The young man knows his adjectives! And the teacher has success…

Give it time and have and patience…

Today, during what became an impromptu study of adjectives, I had each of the 6 students come up with 3 positive adjectives describing someone they knew, without any repeating.  The next to the last student at the table described her best friend with these three adjectives:

1.  She’s beautiful
2.  She’s stylish
3.  She’s slender

The last student, a 20 something young man with a continual smile on his face and twinkle in his eye, had only one response when I asked him for his 3 adjectives, and it was:

“I want that girl’s phone number.”

And we’ve connected… the teacher and the students.

This is real learning.  We’re getting to know each other well enough that humor is beginning to filter into the lessons….

Today was a much better day.

Nothing to do with teaching today, just a photo I took that I liked…



English lessons for them, Arabic lessons for me, and we all go home happy… well sort of…

I really have no idea as to the impact I had this morning during my first day teaching English, but I
was given an exquisitely drawn rendering of my name in Arabic by the one student that told me
without words that she was not going to talk.  Instead, she carefully drew a very stylized version of my name in Arabic.  Every once and a while, I’d notice her looking up from her drawing, with a

grin or a chuckle at something I had said, so speak or not, I think she understood more than she wanted to admit, and was simply shy about speaking.

My name is in there somewhere…

There were 20 some students at the school, mostly all female (3 male students trickled in during the
course of the class, which surprised me, but I was told that men were allowed to come for the English lessons).  Although they all had different skill levels, the one thing they had in common was their desire to learn.  I was with another volunteer from the house, Kelsey, which made it a bit easier, if not to simply have someone to share glances of “what do we do now???”  We eventually decided that breaking into two groups of ten might make conversing a bit easier, and it did.  Because we didn’t know what their English abilities were going to be, we didn’t bring any materials with us so were winging it all the way.  I did, however, bring some photos I had of my family and my life,  as I thought it would make for a good conversation starter (although their abilities varied tremendously,
they all seemed to be able to understand most of what I said and string simple sentences together).

Shortly after passing the photos around, I noticed that the woman seated next to me had put her head down on the table.  I thought that perhaps she wasn’t feeling well, but soon noticed that she was
crying.  She explained to me that her son lived in California and she missed him terribly, and seeing
the photos of me with my children made her sad.  Of course I felt terrible and any momentum I had
made with my now smaller group of students, was quickly lost.  One of the other women gave me a glance and unsaid permission to go on as she would be fine.  Maybe this happens a lot?  I couldn’t help but remember something that Mohamed had told us the previous day and that was to never take the worth of our passport for granted.  In Morocco, you have to have a visa to leave the country, which has to be applied for months ahead of time, along with a $160 fee.  He said then you may or may not get the visa and don’t know until you are notified by mail.  Of course the $160 is lost either way (minimum wage is $250 a month, so a $160 fee is quite a bit of money).  This poor woman, working so hard on her English so she will be able to speak English for “when I’m in America,” may not even be able to get a visa in the first place.

I had just gotten started again with my impromptu teaching, when the same woman grabbed my arm
and pulled me closer to her and told me she had recently had an operation.  It took a few tries of her
telling me, but I was finally able to put it together that she had breast cancer, had recently had a mastectomy and had just finished radiation.  She may have found a friend, but I’m not sure sitting
next to me is such a good idea as I think she was trying to turn a classroom situation into “private lessons.”

I pulled out just about everything I had, as they patiently waited to see what I had for them next.  No
one, except for my new best friend, wanted to take any initiative on the talking short of the guy in my
class who was very interested in learning more about Las Vegas.  I’ve only been there once, but did my best to stretch out what little I had.  Oh,  and he wondered…”did I eat at McDonalds a lot??  This
was no easy feat today, and if I didn’t have something to tell them, they would quickly fall into spirited conversations among themselves… of course, all in Arabic.  I experienced several of those
awkward moments of watching myself as I tried to work my way back into the attention of everyone
that was surrounding me at the table.  And slowly, I’d be able to work myself back into visibility with anything I could pull up… “What did you do yesterday?  Wasn’t it hot??”   Sorry folks, but short of
asking you your favorite color, that’s all I’ve got.  I know it will get better.

Kelsey had a similar experience with her group, so once back at the house, we started pouring
through stacks of materials we found in a supply closet and were relieved to at least have something to work with tomorrow.  This is a free language school for the students and is staffed with only with volunteers.  I always wonder how much impact I’m really making during volunteer situations like this, but when Mohammad told us that if we weren’t there, they wouldn’t have class, made me realize
that we absolutely were making a difference, regardless of how inept I felt today.  Teachers, I’ve
always had the utmost respect for what you do, but that respect doubled today.

The rest of the group volunteered at the children’s orphanage or the children’s hospital.   After hearing
their stories, I know I made the right choice in my job placement.  Most of the children at the
orphanage were “thrown away” after birth by single mothers in order to avoid jail time, as giving
birth out of wedlock is punishable by law.  One of the other volunteers told me that most of them were severely deformed and needed complete care.  She also told me that the place was immaculate and that the children were very well cared for.

