Thursday, March 29, 2012

Someone I'm Going To Aspire To Emulate

Yesterday I took a Marrakech city bus on my way from the center of Marrakech to the town where my friend and fellow PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer) lives. The city buses are much cheaper than taxis. I paid 6 dirhams for the 45-minute bus ride. If I'd taken a taxi, probably I would've paid at least 25 dirhams. The bus fare is set, whereas a taxi driver could end up trying to charge you a lot and you might either try haggling with him, or pay more than you think you should pay, even though you'd be frustrated.

I'm reminded of what a more experienced PCV told me during my first couple of months in Morocco. He noted how a lot of PCVs don't like Marrakech. Some PCVs get turned off by Marrakech and frustrated by it since they wind up spending a lot of money in the city, including while getting overcharged for taxi rides. This particular more experienced PCV advised to learn and use the city bus system. Having taken his tip, the same as the directions given to me by my friend who I'm visiting here near Marrakech, I'm reminded that we should get help and guidance from one another. To do so, it can be easier if one shares how one is feeling. If you're frustrated about a situation, or otherwise feeling challenged by it, tell someone else how you feel about it. Not only will you tend to feel better simply because you've verbalized your feelings, and shared them with someone who can empathize with you, but once the other person knows that you've been struggling with it, he or she can share helpful ideas that he or she may have. Conversely, if you don't share how you feel, you're making it harder for the other person to help you.

Let the other person help you. And in the process, see what you learn about giving and receiving. Last night, I was happy to arrive at my friend's apartment. He welcomed me to his home as he always does when I come to visit. As the evening progressed, he showed me much hospitality. Before I'd sat down, he offered me some of the potato chips he was eating. A little while later, we had breakfast for dinner when he made us some delicious French toast. He gave me half of the orange he was having. He offered me some fancy chocolate. When he went to get a yogurt for himself, he checked to see if I wanted one. He's an unusually magnanimous and gracious host: he's someone I'm going to aspire to emulate.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Refreshing Display Of Courtesy

Recently I was walking down the sidewalk in the town in which I live here in the Sahara. I'm grateful when I'm in a spot where there is a sidewalk on which I can walk. In many locations in Morocco, there isn't one. Many Moroccans tend to walk in the street, even where there is a sidewalk.

Anyway, as I was walking down the sidewalk, a man exited a store and our paths crossed. We both stopped, which was an uncommon sight. Typically two people in that scenario in Morocco would immediately get around each other and quickly continue on their ways. But he and I each were waiting for the other person to go first. After we each had finally continued walking our separate ways, I thought how unusual that encounter was. Very often here in Morocco, people just go where they're going, without yielding to others. It may seem like a simple thing, but I greatly appreciated his refreshing, considerate display of courtesy.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

If You Care, You're Going To Do Something About It

On my walk back to my apartment from the center of town yesterday, I saw a boy throw a rock at another boy. He was picking up another rock when I said to him in Darija, that is, Moroccan Arabic, "Don't do that: you could hurt someone."

I've been trying to devote more time and energy to working on my own behavior, and to helping others improve their behavior. We do others no favors when we see others doing things which are unacceptable yet fail to call them out on their misbehavior. If I'm doing something wrong, I want someone to tell me. In telling me, someone is going to help me improve. I have a spiritual brother who regularly rebukes me and other Christians. I am extremely thankful for his attention, care, frankness, and confidence in chastising me and others. He pays attention to what people are doing. He also cares enough to bring our misdeeds to our attention. If you care, you're not only going to be paying attention; you're also going to do something about a problem. He's honest and forthright enough to tell us the truth about ourselves. And he believes strongly enough in the importance of addressing our behavior to be bold enough to speak with us about it.

I don't know if that boy with whom I spoke yesterday is going to stop throwing rocks because of what I said to him. I can't control him or make his choices for him. But I can, and do, make my own choices. And I choose to address such behavior.

