How Long is Long Enough?

My workplace in Morocco primarily offers two year contracts, which for some is a dauntingly long amount of time, for some is just the right length to spend in one place before moving on to the next, and for a few people, two years becomes twenty.  I’ve been in this country now a total of a year and two months, but when I say that amount of time to those who ask, it doesn’t seem quite right to me.  I keep thinking, haven’t I been here longer?  When will I be able to cite an impressive number of years, and to be accepted as a seasoned inhabitant of Morocco?

We had to have two parties just to figure out which kind of cake is best.

We had to have two parties just to figure out which kind of cake is best (it’s the strawberry).

It seems to be very popular to teach for two years in one country and then move to another, experiencing new cultures with every move, but always having the same type of teaching job.  I sort of understand this from having moved between schools, programs, and locations several times during college, but am also confused by the idea of moving around so much.  One year feels to me like just enough time to find out what I want to be able to do here, but not enough time to actually do those things…especially when many of them run on “Moroccan time.”  This is technically my second time in Morocco, and my two experiences here (Ifrane and Casablanca) have been totally different, which makes me think that there are yet more experiences to had.

I went to the Hassan II mosque at least three times before realizing that the brochure is incorrect - it is not built on the water, it is built next to the water.  I had been imagining some hidden room with a glass floor!

I went to the Hassan II mosque at least three times before realizing that the brochure is incorrect – it is not built on the water, it is built next to the water. I had been imagining some hidden room with a glass floor!

In the past month, a lot of things have changed (for the better!) in my personal life and my career.  If changes keep happening at this rate, I’ll have to keep adding on to those two years just to fit it all in.

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Empty or Full

The other day, I was reading a travel blog written by one of my coworkers.  She had visited both Sacre Coeur and the Hassan II Mosque in one day, and was commenting on how grand they both are.

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The blog entry detailed how beautiful the two structures are, although the cathedral is no longer used and is falling apart.  It ended by saying that it is a shame that the mosque is more elaborate and impressive despite being for an “empty religion.”  After many Islamic studies courses in college, I find this statement surprising and ignorant, especially coming from someone who chose to work and live in a Muslim country with students and coworkers of different faiths. Although I doubt she reads my blog, I am going to tell you, my dear readers, some fascinating things about the Islamic tradition.

Poetry and music – You’ve probably heard of Rumi, the Persian poet.  If you haven’t, look him up!  His poems remind me of the book of psalms; a lot of them sound like love songs, but are about God instead of a man or woman.

Language – The Quran is written in classical Arabic, which is a beautiful and complex language. Even native Arabic speakers have to study it for many years to grasp its many rules and structures, but those who can truly speak or write it can produce wonderful songs, stories, and poetry.

Islamic law – Many scholars have worked together to produce Islamic law and the correct sayings of the prophet.  I think it is amazing that one can read exactly what the prophet said, along with who reported what he said, when it happened, and where, and that we can trust that this information was researched for years.

Science and math – The schedule of daily prayers is very complex.  It involves finding the exact times the sun rises, sets, and is at it’s highest every day.  I also find it interesting that there are set periods of time in which to pray. Many Christians set aside a certain time of the day for prayer and reflection so as to make sure to stay on track, which is much the same idea, though less rigid.

Some Islamic art on display in Londo

Some Islamic art on display in London

I firmly believe that one can appreciate the gifts given to us by other religions while still being steadfast in our own beliefs.  And you never know; you might just learn something new about your own traditions and values by learning about those of others!

Shhhhh!!

As a teacher of both kindergarteners and adults, I see both ends of the spectrum of students.  Here in Morocco, both ages of students tend to be quite talkative, since speaking a lot is acceptable in Moroccan culture.  For my different classes, the effect of this cultural practice is totally different because I tend to want the adult language students to talk but the kindergarteners to be quieter.  When I am teaching adult ESL, being with a group of people from very talkative cultures makes my job easy because I never have to encourage students.  With my young students, I’m also glad to hear them practicing English, but feel like I have to repeat myself millions of times every day…they just never stop talking!

As a very quiet person, having to talk all day is completely exhausting.  For my first few months of working as a teacher, I felt like I always had such a strong desire to just be alone.  I was worried that this was a sign that I was on the brink of becoming depressed.  But then one night, as I was staying up later than my roommate so that I could have a couple hours of alone time (thankfully she goes to sleep pretty early!), I found some articles on introversion on the internet that explained what might be going on.  If you believe what you read on the internet, which I do, then you can read about how extroverts recharge themselves by talking and processing what is going on by sharing it with others.  Introverts, on the other hand, process within themselves, and need to spend a certain amount of time alone so that they can recharge their minds and emotions.  Perhaps the fact that I don’t have this time is part of what is tiring me out.  When I was a student, I slept about an hour less than I do now, exercised a bit more, spent more time working or focused, and was constantly a little bit worried about things like impending finals, my thesis, graduating, and finding a job.  However, I did a lot of these things alone.  I spent long hours in libraries and coffee shops, with the freedom to occasionally let my mind wander.  Of course, there were times when being a student was very lonely, but I never found it to be exhausting.  I think that may have been because I had so much more time to process things in my own introverted way.

