Work Meetings in Paradise

What are your work meetings like? This is what ours are like:

No big deal.

No big deal.

At the beginning of September, right before we started working at the Dar Chebab again, we had regional meetings. Peace Corps Morocco is split up into four different geographical regions. Ours is the Mid-West Region.

Most of the Mid-West region PCVs and our regional managers.

Most of the Mid-West region PCVs and our regional managers.

We met in Oualidia, a small coastal town with one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen. A sprawling sandbar, turquoise waters, endless rows of colored fishing boats, silhouettes of fishermen hauling in their catches of the day.

IMG_2292

IMG_2294

Besides beachside beauty, the regional meeting was wonderful in other ways as well. It was an amazing opportunity to speak to other PCVs about like-minded projects and to collaborate. Robert got to talk to other PCVs who are spearheading health and science programs, and I got to pitch my writing/TEFL stuff. It was extremely productive and useful—which can’t be said about most U.S. government meetings, ahahahaha.

Some cool stuff coming up in this next school year, inshallah: Health/Peace Hike, TEFL Training of Trainers,  SIDA Bike Trek, Write On! (of course! I’ll be talking about this a lot more!), and a huge health program led by another PCV which Robert will be helping implement and I’ll be helping write the proposal for. Plus, lots more official trainings, including Life Skills, Gender Advocate, Healthy Lifestyles, and Library Training. In other words, we’ll be really busy.

We get to work with some cool people. :)

We get to work with some cool people. 🙂

We will absolutely be returning to Oualidia another time, maybe for a weekend trip. It was full of treasures. For meals, we simply walked to the seaside, where fishermen were selling their fresh-caught wares. We’d pick out our cravings—sol fish, clams, mussels, red rock crab, calamari, and even a sting-ray—and then they’d grill it for us right there. One PCV asked the fishermen for more crab, and they replied, “We don’t have any more. Wait one minute!” And then they literally walked back into the ocean and pulled out their crab trap! It was as fresh as possible. On the walk back to the hotel, we’d always buy some 6-dirham (60cent) oysters with a squeeze of lemon.

IMG_2301

IMG_2304

Basically, what we’re saying is that never again in our working lives will we have meetings this fabulous. This job rocks.

Yours Truly,

Robert & Julie

A Girl With A Book

“One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.” —Malala Yousafzai

The Let Girls Learn program is a girls education initiative that is being championed by Michelle Obama, USAID, and the Peace Corps. It is community-led.

Worldwide, 62 million girls are not in school. Yet, when you educate a girl, it is not only her quality of life that is lifted up—but the quality of life of her family and her entire community. When you educate a girl, you change the world.

In our community, there have always been women and girls leading this fight. We feel proud that we get to fight alongside them. We are passionate about youth empowerment and girls’ empowerment—and that’s why we took this job! Our work at our Dar Chebab (Youth Center) allows us to work with the most amazing people and organizations. We get to assist the Women’s Literacy Association—a group teaching written Arabic to illiterate adult women—as they put on amazing workshops for anti sexual harassment, health & safety, and so much more. We get to teach English classes to brilliant girls and women whose opportunities are improved with their language abilities. We get to facilitate STEM programs targeting talented future scientists and doctors and engineers. We get to connect under-resourced students with opportunities they deserve. We get to be listening ears for girls who already know what their dreams are, who already have the guts & brains to achieve them, who just need a little encouragement to get there.  We get to learn from all of these amazing people.

These people are not statistics or vague ghosts in a vague blog post about women’s rights. They are real. They are our colleagues, our neighbors, our students, our friends. They are impacting their (our) community in powerful ways. We want to introduce you to just some of these incredible Moroccan women… THIS is what happens when you educate a girl.


These are some of the names and faces that are at the heart of our work in Morocco. This is why we continue to advertise our free Dar Chebab classes to marginalized kids, why Robert’s STEM club has a focus on recruiting girls, and why I will be starting a Girl’s Club in November.

As of 2012 in Morocco, 47% of adult women were illiterate (31% for Moroccan men). These people are people just like Omayma and Amina and Asmaa and Sarah and Meryem—only without the same resources and opportunities. Our jobs as teachers are to facilitate those resources and opportunities. People in Moroccan communities all over the country are already addressing this issue. The number of beneficiaries of literacy programs increased from 286,000 in 2002-2003 to 656,000 in 2008-2009. And these numbers are increasingly getting brighter. Many Moroccans—working in education, policy, law, administration, and so on—are facing this head on. They know that a girl with a book begets powerful change. We know this too.

