A Day Fit for Hercules

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Roman mythology tells us of the labors of Hercules. He had twelve big jobs to do, and they were all supposed to be impossible. But, he did them. Although I am no hero, I feel like this was a heroic day on my part! I truly cannot do this day justice in a short blog, so today we will begin with a generalized list and then hit some highlights.

The activities of the day: a scenic drive to the west of Tangier, past parks and palaces; a short stop at a park; tea and fruit at a cafe at Cape Spartel, featuring promontory with a lighthouse at the entrance of the Strait of Gibraltar; a stop on the beach near cranky camels and disinterested beach dogs; a fascinating excursion to the Grottes d’ Hercule; an equally beautiful drive back to Tangier; a visit to the English for All Club at Mohammed V School; a short stint as judges for a public speaking contest at the Ahmed Chaouki School for extracurricular activities; an amazing performance and talk with the Drama Club at Ahmed Chaouki; a tour of the art and cinema classes; a return to CPGE Lycée Moulay Hassan to co-teach with Rachid’s colleague, Mostafa Saber; a one-hour riding lesson at the Royal Equestrian Club; and dinner at a Spanish restaurant, complete with talented Spanish lounge singer.

The Cave of Hercules

This day was magical from start to finish, and choosing highlights is nearly impossible. From a tourists perspective, the Cave of Hercules, or Grottes d’Hercule, was really interesting. I wish we had hours to spend exploring. It is definitely worth the trip. Our drive through the forest and along the coast was gorgeous, with sea vistas and scenic hills.

As an educator, there was even more to treasure. I met such a variety of students: girls attending extra-curricular English classes at a public school, pre-engineering students presenting about 21st Century Skills, young boys debating in French, teen girls debating the merits of social media in language instruction, and some amazing drama students presenting dramatic scenes to address serious social issues. Besides that, one of Rachid’s students, Anas, traveled with us on our morning excursion. He had been very helpful planning for my visit, and Rachid rewarded him by inviting him to come along. It was lovely to spend time talking to such a promising young Moroccan. In fact, this day was FULL of promising young Moroccans!

Drama Class at Ahmed Chaouki

Finally, there was my riding lesson. I had asked Rachid to help me arrange to ride a horse while I was in Africa, and he did. Now, I was thinking rental horse on the beach. What I got was a one-hour lesson – mainly in French- from a pretty serious riding instructor. I was terrified that I was going to drop of exhaustion, but that was one of the best hours of my entire life. I laughed and smiled until my face hurt. I needed the smell of horses and the feel of a good canter. And, I realized that I would have been a much better speaker of French if I had always had riding lessons from an intense French-speaking instructor yelling, “Allez, allez!” That whole hour was comedy gold, and I didn’t care how long the day had been.

With Mostafa, instructor at the Royal Equestrian Center, Tangier, riding Coxina and Zerina.

Reading back over this, I am so dissatisfied by how inadequate my retelling has been. The people I met were so incredible, the places I saw so beautiful, and the ideas I encountered were so profound. I’ll never forget any of it, and I’ll never be able to repay Rachid for the opportunity. What a day!

In Moroccan Classrooms

Monday, March 18, 2019

This was the first official day of my field experience. It was about to get real! On my first day visiting schools in Tangier, Wyatt Pedigo, the Irex program officer, tagged along, and Rachid gave us the grand tour.

The Big Banner at CPGE Lycée Moulay Hassan

It started off a little awkward, as the administrators at the regional delegation were not able to meet with us due to the teacher strike. However, it was a completely different story when we arrived at Rachid’s school CPGE Lycée Moulay Hassan. (CPGE schools are part of the French-style secondary school system, and the initials stand for classe préparatoire aux grandes écoles.)

The staff and administration at Moulay Hassan had prepared an extravagant welcome, complete with a cookies, tea, and an insanely huge banner. I got the grand tour and lots of warm greetings from everyone I met. Rachid had afternoon classes, so he had us scheduled to tour other facilities before returning to observe his class and give presentations.

One stop was at the Ibn Al Abbar school, a junior high. We visited the classroom of Yassine Harrak. This was so awesome! Junior high kids… Well, if you teach junior high on purpose, and I do, then you are completely energized in their presence. This classroom was bright, cheerful, and dynamic. Yassine’s students were so excited about learning English and about showing their American visitors what they could do. We even got a full-class musical performance of Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect!” Using art to teach content? I was loving it!

Students at Ibn Al Abbar

After lunch at the beautiful Tangier marina, we went back to Rachid’s classroom for the afternoon. I got to observe Rachid in action, teaching about cultural intelligence in his English class. Then he invited me to present to the class, and I did. I introduced myself with a slideshow and integrated a message about 21st Century Skills.

