Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Final few days in Morocco & Back to the US

Thursday March 29

We got on the bus to Casablanca at 6AM.  The return trip seemed so much quicker.  Found the train station and got tickets back to Rabat with Kristen and Stephanie.  A short walk from the train station and we were back at LeDiwan, our hotel in Rabat.  We were on our own for the rest of the afternoon and it was fun to meet up with other members of our group and hear how their experiences had been.

Friday March 30

Our time in this wonderful country is drawing to a close.  The group reconvened to discuss and reflect on our experiences in Moroccan schools.  We also discussed our essential questions and considered how we could utilize our experiences and to continue working on globalizing our classrooms.  With the debriefing complete we spent the remainder of the day seeing the sights in Rabat.

Surf's Up Rabat!

Hanging 10


Saturday March 31

Leaving the hotel for the airport at 3AM...ugh.  Found the blog of my partner teacher in Benimellal.  Her pictures and information can be found at  Lots of hours in and out of airplanes and airports.  From Rabat back to Charles de Gaul in Paris, then to Atlanta, and finally to Denver about 9PM MDT.

Sunday April 1

Started the day by handing out 2,500 basketballs to kids up to age 18 for the Mile High Dribble, which was part of the Women's NCAA Basketball tournament being held in Denver.  My wife and I volunteered and helped with several events during the day.  Tourney town was pretty cool with lots of different sporting activities.  It was a fun way to help reset my schedule back to Wyoming time.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Week #2 The Learning Continues

Monday March 26, 2012  We had round table discussions with all four of Mrs. Massaq's classes.  One thing that I find that I really like about the Moroccan students is that they are not afraid to talk about religion or politics.  We have seen multiple examples of the tolerance and flexibility of the Moroccan culture, and the hospitality has been second to none. More students expressed the same concerns that all Muslims were being judged by the actions of just a few.  I will be having that conversation with my students when I return home.  I am also hoping to help find host families for a pair of YES scholarship winners for the 2012-2013 school year. In my humble opinion, nothing helps to tear down stereotypes and build positive relationships than direct person to person interaction.

In the evening, we went on a drive in the mountains with Mr. and Mrs. Massaq.  This provided us on a different perspective as we were able to gaze out over Benimellal and see the whole area.  The mountain roads were very similar to some of the winding roads that can be found in the mountains of Wyoming and Colorado.  During our drive, we encountered many people walking, and riding mules.  I kept thinking about how their life must be very different than my own, and in many ways, more difficult.
54 km from Benimellal
 On our quest we were hoping to see that goats that climb into trees.  This is as close as we got:

Mrs. Massaq showed us the almonds in the almond trees and how to pick them.
Harvesting almonds

Almonds in the trees

Large trucks on narrow roads

Midway through our drive we saw a large lake, Bin el-oudine.  We have been told about the drought that Morocco is experiencing this year, and I am guessing that people that live near the lake may not suffer as much from the drought.
The lake

Little boat...big lake
If you look at a big map of Morocco, the lake is just a bit south of Benimellal.
Motto: God, King, and Country
Small rural schoolhouse

Tuesday March 27, 2012

We had round table discussions with the private school students in the morning and presentations.  The classes with seniors were obviously working hard preparing for the upcoming baccalaureate exams in June.  We were treated to a wide array of presentations on the culture of morocco, music, marriage customs, Jews and Christians in Morocco just to name a few.  The students seemed so well prepared and so confident.  I think I would have been very nervous making those kinds of presentations in a language other than my primary language.

Wednesday March 28, 2012

We were treated to more presentations and got another healthy dose of politics and religion.  There was even a really good discussion on equality and women's rights in one class.  We learned that women are way tougher than men, and that if men had to give birth, they would hate their sons.  After lunch I got to try my hand at sports photography.  The 10th graders were challenging the 11th graders in a soccer match.  Our fearless leader Kristin Laboe was allowed to join them.  Ms. Laboe even scored two goals during the match.

I enjoyed taking the pictures and must have gone through three rolls of film with my black and white camera.

Mrs. Rosa and I went back to class with Mrs. Massaq while Kristin finished up her soccer match with the private school all stars.  We sat in on two really good presentations on pollution and on global warming.  Again I was really impressed with the English proficiency of Mrs. Massaq's students.

We were all a little sad to be leaving Benimellal.  Mr. and Mrs. Massaq treated us to a lovely going away dinner on our final evening in the city.

amazing!             ya salam             يا سلام

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Marrakesh Express (the weekend)

"...Wouldn't you know we're riding on the Marrakesh Express.
Wouldn't you know we're riding on the Marrakesh Express,
they're taking me to Marrakesh.
All on aboard the train.
All on aboard the train.

