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(This blog is from the summer of 2016.)

It’s been an intense, eye-opening 2 months in Zaouiat Ahansal. Most times, I felt inspired, happy, and sweaty. But I’ve also been sick and sometimes homesick. I wouldn’t change my DukeEngage for anything. I couldn’t have chosen a better place with my supportive translators and my welcoming host family. There was never a break from the culture. I’ve witnessed Moroccan parties and engagements to dancing with Moroccan bands .I’m glad I came in with an open mind because this experience was not something I could have imagined.

A day in the life

7:30 AM – Wake up, get dressed, and eat breakfast
8:00 AM- Head out for school.
Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday- Amizral school. Aprox. 30-40 min walk from guesthouse
Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday- Aggudim school. Aprox. 10 min walk from guesthouse
8:30 AM- 11:30 AM – Teaching English and some French from what I’ve prepared with the school teachers and translators from the day before.nj
12:00 PM- At the guesthouse for lunch
12:30 PM- 3:00 PM- Take a nap, read, or write
3:00PM- 5:30 PM – Berber/Arabic lesson and either gardening or construction
8:00 PM – Dinner
12:00 PM – Bed

A basic sketch of my life. But there is so much more I didn’t include such as my hyperactive students to my 5 year old translator named Saadia.
So from the beginning, I lived in the Sheik’s guesthouse. The Sheik is like the mayor of the village so there was never a shortage of guests. The first day I arrived was actually a little overwhelming because there must have been 20 people welcoming me. But to get back to the guesthouse, I lived with the Sheik, his wife, Alij, and their 4 kids: Mohammed (23) (but everyone called him Bebo), Omayma (16), Monear (13), and Saadia (5). So I was rarely alone. If this family were ever to have a moto it would be- Mashi Moshkil or No Problem. I can’t remember a day that there wasn’t laughter. If someone dropped a glass or broke a faucet (oops) it was Mashi Moshkil. It was an easy-going and welcoming environment. Even when I was quiet and shy for the first two weeks, everyone always had a smile for me. Surprisingly, it was Saadia I felt closest to. It was probably because she spoke English but she also looked out for me. Whether it was needing toilet paper or asking about the the local market, Saadia has my back. I wasn’t afraid to look dumb in front of her. Her brassy and sassy attitude made it easy for me to connect to her. With my limited knowledge of Berber and Arabic, at first it was challenging to have a conversation with the rest of the family that wasn’t – Hello, how are you? I did eventually make a deeper connection to the rest of the family, but it’s Saadia I’ve felt the most comfortable with.
The guesthouse is a pretty popular place so it was no stranger to foreign visitors too, including Americans. It was a perfect setup. Doing an independent project can be a little lonely especially when you’re not familiar with the language or what’s culturally appropriate. I’ve felt like I had a people to experience Morocco with me at least for a little bit. Then when they left, I was resurged with even more interest and appreciation for Moroccan culture.
The first couple weeks were more difficult than I thought it would be. The language barrier felt insurmountable at times so I really appreciate that I had such patient translators, who were constantly there for me. During school, I tried to use as much of my French as possible but the kids just couldn’t understand me. When I asked Ismail (one of my translators) why, he said my French had a really American accent. So at that point, I began to rely on my hand gestures, learning more Berber and Arabic,and my translators more. It became easier to communicate with my students.
There was also a wide variety of English knowledge in both classrooms. Some kids knew their English alphabet, knew their numbers , and could introduce themselves in English too. While others had trouble counting past ten in English. Therefore, it took some time to find that sweet spot. I didn’t want some students to get bored and some to get lost.
Besides that, teaching English can be challenging. There were some rules I didn’t know how to explain. For example, the difference between “I go home” and “I go to school”. These were rules I just knew but not the reason behind them.
I think I was lucky, I had some really passionate and dedicated students who really wanted to know English. I also had students who weren’t so dedicated. But they all brought an energy to the classroom that made it a fun environment to teach in. Something interesting I noticed is how different the Aggudim and Amizral students are from each other, especially for two villages that are only a half an hour from each other. Aggudim students are a little more reckless and a bit more nosier. While the Amziral students were pretty reserved and quieter. There was also a noticeable drop of students in the Aguudim school, we started with about 20 students and at the end there were 6, while Amizral stayed steady with 16 students. When I asked why this happened, they retorted that Agguidim is not where a lot of the students lived; it is where students come to take care of their farms during Ramadan. Most of them actually lived 2 hours away, and it would be too difficult for them to go to school. Which, I understood, but it was still disaointing to lose more than half my class.
I was in Morocco for most of Ramadan. It began on the 5th of June and I arrived on the 10th. Personally, I really enjoyed Ramadan because the entire family would get together and begin eating breakfast at 8PM. It was a time for everyone to slow down and appreciate what they had in life like their family. And although I chose not to participate, I saw how important Ramadan was and what it meant to each person. I was really lucky to have experienced that. When it was Eid, I celebrated with my host family and I felt the joy that was in the air. Looking back, I don’t regret my decision not to participate. The discipline it takes to not eat or drink from 3AM to 8PM is intense. Moroccan weather is brutal, uncompromising and I had to look out for myself. I don’t think I missed out because I saw with clear eyes why Ramadan is so important.
I was really lucky to have found an organization such as Altas Cultural Foundation, especially because it was an internet search and I wasn’t 100% sure what I was getting myself into. It is reputable and respected foundation throughout the village that does change Amizral and Aggudim for the better. They have built water stations for families to wash their clothes and bathe witout polluting the river. This summer ACF built a bus station so the villagers wouldn’t have to wait in the heat or rain with their personal belongings. I had teachers and translators that helped me build an English curriculum that was practical and helpful for the students to know. The ACF staff not only looked out for me but they became my friends too. There was never a question I couldn’t ask them. They had my back, always. I truly got lucky.
Thank you Ismail, Ayoub, and Hassan. Thank you Cloe Ericsson. Much love and thanks to my host family, the teachers, and my students. I cannot wait to return to Zaouait Ahansal and see all of you again. Finally, thank you DukeEngage. I would not have had such a meaningful and life-changing 2 months in Morocco without your support.
My first post said I believe I will change in some way after this experience and I have. I’ve realized that there are so many ways to communicate, and language doesn’t have to be a barrier. I have learned to see the beauty in culture and how it shapes us, but it doesn’t make us less human than anyone else.