My guiding question for my work in Morocco involves so-called soft skills or 21st Century Skills. How do educators in Morocco support skills in areas like communication, collaboration, creativity and innovation? I know we struggle in the United States to teach these skills. How do Moroccans do it?

One of Rachid’s lovely students (and one of a thousand selfies I must be in!)

I ended up learning a lot from Rachid and his students. They understand the importance of skills such as creativity and collaboration. What I observed, however, is that, like most concepts in Morocco, it is taught through lecture and observation. Hands-on, interactive learning seems rare. Just like at home, you might say.

Before calling it a day, Rachid and I visited some ancient Roman tombs and then stopped at the iconic Cafe Hafa, on the cliffs overlooking the ocean. What a day…

Cafe Hafa, established 1921

Beauty around Every Bend

March 17, 2019

Sunday is the only day of the week that classes are not in session in Morocco, so my second day in my field experience was a Sunday excursion to one of the most popular sites for tourism in Morocco – Chefchaouen the “Blue City.”

Our drive to Chefchaouen took us through beautiful rural areas with mountain vistas over lakes and valleys. It was awesome! And Chefchaouen itself lived up to all of the hype. It was packed full of tourists, but the charm of the lovely town was still evident. There were colorful crafts displayed in the stalls along the narrow roads, and every color of blue washed the alleyways and ornate doors. Stunning.

Traditional Wraps in the Market

We climbed the hill overlooking Chefchaouen and stopped periodically to look down at the beautiful town nestled into the mountains. It was quite a hike!

Chefchaouen from Above

At the beginning of this journey, I worried about whether I would able to handle all of the physical activity and the unusual diet. I’m not young or particularly fit, and my digestive issues are legendary. However, something magical was happening to me in Morocco. I felt great the whole time. Because of this, I was up for every excursion, every experience, and all the fun.

On our way home, we drove through the city of Tetouan and past the Spanish city Ceuta. At sunset we stopped and enjoyed the view of Gibraltar and the coast of Spain. Every bend in the road revealed something new and beautiful. I felt that it was a metaphor for my whole journey:

Wherever I go I see something new, feel something new, and learn something new. And it has been stunningly beautiful the entire time.

Hello, Tangier

March 16, 2019

In the morning, I took the bullet train, the Al Boraq, to Tangier. That in itself was a new experience, and surprisingly pleasant. I am the only teacher in our cohort going solo; everyone else is working with a partner, co-teaching, sharing the journey. I was traveling alone, well, sort of. Our in-country program officer for Irex, the talented guy that was keeping us all in line, Wyatt Pedigo, would be my traveling companion for the first few days. My special situation calls for a little extra support, and I am happy to have it.


My host, Rachid El Machehouri, picked us up at the train station, got us checked in at our hotel, and then took me for some sightseeing and bonding time. We hit it off from the very first, two enthusiastic teachers who believe in the value of global connections for our students. It helps that Rachid is dedicated to making sure I see as much of his home as possible, all the highlights. His pride in Tangier and Morocco is evident, and I knew I was blessed with an excellent host and tour guide from the start.

That first evening, I got the whirlwind tour of the Medina, St. Andrew’s Church, the Museum of the Kasbah, and two beautiful cafes with amazing views. We had tea, stopped in for a great classroom visit with one of his adult classes at the American Language Center, and then topped off the evening with a visit (and food!) at his home. I met his family and took home a big bag full of fruit and nuts to eat later. Again, have I told you about Moroccan hospitality?

My first impressions of Tangier magnify my observations of Morocco in general. Hospitality skills are top notch. Moroccans fluidly move back and forth between many languages without even noticing how amazing that is. And, traffic rules are merely suggestions; safety is maintained using a complex system of communication through eye contact and sign language. Oh, and if you love history and beautiful scenery, Tangier checks all the boxes. And, I do. I love it.

In the Tangier Medina with Rachid

Moroccan Hospitality

March 15, 2019 (Part Three)

Indeed, it was a day worth three entries! After our school visit, Miriem took us to her family home in the countryside outside of Casablanca. There her family treated us to a traditional Friday family meal of Moroccan couscous. Since I have dietary restrictions and cannot have gluten (a real issue in a country that loves its bread and couscous), I was given a special meal to share with Jaime, another Fulbright TGC who cannot eat meat other than fish. Despite being unable to partake of most of the food, I had far more than I could eat, and all of the hospitality I could ever need.

Hospitality in Morocco is a deeply ingrained tradition. Guests are welcomed, fed, and then fed some more, and then tea and dessert are served and gifts are bestowed. To top it off, the little country home was a delight, with an orchard of olive, orange, lemon and fig trees, beehives, peacocks, green grass, and fresh air.

