign the “gold book” in the principal’s office, which apparently is only reserved for people who are kind of a big deal. It is a way for them to remember their visitors and when they visited.

The banner Khadija create for our arrival and posted outside the high school.

Lalla Amina High School Campus (inner courtyard).

Signing the gold book at Lalla Amina.

A side note: the resources and library in this school are so limited. The library is a small room with mostly very old texts. They had copies of English novels which looked like the books my grandmother used to bring home from her library because they were so old. There are no computers, no internet access and teachers change rooms all of the time.

The Lalla Amina library.

After our school visit, we met the American director of the American Language Center and toured several classrooms. After a brief stop at our hotel, Khadija brought us to her house for a Moroccan meal of Harira (soup). There were several courses, and all of it was amazing!

Christine and I waiting for another wonderful Moroccan meal!

Finally back to my home for the week at about 11:00. Will be up early as school starts at 8!
Masalaama (goodbye)

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Rabat School Visits

March 14th, 2013 · Comments Off on Rabat School Visits · General

Wednesday, March 13, 2013
School Visits
We started early today, heading out to our first visit which was at the Ministry of Education in Rabat.

Ministry of Education with TGC teachers.

Dexter checks out the Arabic encyclopedias.

Next was a visit to a public school in Rabat. The campus was huge and looked more like a college campus than a high school. There are 1300 students that attend, but they have had as many as 3000 students. We met with the Supervisor (Principal) and met a few of the teachers. The students milled about in the courtyards staring at us and reluctant to go to class (which, by the way, sounded like an emergency siren rather than a bell).

Rabat public high school campus.

Public school students in Rabat

Our next stop was a private school in Rabat. We finally had a chance to visit a classroom of middle school students who stood up when we came in, welcomed us with a bouquet of flowers and then proceeded to sing Katy Perry’s “Fireworks” song for us.

Baby you’re a firework!

The library in Al Amana, the private school.

We had a break for lunch and this time ate at a Syrian restaurant. I will share some of the different foods I have eaten in another blog!
After lunch, we stopped at the Ecole Normale Superieure which is essentially a university. It used to be only a teacher’s college (both our host Kawthar and our instructor Hadija attended school here), but they have now added other courses.
Our last stop was the American Language School which was actually one of my favorites. The staff is a mix of Americans and Moroccans. The students range in age from middle school to adults and most of the students take English classes after their regular school day. I sat in a class of 10-11 year olds who had prepared a list of questions for me like: “What is your favorite food?” and “How old are you?” They were eager to ask questions, and, like in the classrooms I have observed already, when they want you to call on them, they all raise their hands and chant, “Teacher! Teacher! Teacher!” It is a bit overwhelming!

Teacher, teacher, teacher!

We didn’t get back to the hotel until close to 6:30 so our evening was spent packing, blogging and talking with our travel partners about the part of our journey.
It is off to Meknes in the morning!
Au Revoir

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The Pottery Village

March 13th, 2013 · Comments Off on The Pottery Village · General

Tuesday, March 12, 2013
Today was a long day of sitting and listening. Although it was interesting to hear about the Moroccan educational system, it was difficult to sit for so long inside.We first heard from Khadija as she took us through the educational system, the Ministry of Education and how schools are managed and organized. It was interesting to note that things like salaries and class size are just a couple of the issues that Moroccan teachers share with American teachers.
The head of MATE(Moroccan Association of Teachers of English ) came to talk with us in the afternoon about the English Language program here in Morocco.

MATE, Rabat Academy District Leader, Ms. Rachida Guelzim, Vice President

At about 4:30, we took a ride over to Oulja in Sale (Sa-lay), a kind of artisan village with lots of handmade arts and crafts. I have never seen so many colorful and such a multitude of clay pots, plates, cups, ashtrays, saucers, flower pots, etc. Anything that can be made of clay could be found here. We spent about an hour there (where it began to pour and the wind began to blow) before heading back to the hotel.

Oulja, pots in the artisan village

Pottery store at Oulja!

The metal camel at Oulja!

Dinner was on our own tonight, but the weather was so horrible (the wind kept blowing my umbrella inside out) that most of us opted to eat somewhere close to the hotel. Christine, who is one of the teachers I will be traveling to Meknes with, went just up the hill to a restaurant called Coq Vin. It made me think of a kind of Moroccan Denny’s.

Moroccan rugs at Oulja!

Early day tomorrow as we will be spending the day visiting schools in Sale and Rabat!
Au Revoir

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The American Embassy and Medina

March 12th, 2013 · Comments Off on The American Embassy and Medina · General

Monday, March 11, 2013 (continued) The American Embassy Visit

After a full day of learning history and culture of Morocco, we headed off to the American Embassy to meet with the American cultural attache, Ms. Jennifer Bullock, and the director of the RELO (Regional English Language Office), Mr. Robert Lindsey. What I found particularly interesting about this visit is how much we do in Morocco to support education and economic development. Ms. Bullock shared a number of programs active in the country, many of them headed by former Peace Corps volunteers. Especially interesting is when Mr. Lindsey explained that when there were several suicide bombings in Casablanca in 2003, the US Department of State discussed what to do to prevent this happening in Morocco, and they came up with the idea to support English Language schools and programs, especially with disadvantaged youth and children in the rural areas. What has happened from this is that most students now want to learn English and there is a 74% approval rating of Americans and America amongst Moroccans. I am sure it is a bit more complicated than this, but I found it intriguing. I wish I could share a picture with you of the embassy, but pictures are not allowed inside or out!

The Medina

The Medina at Rabat is one of the larger markets I have been to. The market is housed within the walls of one of the oldest parts of Rabat.  While parts of it were crowded, in general I found the market to be clean and organized and relatively relaxing. We were not hassled or pinpointed as foreigners so we were able to wander up and down the narrow streets untroubled. We stopped at a cafe for coffee later. In general, tea and coffee shops are sit down for just men, but in the more urban areas it is acceptable for women to also sit.

Just inside the gates of the Medina

Suitcases and bags for sale!

One of the many side streets of the Medina.

After the Medina, we dined at a Jewish Moroccan restaurant and finally called it a day. I apologize if there are any lags or delays in my blog. Not only is it sometimes difficult to find the time to blog, but the internet connection is sometimes slow and delayed making uploading pictures rather painful!

Until next time!

 

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