Wednesday, March 20, 2019
My experience in Morocco took on a magical quality. It was as if incredible possibilities were jumping out at me at every opportunity, happy accidents that gave me surprise inside views of the country, the culture, the people, and the art of education. These spontaneous blessings were almost overwhelming! (Warning: This post is overlong. So much happened, and I wanted to record all of it!)
Today’s experiences included visits to a technical high school (Moulay Yousef), the American Legation Museum, a famous five-star restaurant, a sports academy at Ibn Batouta Stadium, an international poetry event, and a moonlit drive through the narrow streets of the medina. These encounters ranged from realistic and familiar to completely surreal. My Moroccan experience was quickly conditioning me to accept every new sensation and realization without questioning. What a feast for the senses this trip has been!
First stop was Lycée Technique Moulay Youssef. This high school was a stark contrast to the more exclusive high school where Rachid teaches. The students at Moulay Youssef are tracked for lesser jobs. These are not future engineers. This is a public school, and unlike Rachid’s students, these kids did not test into a higher placement/better school. It was like the difference between a honors English class and the vocational track kids. I found it very relatable, and these kids resembled my own students in many ways. There was compliance, but not as much enthusiasm for the work. When they were given the opportunity to ask me questions, they stuck to one subject- How could they end up in the United States? They were clearly looking for a way out, a way off the track in which they were permanently stuck. It was a bit sad, but, to me, a rural teacher in an economically challenged area, it felt familiar. Is there a way out? What kind of future do you have if you are not privileged by the system? I took it in stride, but I could sense that Rachid was uncomfortable, afraid, perhaps, that I was getting a bad impression of Moroccan education. On the contrary, the familiarity of the scene was important to note.
One of the magical bits of the morning involved the teacher of this class. He was, by some amazing coincidence, the same man who asked us to judge the public speaking competition. He wasn’t expecting us, as his administrator just sent us to him out of the blue, but he welcomed us graciously. I cannot find his name in any of my records, which is disappointing, because I found him to be very kind and dedicated to his work. His job at Lycée Moulay Youssef seemed challenging, but he definitely had the heart for it. Kudos to him for taking in an unexpected visitor and allowing us to observe his lesson and interact with his students.
The next stop was the famed American Legation Museum. Rachid and I enjoyed visiting all the historical relics of America’s long relationship with Morocco. I love history, and this site had been recommended by every American I had met in Morocco. I found it fascinating and revealing. Plus, there were some lovely pieces of art mixed in with all the historical photos, furniture and documents.
The next stop was lunch at Restaurant Populaire Saveur de Poisson, and it was by far the best food I have had in Morocco. In fact, this food ranks up there with the best meals I have ever had. Other travelers have thought the same. Check out this review and you will see pictures of the same meal that I had – freshly caught fish with amazing side dishes and a house juice blend. This place is a must-see in Tanger.
Then we took a drive along the sea, stopped to feel the breeze and take some pictures, rested a bit with our full bellies, and then it was off again to another school. This time it was a very unique context- a brand new, still under construction, sports academy adjacent to the stadium in Tanger. Students chosen for this public school test in athletic theory and practice. Every student is an athlete.
The students I visited were high school freshmen in the middle of a lesson on irregular verbs in English. As I learned from them, they are eager to learn English because they hope to have careers in teaching and coaching in the future, after their athletic careers. They were incredibly energetic and enthusiastic, which was a dramatic contrast from the school I visited in the morning. Sports and other extracurricular activities are not usually included after middle school in Morocco. If a student wants to pursue the arts or sports, they have to do so in clubs or classes beyond their regular schedule. This school integrates academics with athletics, and gives the students a focused education for a career in a related field. I was impressed. Being from a rural school, where sports get all the support from the community, it can be frustrating at times. I’d like to see greater focus on the arts and academics, but athletics are a motivator, and these students made it very clear for me. They were joyous. They were competitive in a way that showed their camaraderie and team spirit. And that was in an English lesson! Their teacher was a charismatic woman in a hijab, whose smile and eagle eye told the story of a woman who loved her students and ruled with both her heart and their well-earned respect. They were on the verge of wild in that room, but one look from her set them straight, without a cross word. It was lovely. And I really felt at home. I felt a twang of homesickness as I remembered my own obnoxious freshmen back home. These kids brought them to mind and made me smile.
So then it was time to go to our big event of the day, the International Day of Poetry hosted by the poet we met at Ahmed Chaoki school, Dr. Mohamed Lahrichi. I was under the impression that we would be going to hear others read poetry, but it turned out that I had somehow become an honored guest. I was even on the poster! In fact that poster, with my face on it, was projected onto the wall when we arrived. I was stunned and unprepared, but what can you do but go with the flow, right? They seated me next to a famous radio personality and published poet – Abdellatif Benyahya. It was so surreal and overwhelming in many ways. I sat through and evening of poetry readings in French and Arabic, and then, with only a little warning, I was asked to read a poem in English. So I did, and I gave it my best dramatic reading voice and tried for all the world to sound like I belonged with that amazing group of poets and award-winning student poets of all ages. Mr. Benyahya was a delightful man, who told me of his love for Sylvia Platt in broken English, and then signed a book of his poetry for me. We all received the ever-present certificates and roses from our host, Dr. Lahrichi. The head of the education delegation was present, so I finally got to meet him and pose for pictures, too. What a night!
But we weren’t done. Two of my Fulbright TGC cohort members had come to Tanger for the night on their way to a day trip to Chefchaouen. Rachid was working to hire them a driver for their trip. They had checked into a traditional riad for the night, and we decided to pick them up and go out to dinner. The riad was in the medina, which means all of the roads to it were walled, narrow, and dark at night. But this was Rachid’s home turf, and he skillfully drove along the tiny cobbled streets while I recorded the nerve-wracking journey on video.
After picking up Abby (Becker, of Alabama) and Rachel (Caldwell, of Virginia), we visited the towers of the casbah of Tanger under a beautiful moon. Then we went to the pier for a late dinner and conversation. I confess it was good to have Americans there to hear about my bizarre day. I needed to check in with reality after my stint as an international poet!