Miriem’s family were gracious hosts, and I will always remember their home and their warmth. It was a long day capped off by a wistful bus ride back to Rabat, remembering all the special moments of the day and wondering what the next day would bring, as we all split off to our international field experience host sites.

Students (or Why We Teach)

March 15, 2019 (Part Two)

This is my second entry for my first Friday in Morocco. It was a day that was worth multiple entries, for sure. After our trip to the mosque, we headed to the secondary school where our in-country consultant, Dr. Miriem Lahrizi, teaches English. Lycée Lamsalla was a magical experience for all of us. Here we were, thirteen American teachers thousands of miles away from our own classrooms, surrounded by enthusiastic and highly engaged students. This is why we teach!

Lycée Lamsalla

The students had prepared multiple presentations for us: research project posters in English, cultural presentations with food and drink, a Moroccan fashion show, short plays that explored controversial social issues, musical performance, and an art show that included portraits of us, we teachers from the United States. A young artist had asked Dr. Lahrizi for photographs of the visitors. He drew a portrait of each of us to present at our visit. He did this on his own time. There are no art, music, or drama classes at the school. All of these presentations were created from their own creativity and enthusiasm for our visit. It was A-M-A-Z-I-N-G.

Here’s the artist. Can you find my portrait?

For the entire visit, I was in awe of these students. The Moroccan people are impressing me with their knack for hosting, their deep-rooted affinity for the arts, and their pride in their country and their own diversity of culture. This was such a perfect introduction into education in Morocco. Although faults were evident (lack of arts programming provided), the students were the rich resource that we all recognized from our own contexts at home. The youth of our world are full of energy and possibilities. What a day…and, yet, it was not over!

The Other

On Friday, March 15, 2019, I understood my otherness in Morocco most clearly.

This is the day we visited the most amazing structure in Morocco, the Hassan II Mosque. This is also the day that a gunman killed fifty worshippers at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. On a day when all of the faithful of Islam were grieving and wondering how such madness can exist in the world, I, a white American woman, and not a muslim, was welcomed into one of the most holy places on Earth. I was fully, wholeheartedly welcomed into the peace and beauty of a mosque that was built by all the people of Morocco.

Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca

Morocco is 99% muslim. They all contributed to the building of the mosque. They all have ownership. And, I, the other, someone who stands out as obviously different, walked among them in peace, feeling only the deep spirituality of the place, and seeing beauty in every nook and cranny of it. It was solemn on a level I cannot fully communicate. Everyone I met in Morocco on this very day was kind, welcoming, and full of care for their fellow humans. No matter that I was an American. No matter that my whiteness, my “otherness,” was so obvious.

Think about that. I did.

Detail outside the mosque, finding beauty in the imperfection of every intricate pattern

Hope Inhabits Us

March 14, 2019

On this day, our cohort of Global Educators had the privilege of visiting Ecole Normal Superieure, or ENS. This is a research institution, a vocational school, and a teacher training college.

During our visit, pre-service teachers at ENS gave us a tour and presentations on Moroccan education and pre-service training. In return, some of our cohort gave presentation on American systems, particularly for language teachers. This was an exchange in the truest sense.

My greatest takeaway from the entire visit was the spirit and attitude of each of the Moroccan presenters. They were optimistic and ready for the challenges of education today. Their enthusiasm for improving teaching methods was contagious, and they were planning creativity and innovation in their future classrooms. I spoke at length with a couple of the presenters. One pre-service teacher told me of a workshop he enjoyed that integrated theatre games with language learning. You know that thrilled me!

In our own country, I often worry about the future of our students and education in general, due to dwindling arts programs and unhealthy testing practices. Then I meet dynamic teachers (like my Fulbright TGC cohort 🙂) and hope is restored. Likewise, in Morocco there are challenges, but hope is strong when future teachers are full of enthusiasm and creativity.

A mentor to the pre-service teachers introduced me to his organization, Global Bus Foundation. His name is Lhoussine Qasserras, and he is a co-founder of Global Bus, an organization that teaches students 21st Century Skills to create positive change, instruct leadership, and promote peace. My guiding question was being answered for me everywhere I looked.

If people like these are the future of Moroccan education, the future looks bright.

Meanwhile, contracted teachers all over Morocco were on strike. There is a lot of unrest in the world of education in Morocco. I’m still trying understand it all.

Moroccan Education and 21st Century Skills

March 13, 2019

We are in training this week, with sessions on culture and education provided by our host teacher Dr. Miriem Lahrizi. Miriam is coaching us on the reality and challenges of the current system in Morocco. Like us, Moroccan teachers struggle at times in a system that is driven by high-stakes testing and bureaucracy. Like our students, Moroccan students sometimes have to sacrifice creativity for compliance, in order to pursue the most advantageous education.