After I told him not to throw rocks, he appeared to be considering what I had said to him. Perhaps, if nothing else, at least I got him to consider some potential consequences of his actions.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Best Way To Deal With Misbehavior In The Classroom Is Through The Heart

Often when I'm teaching English at the dar chebab (Darija, or Moroccan Arabic, for "youth center") here in town, kids are unruly. Usually they divert other students' attention by talking to them in class. However, sometimes they engage in other, more disruptive classroom misbehavior.

I've gone so far as to kick talkative or otherwise distracting kids out of the classroom. While I prefer not to resort to such extreme measures, after expelling multiple misbehaving students out of the classroom, I have found that the remaining students, who are more serious about learning, are more able to focus on the lesson. Consequently, we have more efficient and productive lessons.

However, at times I've also called upon the moudir (Darija for "director") of the dar chebab to help me with especially disruptive kids. For example, on one recent night, I was teaching an English class. Given that it has started getting warmer, the moudir had left the windows of this particular classroom open before I started teaching this class. Thus, the students in the classroom and I quite clearly heard the ear-piercing whistle which a child made right outside the window. I purposely kept teaching for a few more moments to avoid acknowledging, and thus to avoid drawing attention to, his misbehavior, which, I suspected, was exactly what he wanted. However, after a few moments, I left the classroom and spoke with the moudir about the loud whistle. He went outside the dar chebab and took the boys outside the window by surprise. Later that night he told me that he had decided that they would be banned from the dar chebab.

He's also mentioned to me the idea of bringing rebellious kids to the gendarmes, who are the law enforcement officers here in town. Generally, although I imagine that doing so would tend to be highly effective in reining in kids' unruly behavior, it seems to me that doing so might be an extreme measure. However, at least some of the time, I would definitely encourage such a course of action. With the very loud, screeching whistle, one is starting to consider noise complaints, which, at least in the US, law enforcement officers handle. However, I also recognize that Moroccans might call upon law enforcement here in Morocco for additional and different reasons other than those which lead people to utilize law enforcement agencies in the US. Furthermore, I completely respect the moudir's authority and his decisions to ban certain youths from the dar chebab and/or to bring them to the gendarmerie.

In managing misbehavior while I'm teaching and/or tutoring kids in English, I've also been reminded of certain cultural phenomena here in Morocco. Youths, as well as adults, sometimes expect me to become violent when I attempt to deal with disruptive kids. In addressing classroom misbehavior, I also try to get kids to respect each other.

A specific example comes to mind. Last week, I was tutoring a student in English. He told me that he was going to give a presentation in school about how youths drop out of school. He's one of the most devoted students who comes to the dar chebab for help in learning English. He often asks me questions about English. He's also relatively quiet, gentle, modest and soft-spoken. As I was helping him with words and phrases in English related to his presentation topic, he was making a good number of mistakes, sometimes by misspelling words, and sometimes by using the wrong verb tense. Other kids were in the room, and a couple of them were watching and listening as I was tutoring this student. One of the ones who was watching was laughing as my tutee was incorrectly composing sentences. I became angry and told him and another youth who also was distracting us to leave the room. I was especially incensed in this case because not only were they making it more difficult for my tutee to concentrate, and thus to learn, but the one kid was implicitly mocking his attempts to learn. I was especially agitated because potentially, given his seemingly sensitive nature, my tutee seems particularly susceptible to the destructive effects which such mockery can have on one's psyche.

I thus followed the two youths out of the dar chebab, in an attempt to explain to them why they must not laugh at students who are trying to learn. However, when they saw me coming, they ran away. I believe that they assumed that I would hurt them, or at least grab them, if I got close enough to them to do so. I returned to the classroom and finished tutoring my student. The two students who had sped away had returned and were lingering just outside the front doors of the dar chebab. I again tried to speak with the disrespectful students, and again they fled; this pattern recurred a few times. Each time I looked outside to see if they were still there so I could talk with them, they became scarce.

Finally at one point, I was standing outside of the dar chebab when I saw the youth who had been laughing at my tutee. From afar, I strongly stated to him in Darija that he must not laugh at another student who is trying to learn. In English, he said, "I am sorry." I responded in Darija that he had to say that to the student at whom he had been laughing.

