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.
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.
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.
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.)