I also recently came across this TED Talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c0KYU2j0TM4 This talk summarizes Susan Cain’s argument in her book Quiet, that our society is set up for extroverts to succeed, and often neglects even the most intelligent introverts.  Offices and classrooms are set up so that those who talk the most do the best, even if they are not putting thought into their work.  She writes that introverts tend to be very thoughtful and observant, but don’t like to share those observations with large groups of people.  Her idea is that introverts should be confident in their style of interaction and should play to their strengths by expressing themselves in writing or in small groups instead of pretending to be extroverts, or feeling like there is something wrong with their disposition.

For while I’m a teacher, there’s not much I can do about how exhausting I find my job to be.  But perhaps I can find ways to get around this by being aware that quiet is something I need, even if others don’t.  And when it comes to sharing my ideas, I know I’m not going to feel comfortable saying them to a crowded staff room or big bible study group, especially if I don’t know each person who is there.  I know I should push myself occasionally to step out of my introverted nature and to share, but I can also use my own ways to express myself.  For example, I’ll keep writing on this blog, a nice quiet and thoughtful way to share what I’ve been thinking.  Because according to Susan Cain,  “Everyone shines, given the right lighting.” 
Sometimes we can express ourselves using big machinery.

Sometimes we can shine while using big machinery.

Everything is Amazing but Nobody is Impressed

How is it that we can connect with people all over the world using internet and phones, something that was unheard of not long ago, and not be fascinated by the technology every time we use it?  Why do those miraculous things wear off and become a normal part of life; and even annoy us if the connection is slightly slower than usual?

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This impressive photo was taken in Dharamsala, India.

I often feel guilty that I am not more excited by my own life, which one of my mom’s friends in the U.S. deemed to be just like a movie (I think that movie would be called Casablanca….)  I am no longer impressed by the fact that both my boyfriend and I have jobs in the same city, exactly where we both wanted to be.  Instead, I am frustrated by my commute to work, how far his apartment is from mine, and that I don’t really like his kitchen.  I spent months longing to be more involved in my church, and what’s more, to improve my level of French to the point where I would be able to understand sermons and bible study.  Yesterday I was at an event at church and understood all of it, but was bored with the topic and wanted to leave.  So what’s wrong?  Am I taking God’s gifts for granted?  Have I forgotten about what is important?

This impressive photo was taken in Vienna.

This impressive photo was taken in Vienna.

This weekend, in need of spiritual guidance, I discovered the text of a sermon by the pastor at the Rabat International Church about this very topic (http://rabatchurch.org/sermons/everything’s-amazing-and-nobody’s-impressed/).  He wrote that we can’t always be impressed by everything or expect everything to always go right; that would be exhausting.  But if we are making an effort to learn and grow, we’ll have those moments where we realize how wonderful things can be and are truly thankful for what we have.

This impressive photo was taken on the way to Zanzibar.

This impressive photo was taken on the way to Zanzibar.

I certainly don’t feel thankful when I wake up at 5:30am, when a child coughs in my face and I know I’m going to get another cold, or when the tram lines are down and I’m already late for something.  But there are also the moments when I go for runs in perfect whether, when I can’t help but laugh with my students, or when I drink avocado juice outside on a Saturday afternoon.  I guess I can’t always be impressed or even totally thankful, but I do need to remember that I still have plenty of those good moments.

This impressive photo was taken in Utah.

This impressive photo was taken in Utah.

Share, Please!

Last weekend, one of the pastors of the church I go to was telling me about a book he is reading on Christian theology.  The book explained how religious practices often come before beliefs in peoples’ lives, meaning that they go through the actions of religious practices and then connect them to beliefs instead of practicing according to belief.  This means that we preach what we practice, instead of the other way around.

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The Catholic church in Rabat

This certainly holds true in my own personal path to faith.  I started by going through the motions of being Christian, such as attending church and getting involved in church activities, before actually becoming Christian.  After a while of acting like a believer, I began to realize that I did actually believe.  Some of what led me to that point was that I enjoyed the practice of the religion even without the belief, but then realized that believing was an extension of those practices, and in return made them much more meaningful.

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The Orthodox church in Rabat

This is also interesting from the point of view of a teacher.  Children may not support their actions with belief until later ages, but they can get to that point by practicing a certain action.  For example, maybe it takes many years of being told to share before a child comes to believe that sharing truly is the right thing to do.  But hopefully after a year of “share, please!” multiple times every single day, my students will start to think that it’s a good idea.