Having addressed his disrespectful behavior, I re-entered the dar chebab, where the moudir, as well as the moudir of another dar chebab in a nearby village were conversing. I began speaking with them about this situation which had just occurred while I had been tutoring. I explained to them that the reason I had been so irritated was because if a kid laughs at another kid when he's trying to learn, that youth who's trying to learn might later have psychological problems. The moudir of the dar chebab here in town indicated that he understood.

A short time later, he told me that the moudir of the dar chebab from the nearby town would walk with me to my apartment. I headed out from the dar chebab with him. After walking with him for about a minute, I began to wonder why he was walking me home. It occurred to me that perhaps it was because I had berated the one youth in public. Moroccans tend to observe the rule of praising others in public, and reprimanding them in private. However, I'd kept trying to take the two disruptive youths aside to privately counsel them, but hadn't been able to do so. Given the potentially damaging effects of his mockery, I felt it might have been urgent immediately to address his misbehavior. Further, during some periods, I have not seen this particular youth, the one who had been laughing at my tutee, for months on end. Still further, I'd seen the moudir of the dar chebab here in town chide students while others were watching and/or within earshot. Nevertheless, as I was walking home with the moudir of the dar chebab of the nearby town, I asked him if I should not have chastised the student in public, and if I should have waited until I was able to privately speak with him. He responded that there hadn't been a problem with how I had handled the situation.

As we continued walking, once we were much closer to my apartment, it occurred to me that maybe he wanted to come into my apartment, perhaps to counsel me in private about this situation. Accordingly, when we reached the front door of the apartment building in which I live, I asked him if he wanted to come inside. He declined, which not only seemed to be a genuine reply given the look on his face and his general demeanor, but also seemed to make sense since he hasn't been feeling that well.

Once I had gotten inside my apartment, I finally realized why he had walked me home. He had done so because Moroccan men and boys often make sure that other men or boys in a physical altercation actually part ways, and often accompany them on their way to make sure that they're not going to go back to find the other--or each other--to restart the dispute or fight. However, I'd had no intention of harming, grabbing or even touching either of these youths. During physical confrontations, Moroccan men and boys exchange harsh words and threats, shove each other, and, at times, put their hands to the throat of the other male, as if they are about to strangle him. They rarely use weapons while fighting, and nearly no private Moroccan citizens own guns. Given how Moroccan men and boys sometimes interact with each other, certainly I understand why Moroccans tend to expect me to become violent with youths who are disruptive while I'm trying to teach and/or tutor.

However, I strive to avoid becoming violent. I hope that the next day I was able to communicate that I aim to follow this behavioral aspiration. I was at the dar chebab when both of the youths who I had ejected from the classroom the previous day walked right up to me. I calmly said to them in Darija, "Look: you have to respect other kids. It's very important to respect them when they're trying to learn. That's all." I was glad to see that they seemed to be serious and attentive to the message I was trying to communicate to them. It occurred to me that they might have become so meek because they were concerned that the moudir was going to ban them from the dar chebab, and/or take other punitive measures against them. I figured that I was probably correct in my suspicion when the student who had laughed at my tutee seemed concerned a little while later as he asked the moudir whether he could attend Spring Camp. However, I hope that these two students are not just changing their behavior out of self-interest. I hope and pray that they truly are repentant, and that they have reached such a psychological and spiritual place out of compassion for their fellow student. I know that if they feel and believe so, they will have benefited infinitely more than from having gained any knowledge of, or skill in, English.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Encouraging Girls To Be Ambitious and Bold

In my volunteering at the dar chebab (Darija, or Moroccan Arabic, for "youth center"), where I do most of my volunteering as a Youth Development PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer) here in Morocco, I try to use English lessons as vehicles for empowering Moroccan girls. I attempt to do so partially by trying to provide the girls with ideas of role models and by encouraging them to speak out.

