Paper, Glass, and Public Speaking

Rachid and I, with our paper and glass, reminders of our time together

Friday, March 22, 2019

On Friday morning we went back to Rachid’s school and said our goodbyes. I presented Fulbright certificates to Rachid and the director. In return they gave me a engraved glass trophy. I gave Rachid and Mostafa Mossyrock t-shirts for allowing me to co-teach in their classrooms, along with some books I brought about 21st Century Skills. Is it universal that certificates, trophies, and gifts are so valued? Morocco is reminding me how meaningful small remembrances can be for people. I have a plaque that I have kept since fourth grade for an essay contest, after all. I had started to get tired of all the certificates I was receiving, but today I realized that this huge experience was winding down. Soon, I would have just paper and glass.

With the infamous “fruit trophy” and Mostafa

The school’s staff came out to say goodbye, and then Mostafa insisted on taking us for coffee. The three of us went to a nice cafe near the school. Needing a snack, I tried to order a small bowl of fruit. What I ended up getting was a giant fruit and ice cream dessert that we deemed a “fruit trophy.” Moroccan food is art. Seriously. So, over coffee and fruit, we had a lovely final visit with Mostafa, who is kind of my Moroccan teaching twin, with his passion for creativity and collaboration.

Tangier mural

After a fond farewell, we set out for a downtown tour of Tangier before our trip to Tetuan for a public speaking contest. I posed for pictures near monuments, streets art, and historical buildings. Then it was time to hit the road south for our event.

Mostafa suggested a good place for barbecue on our way, so we stopped in a small roadside town that had a whole row of barbecue places. Barbecue in Morocco is different from ours. Their version begins with a stop at a window that is essentially the butcher shop. Customers pick out the cut they want with the carcasses hanging right there. I asked for lamb steaks and Rachid ordered “mince,” which are little hamburger patties. After watching the butcher cut the meat for us, we took our plates of raw meat to the cook. While we were waiting for our meat to cook, we ate an appetizer of olives and chatted at our table by the window. When the meat arrived, it was so much food! The only accompaniment was a mild red pepper sauce. Luckily, a stray cat showed up at the window, and Rachid fed quite a bit of meat to her. It was good, and certainly fresh. In fact, I think I saw a shepherd sitting out front.

Lunch

After lunch, we went on to Tetuan. This city is very beautiful with its white buildings and Spanish architecture. We went on a walking tour of the old city center and medina, among the vendors and artisans. We found an open gate at the end of an alleyway. Behind it was an old leather tannery, with brick-lined vats dating back to the Middle Ages. That was another happy accident, just randomly discovered.

Ancient tannery in Tetuan

But, our magical luck was not gone yet. As we were reading historical markers on the buildings in the medina, and admiring the ancient architecture, an older gentleman came by, giving a tour to several people in Arabic and French. When he saw us, he asked if we spoke English. Then he offered to let us join them on their tour. He turned out to be one of the foremost authorities on Tetuan, a history professor, and a Fulbright scholar! He was giving tours of old houses that he was renovating, and he took us into one of them. We got to see it in mid-restoration, which was very interesting, indeed. But, we lost track of time and had to leave mid-tour. We were late for our event, an English public speaking contest at a nearby school.

When we arrived at the contest, the final round was being announced. We got to watch singles and pairs in the impromptu phase, giving speeches on topics provided by the judges. It was interesting in many ways. I did notice that these students did not speak as well as the students we saw in Tangier. Of course, it was the impromptu phase, so that was to be expected. There were private and public school contestants, and it was obvious that the private schools had an advantage. Throughout the whole affair, I was struck by the rudeness of the audience. There were students in the back of the auditorium talking loudly and distracting from the performances. No one seemed to be bothered, but it was something that we would never tolerate back home. After the contestants gave their speeches, there was a strange musical interlude. One young lady, despite the rudeness of the crowd, sang a lovely song, a cappella. Then a girl with a large and loud following in the rowdy audience butchered some Lady Gaga. Finally, a young man played an electric piano like a virtuoso, while, rather comically, in my eyes, a slow moving tech guy moved around the stage and adjusted sound equipment in the middle of the performance. The whole set up was really nice, as far as their stage and equipment goes, much better than anything I have had access to as a theatre teacher. Rachid told me that this was the reason that it was popular for events like this. However, it seemed like the folks running the show needed a little more training on tech support.

It got exciting near the end when a riot nearly broke out. In all the time I spent in Morocco, this was the only time it seemed remotely dangerous. A mother of a public school contestant was very angry when the winners were announced, and she got about half of the audience riled up, with shouting and shaking of fists. It’s the sort of thing that might happen back home when a parent freaks out at a basketball game when the ref makes a bad call. You see, the girls who won went to a private Spanish school. They had done a great job and deserved the win. From what I gathered, the disgruntled mom and her friends were protesting that the winning team was allowed to compete with kids who had less advantageous public education. I kind of agreed with her. However, I really sympathized with the event coordinators and judges who were just trying to have a fun event and honor some talented kids.

Now this is really important to understand. I was the only person in the whole auditorium that felt things were on the verge of out of control. Moroccans emote loudly and gesture passionately when they have an issue to relate to others. There was anger and there was a lot of drama to see and hear, but no one was threatening to do more than express their opinions with passion. In our culture, people repress strong emotions and are generally polite in large gatherings, even when they disagree. Outbreaks of angry yelling are scary for us. They often lead to violent behaviors. I can say I did not see violence in Morocco during my stay. (Note: There were reports of the teachers on strike being hosed down with fire hoses in Rabat during my visit, so violence happened. I just didn’t see it.)

Each day has been a series of comparisons and contrasts. How are we alike? How do we differ? I constantly wonder if my own behavior seems rude in my hosts’ eyes. Meanwhile, I admire their deep, constant, and open communication style. I am in awe of the connectedness of their culture. I feel like, as a people, they tend to have great respect for one another, and yet they do not hesitate to show their disapproval.

I came here to, in part, study the collaboration and communication of Moroccans, and I must admit it is impressive. But, it is mainly cultural, not thoughtfully embedded in education. At least, that is what my limited experience is showing me.

Author:

Most of the time, I am simply "Mrs. Olmos," a busy classroom teacher in a rural district in Southwest Washington State. I teach English, WA State History and Drama to students that range from grades 7-12. I believe in allowing students to use their own creativity and individual voices to enrich learning experiences in my classroom. A typical day in my room includes student-led conversations, collaborative projects, and art supplies. Beyond the classroom, I dedicate myself to many areas of educational leadership. Currently, I am a Fulbright Teacher for Global Classrooms and a member of the leadership team for the Washington Teacher Advisory Council. I am proud to be a National Board Certified Teacher, and a facilitator for National Board Candidate cohorts. Over the years, I have served on committees, panels and cohorts at the district, state and national level. My areas of interest include English Language Arts standards, curriculum and assessment, teacher preparation and certification, equity in rural education, project-based learning, and arts-integrated instruction. In my spare time, I have dogs, horses and and a husband to share my life on a small farm surrounded by green hills and rivers. It's a beautiful life.

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