I've been saving all my money just to take you there.
I smell the garden in your hair.
Take the train from Casablanca going south,
blowing smoke rings from the corners of my m m m m mouth.
Colored cottons hang in the air,
charming cobras in the square.
Striped djellebas we can wear at home.
Well, let me hear ya now."

Many of you are probably too young, or have never heard the song “Marakesh Expess” by Crosby, Stillls, and Nash.  That music kept playing in my mind as we hopped into the car (of course in the song it was a train) with Mr. & Mrs. Massaq.  Our gracious hosts were kind enough to take us to Marakesh for the weekend.  It is about a two hour drive from Benimellal to Marakesh.  Mr. Massaq is wonderful behind the wheel with quick reflexes and the instincts worthy of any Grand Prix driver.

Our tour bus complete with multilingual narration

Lots of fresh spices

Always plenty of action in Marakesh

Many beautiful things for sale

We took a tour of the city in an open topped double decker bus.  This gave us excellent views and plenty of photo opportunities.

There were more markets and medinas.  These also included musicians, story tellers, and snake charmers.
Snake charmers

Fearless leader trying on the latest in reptilian neckwear

An area in the marketplace had craftsmen and artisans.  We saw leather working, calligraphy, wood working, musical instrument construction, and rug weaving.  Mrs. Rosa even tried her hand at weaving.

Mrs. Rosa Getting becoming an expert weaver
Caligraphy....want your name spelled out in Arabic?

We stayed at the home of one of Mrs. Massaq’s sisters. We learned that she is a travel agent, and her husband has many business interests in Morocco.  The food, as always, was superb with many complex flavors.  In Morocco, dining is more of an event than it is in America.  Food comes out in multiple courses and a meal can last an hour or two.  I find that I like this approach because it allows time to taste and enjoy the meal.  There is also always interesting dinner conversation.

Rosa, Laboe, and Massaq taking the grand tour of Marakesh
Want to buy a hat?

Yes, they have McDonald's too...the McFondue looks kinda yummy

Well, it was a fun and interesting weekend.  We headed back to Benimellal for Monday classes.

All on aboard the train.
All on aboard the train.

to your health بالصحة - besseha

Friday, March 23, 2012

First week in Morocco :) very hospitable people (:

The journey began March 17th with a drive from Cheyenne to Denver, Colorado.  My lovely wife was kind enough to get up early and drive me to Denver International Airport on Saturday morning.  I should have known wonderful things were in store when I was moved to first class for the first leg of my trip (way to win friends Delta...this was my first experience with your airlines).
Political map of Morocco

Twelve teachers from various parts of the USA, all meeting up at Charles de Gaul Airport in Paris, France.  My flight took me to Atlanta before the long trek across the Atlantic.  Everyone made it with no troubles to our meeting point before we all boarded the flight to Rabat, Morocco.  We learned that it was too windy to land in Rabat, so our flight was diverted to Casablanca.  It took some time to make it through customs, and after a two hour bus ride to Rabat, we arrived at our hotel.  After we were fed and tucked in for the night, 9AM seemed to come too soon.

Monday, March 19, our facilitator, Khadija Rahaoui, gave us an excellent introduction to Moroccan history and culture.  Morocco has always been an intersection for cultures, languages, and religions between Europe, sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East.  Diverse cultural and ethnic groups have migrated through the region and left their mark on it.  Morocco has a rich history involving the Phonecians, Vandals, Romans, Carpacians and other groups.  Caramine University, one of the first and oldest in the world is still going strong in Morocco.  Morocco was also the first country to recognize the United States and sign a friendship treaty with it.  More recently Morocco became a French protectorate in 1912 and gained its independence in 1956.

Social life for most Moroccans still is centered around home and family.  This is evident when listening to the words in contemporary Moroccan music.  It is also a land where people seem to have a skill for languages.  Arabic and Darija, Amazigh, French, Spanish, and English are all commonly used in Morocco. 
We were privileged to meet with Mr. Benabdelkhader, Director of Cooperation.  He is a representative at The Ministry of National Education in Rabat.  He seemed interested and supportive of the teacher exchange between the U.S. and Morocco.
Meeting at the Ministry of Education

Recognize some of the spices?
In the market for a rug?  We can find you just the right size and color.

After the meeting, we were treated to an old city tour of the medina by our in-country education consultant, Bouchra Arrif.  The small medina was pretty much all there was of Rabat before the French came in 1912 and expanded the city.  There were lots of traditional shops and cafes that we visited and explored.

We wrapped up the day with a cultural dinner at BAB El Hat, a traditional Moroccan restaurant.  We were all surprised when the menus were all done on rolled up pieces of leather.  I think most in the group are really starting to enjoy the wonderful Moroccan food.