I had yet again another opportunity to do so last week, when I was teaching some girls, at their request, about the present continuous verb tense. As some examples of that verb tense, I wrote on the board the sentences "She is working as a doctor in a hospital" and "She is getting her Master's degree." Although initially I provided them with these sentences intending to hopefully foster seeds of ambition in them, I also found that they found the second sentence educational in a purely informational sense. They asked me what a Master's degree is. Now, I'm not sure if they just didn't know the words in English for Master's degree, or if they didn't know that there is such a thing as a Master's degree. In any event, I answered their question, explaining that first one has to go to high school if one is then going to go to a university, which, in turn, is a prerequisite for obtaining a Master's degree.

Also during that lesson, I started implementing the practice, about which I had recently read, of having students come to the board to write. I'd read that in having girls get up and write on the board, one can help build their self-confidence. Hence I was keen to, and thus was sure to, call on girls who were raising their hands during that class. I was writing sentences in the present continuous verb tense, leaving the conjugation of the verb "to be" and the formation of the gerund up to the student who was writing on the board. So I wrote text like "She (work) at the office" and had the student replace "work" with "is working" on the board.

I'm imagining and hoping that girls gain self-confidence by walking up to the board and writing on it, and for various reasons, I'm suspecting that they actually will gain such self-assurance by doing so. They are taking a risk by stepping out of their comfort zone. They're taking bold steps to stand up in front of their peers. They're taking on a position of prominence in the classroom. They're publicly displaying their knowledge before their classmates. They are, in effect, teaching their fellow pupils. Consequently, they're taking a step toward assuming a position of authority. And I envision that girls are being empowered by all of these likely benefits, which it seems that they likely derive by choosing to take a leap.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Using Humor As A Means Of Helping Kids Focus

Earlier this week I was teaching English in the dar chebab (Darija, or Moroccan Arabic, for "youth center"), where I do most of my volunteering as a Youth Development PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer) here in Morocco. The small English class consisted mostly of girls, who had asked me to review dialogue which frequently is said when one goes shopping.

I gradually went through a brief conversation with them on the dry erase board between a shopkeeper and a customer, very similar to the one which one of the girls had showed me in her notebook. At one point in the exchange, I wrote that the shopper was indicating that she wanted some chicken. I had the storeowner reply by asking her how many chickens she wanted. At this point, the girls seemed to be visibly tired, bored or losing their motivation or focus. So the next sentence I wrote on the board was the customer saying, "I want eighty chickens." When the girls read this sentence, they smiled a little. Then I asked them if they knew why I had written that the shopper wanted eighty chickens. I explained to them that I had written that to make sure that they had been paying attention. Still, the girls seemed to be lagging a bit, so I next wrote on the board the shopkeeper responding to his patron, "You're crazy." Moroccans usually are amused when someone is accused of being loony, so it was another effective way of rousing them a bit, in an effort to help them to focus on the lesson.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Helping Mom In The Kitchen

Yesterday I was volunteering at the dar chebab (Darija, or Moroccan Arabic, for "youth center"), where I do most of my volunteering as a Youth Development PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer) here in Morocco. For most of my volunteering there, I teach and tutor students in English.

Yesterday when some students arrived at the dar chebab, one of them asked me to help him with a paragraph he wanted to write in English. He said that he wanted to write about what he had done this past weekend. Usually I have students write what they want to write, and then I correct it. However, yesterday I got the different idea of having the student dictate the letter to me. I corrected his speech as I transcribed it onto the board, so he was only seeing the correct version, and not also what he had said, which at times did not employ proper grammar. In retrospect, I think that I prefer my usual approach. That way, after the student has written his or her work, and then after I correct it, the student can see both his or her mistakes, as well as how the text should correctly read.

Anyway, we came up with a paragraph which read something like this: "Last weekend I went to my village. I spent time with my family. I helped my father work. I saw my friends." A little later, the student said that, instead of having the sentence "I helped my father work," he wanted to include the sentence "I helped my mother in the kitchen." Then he asked me, "That is a good thing to do, yes?" Certainly wanting to encourage sons to support and help their mothers, rather than simply to rely on them and expect them to cook and clean and wash for them, I immediately affirmed that it was indeed excellent to help one's mother in the kitchen.

