Vanessa Strudwick - Teaching English & Other Subjects in Morocco
Sitting here in my favorite café, a small oasis of calm in the center of beautiful Rabat, it’s easy for me to tell you why I love Morocco so much. Just across the busy road outside I can see Bab Chellah, the grand entrance to Rabat’s old medina, my home for the last two months. It’s there in the labyrinth of narrow streets with their now familiar sights, sounds and smells that I get the strongest sense of the rhythm of life here in Morocco, starting with the muezzin's melodic call to prayer five times a day.
Life in Morocco
The sleepy streets I walk down every morning are barely recognizable by nightfall, when the souks come to life. Enormous stalls of dates, figs, oranges, peaches and cactus fruit compete for space with vendors with their spice mountains, piles of herbs and henna powder and black olive oil soap for the weekly steam and scrub at the hammam.
The streets get more and more crowded with people (on two speeds - slow and stop), and shouts of "balak" warn you to get out of the way of the huge barrow stacked with sacks of flour inches behind you! Add to this the smoke rising off the stalls of street food and trays of boiled sheep heads – it sure is a heady mix. Heavy, brass studded wooden doors open to reveal entrances to beautifully tiled riads, tiny workshops open their doors late at night and long threads of silk run from one end of a street to the other.
But these souks are dangerous. I’m already the proud owner of a turquoise plate bigger than my rucksack, the result of frenzied bartering with an overwhelmed shop owner and Moroccan style high-five to seal the deal!
My Teaching Experience
I’m here in Morocco to teach English at the Amali Association in Salé, just across the Bou Regreg River. It may not have Rabat’s refined exterior but there's a beating heart in Hay Moulay Ismail.
Adult students come for two hours every morning; each and every one of them with a real desire to learn. We’ve covered so many topics, discussed each other’s cultures and shared hopes and dreams - we even used one lesson to cook a huge tagine. The agreement to only speak English in the kitchen dissolved in minutes, there was way too much excitement. And the results were delicious!
Wide-eyed seven to eleven year olds burst into the classroom in the afternoon ready to show off all the vocabulary they have ever learnt. After one particular week focusing on colors, vegetables and body parts we decided on an afternoon of music and singing. At the end of a very reluctant performance from fellow volunteer Jim the Swede, there was a long silence. Then from somewhere at the back of the room, I heard a small voice say “Jim, your face is red” and from somewhere else “tomato!” This was a moment of pure gold.
The ambitious plan to stage "Amali Association's Got Talent" came to life last week, with no shortage of willing performers, both adults and children. Singing, dancing, playing derbouca, reading poetry, reading from the Koran, a demonstration of football skills - it was all there, as was the inevitable rendition of "Gangnam style".
Getting to Salé each day involves an extraordinary ritual; a ride in one of a vast number "grand taxis", all of them ancient white Mercedes with suspension, upholstery (and sometimes drivers) that have seen better days. The taxi’s not going anywhere until there are four people (of any size) wedged in the back and two in the front passenger seat, plus the driver – in relative comfort. There is much huffing and puffing as the car sways and picks up speed, then animated conversation breaks out as everyone starts to relax.
Once home, it’s easy to unwind. Yuseff and Sanae (plus little Hassna, who has just started school) have made their home my home too.
Me and my host family are on the second floor of a building in a quiet corner of the medina. With an open roof I can feel the night breeze, much needed after the heat and humidity of the day. Everyone gathers around the same table to eat and share the day’s experiences.
My dormant French has spluttered into life, and we even had a Moroccan film night last week. I also feel I’ve learnt enough Moroccan Arabic to survive in the classroom and on the streets.
The food here in Morocco does not disappoint! In the last week alone, I have worked my way through a delicious lamb tagine with prunes, baked fish, chicken pastilla and traditional Friday cous cous. I've already waved goodbye to two pairs of trousers that I do not fit into any more.
On Wednesday evenings we get treated to more Moroccan hospitality. The guys from the Projects Abroad office (Soufiane, Adil and Nourredine) meet us at Bab Ouiba, and we snake through the medina to one of the volunteer families for mint tea and much talk.
One thing I have learnt fast here is that if you want to see Morocco in all its glory, you need to sacrifice sleep and get the first train out of Gare de Rabat every Saturday morning. I have managed to see Chefchaouene, Fes, Meknes, Essaouira, Casablanca, Tangier and Marrakesh this way and I’m still looking at the map longingly in case I can squeeze in somewhere else before I go.
I’ve experienced some weird, but wonderful things here in Morocco. From a savage scrubbing by someone twice the size of me at the local hammam to a hair-raising 6-hour drive in a battered old Peugeot to a remote Berber village in the High Atlas Mountains, where the blackest skies yielded more stars than I have ever seen.
The best thing of all though? The daily interaction with ordinary Moroccan people. They are warm, friendly, and curious and I've lost count of the small acts of kindness that I have witnessed come out of nowhere. I am still not sure I am ready to leave!