Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Camping it up.

As many of the 107 campers as would heed my instructions to Zidu! Zidu! ~ crowd in. I like the kid on the left, in the red shirt, doing the Moroccan symbol for "crazy. "
Told you it'd take me time to rest up enough to tackle a proper account of English Camp Taroudant 2010. But I didn't mean for it to take me nearly two weeks.

I have to admit, I was a bundle of nerves heading into this thing. Who in their right mind willingly signs up to coordinate a camp for 100+ kids who speak English (if at all) as a third or fourth language, armed only with 9 other Peace Corps volunteers, a nearly equal number of Moroccan counselors, an industrial sound system and a couple dozen sheets of butcher paper?

Turns out I had less than nothing to worry about. Sure, the mother of all head colds decided to crash the party just as things were getting started. Sure, we averaged about 5 hours of sleep a night. Sure, we welcomed our maximum number of campers and then some (107, to be exact). Sure, printers didn't work and schedules didn't mesh and there was the occasional paint explosion. But if those were the greatest of our worries, all I can say is hamdulilah.

Go bananas. You know you want to.

Chick-a-Boom ... underwater!
This is the third camp I've worked here in Morocco. Previous ones have been blemished by bickering between Peace Corps volunteers, between American and Moroccan staffs, between Peace Corps coordinator and Moroccan camp director, between volunteers and youths, between the youths themselves. There've been kids caught stealing, smoking (you name it), drinking, having sex, fighting, vandalizing. There've been breakouts and breakdowns and hookups and rumbles between urban/rural factions. Camp funds have gone into unknown pockets instead of such things as class materials or food for the kids. Frankly, my previous experiences had me desperately wishing I never, ever had to work a camp ever again.

But Camp Taroudant was about as good as it gets, and we didn't even have a beach to use as a bargaining chip. The kids were well-behaved, enthusiastic and actually inquisitive. The staffs got along famously, and we had an angel of a camp director, who worked at least as hard as we did, danced as hard as the kids did, and has a penchant for Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall."

Our success can only be blamed on the nine intrepid Peace Corps volunteers who signed up to work with me. Ali, Ariel, Joy, Laila, Lori, Matt, Michelle, Nicole and Vish didn't just do their time. They worked hard, around the clock. They turned on the charm with the kids. They practiced in their spare time. They propped each other up when propping up was needed. They swapped ideas and strategies and kept each other laughing. They made the whole dang thing fun, not just for a boisterous crowd of Moroccan adolescents, but for a middle-aged Midwesterner who came in more than a little dubious and left with new friends, new music and a new appreciation for the possibilities of engaging youths.
Ariel's class got a lesson in Somali politics along with their English via the song "Wavin' Flag."

Joy and her budding artists. This is "during." The "after" is, thankfully, not recorded for posterity.

and Bingo was his name .... (substitute awkward fadeout for trying to explain name-oh)
Not that we didn't have any problems; we just managed to, well, manage them. The main one was the number of kids, especially the number of entry-level English learners. We'd organized four English classes ~ two beginners, one intermediate and one advanced. A couple more beginner classes would have made a world of difference; Lori and Matt's classes were overwhelmingly full. They handled it with aplomb, though, with a lot of help from Ali, Joy, Laila and Vish. As for the intermediate and advanced classes, Michelle, Ariel and Nicole really boosted their students' conversational abilities ... not to mention their rapping skills.
Vish's New Zealand club gets into their haka dance at the spectac.

A visit to the tannery just outside Taroudant's medina. Giddyup!
The final night of camp is traditionally the SPECTAC! Short for spectacular, very much in the spirit of an old Andy Hardy flick ("Hey, kids! Let's put on a show!" ... and yes, I know I'm dating myself here. Wikipedia it, kids.) Much of the last two days of camp were spent practicing our performances for Friday evening. Each class and each club prepared a number, and American taxpayers should be pleased to know that a select group of youths in Taroudant province are now fluent in the Black-Eyed Peas' "Where Is the Love," the Maori haka war chant, K'naan's "Wavin' Flag," the Maasai jumping dance, "Hello Goodbye" by the Beatles, the enduring classic "B-I-N-G-O" and a taste of Bollywood dance. We wrapped it all up with a mock Berber wedding procession and an official Peace Corps performance ("best part!") of "Thriller" that came off well enough despite my stumbling in the back row.