We believe strongly that our job is not to be a voice for those who do not have voices. As Arundhati Roy said, “There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.” Our job is to help build a platform for voices that are already strong. 

“Let us pick up our books and pencils. They are our most powerful weapon.”

Yours Truly,

Robert & Julie

Finally, A Return

After months and months of yearning and whining and making our loved ones in our city feel super jealous—we finally made it! A few days after the El Jadida camp, we visited our first Moroccan home, Agourai.

Home Sweet Home! (pictured in the back are our two host sisters, Imane and Ahlam. The little girl is Maryam, our fave neighbor kid who lives around the corner. The two little boys are cousins & our CBT mate Ben's host brothers--they live next door.)

Home Sweet Home! (pictured in the back are our two host sisters, Imane and Ahlam. The little girl is Maryam, our fave neighbor kid who lives around the corner. The two little boys are cousins & our CBT mate Ben’s host brothers–they live next door.)

Of course, our plans for a short two-day trip failed. The moment we told our family when we planned to leave, their faces fell. “We’ll be back really soon for L-3id,” we tried to assure them. But Mama Fadila had a secret weapon, a card up her sleeve that would assure her triumph… “Ah, it’s possible for you to leave that day,” she said slyly, “BUUUUUUT I’m going to make rfissa that night for dinner. Really late. Soooooo….”

She got us.

Oh, Rfissa. I love you.

Mama Fadila’s rfissa wins everything.

Our few days in Agourai were amazing. And not long enough. We stayed with Paul, who is the PCV stationed in Agourai. Another wonderful part about the trip was getting to know Paul better. We admitted to him the truth—that before we knew him, we were very apprehensive about him getting assigned to the Best Town In The World. It’s so aziz a lina (dear to us) that we had LOFTY expectations for the PCV who got it.

However, now that we know Paul and have spent so much time with him—both at the Jadida camp and doing sibling bonding activities in Agourai—we’re frhanin bzaf (very happy) and also relieved. Agourai is in good hands!

Bros in matching gnduras.

Bros in matching gnduras.

IMG_2123

We happened to take this trip during the peak fury of local election time. Our Baba Hassan is the Vice President of the Municipality, so of course he is very involved. It was cool to get to witness the campaigning process close up. You can learn more about elections in Morocco here on our friends Matt and Anne’s blog. 

A giant stack of flyers promoting the Mizan (Scales) Party.

A giant stack of flyers promoting the Mizan (Scales) Party.

Although we slept at Paul’s apartment, we spent most of the time relaxing at our host parents’ house or traipsing around Agourai & soaking in the familiar sights. (And the unfamiliar sights too! There’s been development and construction in the few months since we left!)

IMG_2116

Zombie attack!

Zombie attack!

High fives!

High fives!

IMG_2113

IMG_2108

IMG_2099

Bringing back some camp songs from Jadida: SHARK ATTACK DO DOOOO DO DO!

Bringing back some camp songs from Jadida: SHARK ATTACK DOO DOOOOO DOO DOO!

LOST A LEG DOO DOOOOO DOO DOO

LOST A LEG DOO DOOOOO DOO DOO

We were able to be there on a Friday too, which meant COUS COUS!

IMG_2085

Also lots of post-meal naps, a common thing in our Moroccan lives.

IMG_2133

On Saturday, we Americans took a day trip to Meknes, the big city just a 10 dirham (roughly $1) taxi ride away from Agourai. We did a bit of shopping, including gifts for the family and a huge Amazigh flag for us! (We’re going to bring it to DC for the Blog It Home presentations, and then hang it up on our wall.)

amazightreya

The Amazigh Flag bears the symbol of “yaz,” which refers to what “Amazigh” means: The Free Man.

