Random things I’ve learned from teaching

A fun thing about being an ESL teacher is that you get to learn a lot of little details and facts from other people.  I get the opportunity to talk about politics, religion, culture, and also just daily routines and opinions about life in Morocco with my more advanced students.  Here are some completely random but interesting facts I’ve picked up.

On visas:

If someone who is not French marries a French citizen abroad, that person can acquire French nationality after four or five years through a local embassy, without ever stepping foot in France (if only Americans could do the same!)

Moroccans do not need visas to visit Turkey, so the combination of that and the popularity of Turkish soap operas make it one of the most popular countries for Moroccan tourists

On religion:

One reason why eating pork is forbidden in Islam and Judaism may be that pig meat spoils easily in the heat, since both religions have origins in hot climates.

In Islam, the day that each person will pass away is predetermined and cannot be changed (which is not the case in Christianity)

Completely random:

Drinking hot coffee actually makes your body colder, but drinking hot chocolate warms it up (as if I needed another reason to consume chocolate)

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But what if you eat chocolate with coffee?

There is no wage gap between men and women in Morocco – but that’s not to say that there aren’t more men in leadership positions.

Morocco was the first country to recognize the United States as a country, just after independence.

Don’t You Dare Say Hi to Me!

Sexual harassment recently became illegal in Morocco (finally!), but I’d actually like to write about a related problem.  Often when I walk down the street, men will call out to me just with greetings.  They’ll say “bonjour” or “ça va,” as if they know me.  Generally I just ignore them and keep going, assuming that they are up to no good.  This certainly is not sexual harassment, and I am not going to report to the police that a man I do not know had the nerve to ask me how I’m doing, but it is pretty irritating just to feel so many eyes watching me as I walk down the street.  And it has been getting me into some awkward situations lately….
The method of the language center where I work involves switching teachers around each week, and we usually give classes with no more than four students who may come in as little as twice a month following an online portion of the course.  This means that there are some people who I meet only once or twice, and overall I’ve worked with probably more than one hundred students.  I also have a big church community, and many people know who I am since I got married there and am one of only two Americans, whereas I don’t remember some of the people who I haven’t talked with much.  The combination of my work and my church communities means that there are a lot of people in Casablanca who I have met but probably could not pick out of a crowd.
A couple times in the past few months, a man has greeted me on the street, but in a way that makes me think I might know him.  One man asked me if I was done teaching, making me think he was a student of mine.  Really he had just seen me come out of the library at the French institute, where I had been reading during my break.  Another referred to me as “my sister,” so I thought I might know him from church.  I don’t like to be rude, so I stopped to talk to these people.  In both cases, it became painfully clear that I did not know them when they asked me to meet them the next day “to share.”  Share what?  I don’t want to know.
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A couple of men said hi to me as I walked down this street in Laayoune, all of whom I ignored.

The reverse of this situation is an even more embarrassing problem.  I sometimes see someone I DO know and ignore them or don’t even look at them, assuming that it is just one of many men who do not like to respect boundaries.  And then the next time I see the person at church or work, they ask me why I did not want to talk to them.  I of course feel bad about acting impolite.
So which do you think is better?  Having unwanted conversations, or being rude to my acquaintances?  I am sure it is ever going to be illegal for men to start conversations with random women, so I better figure out what to do.  Let me know what you think!

Why We Do Not Want to Stay in Morocco

When I first came to Morocco nearly four years ago, it was love at first sight.  The weather was perfect, the people were friendly, the food was delicious, and every day was an adventure.

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Beautiful rock formations in Oualidia

I thought my husband and I might stay long-term, to keep taking advantage of Morocco’s beautiful diversity of cultures.  I was so much more in love with Morocco than any of my colleagues, most of which I thought would leave after a year or two.  But as it turns out, my close friends from my first year will probably stay significantly longer than I will.  Here’s why:

  • There are not many job options outside teaching, which is not my career.  I have also worked part-time in two NGOs, but both were pretty shockingly disorganized.  I don’t think I ever attended a meeting that didn’t start at least an hour late.
  • Getting a visa is a yearly challenge, especially for Africans.  My first year, my employer did everything for me, so I never even knew how difficult it was.  These past two years, I’ve had quite a bit of trouble renewing my visa due to unhelpfulness both from my new employer and from the staff at the prefecture.  And my husband has been working for almost three years on a student visa because his employer doesn’t want to pay the fees for a foreigner’s contract.
  • It’s just really hard to walk down the street.  I’m lucky enough to be able to walk to work, but feel so much less lucky when men comment on my clothes or appearance, or especially when they try to follow me.  It’s better when I walk with my husband, except on the occasions when people (men) yell racial slurs at us.  And then there are the broken sidewalks….
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A surprisingly well-organized slum

  • The rising culture of materialism is exhausting.  Like any fast-developing country, Morocco has become more and more focused on material wealth.  The thing to do on the weekends is to go shopping, and having a car has become a status symbol.  I struggle to explain to my students that I don’t have a car because I like to walk, not because I can’t afford one, that I don’t eat at the most expensive restaurants because I actually like to cook, and that I want to become a social worker because I genuinely find that profession fascinating, not because I got rejected from programs in technology or finance.  My idea of a good career is one that I find rewarding, not necessarily one that pays a lot of money.
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This guy probably gets his hair done in a salon every week.

There are things I love about Morocco too; the community I’ve found here, the opportunities I’ve had to meet new people and learn new languages, and the chance to experience another way of life.  The ocean in Casablanca is beautiful, the vegetables are always fresh, and my husband and I have wonderful friends.  But there’s a time for everything, and I really feel like it’s time to find a place to live with more trees than cars, even if it is somewhere with cold winters and no pomegranates.

