Thursday, January 1, 2009

Tsenna sa’3da!

Or bonne annee, or Happy New Year … however you say it, I hope 2009 brings good things to you.

This was possibly the quietest New Year’s Eve I’ve passed in quite a long time. Well, maybe not the quietest: After the couscous, after the milfait, we made our own holiday soundtrack accompanied by all manner of table-pounding, hand-clapping, spoon-banging percussion, Shakira shaking her hshuma booty on TV in the background. Still, I was in bed by 10 a.m., in order to make a 6 a.m. New Year’s Day hammam call with Khadija.

Last weekend, I spent some time celebrating the holidays with a few nearby volunteers, up in the mountains north of Taroudant. A village of green terraced farms set against craggy mountains, with palm trees below, all draped in a drizzly fog.

Welcome rain kept us huddled cozily indoors celebrating Christmas much as we might’ve back home: exchanging gifts, eating way too many sweets, playing Pictionary and Monopoly, and overdosing on English-language television shows. Dinner was fried chicken (well, not for me), mashed potatoes and the fattest, sweetest green peas you can imagine, having just come into season here.

Joy to the world!
(a pun that only works if you know that’s the appropriately named Joy in front)

Good company, new friends, and every ending a new beginning.

Success story No. 1:

As I was describing the events of our little holiday gathering to my host sisters, Kabira looked at Khadija and exclaimed, proud as any new mama: “She’s speaking Darija!” As in, “she’s really speaking.” Yup, full sentences with multiple tenses, a sprinkling of adjectives and all.

Progress duly noted. I still don’t understand quite a lot of what I hear … but I’m beginning to pick out enough words here and there to follow many a conversation. I still feel awkward, but not nearly as self-conscious as I did a month ago. Beginning to see the possibility that I might actually catch on, given a few more months.

Success story No. 2:

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve finally achieved Goal No. 1: I HAVE GIRLS IN MY YOUTH CENTER! Despite being told all around that it is acceptable for girls in my village to visit the dar chebab (that’s not true everywhere; some conservative communities frown on boys and girls mixing in the same space), I had yet to encounter one. Felt like a birdwatcher ever eluded by the gray-breasted whippersnapper.

I chatted up every girl I passed in the street, encouraging her to come to class and to bring her friends. They’d nod agreeably. I told my regulars (all boys) to bring their sisters. They’d nod agreeably. I asked everyone I met, do you know any girls who would like to come meet me at the dar chebab? They’d nod agreeably.

Still … walu. Nothing.

Then one day, three girls wheeled their bicycles up to the front gate a good half-hour before class was to start. Brushing aside their veils of timidity, in no time they were fully participating in class, shouting out the answers, jostling each other and giggling. They came back that Saturday for Youth Café, our weekly afternoon of board games, music and chitchat. They’ve been diligently attending class every week, and have even brought a few new friends. Here’s hoping they’re local trend-setters.

My girls.

My English classes in general got off to a slow start, but I think we’re hitting stride. Some days I have 10 students; some days I have one; some days I have none. Some days my so-called “intermediate” class consists of students who haven’t taken a single English class before. It’s all good; someone always comes away learning something … not least of all me.

Success story No. 3:

Speaking of classes, here’s a most unexpected surprise: I find I actually kind of like teaching – the activity I most dreaded about my Peace Corps assignment. It’s a lot like my former career as an editor/page designer: I’m just moving the puzzle pieces around until they fit together for my audience. Nothing feels better than watching a pair of tightly scrunched eyebrows unfurl into virtual grins of recognition.

Despite coming from a family full of teachers, the thought of standing up in front of a crowd of people – even children! – has always filled me with anxiety. It had a lot to do with why I chose journalism instead; I preferred to work behind the scenes.

And, as you may know, I had grave concerns about whether teaching English is the best way to “develop” the youths of Morocco. They’re usually fluent in French as well as at least two local languages. Wouldn’t our efforts be better spent helping teens complete their educations, or develop useful career skills, or find adequate employment?

But how to get those better opportunities? My own students tell me they actually want to learn English – that it will give them a leg up when they apply to university, when they look for a job in this tourist-oriented country or beyond. And I can feel their enthusiasm in class, even when discussing the most mundane points of Present Perfect Simple.

Besides, teaching several English classes a week is a good way to integrate into my village, get to know the kids, when I can’t yet speak the local language freely and fluently. All of my fabulous ideas for community education, girls’ empowerment, women’s issues – all of those ideas are in English and stubbornly resist translation. But, through my classes and spending time at the dar chebab, I really am starting to build relationships.

Now, if I can just keep working on that patience thing, I can see real possibilities ahead.

More photos:

Mountainside village.

December geraniums.

After the fog lifted.
PS: Now I realize why I never got any comments on my last blog: It never got posted! Smuh liya!


Heidi said...

Happy New Year!
Congratulations on all of your sucesses. I never doubted that you would accomplish what you set yourself out to do! Stay strong and kepp pushing!

Victoria said...

Becki: Was just thinking about you -- it's fabulous to see all that you are doing. That's cool you're warming up to teaching -- my mom thinks I should teach, but I have the same reservations you do!! Have a Happy New Year! Victoria

B said...

thanks, you two! Victoria, sure miss LJS ... tell everyone hey from me! And Heidi, I'm dying to know which Heidi this is ... my first two guesses were wrong!

B said...

aha! Just figured out which Heidi when I found your Facebook friend request! Thanks!

Victoria said...

I definitely will. We definitely miss you, too, professionally and personally! Victoria