We kept 107 kids pretty well entertained for seven days, and if they came away speaking a little more English via the Banana Song and Chick-A-Boom ad nauseum ... well, who could ask for more?
Little 12-year-old Ibtissame from my dar chebab was the youngest camper, and possibly the most enthusiastic.

Camp schedule:
7:30 a.m.: Wake up, get dressed, make beds
8 a.m.: Morning activities (national anthem, a few wake-up songs, announcements, Stars of the Day
8:15 a.m.: Breakfast
9-11 a.m.: English classes
11:15-12:30 p.m.: Sports/recreation
1 p.m.: Lunch (followed by much-needed naptime)
3:30-5:15 p.m.: Country Clubs (we divided kids into a cross-section of Anglophone countries to practice English while learning history, culture, music, art and more about their assigned nations ~ Canada, Jamaica, India, Kenya and New Zealand
5:30-7 p.m.: Activities with Moroccan counselors ~ or ~ outings in which we inflicted all 130 or so of us upon the unwitting streets of Taroudant
8 p.m.: Dinner
9-10:30 p.m.: Evening activities (these ranged from talent show to crafts, games, movies and of course the SPECTAC!
11 p.m.: Lights out (inch'allah)

Campers' best quotes:

"Becki is a vegetable. Are you a vegetable?" ~ asked of a fellow vegetarian
"WHAT FROM YOU?" ~ urgent query put to Laila during a game where students were trying to guess our national origins
"I want power. All I need is money, guns, and the love of my parents." ~ aspirations of a student in Ariel's intermediate class

My amazing crew of intrepid, inexhaustible, invigorating PCVs. Thella yfraskum!

300+ more camp photos here, if you have the interest/patience:

Ki dehek.*

A rainy, dreary day ... the sun keeps trying to poke its head out, but the clouds have repeatedly beaten its sunny ass and told it to get back inside if it knows what's good for it. A day better spent curled up reading with a cup of tea than slogging through the muddy "streets" of my village to get to the dar chebab.

I almost didn't go. But if I hadn't, I would have missed out on one of those little everyday moments that repeatedly remind me just how much fun this "youth development" gig can be.

Only two kids braved the rain to meet me, but they were my two best middle-school students. At 14, Brahim and Abdsamad know way more English than most high-school seniors (thanks, Fox Movies!). I helped them review body parts and clothing for an upcoming quiz at school. Most of the basics they could rattle off easily, so I challenged them with new vocab like "polo shirt" and "eyebrows" and "kneecap" (it's a cap for the knee, get it?)

Brahim drew a diagram of a person, labeling everything as we went. We played a little "Simon Says." I answered several random vocab questions, some pertaining to the body, some completely unrelated.

Brahim wrote the word "fanny" on his paper, then ~ the universal symbol for "not equal to."

Oh, dear. What are you trying to ask me, Brahim? And where on earth did you hear an old-fashioned word like "fanny"?

I debate whether I'm even gonna get into this, the naming of the backside, the bottom, the butt, the bum. Whatever you wanna call it, it can't be anything but hchuma to discuss it with a couple of adolescent boys. (And what's with the "≠" sign? Just how bad is this gonna get?)

They're perplexed by my reluctance.

"Like you are fanny," Brahim further explained. Not helping, Brahim.

"You are fanny, and I am not ~ what is opposite of fanny?" Abdsamad adds, striking a fiercely stern schoolteacher pose.

Aha. I'm slow to catch on. They don't want to talk about my fanny, they're trying to tell me I'm funny ~ and the word they're looking for is "serious."

In the end, just so they could truly appreciate how funny this was, I did in fact explain why I was so confused.

I haven't laughed that hard with 14-year-olds since the time Kelly and Shon stuffed me in a trash can in Mr. Wengert's 8th-grade math class.

(The boys also informed me that I have short eyelashes. So, there's that, too.)

* It's funny!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Category: Random.

OK, this is one of the stranger videos I've seen while visiting the host family. A Moroccan singer/guitarist with a growly Sheryl Crow voice, English lyrics, a cowboy/sheriff-type character wielding a big stick, prisoners in '30s-era stripey uniforms a la "Oh Brother Where Art Thou" ... and a deep desire to perform on "The Muppet Show"? Yeah, those themes all converge quite nicely. Enjoy!

Promise I'll post an update on our Spring Camp in Taroudant just as soon as I fully recover ... which should be sometime in October. Short version: It was awesome, thanks to a truly spectacular group of volunteers. Thank you Ali, Ariel, Joy, Laila, Lori, Matt, Michelle, Nicole, and Vish-o!