Such a big day today and I am so so so exhausted it’s crazy. We started teaching today, and it was crazy! People seem to be extremely comfortable with chaos here, and there is very little structure or organization, so coming in and trying to teach can be a bit of a challenge. It certainly was for us!
We ate the breakfast that Abdulmajjid prepared for us in the morning. I can’t remember what it was now, but I think it was probably bread and soft cheese and things like that. It’s been such a long day! Abdulmajid took us to the Thaqafat office, and along the way taught us to count to ten in standard Arabic.
One – Wa Hedoun
Two – It Neni
Three – Teleta
Four – Arbaha
Five – Hamsa
Six – Sita
Seven – Sebaha
Eight – Teminia
Nine – Tebaha
Ten – Ashara
I’ve been practicing them in my head all day! Since Arabic is written in with a different alphabet, when you write it out in our alphabet you to it phonetically however it makes sense to you. For example, the word for “thank you” is “shukran,” but we also had it explained to us as “choucran” and “chukran”. Abdulmajid was pretty excited when I memorized the first ten numbers on our little walk. I was pretty impressed with myself as well – it’s hard! He’s also been pointing to different objects and saying short phrases in Arabic, and having me repeat them. I usually forget them as soon as the words of left my mouth, but he said that I’m very good at pronouncing things, and that even if I don’t remember, it’s good to practice saying things.
We met Karima at the Thaqafat office, who was helping us to get to our project for the first day. We are teaching at a centre called Alma Sale, which is located in Sale, the “sister city” to Rabat. Sale is quite a bit poorer than Rabat, but the cities have both grown, so it’s more like one big city now. The organization started with one small location in an extremely poor location, teaching a variety of different things, but focusing on English and French. Two years ago the King donated a new location to them, in order to accommodate more students. This is where we’re teaching. It’s actually a beautiful centre, complete with four classrooms, a computer room, a kitchen, a theatre, and a few offices. With the new location, they offer English, French, Spanish, Theatre, business classes, computer technology, and cooking classes. The people who use the centre range from about three or four years old, all the way to adults. These people are quite underprivileged, and don’t pay to come, or if they do, it’s very little. People who can afford it send their kids to proper English schools that cost a lot, but these kids come from families that don’t have that option. Alma Sale seems really in touch with what the community need, which makes sense, because it totally is a part of the community. A little plaque on the wall said in French said that they aim to help people and women reach their goals and aspirations and dreams by focusing on their strengths and interests.
It all sounds amazing, and it is, but the one thing missing is any semblance of structure. We took the tram, this very modern, futuristic train thing, with Karima, and she showed us how to get to the centre. And then we were sort of on our own. Three of the volunteers that we were supposed to sort of shadow today didn’t come, so instead of observing and learning from the other teachers, we were all of the sudden taken up to meet our classes. A man who works there led us upstairs, and showed us our classrooms. OUR classrooms. He took each of us into our rooms, which were side by side, and then basically said “teach!” and closed the door on us. No instruction, no direction, no pens or books or anything else. Just us, and a classroom or crazy Moroccan kids.
My first class, which I “taught” from 10:30 to 12:30 was ages 8 to 10 probably, and full of enthusiasm and energy. I had no idea what to do with them. I figured I should probably figure out how much they know, and then go from there. I started by explaining things first in French, and next in English, and asked them to tell me some of the things they know how to say. They started shouting things excitedly like sports, fruit, food, and other things like that. They seemed most excited by sports, so we brainstormed all the sports they know, and then I wrote them on the board and had them repeat back to me. Next we went over the alphabet. I had kids come up one at a time to draw the letters in the alphabet on the board, which the loved, and then we sang the alphabet song a few times. Thank god for that song. They seemed to really like that.
Next we went over the days of the week and the months of the year and I had them tell me how to spell each one. They struggled with this a bit, but always figured it out in the end. I was sort of at a loss of what to do next. The kids we clearly very eager to learn, but they were also all over the place! They kept on shouting, “Teacher! Teacher!” and showing me random things or asking me random questions. I used the clapping trick where I clap a pattern, and they repeat it, and then they go quiet so that I can explain things. It was pretty effective, working probably about 80% of the time. Other times they kept clapping and making noise, but I was still grateful for the trick. We went over colours next, and I played a game with them where I would shout a colour and they would stand up if they were wearing it. They thought that was pretty cool. Finally it was time for a break. The kids seemed happy for it, but I don’t think I’ve ever been more relieved in my life.