In Meknes, while we were hanging out on a rooftop cafe overlooking the main square, we noticed a commotion going on near the market in the square. There was a film crew, a bunch of decked-out mules, and a crowd of uniformed people running around. When we looked closer, we saw that the uniforms were aprons with a familiar logo… It was MasterChef Morocco!!!!!! Filming in Meknes!!!!! They were in the middle of doing/filming a challenge in the spice/dessert market, which involved jumping on horses. We saw Chef Khadija being escorted by bodyguards. (Here you can watch a funny video of U.S. Ambassador Dwight Bush with Chef Khadija cooking a Ramadan Iftur.) Unfortunately, we didn’t have our DSLR camera with us, so we couldn’t capture the moment. But we rushed down to the square just as the MasterChef contestants were riding off on their mules. We jumped on benches and started waving as the camera swung towards us.

Perhaps we’ll be in an episode of MasterChef Morocco?!?! Or maybe they’ll edit us out. Keep an eye out for the Meknes episode of MasterChef Morocco and let us know. We don’t have television.

After that, back to Agourai for shenanigans bzaf.

Playing Moroccan cards with the siblings. (BTW, Moroccan cards are really confusing. There's no 8 or 9, and the suits are all weird. One of them is a gourd, I think??)

Playing Moroccan cards with the siblings. (BTW, Moroccan cards are really confusing. There’s no 8 or 9, and the suits are all weird. One of them is a gourd, I think??)

IMG_2135

IMG_2120

Special shout-out to our new best friend, Batman.

Batman is Paul’s cat and and pretty awesome individual. I adore him even though he thought my hair was a cat toy while I was sleeping.

IMG_2078

It was a wonderful way to end our August break. We love our wild travels across the country AND our daily work lives in our permanent site—but both are hectic and exhausting. Agourai was like a brief reprieve from everything else. The feeling of walking into our host family’s home is just like the feeling of walking into our real parents’ homes in Washington State. We know we’re entering a place of love and comfort.

IMG_2127

Yours Truly,

Robert & Julie

We Found Love In A Hopeful Place

August is the month of otla (vacation/break) in Morocco, which means that all of our Dar Chebabs are closed! I taught my classes up until the first day of August (Robert’s classes and clubs halted way before Ramadan even), but when otla hit—we got outta there!

It’s been an entire month of traveling. But not all for vacation—from August 11 to 22, we were working at a English Immersion Language Camp in the beautiful beachside city of Al Jadida.

abIMG_1571

It was an AMAZING experience! There were definitely some struggles (#classicpublicschoolteacherlife, buying our own supplies) , but it was all good. The camp was made up of 50-ish teenagers, ages 12-17—and an equal amount of American staff and Moroccan staff. There were bzaf different aspects to the Jadida camp, so I’ve split up the photos/stories into sections: Teams and Points, English Classes, Beach Time, Clubs, American Games Night, Halloween Night, Fashion Show, Talent Shows & Spectac, and Other.

Teams and Points

The campers were split up into six teams—all named after different countries in the world. Robert and I were the head of Team Barbados, the best team ever!

Team Barbados with guest star/fellow PCV/camp yoda Byron.

Team Barbados with guest star/fellow PCV/camp yoda Byron.

The title of this post, by the way, is a ridiculous reference to a Rihanna song, because Rihanna is from Barbados. She was our team inspiration throughout the camp. We were diamonds in the sky, indeed.

Throughout the week, the teams competed for points, which they could earn in various ways: library activities (book reports, scavenger hunt, bookmark making, encouragement note writing), contests (spelling bee, fashion show, Halloween costume contest, game olympics, athletic competitions), and being a good person (counselors made points rain for kids who threw away litter, did nice things for their friends, etc.)

Barbados dominating on American Game night

Barbados dominating on American Game night

abIMG_1628

abIMG_1635

In my opinion, Barbados had the best team cohesion of all the teams in camp. (Not biased, nope! :D) We could definitely tell during team-building exercises. They undid themselves from the human knot in about three minutes—ridiculously fast! And everyone, despite lots of trepidation, participated in trust falls to much success. The feelings of camaraderie were strong! (Plus Moroccan kids tend to be SUPER DUPER competitive, which is awesome.)

abIMG_1866

And all of that camaraderie and hard work paid in the end… because our team won the entire camp competition!

Point tallies throughout the camp...

Point tallies throughout the camp…

And the final scores!!!!!!

And the final scores!!!!!!

Olé Olé Olé Oléeeeee!

Olé Olé Olé Oléeeeee!