On day #2 we learned all about the Moroccan education system from our facilitator Khadija Rahaoui.  Education in Morocco is administered by the Ministry of National Education, Higher Education, Training and Scientific Research.  It sets the curriculum and policy, administers external examinations, and provides funding for public institutions.  Classes begin in early September and officially end on June 30.  Students generally attend classes all day Monday through Saturday from 8 AM to 12 PM and from 2 PM to 6 PM.
Students must pass a rigorous national baccalaureate exam at the end of their final year for placement into the public university system.  A portion of their grade is also determined by continuous assessment from their teachers.  Major challenges that face the education system in Morocco are classroom overcrowding, financial independence, and the literacy & dropout rates.

After lunch, we met with a variety of people.  We heard from Mr. Noreddine Bendougi, President of the Moroccan Association of English, Dr. James Miller, Director of the Moroccan American Commission of Educational and Cultural Exchange, Rabat spoke of Fulbright programs and opportunities in Morocco, and Matthew Long, Cultural Affairs officer from the U.S. Embassy in Rabat described the role that the Embassy plays in the area.  One of the highlights of the day was the visit to Oulja, Sale’, which is a village representing different regional Moroccan artwork.  There was lots of beautiful pottery and other craft items.
Oulja Sale'

Wednesday, we got going a little earlier with a trip to Casablanca.  We were able to tour and watch lessons at a public and a private school.  Teachers and students were enthusiastic and hard working in both places.  The main difference seemed to be in the facilities and equipment.  The curriculum and course of study is set at both places by the Ministry of Education.  At the public school, the teaching was very student centered, with a presentation by students on Moroccan customs and culture.  They seemed to enjoy sharing and exchanging information with us.
Moroccan students in English class always eager to answer questions.

At the private school, they seemed pretty focused on the test and scores on the test.  The teaching format was predominantly lecture based with occasional dialogue with students.
We had a lunch meeting at a wonderful restaurant with many past participants in the ILEP exchange program, in which Moroccan teachers had gone to the United States to study for a time.  They were eager to talk with us and share information about their country and their schools with us.  
Olives were so fresh and yummy...we had them with almost every meal

Any guesses as to what this beverage might be?

Yum 5x

Tasty salads

Deserts to die for :)

Teapots for the ever present Moroccan tea

Tagine = yum! very tasty way to prepare food
Really BIG mosque

After meetings and lots of helpful background information, the next step for us was to travel to our host schools Thursday, March 22.  My partner and I were fortunate to be assigned to Benimellal.  We had to head back to Casablanca for the four hour bus ride to our host city.  Traffic was a bit heavy from Rabat, but we made our bus with about five minutes to spare.

We were greeted in Benimellal by Mr. Massaq, the husband of our host teacher Fatimezzahra Massaq.  After a wonderful lunch in their home, we were able to tour the private school Mrs. Massaq teaches at and meet one of her English classes.  My partner and I were both impressed at the English speaking abilities of her students.  They asked many interesting questions…what was our impression of Morocco…what did we think of Islam…and why did Americans have a fear of Muslims (just to name a few).  It became apparent that it was important for us to learn more about the Muslim religion and culture in order to bring a more accurate picture back home to our students.  It was really touching to me that most students really wanted us to understand that Islam is a religion of peace and that the word Muslim did not mean terrorist (an association that many Americans had unfortunately made because of the events of September 11th. 

He did have some pretty funny stories...and he knew so many

We all listened to and enjoyed a presentation by an Irish story teller who happened to also be visiting Benimellal for a cultural festival.  He reminded us of the importance of listening to the stories of our older relatives before the stories are lost forever.

On Friday, March 23, we took a tour of the public school that Mrs. Massaq teaches at and had another round table discussion with a group of her students.  We were again reminded not to judge all Muslims by the events of 9-11-01.  Mrs. Massaq had also arranged for the Irish storyteller to be at the public school as well, so we had a second opportunity to listen to his tales.  Luckily for us, he knows many different stories.

In the afternoon we visited a foundation that Mrs. Massaq is President of.  They care for abandoned special needs infants and children who are abandoned.  It is the only foundation of its kind in Benimellal and it does important work.  We also visited a kind of orphanage that cares for abandoned children.  Most are quickly adopted by Muslim families around the world.  The special needs babies usually are not adopted and they wind up in the care of Mrs. Massaq’s foundation Beyt Bahia.

After holding the babies we visited the gardens and castle in Benimellal.
So many beautiful places around Benimellal

Menu for my students to translate:

Bonus points for the first correct translation.

Bless you - baraka allahu feek - براك الله فيك