Tag Archives: family

Bright Spots in a Long Countdown

21 Apr

Today marks 36 days til the end of classes.

38 days til we fly out of Morocco.

And 17 days after that will be touchdown in the USA.

Not that I’m, you know, counting down or anything.

We really have had some super cool experiences here in Morocco, and from the pictures I’ve taken you would never guess that I spend 90% of my time sitting at my desk in my dorm room at my isolated English-speaking university in Morocco.   But it’s been so frustrating to be pulled out of a immersion experience in Egypt where I had so much independence and so many opportunities for adventures, only to be placed in a University where the goals of every single student (to learn and become fluent in English) conflict so directly with my own, where our schedule has been packed with more class time and homework to make up for the lack of immersion, and where the only people I have time to interact with are the 15 students of our program, who I have class with 20 hours a week and study with for the rest.

So at the risk of falling dangerously behind in readings and papers this week, I decided to take the opportunity to spend 24 hours living with a Moroccan family this weekend.   Monica and I set off for Azrou, a little town (but bigger than Ifrane) about 25 minutes away by Grand Taxi Friday afternoon, ready to meet our host mom.  It was a little nerve-wracking because we weren’t exactly sure who we were meeting or where we were meeting them, but as soon as we met Mama Aisha she told us she would take care of us like we were her own daughters, and we knew we were in good hands.

Mama Aisha lives in the Old Medina of Azrou, within the walls of the old city.  A door off of a tunnel leading from a main street led up a flight of steep steps to the main part of her home.   A kitchen and two rooms with couches round the walls were the first floor, and two separate flights of steep stairs ran up to a bathroom (squatter–yikes!)  and a tiny door to the roof, where she kept a garden, clotheslines, and awesome views of the city.

We spent the evening learning how to make Harira, the famous Moroccan soup, watching soap operas, and talking to Mama Aisha all about her life, family, and looking through a cardboard box full of pictures and mementos, from the picture book of French postcards from WWI that her Grandfather had given her to the photos of herself in grade school to the photos when her children, now in their 20s, were young.

We learned that the round-room couches double as comfy beds, and the next day did some more cooking, shopping, walking around the town, meeting relatives, and “tanning” on the roof at Mama Aisha’s suggestion (it ended up being a great place to get some homework done in the sun).

We explored the souk and (a little queasily) bought some meat from a relative of Mama Aisha’s in the market.  Then learned how to make an AWESOME Lamb and peas Tagine.

Over lunch we talked politics and society with Mama Aisha and her son Omar, who works in Ifrane but usually stays in Azrou with his Mom.  It was awesome to get to finally talk to some Moroccans and see how they feel about the government, the King, the revolutions in the region and the protests going on in Morocco, and even vented some about American politics.  This was one of the few times I’ve really been able to practice the Moroccan dialect, and I was really happy to be able to do so.  Monica and I both can’t wait to go visit again.

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High School Drama

7 Dec

The past few weeks, I’ve been stuck in the middle as Mama Azza and Mohab clash over school.

Mohab is a typical 16-year-old boy, in his second-to-last year of high school.  He’s a very talented football player (he plays goalie), and is even getting the opportunity to practice with and be scouted for some of the best teams in Egypt.  He has a super-cute girlfriend.   Life is sports and girls and facebook.  He can’t be bothered to get up for school at 7:30 am, just because the Minister of Education recently made going to school mandatory.  School is useless, he claims, and he doesn’t like getting up early.

And he might have a point.  Education is free in Egypt.  However, teachers’ inadequate salaries, even those of private and language school teachers, lead many teachers to use classroom time simply as an ad for the real stuff.  Most high school students get their actual education from private lessons on the side, taught by the same teachers who teach in the high schools, outside of class, for a fee.  So, when Mohab says school is useless, and that he gets everything he needs from outside the classroom, he’s not just complaining without cause.

Mama Azza, however, sees the situation a little differently.  It’s fortunate that their family has enough money to pay for the private lessons and tutoring that one needs to get ahead in Egypt’s “free education” system, but Mohab still needs to put more effort into his lessons.  And because attendance is mandatory now, he really does need to go to school, at least sometimes, because if he doesn’t he could lose his eligibility to take THE EXAMS.

What are these Exams?  All higher-education-seeking Egyptian students take a big exam at the end of high school, which will affect them for the rest of their lives.   With the release of the exam results, students are divided into groups that determine their career paths for life.  Top scorers enter Kuliaat-al-Qimma (top colleges) such as the Faculty of Medicine and the Faculty of Engineering.  Lower scorers may enter the Faculties of Trade or Education or Law.  The lowest tier enters the Faculty of Arts, or Humanities.  Students can opt to enter colleges lower than their score in the hierarchy, but not higher.   And not many choose to go lower.  Families, and parents like Mama Azza dream of having their children graduate from colleges in respected fields and become respected professionals (doctors and engineers), open their own practices, and make enough money to get married to a respectable woman/man.

So parents take it personally when their high schoolers are off goofing around in Alexandria or on Facebook, because, hey, how are they going to get respectable grandchildren otherwise?!

