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.
Summer service intern Caitie Dailey is volunteering as a coach and mentor to young Moroccan children at the Atlas Day Camp in Ifrane, Morocco. Time and scheduling is a huge factor when planning events and games, like at a summer camp, but Caitie is quick on her feet to keep the children active and entertained.
Moroccan Time (noun): an alternate time zone where life can stand still or speed up in the blink of an eye, and things can either get done or are be canceled all together regardless of any planning.
It’s a little crazy that I’m into my second week of volunteering here in Ifrane, and already starting at my second post! Week one was a whirlwind of language barriers, cultural introductions, and seemingly endless waves of children – and I loved every single moment of it.
Atlas Day Camp, Al Akhawayn’s annual week long summer camp, was part one of my awesome three part internship and the best way to start off my time here in Morocco. Day one at Atlas was definitely not what I expected it to be, and was my first real introduction to the concept of Moroccan time: I was supposed to take a tour of the village the campers would be visiting later that week and assist in some activities to get a feel for things. None of that happened, and the following 4 days continued along with that theme, but somehow everything ran perfectly smooth. One of the fist things Ms. Fatima, the wonderful director of Atlas, told me is that sometimes things don’t work the way we plan them too and we’ve just got to be flexible and roll with the punches. And roll with them we did.
Everyday at Camp Atlas was an adventure, and the ability to adapt and work on your feet was paramount to keeping the kids entertained and happy, something the counselors of this camp excelled at. The entire staff of Atlas was comprised of an exceptionally talented and welcoming group of individuals that made our (myself and my fellow intern Joe) week with them very memorable and full of nonstop fun.
Atlas hosts kids from all over Ifrane and the surrounding areas – from all types of backgrounds – and as I quickly learned, it is a trilingual camp! How many camps in the United States can say that they are trilingual? With Arabic and French being the two primary languages, Joe and myself were at a bit of a disadvantage, but we quickly found that a simple smile and wave can go a long way with the campers and sometimes simply throwing yourself into an activity and getting involved is that fastest and easiest way to connect with others regardless of language.
On our second day of Camp Atlas, we participated in a cultural festival that brought together artisans from all over Ifrane. Craftsmen and women from all professions (weaving, cooking, woodworking, carving, leather working, etc.) demonstrated their craft to the kids, teaching them about the origins of their profession and its importance in Morocco. These artisans were also joined by local musical talent.
Ten men stood shoulder to shoulder in a row, all holding large thin drums that they played in perfect unison to a beat that must have been so deeply ingrained in their memories that it no longer was an active thought, just as simple as breathing. They swayed together and sang some songs I wish I could have understood, all while doing tricks withe their drums of course.
It was amazing to watch them and dance around with the kids, but then one of my counselors thought it would be a good idea to place me in the center of this performance, and I some how found myself standing in a field in a line of drums and voices clapping along with the beat and seeing my campers smile at my participation.
Learning more about Morocco, and the multiple cultures that make up this rich and vibrant country, was the best introduction to starting my work here. Language barriers aside, Camp Atlas is similar to summer camps you would find anywhere else in the world. Kids at camp are still kids, no matter their social standings, religious beliefs, or where they come from in the world. They were just a group of kids in bright orange hats and t-shits ready to spend the whole day singing and dancing along to campfire songs, putting on silly skits, and playing pranks on each other. Just a couple of normal, silly kids at camp.