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This post was written by Amber Watson after her first few weeks volunteering in Morocco as a teacher.
Almost four weeks ago now, I landed at Mohammed V International Airport in Casablanca, where I spent entirely too long waiting for my luggage with seven total strangers that would soon become my Moroccan soul mates. Those groggy jetlagged 6 or so hours spent in that airport gave me my first introduction to “Moroccan Time”. How does one describe this Moroccan Time that we’ve been ticking on over here? Well, it can’t really be explained in one or two words. It’s the way the culture pulses; it’s how the atmosphere of an entire country (of over 32 million people) transforms during Ramadan; it’s the manner in which Moroccans (and now also we 8 AUA girls) refer to and plan for the future with their daily greetings and expressions; it’s the clock that has put me through the ringer, but also the clock that I’ve grown to love beyond words. And even though I feel like I’ve been on Moroccan Time for over two months now, I also feel like I never have enough of it to last.
When I walked in to my NGO placement (Al Azrou Center) for the first time, I felt like I knew nothing. And I practically did know nothing. I knew that I was going to have 3 classes, but how many students? Undetermined. I knew that I wasn’t following a path, but instead would be creating my own since the only previous English program that had been started at the Center was apparently somewhat of a huge failure. One could say I didn’t have big shoes to fill, but I did have big footprints to make. Now, as I start off the fourth week of my five week English program, I think my impression on the ground has finally begun to stick. In brief, here is a summary of the past three weeks:
The first seven days can pretty much be characterized by two words: 4 A.M., the time I stayed up until just about every night attempting to figure out what an English teacher actually teaches and how to do so on a day to day basis. Alhamdulillah (thanks be to God) for teachers. I have no idea how they do it as their actual occupation. The second week was practically just one big toss up of emotions, from the first truly fulfilling class session to the worst possible bad behavior scenario (realizing how hard it is to manage a classroom of 20 mostly middle school students as a 20 year old American female in Morocco). And then that brings us to last week, the point at which I felt like I finally reached teacher status, not in terms of knowledge or hierarchy per-se, but in terms of the relationships I have been forming with my students.
It’s not what you would think of when you think of teacher-student relationship; it involves so many more complex loopholes. For one, the biggest age gap I have is 9 years, but on average it’s more like 5 or less, with the exceptional outlier of the female staff members that sometimes sit in and who are wise beyond my years literally and figuratively. That then brings us to respect: the respect that I’ve finally earned from them not because I’m older or even more educated (because I’m not), but more so because I’m merely willing to give them my time that I could have chosen to spend elsewhere. And finally, the family aspect. Although our relationship in the classroom walls is strictly professional, give or take a couple of laughs, outside of the center I’ve gotten to know some of my students quite well through multiple Iftars (the breaking of the fast each night during Ramadan). This is most definitely the best bonus I could ever receive from this job because when my students invite me over for Iftar I have a chance to see how they live, who their families are, and who they really are when they aren’t being a student in my class.
Insha’Allah (God willing) my journey will only get better, but to be honest if it were to remain at the point it is at now I would be in a state of perfect bliss. The only thing I truly can wish for is more Iftars.