Birthday and Halloween

31 Oct

This past week marked the 22nd anniversary of my birth, and the first birthday I’ve celebrated outside of the United States.  I have to admit to a few moments of homesickness, missing the safety and security of being around friends and family who first of all, know it’s my birthday, and second of all, are required to celebrate with me!  Luckily I have a super-nice host family here and great friends who helped me celebrate even without being required to 😉

Highlights of the day included being sung to at 9am in Amiyya class complete with a tray of sweets, lunch with my host fam and some relatives (one of whom is this little cutie with quite a personality, Jenna):

…And dinner with my Flagship friends at the Thai/Indian/Chinese/Japanese restaurant on the roof of the old colonial Sofitel Hotel, with spectacular views of the city.

And tea and cake at home at night over a little homework (but not too much).

This week being Halloween, the Flagship students of course had to celebrate American-style with a full-out costume party and pot-luck complete with spicy homemade chili.  Our make-shift costumes included Scott as a ninja, Zenit as an Incredible, Fatima as the Morton Salt girl, Charlie and Jordan as two Upper Egyptians wearing Galabiyya and facial hair, and Monica, Mae, and I as Red, Blue, and Green m&m’s!  Even Mr. Poopsie the puppy came and dressed up.  Check out the pictures for more great costumes. We finished out the night telling scary stories by candlelight, and all screaming together watching Paranormal Activity (yipes!).

Egypt never sleeps

4 Oct

It’s 1:14am. Even the babies are still awake; I can hear them making happy baby noises from the apartment across the street. Mama Azza just got home from the grocery store and fed me dinner…which is kind of like lunch in the US: a light meal of bread, deli meat, olives, and about 5 different types of cheese. Mohab (brother) was already asleep because today was his first football (soccer) match of the season, but Mama Azza woke him up anyway and told him to do his homework (he didn’t).

1:19am and the men sitting out on wooden chairs in the street below me smoking shisha and cigarettes, drinking shay (tea), and chatting, are calling for new coals for their water pipe.

1:24am and the lady in the apartment above me is laughing on the phone with a girlfriend.

1:29am and there’s some kind of traffic problem out front….a few different horns are honking. Helpful people around on the street shout out various instructions to the drivers.

1:38 am and I’m sitting in my breezy room in my host family’s 8th floor apartment, drinking shay-bi-laban (milk tea) and doing some reading for class tomorrow.

And I feel right at home.

Finally Almost Settled

23 Sep

They tell us at our pre-departure orientation that our experience living abroad is going to be one huge W.  Lots of ups and downs.  Sometimes they’ll be little squiggles, hating Egypt one moment when you don’t have hot water or people just won’t stop staring on the street, and loving it the next when you taste your first fresh pomegranate juice or have a really good conversation with a cab driver.

My first week was rough.  It was tough to come back to Alexandria after a year, knowing some of the people and places, but having such a different mentality on what my goals and ideals are this year.  Last time, even though we took classes, the program was kind of a joke, and we learned most from our experiences in the city and travels to other parts of Egypt.  For the year-long program, we have a 30-hour per week schedule: Flagship Classes within the program, a direct enrollment course taken at Alexandria University, a 10-hour per week internship at an organization or business, and meetings with language and academic partners.  That’s not even starting to talk about homework, spending time with our host families, getting places via public transportation, eating, or sleep (ha!).  Needless to say, I’ll be busy.

And I already have been!  But to tell the truth, as my schedule is starting to take shape, and we gradually ease into finding our internships and starting university classes, I’m so much happier.  The uncertainty of not knowing what daily life will be like, where I’ll be living next week, or how I’ll get from place to place was I think the hardest part for me to deal with, at the same time as my body and sleep schedule adjusted to new food, climate, language, and environment.

So, right now, I’m finally getting settled.  Well, sort of.  Things are at least starting to gain some semblance of certainty, which is comforting.  I’m still living temporarily in the dorms I lived in last summer, within walking distance of the university.  I was originally supposed to live here just for 5 days, until the family I was going to live with came back to Alexandria.  That family ended up falling through (the mom got sick and they aren’t coming back until the end of September.)  Luckily, a friend of the program knew of another family that is willing to host me.  I went to visit them the other day, and they’re really nice!!  It’s a mom (Mama Azza) and her son (Mohab) who is in high school.  They’re moving into a new apartment and it’s not ready yet, but hopefully I’ll move in on Saturday.  For now, I’m getting sick of living out of my suitcase, and my room is a super-disaster!  Classes are great this year.  I have two of the best teachers in the program, and I can already tell I’m going to learn a lot, and have a TON of work.  The details are finally worked out for my internship, which is at an organization called Caritas that has various projects around Alexandria on issues like street children, empowerment of women, HIV/AIDS, and education….more on that when I start next week!  For my direct enrollment class, I’m taking Industrial Sociology….that should start up this week or next as well.

Anyway, so that’s the update!  I’m going to a wedding tomorrow and SUPER EXCITED!!!  Here are a few pictures of the views from my window, and from the roof, one day when I woke up before sunrise by accident.  (2nd picture is my window view)