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Arabic in Morocco by Rebecca Gilsdorf

With some students

Day 1: Arrival
After nearly 20 hours of travel I finally arrived in Rabat. The taxi driver suddenly pulled over, and I got out and grabbed my things. I then quickly began a race through the crowded, narrow streets of the medina. The walk took maybe 10 minutes but by the time I arrived at the front door of where I'd be staying, I felt completely lost and overwhelmed by the sights and sounds of the medina. I went inside and met the family, ate a quick dinner, attempted to start unpacking and then laid down to rest. I wrote my first journal entry that night and recall thinking, albeit briefly, that I had no idea what I had just gotten myself into.

Day 7: Teaching
With a student I've been here for a few days now and teaching for nearly a week already. Time has really flown. I teach an afternoon class full of anywhere from 4 to 24 students around the age of 10 or 12 with the help of another volunteer. The children have insane amounts of energy and thoroughly enjoy all of the word games that we make up for them to play, particularly when it involves one team against another. Following the younger student class, I pair up with another volunteer to teach a more advanced class. We teach complex grammar rules for a short while and then we’re off into heated debates about Moroccan politics, immigration in the US compared to Morocco, US elections, whether women should work outside the home or not, idioms, and tons more.

Teaching

Then there is a night class only two nights a week. The class is mixed by age and background in English, but we somehow make it work. I’m often surprised by how eager even the younger students are to give up two hours of their evening to learn a third language (Arabic and French tend to be the first two).

Day 15: “It’s a Hyacinth”
I've been teaching for about two weeks now and am enjoying my second full weekend in Rabat. I spent the afternoon in Sweesee, near Takkadoum where I've been teaching, with a group of my students. We met near the building we hold class in and then walked to the coffee shop that my students recommended. We walked for about a half hour before "arriving." Upon arrival we realized that the building was no longer a coffee shop, but had been converted into a furniture store. So we turned around and headed for a different coffee shop, which they assured me would be equally delicious.

Local friends

Along the way one of the students started trying to teach me the Arabic names of flowers that we saw growing on fences along the sidewalk. He picked a large red flower, handed it to me and taught me the name in Arabic. He then asked me what it was called in English. I, having no background in flower names, was stumped. "We call it red flower," I said. We all laughed. The student then asked one of the other students if he knew what it was. The second student, a non-native English speaker like the others, promptly responded, "It's a hyacinth."

Which lead to an even longer laughter session. I was surprised like this on more than one occasion, when my knowledge of things seemed to have a gap that could only be filled by one of my students. We spent the afternoon drinking coffee and milk with sugar and exchanging stories about life in America compared to Morocco and random other things. Tomorrow it is off to Casablanca to see Mosque Hassan II!

Rabat

Day 22:
My Arabic teacher invited me to his house this afternoon for lunch and tea. After an amazing tagine shared with his parents and sisters, we retired to the living room. His mother served tea and biscuits. Two local university professors joined us as did his father. We then began a long discussion about Moroccan politics, southern Morocco, human rights and Islam, the environment, Catholicism, the Isreali-Palestinian conflict and whatever issues came up in between to bridge all of these ideas. The discussion was completely in formal Arabic! Having only studied Arabic for two semesters in the US and 3 weeks in Morocco, I was amazed at how much I’d learned and how much I actually understood of what the others were saying.

Day 28: Last day
Fountain in Rabat Today is my last day teaching. I can't believe a month has already passed. I taught all three of my classes today. The beginner class was wildly rambunctious as usual as I attempted to review first person verb tenses with them. We played a few last games together, took a few photos and then called it a day. After that, I had the advanced class and night class for the final time as well. I exchanged email addresses with a few of the advanced students and said goodbye to them as well.

Day 29: Leaving
Today is Friday; I fly out tomorrow. I don't have to teach at all today so I've decided to meet a few of my students down at the beach to enjoy the sun and ocean one last time. We spent a few hours sitting on the beach and talking about all the things we'd neglected to say before. They helped me fix a few of my lingering pronunciation problems with Arabic and gave me advice on where to go in Morocco if/when I return. They then walked me home just in time for a final amazing cous cous lunch!

Mid-afternoon I caught a taxi to the train station to Casablanca where I spent the night (since my flight was ridiculously early on Saturday morning). I spent the evening in Casablanca writing the final few entries in my journal in an attempt not to forget anything, though I inevitably did. I looked out over the old medina in Casablanca and listened to the Call to Prayer one last time while thinking back on all the funny stories from class, the sewing lessons from one of my host sisters, doing laundry by hand every weekend, taking the overcrowded taxis to work, exploring old Roman ruins, and most importantly all of the amazing people I’d met who taught me more about Arabic, Islam and Morocco than I ever could have dreamed of learning.

I still can't quite believe that I spent a month of my life in Morocco, but I wouldn't exchange a single memory for anything.

Rebecca Gilsdorf

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