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Maddy Becker is spending the summer volunteering in Morocco as a teacher. This post was written after her first few weeks in-country.
Stepping off the plane from New York on Thursday morning, I blinked my tired eyes and adjusted to the hazy Moroccan sunlight. A shuttle carried us from the blacktop to the main airport, and I made my way through customs along with a couple other AUA volunteers. Weighed down by heavy bags and a little groggy from travel, we trudged out to meet the rest of our team. Our ride from the airport to the university revealed a sprawling landscape of farms, rocky hills, and breathtaking fall-aways. Despite our exhaustion none of us wanted to close our eyes for a second and risk loosing out on the views. The ride took a couple hours longer than anticipated and we reached Al Akhawayan University after dark, but I thought I had never been quite so happy to climb into bed.
Our first weekend took us on a hike through the national park. I was at first unimpressed at the terrain in front of me. It was slightly hilly with a wide path. Our guides stopped frequently to sit under a shady tree, chat about the wildlife, and have a drink of water. I was impatient to find a mountain around the next corner. But I quickly found myself looking forward to the breaks. The sun was hot and my pace was slowing down. I began to take in what was around me, fields dotted with poppy flowers, and flocks of sheep grazing on the road beside me. We stopped for lunch by Lake Aoua, with traditional Moroccan salad and sweet mint tea. Afterward we picked up our packs and hiked back around the lake, past the entrance to the Royal Summer Palace, and on to our home for the weekend, Gite de la Montagne. The precious pink building and gracious hosts were a welcome respite from the long road behind us. A delicious couscous was put before us and I ate as if I hadn’t seen food in a week. That night we found out we were invited to a Berber wedding taking place down the road. Making our way by flashlight we walked up the road and sat down among the guests in an open tent. Clustered together, and wearing our hiking clothes we must have looked odd. But before we knew it we were being pulled up to dance with the drummers…in front of the whole village.
Two weeks later I was beginning my work teaching French in the village of Tarmilaat. At first the school was locked and I had to hold class in a home in the village. The students showed up faithfully everyday, eager to learn. I was so impressed by their determination that I found myself doubling my efforts. I was spending hours back in my room trying to think of how I could teach them as much as possible in this short time. After I was finished with a lesson, they would hang around and point to things around them, “How do you say this?” they would ask over and over. Despite initially feeling under-qualified, a couple people have pointed out that if I wasn’t there, they wouldn’t be using their French at all. When I think about it like that I feel as though I really am making a difference and it gives me the drive to keep going.
Of course some days have their frustrations, communication is sometimes difficult as they speak only a little French and I can speak relativity no Arabic. Today after a particularly long day, my students begged me to play a soccer game with them, and despite being scored on multiple times and tripping over myself they wouldn’t let me leave the game. After days of feeling as though I wasn’t making any progress, it was such an honor to feel included and think that even when I mess up, my students aren’t giving up on me.
The time here seems to be flying by, with occasional ups and downs but I have found I am learning that there is a very different rhythm to life here. Things don’t always pan out the way we expect, sometimes you have to be patient and have a little faith…and usually you get an unexpected reward.