Aicha (one of my favorite "little girls") shows me a thing or two about playing jacks.
The good news (and it's really good news): My dar chebab did, indeed, finally open this week. Hamdulilah! Nearly six months we've been closed. It felt so good to slide open the rusty bolt that latches the metal gate and throw the doors open to welcome the village children.
The bad news: If a rusty bolt squeaks in the vast desert and no one's around to hear it, is it really open?
In the four days we've been open so far, I've seen a total of seven youths ~ and two were repeats. We have some work to do in getting the word out that kids can finally come back. I have a few of my devoted regulars acting as town criers, charged with bringing me warm bodies. I'm also posting announcements around town, promoting the dar chebab's opening and the schedule of English classes I've arranged with the help of my regulars.
This week, I'm visiting the schools to meet with the principals and English teachers. One cannot just make arrangements with a teacher, accompany her to school and speak to her class. One first must meet with the school director and have tea. Then one must ask for a letter of reference to the regional minister of education in Taroudant. Then one must take the letter to the ministry and get it stamped. Then one must return to the school director with the letter. Then, and only then, can any arrangements long ago struck between Moroccan public school teacher and Peace Corps volunteer be carried on as planned.
Shwiya b shwiya.
I spent some time at the lycee (high school) this morning to that effect, assisted by an English teacher named Halim. We had a good conversation about ways I might participate in his class occasionally throughout the school year, doing some activities that force listening comprehension and spontaneous conversation ~ in a fun way, we hope.
I'm really impressed by Halim's approach to his classes. You hear a lot about Moroccan schools focusing solely on repetition and rote memorization. Halim has all kinds of ideas about theater and games and an activity he calls the "hot seat," in which students will take turns peppering me with questions and then I'll lob questions back at them. I'm excited to try some of my leadership/teamwork/communication exercises that are part of our Gender and Development curriculum.
Halim also has eyes on the dar chebab's datashow, or screen projector. He wants to show English-language movies that show education can be fun and that teachers and students can have positive relationships. One favorite he mentioned somehow involved a fat man who answered the phone and lied and then became a teacher and the kids loved him and then later the teachers did too ... eventually, I was able to determine that he was referencing "School of Rock." Awesome. I'll be looking for a copy when I come home for the holidays in December. Also "Dead Poets Society." Any other ideas?
When Aicha and I broke out the sidewalk chalk, even my mudhir got into the action.
Meanwhile, the quiet atmosphere around the place Saturday afternoon gave me time to play with Aicha, one of my favorites among the young girls who like to follow me around the neighborhood. I brought out a new package of jacks, realizing as I did that I couldn't even remember how to play, much less explain it in Arabic. I needn't have worried; Aicha was a pro. She even knew how to toss the jacks up in the air and catch them on the back of her hand before letting them drop to the ground.
We also had a good time with some new fat pencils of sidewalk chalk. My effigy is now emblazoned on the basketball court, available for anyone to walk all over.
So, no ~ not much activity at the dar chebab our first week, but we'll get there. I'm also branching out, spending two afternoons a week at the nedi neswi, where I'll be teaching English and yoga. And somehow I've agreed to teach English at a daycare/preschool run by two of my favorite adult students. Somehow, that intimidates me more than anything else. Well, that and the yoga.
As a bigger project, I'm planning to write a grant to stock our new informatique/library with books and other supplies. This is the new building that forced us to close for construction so long ago. I've still no idea why it all happened, but I'm really happy with the results. A clean, brightly lit new room outfitted with desks and eight computers that have been in hiding since I arrived last winter. The computers have Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and even Publisher. (Also, as the mudhir's assistant happily demonstrated for me, a variety of computer games.)
I'd really like to set up a schedule of computer literacy classes for youths, as well as for my nedi women if they'd like. Two problems there: 1) I'm about as literate in computers as I am in Arabic, and 2) a for-profit computer school in town means we probably won't be able to find an instructor who'll do it for free. The grant I hope to write would cover the costs of hiring an instructor, and also to stock our empty bookshelves with a variety of books in Arabic and beginner English.
Fair warning, dear readers: The type of grant I'm planning involves not NGO funds but participation from Peace Corps supporters and especially from friends and family. You'll be hearing from me soon!
For some reason, this morning's visit to the school gave me an unusual burst of domestic energy. I started by defrosting my fridge, which likes to leak icicles. I also did a little refrigerator repair, in the form of duct tape, to close a gap that may be leaking air and contributing to the public.
Once the defrosting was a success, I had quite a puddle of water to clean up. One thing led to another, and next thing I knew I was giving the whole place a good cleaning, top to bottom. Just yesterday one of my favorite Peace Corps neighbors, Matt, was saying that one of the things he'll miss most about Morocco when he finishes his service next month is the way we clean here: Just dump a basin of water on the floor and push water, dirt and debris right out the front door. Pretty dang satisfying.
I've made two of my favorite salads and hard-boiled some eggs and whipped up some iced coffee, all of which, along with the fat, juicy apples that have appeared with the change of season, should get me through at least the next couple of days' worth of meals. I've caught up on the news via at least 10 podcasts. Now I'm ready to curl up with Paul Theroux*. I think I've earned it. Goodnight.
*Currently reading: "Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town, Paul Theroux
Currently listening to: Patsy Cline, Portishead, and some Gnaoua music (a Berber/Arabic/Saharan mix that's kind of Morocco's answer to jam bands)
Currently pondering: "Understanding engenders care." -- Natalie Goldberg