America's Unofficial Ambassadors

We work at the grassroots level throughout the Muslim World to counter violent extremism before it takes hold, to promote tolerance and understanding, and to foster better relations with the United States.

My students are teaching me Darija.

Unofficial Ambassador Phoebe Shelor is teaching beginning French at the school in Tarmilaat, a small village in Morocco.  She is actively creating vocabulary games and teaching French grammar structure alongside Unofficial Ambassador Andradene Lowe.  Phoebe briefly shares Moroccan cuisine and dives into her teaching duties. 

Salam et Bonjour, tout le monde!

It’s been a week and a half since I started my service at the Tarmilaat School here in Morocco, and already I’m in love.

My day begins around 10 or 10:30, when my AUA partner, Andradene, and I arrive at the village. During our first week, before Ramadan began, we’d be ushered into the Headwoman Ito’s house. There, we’d be offered more tea and bread than we could possibly eat. Hospitality is hugely important to the culture here in Morocco. We’re treated as guests in Tarmilaat, and the villagers take their role as hosts very seriously. Part of that includes the food. In the States, it’s not considered impolite if you decline food offered to you when visiting someone’s home. Here, however, it’s considered rude and almost an insult. Every meal involves mountains of food, and you’d better not leave any behind! Andradene and I would joke that we felt like children being told we couldn’t leave the table unless we cleaned our plates, but in truth, every mouthful here has been worth eating. From the sweet, fragrant tea to colorful tagines and couscous, I think my introduction to Moroccan cooking has been going wonderfully. The mountains of food grow larger during Ramadan. Many Moroccans are pleasantly surprised to learn we are fasting with them, but that doesn’t stop them from offering us food. And during Iftars, friends will gather to break their fast together. We’re encouraged to taste everything on the table, but with one catch – they won’t tell us what we’re eating first. It certainly makes for some interesting and pleasant surprises.

The children are often crowded around the door to the schoolhouse when we arrive. We’ve got quite a large age range; the majority are ages 8-14, but our youngest students are about 4 or 5 and just learning the alphabet, and our oldest are around 16 and 17. We’re greeted every day with a chorus of Bonjours and Salams accompanied by a handshake and a kiss on each cheek. It’s amazing how eager they are to learn. American children their age would be complaining and dragging their feet if they had to attend summer school. By contrast, our Moroccan students will shout and lean out over their desks to volunteer an answer. Even if they don’t understand what we’re teaching right away, they are willing to practice. The only threat to their eagerness is their insane level of energy. One phrase they know by heart is “Asseyez-vous”or “sit down”, from our numerous attempts to get them to settle. Andradene and I try to balance the lessons with games to keep them from going too stir-crazy. Typically, we structure the games to reinforce what they’re learning and get them to think about the vocabulary we’ve learned that day. The children enjoy tossing a ball around and shouting out vocabulary words when they catch it most of all, but Pictionary is another well-loved activity. Often, they teach us the equivalent of the words they’re learning in darija, the local Arabic dialect. They are quick to laugh when we butcher the pronunciation, which happens often, but are as delighted as we are when we figure out the correct way. It makes bridging the language barrier that much easier when teaching. Already I am thankful for such bright and eager students, and am hopeful that what we do will help them achieve so much more in their futures.

Until next time,

Au revoir and bslama!

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