I went into Mom’s classroom, and she had a similar experience. We had no idea what we were doing, and as she put it, “we were thrown to the wolves!”. Her class was older, maybe 12-15, around Middle School ages, with a few younger kids mixed in with better English. They had all asked her if I could teach them next, I guess because I’m blond and I speak French. I assumed I was returning to my class, but instead the teachers sort of shuffled around. Mom and I thought momentarily that we were teaching together, which was the best news of the day, but then they took Mom downstairs and I was left with her old class.
This class had me begging to go back to the younger kids. Middle School aged kids are the worst. They had such crazy attitude, and already spoke English quite well, so colour games definitely didn’t interest them at all. They were all still pretty excited that I was there, and asked me different things about myself. One boy asked if I like One Direction, and was very pleased when I said yes because he had drawn a picture of them for me and given it to my Mom. One little boy suggested we okay hangman, and I was very happy for the idea. We played a few rounds, all going over pretty well. But that’s the problem with middle school aged kids. They get bored, and they aren’t afraid to let you know. “Teacher! New game!” or “Teacher! Too simple!” were things I heard quite a bit from a select group of kids. But the trouble is everyone is at a different level, so what is way to simple for one kid in the class is way too difficult for others. We played pictionary next with different types of animals, and that was fun. This one kid would not stop complaining that it was too easy, so when he came up to draw I gave him “beaver” which totally threw him off guard. He didn’t know how to draw it, so I did instead and told them a bit about Canada.
The last game we played was this game where there’s all these categories, like name, job, country, object, fruit… And I give them a letter, and together they come up with something for each category that starts with that letter. For a job starting with B, one boy suggested “business man” and everyone agreed that was good, until a little girl stood up and said, “No, business woman!”. When the boy went up to the board to write it, he wrote business woman! I thought that was awesome.
FINALLY, the second class ended and I was ready to pass out and sleep for the rest of the day. Since we can’t eat or drink in front of other people during Ramadan, I didn’t really do either for the majority of the day, which was definitely a challenge. When the class was dismissed they all thanked me a lot and ran downstairs. I followed behind, just in time to see Mom’s class of 4 and 5 year olds getting out, but not before kissing her on both cheeks to thank her. That class was a lot easier, she said, since they were very well behaved and their English was at a more beginner level. I wonder at what age it is that they go crazy!
We met some other volunteers from a different organization that were also working there, and it was nice to learn a bit from them. It was only their second day, but already they had a better idea of what was going on. That’s quite comforting! The lack of structure is definitely a cultural thing, and it definitely doesn’t seem to bother the Moroccans. The organization never knows what volunteers it will get, so even though we’re not totally sure on the best way to teach, they’re very happy to have us. At the very least, the kids are practicing their English, and are being exposed to a wide variety of cultures from all the different volunteers.
We took the tram back with the other volunteers, who are also staying in the Medina. There was Kami from Toronto, Tori from Arizona, and I forget the last girl’s name, but she’s from Texas. They were really nice, and gave us some suggestions on how to keep the kids entertained. Tomorrow I’m planning a spelling bee!
When we got home we dropped some of our things in our room, then went back out to explore the Medina and do some shopping. It was the afternoon, so the Medina was quite busy, and walking around just the two of us was definitely a different experience. We got a lot more looks and comments, but nothing big.
We didn’t buy anything, but we asked around about a
few prices, and it will be super fun to bargain! We also went to the Thaqafat office to use the wifi and look up some ESL activities to play with the kids. The Internet is much less helpful than expected.
When we got back we had a bit of a nap until dinner. Everything is so turned around during Ramadan, so the only way to make it work is to sleep a bit during the day like the locals. Abdulmajid keeps us out pretty late at night, and then we have to get up at 7:30 for the mornings, so napping when the locals nap makes sense.
Dinner was amazing, as usual. Sanae, the mom who usually cooks, wasn’t here today, so one of the cousins made the dinner. She’s 25, which is a lot older than we thought, and we discovered tonight that she speaks English almost fluently! I guess she was shy before, but she talked with us a lot tonight about how she had to learn English because she is training to be a flight attendant! She got accepted into training with Qatar Airlines, but decided that she couldn’t leave her family like that, so is instead training with Royal Moroccan Airlines. Her meal was incredible. The Tajine had shrimp in it tonight, which was delicious and full of flavor, and then there was calamari and little homemade cake donuts and this bread filled with chicken and onions and pepper. It was all so goods! We usually start the meal with sweet frothy milk, but tonight it had strawberry in it, so it almost tasted like a strawberry milkshake.
The TV played through the whole dinner, of course, and I’m starting to get used to it. I’m even starting to recognize the little intro songs to some of the shows, and can sort of follow along. A program comes on during dinner at plays all these music videos and some of the kids sometimes sing along. They’re all full of dancing and singing and they’re pretty catchy!