English Classes

Six of the American staff, including me, taught English classes in the mornings every day. The classes varied from Beginner Low to Advanced High. I taught the highest level class, which was full of troublemakers/geniuses, a dangerous combo.

mnanne3

I loved my class. We talked about everything from their teenage crushes to idioms to the concept of relativity. One of my favorite outcomes was our conversation about bucket lists (which I talked about in the last blog post!)

Many shenanigans were had in Julie's English class...

Many shenanigans were had in Julie’s English class…

Ilias is falling...

Ilias is falling…

...Aaaaand he went down.

…Aaaaand he went down.

I feel like a very lucky teacher! My classes seem to be always full of amazing people.

mnanne2

Beach Time

Most days, right after English class, we went to the beach! Sometimes there were organized events, but mostly it was just free time on the sand and sea. We swam, played frisbee, sun-napped, and ate bzaf sfinj/beignets (fried donuts covered in sugar). And of course, there was tons of teen selfie-taking going on.

A couple campers amongst PCVs

A couple campers amongst PCVs

abIMG_1595

abIMG_1927

IMG_1600

IMG_1613

IMG_1601

In all honesty, most of these kids probably wanted to do this camp just so they could hang out on the Jadida beach! Worth it for sure.

CLUBS

Six of the American staff taught English… the others, including Robert, ran clubs after lunch. There was Art Club, American Culture Club, Fitness/Work Out Club, Games Club, Photography Club (which was actually Scavenger Hunt Club), and Robert’s Science Club.

American Culture Club having interesting discussions.

American Culture Club having interesting discussions.

Photography Club interrupting American Culture Club because one of the scavenger hunt items was

Photography Club interrupting American Culture Club because one of the scavenger hunt items was “give Paul a little kick.”

Art Club (prepping for the Halloween Night)

Art Club (prepping for the Halloween Night)

For his Science Club, Robert taught about gravity, air resistance, and aerodynamics. Then he set up an egg drop competition. Kids were split into groups and had a certain amount and time and a certain amount of materials to create a protective spaceship for their egg. Then, it was off to a high place (the roof or the 2nd story boys’ dorm) to see which eggs survived!

bIMG_1895

abIMG_1620

IMG_1790

IMG_1801

IMG_1809

Awwww, this one didn’t make it…

IMG_1805

IMG_1811

Eggy success!

Eggy success!

American Games Night

Most nights as well, we had themed parties/events. One of them was American Games Night. Teams rotated between various “American” games, which were basically backyard/BBQ games.

Three-legged race, the most dangerous of all... took down quite a few kids.

Three-legged race, the most dangerous of all… took down quite a few kids.

Popcorn eating contest, which was really just an excuse to watch kids look really silly hehehe :)

Popcorn eating contest, which was really just an excuse to watch kids look really silly hehehe 🙂

Baseball, a classic American tradition.

Baseball, a classic American tradition.

Egg in Spoon Relay

Egg in Spoon Relay

Water balloon toss!!!

Water balloon toss!!!

Halloween Night

Another night we did that was a HUGE success was Halloween Night! Everyone dressed up in costumes and we had a blast. We had face painting, bobbing for apples, gummy worm fishing, candy number guessing, pin-the-heart-on-the-skeleton, plus a showing of The Nightmare Before Christmas.

However, I missed most all of this because I was part of the Haunted House team. Yep, that’s right. I was part of a Haunted House crew!!!! It was incredible. We turned the conference room into a Hall of Terror. The kids, one by one, crawled through a dark maze, where several of us American staff lurked…

At first, I was really skeptical. Like, yeah right! None of the kids will be scared by our low-value production. But turns out, they were TERRIFIED and they had lots of fun being terrified. We don’t have any pictures from Halloween night because we were so busy giving children nightmares, hahahaha.

My faaaaorite part was scaring the tough boys who swaggered in and declared, “I’m not scared! I know it’s just you guys!” By the end, some of them were swearing and loudly nervous laughing… We definitely got ’em. 😉

Afterwards, one of my students came up and said, “I knew it was you guys in there, but I still felt so scared!” A wonderful compliment, hehe.