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Sacre Coeur, the Catholic church in Casablanca

To give another personal example, I was brought up vegetarian, although it was my sister who had qualms with eating meat.  Once I reached high school, I started to think about why I didn’t eat meat, and realized that I believed that it is healthier, more economical, and kinder to animals not to eat meat.  It’s true that I am now an omnivore, but I still believe that it is better not to eat too much meat, and much prefer to cook vegetarian meals for myself.

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We shared some bites.

The idea that practices come before beliefs shows us that a lot of what we believe now is not based on what we decided to believe, but on what we were taught to do by our parents, teachers, and mentors.  I find this encouraging as a teacher, as I hope that after telling my kids every single day to throw out their own trash and eat their vegetables, they will grow up to believe that they should be independent, tidy, and health-conscious.  It could also be seen from the opposite perspective; many conflicts begin because people have clashing fundamental beliefs.  I guess my objective as a teacher is to figure out which practices lead to which beliefs and make a point of instituting those in my class.  Because everything really is much better when shared!

Learning Language like a Three-Year-Old

I find myself taking a lot of lessons from kindergarteners, and language learning is one of them.  I don’t think that adults are necessarily much worse language learners than kids, but we do have several disadvantages:

  • Kids who learn foreign languages usually study for many years, including being fully immersed
  • Kids are free when they speak; they are not inhibited by feeling self-conscious
  • When one learns a language at a young age, it is usually done through immersion in conversation and by learning from everyday situations, books, and interactions, instead of from grammar lessons and lectures
  • Children who are in a sink-or-swim situation are very motivated; for example they might have to learn a language to succeed in school or make friends

I took a French class in the fall and felt that I learned very little from it.  I was really disappointed for a while, until I realized that the reason why I got so little from the class was because I learned so much French elsewhere.  So I’ve decided not to continue with lessons, because I want to learn French like a kindergartener.  However, since I cannot quite put myself in that situation, and because I have the benefit of another 20 years of life, I am going to try to expedite the process.

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Here I am, about to go to kindergarten.

I don’t have many years just for learning French, but I do have plenty of opportunities for immersion (and to put myself in sink-or-swim situations!), and I can choose my own songs, books, and movies to move myself forward.  I also have the benefit of having studied other languages and understanding grammar.  At the moment, I have decided to focus on which tenses people use when they talk so that I can improve how I conjugate verbs.  So that is my plan of how to learn from my students, but also take advantage of the fact that I am not three.  I’ll let you know how it goes!

C’est l’heure de Maman

After the two weeks of winter vacation, a few of my students are having trouble adjusting to being away from their moms all day.  My mom was here visiting me for the whole break, so I also have to adjust to life away from my mom.

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My dad was here too, and is also photogenic.

I mentioned in my post about my sister’s visit that having family come and see what my life is like gives me new perspective on my situation.  My mom is especially helpful for the obvious reason that she knows everything.  How to clean marble floors (vinegar), what to do with exhausted yet excited three-year-olds (duck duck goose), why my yeast bread didn’t rise in 45 minutes (my apartment is too cold), and what a galette is (whatever you want it to be).  She also shares my interest in cooking mystery vegetables, drinking Nescafé Gold, walking everywhere, and watching movies in French that were not made in France.  It was a lot of fun to have my mom stay with me, but just because she’s gone doesn’t mean I’m back to the old routine.

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We also both like looking at jewelry.

My mom came to work with me for four days during the three weeks she was here, and was excited about every one of them.  It helped me realize that if she’s excited about my job, I can be too.  Sometimes it drives me crazy, but sometimes three-year-olds are hilarious.  It’s also pretty nice to have a job where I get to run around on the playground and color every day, not to mention the world-class pastries the school chef delivers right to my room.  I also found a new appreciation for other aspects of my situation; just last weekend Chicago had dangerously cold weather while my mom and I were enjoying drinking avocado juice outside in sunny Casablanca.  My mom also met some of my friends, so it was wonderful to have her perspective on my social life (if you’re wondering, my friends are “varied,” some are “adorable,” and some know where to get really amazing birthday cakes).

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Sorry, we already ate them both.

My students occasionally cry during class because they want their mothers.  I’m not going to cry, because I’m 23 and not 3, and also because I don’t think my eyeliner is waterproof.  But if I did want to cry, I would remind myself that my mommy will come back, and there are plenty of fun things to do before then.

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My dad takes cool pictures of my mom taking pictures.

Moms certainly are capable of fixing everything, even when their kids are older than three.  I’m taking a lesson from my students and remembering that you don’t miss your mom if you are having fun.  But, there’s plenty of space for her in my apartment for when she does want to come back!