Sunday, April 12, 2009

To camp ... and back.

With spring campers dressed for a mock Berber wedding.


Really, I am constantly writing blog posts in my head, much like the voiceover narrative that was my personal soundtrack in childhood. I just somehow never get around to channeling them from brain to fingers to the innerwebs. It’s not as if I’ve nothing new to report – nor, on the other hand, that I’ve been too busy to write.

More than a week has passed since I returned from the extravaganza that was Spring Camp. Morocco’s Ministry of Youth and Sports, for whom those of us in the Youth Development sector work, stages regional camps around the country during the spring break from public schools. They are intended to be English immersion experiences for teens 14 to 17. In reality, the English concentration isn’t exactly serious, and a plethora of kids as old as 19-20 make things difficult to control. We had a few problems, of the nature you might have with teenagers anywhere in the world, but we had a fantastic camp director and a fun group of Peace Corps volunteers.

Among the problems was the painful divide between kids from the region where the camp was held, and those from Rabat, the nation’s capital. Having been to Rabat a few times, I was aware that it’s quite different from my typical southern Moroccan village. Rabat has the generic flavor of any modern international city; besides a plethora of high-fashion (and high-priced) restaurants and shops, it’s not at all unusual to see women in modern clothing, sans veils, driving, socializing in public and working in all sectors. In Rabat’s ministry neighborhood, I ate I spring rolls one afternoon surrounded by teens from a private school across the street, with teased hair, heavy makeup, short skirts and the money and freedom to congregate in an upscale cafĂ©. None of this is a judgment, just a stratospheric difference from the Morocco I’m used to, the Morocco of dusty, unpaved streets where veiled girls hold hands while riding bicycles on their way to and from school and are generally invisible otherwise.

So I shouldn’t have been surprised, I suppose, to see how the Rabat kids and those from the countryside formed their own, separate cliques. It wasn’t about socioeconomic status so much; any kids who can afford to go to summer camp are generally from well-off families, and those from both sides were equally eager to display their fashionable clothes (wardrobe changes seemed to be the most important activity of the day). No, the divide was in large part about identity – Arabic versus indigenous Berber, to the extent that those from Berber-speaking villages spoke Tashelheit as a secret code against the Arabic-speaking Rabatis. Sigh. Dark-skinned vs. light-skinned, city vs. country, native versus invasive … all around the globe these distinctions persist as long as we continue to see them as divisive.

My favorite memories of camp center on the individual kids I befriended. Mariam, a shy young girl who started crying at dinner the first night out of fear and homesickness (it was her first trip away from home) … and who started crying again the night she left because she didn’t want to leave. Meryama, a level-headed, tough-talking country girl who’s already wearing a milhalf (the large swath of fabric married Berber women wrap themselves in) and noted proudly that her fiancĂ© supported her desire to go on to college. Ayoub, Hamza, Ali … three young boys who stole my heart with affectionate, unaffected smiles and endless variations on the fist bump.

This camp was just a taste of what’s to come this summer when Peace Corps and the U.S. embassy sponsor a series of two-week camps that are truly an English immersion experience, with more control over how the camp runs. Every volunteer is allotted five scholarships to bring five of his/her students to camp.

Closed for construction.

I returned home to find my workplace closed. Where my dar chebab once had three separate buildings when I left for camp, now there are only two. Why the middle room was torn down, and a new one is supposedly arising in its place, I have no idea. All I know is the surrounding rubble makes it no place for kids to be hanging around, not to mention that it blocks the doorway to my classroom, which currently is serving as storage space anyway.

Being closed for construction has given me a much-needed short break, but I’m kind of itching to get back to work now. I had two little girls over Saturday afternoon to color and play Jenga (and admire the pictures of my niece and nephews scattered around my salon); it was the social highlight of my week. The week’s successes included unclogging my bathroom sink using all-natural remedies (baking soda, vinegar and boiling water, to be precise); getting lost on a bicycle ride that gave me a fantastic, solitary view of rutted trails and golden wheat fields; perfecting the art of iced tea; and watching all two seasons of “Sports Night” (the last of which made me oddly homesick and teary-eyed, which is not really the intended effect of a sitcom). Oh, and getting my Internet connection up and running again, hamdulilah!

I’d have welcomed the dar chebab’s closure as a welcome opportunity to travel around the country and visit some other volunteers, but a nationwide transit strike, with no taxis or buses going in or out of our little villages, is keeping everyone home with no end in sight. And this morning’s offroad adventure finally tested the limits of my bicycle tires, or I’d suggest it’s about time to try biking to Taroudant.

Who knows what this week brings?

News article of the week: America Seeks Bonds to Islam, Obama Insists

Heroes of the week: The Vermont Legislature and Iowa Supreme Court

Podcast of the week: Tuesday’s Democracy Now! featuring the Poynter Institute and a nonprofit model for newspapers

Currently reading: "The_Sheltering_Sky" Paul Bowles; “A Thousand Splendid Suns,” Khaled Hosseini (I love the juxtaposition of these two titles)

Currently listening to:Wait, Wait! Don’t Tell Me!” (this week’s guest, William H. Macy, is almost as funny as Michael Pollan was last week); The Frames (thanks, Katy!)

Currently jonesing for: More Uno decks for my dar chebab; blank CDs; and flavored teabags for iced tea (I’m partial, hint hint, to Constant Comment, Wild Berry Zinger, and anything involving mint or peach)

Quotes of the week:

“The desert’s a big place, but nothing really ever gets lost there.” – from “The Sheltering Sky” by Paul Bowles

“Here we say that life is a cliff, and you must never turn around and look back when you’re climbing. It makes you sick.” – ibid

“You can’t see where you are going if you look backward.” – Miz K

More photos.

Field trip to Ourzazete's 700-year-old original medina and casbah.

One of the Moroccan camp counselors hamming it up.

Triple decker (thanks, Trevor!).

Wheat fields.

Turtle crossing.

Passing time in a Ourzazate cafe.

1 comment:

Jenny said...

oh my goodness! my first spring camp i came back to the same disaster at dar chebab while they added on to the classroom! i held classes in the diabetes association next door. what is wrong with that moudir? glad you had a fun time at camp! take care!