My guiding question for this journey, a requirement for the Fulbright Teachers for Global Classrooms Program, is about creativity. Rather, it is about so-called 21st Century Skills. Particularly, I am going to be looking for ways in which the education system of Morocco fosters communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity. I have those same questions or our systems in the United States. So often, fostering creativity is set aside to emphasize the learning of facts in order to meet the rigors of testing.

The more I see of Morocco, the more I see creativity, art, and overflowing passion. Despite what I am hearing about the system, I know that such vibrant creativity is being fostered. So how? Where? I am feeling an affinity already to those Moroccan teachers and mentors out there that are supporting the next generation of artists, musicians, actors, and poets.

Cats in the Kasbah

March 12, 2019

There is so much to learn! The joy of being a lifelong learner has never been so overwhelming to me. I am so glad I was open to this experience. I am so glad that I can observe and relish the differences and similarities I am encountering in Rabat and among our Moroccan hosts.

Observation#1: Cats are everywhere- except in houses. Well, I cannot be sure about whether there are cats inside people’s houses, but it appears to be more normal for domestic animals to live outdoors and unhampered. It’s really the best life imaginable for cats. No one tells them what to do. Food is readily available to them in the street. They laze about like kings and want nothing to do with the humans passing by.

Observation #2: Old things are not leveled and replaced in Rabat. They are amended and repaired. This includes walls, roadways, and sidewalks. Amazing patterns of bricks and cobbles reveal a patchwork history. This is sometimes very challenging when it makes for an uneven walkway, but it is strangely beautiful. I am pondering the deeper meaning behind it. Imperfection is beautiful. Why bulldoze history, after all?

Observation #3: Moroccan food is amazing. Now, I cannot even eat all of it, with my dietary restrictions. Despite that, every meal is big, beautiful, and delicious. From the fig jam in my yogurt in the mornings to the preserved lemons in my Tajine at night, it is delightful.

I’m falling in love with the beauty and the tastes of Morocco.

Cats in the Kasbah of the Oudayas, Rabat

Rabat, Morocco

March 11, 2019

It’s a lot all at once. I’m now part of a cohort of teachers. I have an in-country Irex program officer (Wyatt) and an in-country Moroccan teacher host (Miriem). The weather is muggy. My hair is ridiculous. The hotel is neither horrible or great.

But, and this is key, I AM ON A DIFFERENT CONTINENT. Okay, maybe that is fairly normal for most people. Let me put it in context for you. I am not a typical world traveler. By some weird chance (long story for another time), I did travel to Nepal 18 years ago. However, I spent the majority of my life scraping up money to survive, and now, in my economically stable years, I am a mom, a grandmother, and a teacher. To me, travel generally means taking a road trip with the dogs. So, this is a big deal.

Rabat is ancient and teeming with life. To me, everything feels exotic and familiar at the same time. The weather and the palm trees remind me of California. The traffic, the river, the bustle of the crowds- I could experience this in Portland. Despite its resemblance to every big city I know, it is a whole new world to me. Rabat sports crenelated walls, a busy boardwalk, towers looming above beautiful gardens, and street vendors selling a multitude of items ranging from ear buds to bulk spices. It’s a lot to take in.

We kick off our journey with a dinner on a pirate ship, the Le Dhow. Toasting with our first official Moroccan teas in hand, we teacher-adventurers are ready for whatever Rabat and Morocco have to offer.

The Journey Begins

March 10, 2019

For a solid week I worked and worried, preparing for my Moroccan adventure. My suitcase became inadequate, as I struggled to pack for every possible occasion. That’s when I realized what had alluded me for months. I had no idea what was going to happen in Morocco! Oh, sure, I had agendas. I had the Teachers for Global Classrooms 10-week course and symposium to give me guidance. But, really, I had no idea how the next 2 1/2 weeks would unfold.

Despite the mystery and the feeling that I was about to jump into the deepest of deep ends, there I was, at 3:30 AM, leaving my home, my dog, and my family to embark on a journey across the world that would take me more than a full day.

I’m 54-years old. I have a stable career and a wonderful home. What was I lacking that drove me to seek this adventure? More importantly, what was I to gain? And, because I want to be true to the reason I am on the journey in the first place, what do my students have to gain?

I had a lot of hours in airports and on airplanes to contemplate all of the unknowns. Despite the anxiety it naturally brought me, my anticipation was more like a brewing excitement.

I’m on my way to Africa! What? That’s right! Africa! (I’m more than a little excited about this.)

The View of Morocco from My Classroom in Mossyrock