Friday, January 23, 2009

Be careful what you wish for.

Did I really say things were moving slowly around here?

That was before this week’s school vacation. Suddenly the dar chebab has been overrun by drari sgar – little kids. (except, of course, on the one day I brought my camera.) My job title has apparently changed from English Teacher to Babysitter. On any given day, I’m playing host to at least 20 children between the ages of 4 and 10. Games have been broken, tables have been drawn on, fights have broken out, and Teacher needs a cocktail.

They’re all positively adorable, and desperately in need of attention and activities. But I’m feeling pretty overwhelmed. I ask if they want to learn English; they enthusiastically do. That lasts about 10 minutes, so we’ve had the same “Hello”-based class every day this week. Hard to teach, too, when they keep running in and out, pulling games off the shelves, pulling on Teacher’s sweater so she’ll bend down for a kiss.

So we try some outdoor games, which generally devolve into shouting, or tears, or cartwheels, or nose-picking contests. You think I’m kidding. I’m not.

There’s no word for “babysitter” in Darija – the concept doesn’t exist when there’s always a (female) family member around to care for the children – but I managed to tell my mudhir that I’m a teacher, not a mom. He laughed.

I’m not cut out for running a preschool. I hope things soon get back to “normal,” whatever that might be.
First, though, I hit the road for a week and a half. Teacher training with some of my stajmates next week in Ourzazete, then on to Rabat for my first Gender and Development Committee meeting.

And, when I return, I’ll likely have to recruit students all over again. A week and a half is long enough to forget a routine, 'round these parts.

But when class is in session …

My lessons with the bac students (baccalaureate students are in the final two years of high school) are my favorite so far. They don’t want to go over the finer points of grammar; they simply want to practice conversation. They don’t get a chance to use the English they learn in school, so their pronunciation is stilted (and highly affected by their knowledge of French).

And they enjoy discussing fairly sophisticated topics … in English. This week’s lesson, at the request of one of my male students, was about the moudawana, or Morocco’s new family law that gives women far more equal rights in marriage. That gave us plenty to talk about! We’re also learning a few new idioms each week … when you think about it, English conversation is all about the idioms. Which, when you think about it from a non-native-speaker’s standpoint, don’t make a lick of sense.

Plus, not only can the bac students understand and translate my English, they also seem to play really well with the younger students – far better than I do. Last Saturday during our weekly game day, as I was playing Monopoly with the middle-school boys, I spotted a couple of the older boys gently singing and playing with two little girls who couldn’t have been more than 5. Add together those translation skills and ability to work with kids and – presto! – I just may have some counterparts to organize some new activities with the kids.

Then there’s Brahim, by far my most dedicated student. He’s 14 and comes to class every single day, whether the lesson is for beginners or bac students. He’s not yet old enough for formal English classes in school, yet he’s taught himself a great deal already. On his own, too – no older brother or sister to teach him their lessons.

Oh, how I wish I were young enough to absorb language the way Brahim does. If we learn colors one day, he’s back the next day to tell me what color everything is. If we learn time phrases (yesterday, today, etc)… he can’t wait to shout out “See you tomorrow!” as he scrambles onto his bike to get home before dark. He understands simple present tense and wants to know the English equivalent of every verb he can think of.

And he retains … I don’t need to teach him vocabulary more than once. He almost never writes it down, but he’s got it all filed in his head. He’s going to be fluent by the time I leave, I can feel it. And if he’s that smart and driven in English, he has the potential to do anything he wants to do.

Now to save him from the all-too-common trajectory of smart, driven, educated young Moroccans who manage to earn their university degrees … only to end up making change in a small local hanut (shop) because that’s the only job available.

Life lessons.

But the learning doesn’t stop there. Oh, no!

I couldn’t possibly be prouder of my host family than I am this week.

Kabira and Khadija have their share of sisterly knock-down, drag-outs. But last week’s took the cake. (Hmm, another idiom.) Later, I found out it was because Kabira wanted Khadija to show her how to use the Internet. She’s very frustrated because she doesn’t understand how to go online and has to rely on Khadija’s availability and willingness to help her with Skype or MSN so she can talk with their other sister, Aziza, in Germany.

Later, Kabira and I had a talk about how getting so upset only hurts her. She can really work herself up. (Who better to understand her than me, eh?) We talked about how it’s entirely OK to be angry or upset, to cry, to voice your disappointment … but that there have to be better ways to solve our problems than to break down so completely. I’m not sure how we had such a sophisticated conversation, but we really did; she understood where I was going with it.

A few nights later I came into the patisserie to find Khadija in Kabira’s place behind the counter. Where’s your sister, I asked.

Turns out Kabira had signed herself up for a month’s worth of Internet lessons at the cyber. Is that not beautiful? Especially when you consider that Kabira works seven days a week, at least 12 hours a day, and really had to do some negotiating to fit it into her schedule. I’m so proud to see her doing something good for herself.

Not to be outdone, their mother is on a new learning journey of her own. Rakya has often bemoaned the fact that she can’t read or write Arabic. She can’t read the news or use the Internet, or even read text messages or run the satellite television. I’ve often said she could take classes, maybe at the nedi neswi (women’s center). She’s always brushed me off.

A few afternoons after Kabira had started her Internet classes, I came home to find Rakya busily copying script into a notebook. She’d walked herself over to the nedi and had just finished her first Arabic class. Rakya’s not unusual; so many women her (my) age and older never had an education and are illiterate in their own language.

As, come to think of it, am I – in Arabic, I’m illiterate. Hard to swallow for someone who’s spent her life submerged in words. Rakya, you’re showing me up!

Idioms of the Week:

Piece of cake.

You crack me up.

Hang on.

Quotes of the Day:

“The present moment is all you ever have.” – Eckhart Tolle

“It is when the ice and snow are on them that we see the strength of the cypress and the pine. I am grateful for this trouble around me, because it gives me an opportunity to realize how fortunate I am.” – Chuang-tse

“Trying is the first step toward failure.” — Anonymous (ok, just kidding … kind of … )

“We think we know what we want – until we get it.” – the Divine Miz K


More care packages this week! You all are just entirely too kind. Thanks to My Favorite Subversive Used Bookstore Maven, and to my favorite high school journalism teacher. My kids thank you as well.

More photos.

My host "mom," with the family's house in the background.

Entertainment center at the host family's house.

Bab (door) into Taroudant medina.

Shopping in Taroudant.


MollyinLincoln said...

Hi, Becky- I love, love, love reading your blog postings. I feel like i'm right there, a fly on the wall, thanks to your illumanating descriptions.

Once again, it's the familiar that is somehow so surprising in a new country - the sisterly squabbles, little kids driving you crazy, feeling overwhelmed by all the demands...

Lincoln is freezing cold and my job is keeping me ... challenged. But, all is good. Paul, Audrey and I are each entering our own versions of chili for the annual O'Rourkes Super Bowl Chili Cookoff, so that should be a hoot.

Take care. I'll be reading!

A devoted fan,

jill said...

just wanted to say



i miss you!

Yassine said...

hi !(i'm yassine from taroudant)i wont just to say that: your blog was realy so great
and a i like to tell you that
" Bab (door) into Taroudant medina" named (BAB TARGHOUNT" :D
take care