What I do (in a nutshell)

I’ve had a few people ask me now, “So, besides having the time of your life over there, what is it that you actually do?”

The technical answer is that I recently began teaching English classes, and much of my time here will be spent doing just that, but teaching English doesn’t begin to encompass all that I will do here, and I’m not sure that aspect of my work is the most important thing I could do either.

Of course, that’s not to imply that teaching English is a minuscule thing.  When I first got here, that’s what I thought, and I kept asking, “Isn’t it kind of arrogant of me to show up in this country and be like, ‘Hey kids, learn my language’.”  After all, when people back home hear about the Peace Corps, I think they think we come to these really impoverished countries to help half-naked pot-belly babies running around hungry for food (and maybe that does happen in some places), but it’s not just the incredibly impoverished, war-stricken countries where Peace Corps can make a difference, and I’m coming to realize that educating can be as empowering as providing food and medicine.  The more time I’ve had to think about it, the more I realized it isn’t arrogant at all to provide this kind of education.  In fact, after my first class, it hit me that my students really want to know English; it’s important, a passion, to them, and for many of them, it’s necessary if they want to graduate and go to university.  But that’s not all: learning English fuels their hopes and dreams, because it widens the number of possibilities for things they can do later on in life.

Some of that (hopes and dreams stuff) isn’t really about English, per se, even though English is the language they are learning and what I’m teaching.  It’s more about the desire to learn, to branch beyond the world they once knew or to be open-minded about a different culture, for example.  That lends to the ability to think critically or how to make well-informed decisions.

Of course, there’s probably a billion ways to do that, to gain that knowledge, and the alternative to the “academic” life in Morocco is not something to scoff at and is in no way shameful.  There’s nothing wrong with selling vegetables or those delicious mandarins your whole life.  In the same way that working as a plummer or a garbage man is an incredibly respectable way to earn a living in America (despite some negative stereotypes we often attach to those careers there), the most respectable life here – so far as I can tell – is one that honors and respects other people, especially family – a life where you put others first.  You know, the selfless life.  And there’s a lot of different ways to live that life, and regardless of what people do, not everyone does that well, just like in America.

My own hope is to help people figure out how they want to better themselves so they can better Morocco.  In a nutshell, that’s what it all boils down to, and teaching English – right now at least – is a doorway to figuring out how to do that best.  Still, what I meant when I said “that aspect of my work isn’t the most important,” is that teaching English is just a fraction of what I consider my “responsibilities” here.

Right now, my priority is learning Arabic.  Period.  Most people don’t know English, and figuring out how to communicate with people is of utmost importance.  Beyond that, I’m slowly but surely getting to know more Moroccans in my site, essentially networking.  And that’s all at the heart of what I’ll be doing for the next five to seven months.  Learn Arabic, meet people, teach English.  Safi.  Baraka.  I mean, sure, along the way, I may join up with another volunteer for a health hike (hiking over a mountain and stopping along the way to educate people about things as simple as clean water and soap to things as complex as STIs or SIDA); I might even do a small project building leadership skills for youth; and I will certainly help coordinate a spring camp and two summer camps.  Still, the nitty-gritty of those projects can’t really happen until I’m more comfortable with language, so any big project I want to do will probably wait a year or so before it really takes off.

All of that is still a bit more on the technical side, like English, and only covers one-third of what I’m doing here.  The other two-thirds is a little more obscure but equally as important.  It’s so simple, in fact, it makes you feel like you’re not “working,” but in reality, it’s a 24/7 job.  So what is it exactly?  Basically, sharing cultures, both the culture of America with Moroccans and the culture of Morocco with Americans (the latter of which I’m actually doing right now just by writing a blog).

Case in point, a few hours ago, I played soccer with  my host brother, Saleh, and afterward, we had a conversation about soccer in America and how it differs from the African and European continents.  Another example – recently, my host brothers and I browsed through the pictures on my laptop from all over America, literally from New York to Seattle to Gatlinburg, Tennessee.  Lots of, “Zwina!” remarks.  We then talked about the difference between democracies and monarchies, the president and the king, who made more money, etc.  We talked about how, in Morocco, you decide when you’re in middle school what you’re going to do for a career, and you start studying the specific subjects for that career early on, whereas in America, people can change their minds whenever they want and pursue something completely different.  I even know a few PhDs who still don’t know what they want to do with their lives.

Those kinds of conversations happen every day, and they’re a huge part of my job.  It’s not just about the technical stuff.  It’s about living a kind of “bohemia,” a spirit of sharing who we are to the core, accepting and living out our differences.  Of course, that’s not all rainbows and unicorns.  It’s never that easy.  It’s usually a little more rough than that, but in a nutshell, that is what I do.

Hope that clears the air, so to speak.

Anyway, that seemed like a good way to kick off the new year, a post about what the heck I’m doing here in Morocco.  It’s 2011. Although, while I did see a short internet clip of Times Square, it feels a bit more like, I dunno, April of 1953 to me, so I’m pretty bad at grasping that it’s actually a new year in the modern era.  Whatever.  Tomorrow, I move into what has been appropriately dubbed the “January house,” my quiet, new abode in a neighborhood fittingly known as the “Neighborhood of Peace,” literally translated.  I will move my things (by donkey) into my new house.  I can’t really express to you how exciting I think this is, honestly.  Anyway, pictures will follow.

Thulla f raskum.  And stay warm.

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