Fashion Show

Yet another theme night was the fashion show, which was very popular with the kiddos. They particularly loved the Classic category (modern, chic clothing) and the Crazy category (self-explanatory). We also had categories of Traditional Moroccan, Avant-Garde, and Sporty. At the last moment, some kids declared a Hip-Hop category as well.

Some ladies in the Classic category.

Some ladies in the Classic category.

Sooooo cute :)

Sooooo cute 🙂

Rim was a shoo-in for the Crazy category.

Rim was a shoo-in for the Crazy category.

Anne flaunting her jellaba in the Traditional category.

Anne flaunting her jellaba in the Traditional category.

I borrowed Rosana's gndura and entered the Traditional category too, because not enough kids signed up for it.

I borrowed Rosana’s gndura and entered the Traditional category too, because not enough kids signed up for it. Thanks for the 8, Judge Byron.

The winners of each category and the illustrious judges.

The winners of each category, the illustrious judges, and Laila the MC.

Talent Shows & Spectac

As I’ve talked about before, spectacs are a HUGE thing in Moroccan youth culture. And since we work in the youth development sector, it means we get to experience a lot of them. Spectacs are end-of-camp or end-of-event talent shows. Lots of singing. Lots of dancing. And always reallyyyyyy long. Morocco loves spectacs.

At the Jadida camp, we had THREE spectacs. THREEEEEEEE. To differentiate them (HA HA), they called them “Talent Show,” “Mini-Spectac,” and “Spectac.”

The talent show was a medley of individual kids showcasing random impressive feats:

Laila playing the guitar and singing.

Laila playing the guitar and singing.

A choreographed fight.

A choreographed fight.

Wiam did a stunning gymnastics routine.

Wiam did a stunning gymnastics routine.

For the mini-spectac, the kids performed in their country teams. Barbados did a chant written by our Prime Minister, plus a cool dance circle spearheaded by Anne (fellow PCV, camp librarian, and awesome person). I was gunning for a Rihanna song, but we didn’t have enough time to practice it. Alas!

The big spectac was held our last night at camp. It stretched from 9PM to 4AM (kind of like a Moroccan wedding, hahahaha). Around 2:30AM, dinner was served. Kids performed, but there were professional musicians as well. Kids were tiiiiiired. Adults were tiiiiiired too. Some of them never even went to bed because the kids who lived in Beni Mallal left on a bus at 5AM. We spent most of the night taking pictures with our favorite campers:

abIMG_2027

abIMG_2038

abIMG_2032

abIMG_2022

abIMG_2007

Collapsing into bed that night, we all felt super exhausted but also very happy.

Other Camp Moments

The Jadida summer camp was jam packed full of so many moments. Some other things we did:

IMG_1665

Took a field trip to the famous Portuguese Cisterns in the fortified city of Mazagan in Jadida. It’s a UNESCO world heritage site.

Inside the cisterns.

Inside the cisterns.

One of the most successful parts of camp, in my opinion. Everyone wrote each other amazing encouragement notes. Robert and I received so many adorable ones.

One of the most successful parts of camp, in my opinion. Everyone wrote each other amazing encouragement notes. Robert and I received so many adorable ones.

My English class wrote Byron a brilliant letter full of hilarious insults. Two of my faves from the letter:

The opposite of encouragement notes. My English class wrote Byron a brilliant letter full of hilarious insults. Two of my faves from the letter: “You are like a pregnant elephant nerd.” “Do you have a girlfriend? She would be annoying too.”

Soooo much dancing. I've danced more in Morocco than I've danced total in my entire life.

Soooo much dancing. I’ve danced more in Morocco than I’ve danced total in my entire life.

Just chilling out during free time!

Just chilling out during free time!

We will definitely be back to work at this camp next year, inshallah. It felt so rewarding to make such close connections with these students in a short amount of time, and to watch them make connections with each other. Lots of friendships were made (and a few more-than-friendships as well, ooooh)!

As some of you know from our previous “camptastrophe” post, we weren’t super keen on working at camps in Morocco before. We wanted to focus only on our classes and programs in terms of First Goal work. I’ve only been to camp once in my life (sixth grade nature camp) and Robert’s been a couple of times. But we’ve never really known about “camp culture.” Now, we are 100% for it! Bring on the camp songs, the team spirit, the stay-up-late talks, the crappy food, the random competitions, the inside jokes—all of it!

Yours Truly,

Robert & Julie