 

My English Class is like Casablanca at Rush Hour

Last night when I was being driven home from my church, our car got stuck in the middle of a traffic jam caused by five cars driving the wrong way through an intersection.  Everybody was honking and making wild gestures.  At one point a man got out of his car to yell at the driver in front of him, which only slowed everyone down because no one behind him could move.  Everybody was honking, swerving, and yelling all at the same time.  The stop light nearby changed to red and back to green again, totally irrelevant to what was actually happening on the street.

Everybody's going somewhere.

Everybody’s going somewhere.

This morning I taught my English class for young adults.  Since it was the last class of the week, I thought it would be fun to play a game.  I introduced a guessing game where one person would think of a food and the other students would ask a yes/no question to figure out what the food was.  My students’ desks were arranged in a circle, so I told them to ask the questions one by one in a circle.  It worked fine for the first round, but once all of the students understood the game, they stopped waiting their turns.  I would ask one student for a yes/no question, and three people across the room would be shouting out,

“Is it eggs?!”

“Rice!”

“It’s a fruit? A vegetable!”

The game quickly became chaos because before one student could answer the questions, someone else would have already shouted out the answer.  I stopped the game after a few rounds because it was just too much of everyone talking all at once to continue to manage.  I tried to slow them down and get them to go one by one, but even when I achieved calm moments, they didn’t last.  I felt like the stop light that no one was following.  Which makes me wonder; if we changed the way teachers and Moroccan schools manage their classes, would Moroccans be better drivers?

Happy Thanksgiving

Yesterday was my third Thanksgiving in Morocco.  I didn’t eat turkey, and spent most of the day trying to legalize the legalized copies of my work documents so that I can get residency, but it was still quite a good day.

In my morning class, I asked each student to say what they were thankful for.  The third student I asked said that she was thankful for her family, her friends, and for Teacher (that’s my name, apparently), because I am nice.  I thought it was really sweet and thanked her for saying that.  I continued on to the rest of my students, and every single one after her also claimed to be thankful for me…but I’m pretty sure it was just because they didn’t know how to say anything else.  Well, I’m thankful for their thankfulness, regardless of how genuine it might have been.

I invited a couple people over at the last minute for a (turkey-less) Thanksgiving dinner, and of course also made them say what they are thankful for.  Since I’ve been making so many people answer that question, here is my list:

-I am thankful for technology that lets us communicate with those near and far

-I am thankful for my church and for all of the support it provides; the aid it gives to migrants, the volunteer opportunities, and for the pastor who agreed to do the work of organizing our wedding

-I am of course thankful for my family, friends, and all of the opportunities and support I have in both my professional and personal life

-I am thankful for the fact that I can now start listening to Christmas music!

This is the only Christmas decoration I've got.

This is the only Christmas decoration I’ve got.

Update

It’s been a while since I last posted, but I haven’t forgotten my blog or my (very few) faithful readers.  For a while I didn’t have internet, then I didn’t have enough time.  Now I have both, so I’m back to blogging!

As I mentioned previously, I am no longer teaching kindergarten.  I am now teaching in a language center, which also gives me time to do what I really want to be doing, which is working with the organization at my church for refugees and migrants.  So far, this is going well, and I’ve had a chance to have a larger role.  My job has also been interesting; I teach teens, young adults, and adults.  It turns out the teens are actually the easiest of my classes, which I had not expected.  I am still engaged, and the wedding is planned for just a little more than 5 months from now.  I expect to be writing longer posts about all of those things, so stay tuned!

My daily life (just kidding!)

My daily life (just kidding!)

End of Year Returns

When I first took a job as a teacher, I was expecting to get work experience out of it, to save some money, and to learn about language acquisition. I have gotten all of those things out of it, but the greatest lessons I’ve learned are grace, forgiveness, and patience. Teaching preschool is a big challenge in giving love. First, you meet a group of children you don’t know, and their parents, who don’t necessarily like you or trust you. You give everything you can to these children; you serve them, teach them, love them, encourage them, and remain patient with them when they try their hardest to make your life difficult. You do what their parents tell you to do, even if they are not polite in giving those instructions. You do things you don’t want to do, like helping kids use the bathroom or punishing them for bad behavior.  But you also share wonderful moments with them, like learning new songs, discovering that they are able to write their own names, chasing them on the playground, and sharing jokes. You see them every single day, and come to know their every mood, desire, and weakness. You even might spend some idle moments watching them play and considering which one you would be willing to adopt if given the chance. You worry about their nutrition, and feel relieved when the picky eaters expand what they’ll eat. You get excited about new activities that you know they’ll enjoy, worry about them when they’re home sick, and give them a shoulder to cry on after they scrape their knees on the playground.  Some days they might cry when their maids or drivers come because they don’t want to leave class, and sometimes you might miss them when they’re absent from school.

And then at the end of the year, you have to say goodbye. You might see them around again next year, but chances are, they won’t really remember much about you after a little while.  I certainly remember very little of my preschool teachers, and I know that the students are so young that they will forget most of what has happened this year, even though it is the foundation for what they will learn for the rest of their lives.

I am not returning to teach kindergarten again next year, and I’m glad of it. It’s not what I want to do professionally, but I also can’t really imagine starting over another year with new students. I can’t really imagine going through that same process again, especially because I remember that at the beginning of the year (and even several months in), I felt like some of them were so hard for me to love, but now feel so attached to them.  One thing is for sure: when I have my own kids, I’m not letting them leave they house until they’re thirty.