I remember the long quiet rides back to house after volunteering at my placement in Perú and today was no different.  No doubt, first and foremost on all of our minds was how fortunate we were that we were born in the United States.  It’s easy to forget that…

We had an afternoon of site seeing, with time inside the medina (the old walled town) an ancient fort
and our first glimpse of the ocean.  The colors were amazing.


One last thing… in the short amount of time I’ve been here, I’ve already become accustomed to the bells, that sound more like fog horns, that signal prayer time…  four times a day..

Arabic is hard…

This is what I learned today… (well, actually, I learned a lot more than this, but these are my stand out points…)

1.  Arabic is a very difficult language, but I had kind of figured that out before I came, so I’m not going to count that as one

1.  TRUE Argon oil (very popular here) comes from the Argon tree, which is only grown in one city in the world… Agadir, Morocco, which also happens to be where our house manager is from.  Goats climb the argon trees and eat the hard shell off of the nut, which then falls to the ground and is harvested.  I’m hopeful to be able to witness this… trees filled with goats.  Mohammad said it looks a lot like a tree full of birds, only of course they are goats, not birds.  Seems like something worthwhile to seek out.  I mean seriously… a tree full of goats??

2.  Bread is considered sacred (it is a very bread-centered diet here… again, died and gone to heaven on the food here…) so all bread scraps must be put in a separate container when we clean up our plates after mealtime.  The leftover bread is then fed to animals.  All other trash is thrown out.  No recycling (or at least not here…)

3.  If you are Moroccan, and want to get a hotel room with someone of the opposite sex, you must show proof of marriage.  It is illegal for Moroccans to share a hotel room unless married.  This does not apply to other nationalities.

Pretty good stuff.  This is a very interesting country and our in country manager, Mohamed is extremely personable and very knowledgeable.  He served in the Peace Corps, has a law degree, is fluent in several languages and has an incredible sense of humor.


She’s not in Kansas anymore…

You know you are far from home when you have to go through two other translations before you finally hear English, but are discouraged that you can’t understand a word of your native tongue that’s hiding behind a very thick Arabic accent with a whole lot of French influence.  And then there’s the signage, as beautiful as it is curious.

Yep, that’s me… Laurie Sunderland, reading from right
to left.

The journey to Rabat was long… not because it was all that far (a “short” 2 plus hour flight from
Paris), but because the biggest part of the flight, Boston to Paris, felt more like a KC to Albany run
given the size of the plane…knee to knee, elbow to elbow, bad food and generous pours on cheap
wine (ok actually free wine), all added up to a not so great experience, short of a lovely French
woman sitting next to me (seriously, are we ever so intimate with strangers but on a plane???) who was interested in what I was knitting and pulled out her phone to share photos of her recent knit projects.  Sometimes words aren’t necessary.  I love that.  I think I will need to keep loving that communication with few words in the weeks to come…

The house where I’m staying is small but very charming and efficient.  It’s also incredibly clean and I would totally feel comfortable eating off of any part of the floor, where, by the way, shoes are not allowed.  Barefoot all the way!  I will be sharing this small 2 bunks room with another girl
who I haven’t yet met, as she is away this weekend.  I’ve taken cues from her neatly stacked belongings and have tried to organize my things with that in mind.  I think she’ll be pleased with her new roommate’s organizational skills.  Not even knowing who will be in the bed a short 4
feet from mine is just one more curious anticipation that I find myself faced with right now.

Tomorrow, we ( the 4 volunteers who arrived today, including myself) will have our orientation, at which time I will learn more specifically what I will be doing during my time here. It sounds like I may be the only one at my placement at the women’s center as it sounds like everyone else will be working at the orphanage, but I will learn more tomorrow.  It is this unknowing, this going to bed with new sounds, new smells, and new sensations, that reminds me of why I love this so much, which kind of surprises my orderly, Virgo side.  It takes me back to so many first nights in 3rd world countries when I teetered between waking up in the middle of the night with feelings of “what the hell???” and not being able to fall asleep because I was so anxious for it to be morning when I’d be able to get a closer look at my new temporary home.

Those of us who were around tonite (only 4 of us) had a lovely light supper of lamb, rice, fruit salad, roasted fennel, Moroccan soup, homemade bread (which I smelled all afternoon baking), dates, pomegranates, and a combination of sautéed vegetables.  Not only was it a beautiful spread, but very tasty as well.

For now, I’m tucked comfortably away in my lower bunk ready to sleep off some of this jet lag.  I’m
soaking in the smells and sounds of this new city, this new country, this new continent and it’s feeling pretty amazing.  I can smell a hint of jasmine that is coming through the billowing curtains of my open deck door. Perfection.

I feel like I need to add a bit of a editing disclaimer… I’m not used to my new iPad combined with my blog site that’s totally gone French on me ( I definitely need to learn how to say “delete” in French and quit pushing that button.) This was quite a challenge for me to get this tiny bit of typing done tonite…I’m hoping I can blame much on jet lag but that may be hopeful. So ignore the obvious, including the creative indents that insist on being present regardless of what I do.  
Salaam from Rabat!