After we had finished working on the paragraph which he had wanted to write, he and another student asked me to review the passive voice with them. I wrote various sentences on the board in the active voice, which I had the students transform into the passive voice. In doing so, at a couple of points, I consciously capitalized on some opportunities to reinforce the approach of helping one's female family members with household tasks--and even going further than that, and instead actually doing the tasks for them. Thus, I wrote on the board the sentence "He is cooking couscous in the kitchen for his mother," which the students correctly reworded into the passive voice as "Couscous is being cooked by him in the kitchen for his mother."

While I often try to plant such seeds of support of women, in this instance I especially enjoyed providing them this sentence, since I felt that rather than planting a seed, I felt that I was watering a seed which had already taken root. He had shown, of his own volition, that he wants to support and help his mother. That's the best case scenario, when a student already shows the behavior, skill or attitude you hope that he or she develops. It was his idea to help his mother, which demonstrates that he's thinking in the mode of supporting women, and, more specifically, his mother. Hopefully he's already in this mindset by second nature. If not, it looks like he's on his way, since such thoughts of supporting women occur to him on his own.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Bonjour!

I could have already written this blog entry on any of numerous days in the past year and a half, since in it I'm going to describe something which happens very often here. Typically here in Morocco, when Moroccans see a foreigner, they assume that the non-Moroccan either is French and/or knows French. Countless times I have been greeted in French by both Moroccan adults and children. Kids tend to address non-Moroccans in French slightly more than adults do so. I can't tell you how many times youngsters have exclaimed, "Bonjour!" to me. Even though I'm disappointed when youths greet me in French, still it makes sense why they do so, partly because they learn French in school.

For those of you who are more familiar with the process when I was applying to the Peace Corps, you might be puzzled. You might be wondering, after I spent so much time studying French during the year I was applying to the Peace Corps, why it irks me when I'm addressed in French.

It bothers me because often when Moroccans address foreigners in French, they assume that the non-Moroccans don't know Darija, that is, Moroccan Arabic, or one of the Berber languages of Morocco. Moroccans often assume that foreigners don't know Arabic or Berber because they're likely to be tourists. Morocco in general gets a lot of tourists. The town in which I live gets a lot of tourists. Wherever I am in Morocco, people often think I'm a tourist.

After having put in effort to learn Darija, it's frustrating when people assume I'm a tourist and don't know Darija. However, I realize that it's a reasonable assumption which Moroccans make. It's just that after a while, I grow weary of people figuring that I'm here on vacation, and then treating me that way. I just want to function regularly in my everyday life, and have people's behavior acknowledge that.

In processing these thoughts, it has occurred to me that in the US, we have so many people who have immigrated from so many different countries to the US during their lifetimes. We're used to people moving to the US. In tracing their ancestry, the vast majority of US citizens find that fairly recently, their ancestors migrated to the US.

While some foreigners live here in Morocco, there seem to not be that many. And while many people in the US have never been abroad, many US citizens have been abroad. The ones who have been abroad are thus likely to be able to empathize with people who are living in a land which is foreign to them. However, the vast majority of Moroccans have never been, and never will be, abroad. While I remind myself of this fact from time to time, I have to continue to do so. After all, how can I really expect them to understand, when they haven't lived abroad?

Friday, March 16, 2012

Empowering Women and Girls

Earlier this week at the dar chebab (Darija, or Moroccan Arabic, for "youth center"), where I do most of my volunteering as a PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer) here in Morocco, I was teaching three teenage Moroccan girls English. They had asked me to teach them about reported speech, which is also called "indirect speech." So I was putting sentences onto the dry erase board like "He said, 'I cooked the couscous.'" Then I was explaining to them that using indirect speech, one would write the same message as "He said that he had cooked the couscous." Later I was giving them sentences like the first one and asking them to rewrite them using indirect speech. Then we reviewed their answers and compared their answers with how the sentence was supposed to look using indirect speech.

Later during the same English class, they asked me to review the passive voice with them. So I was writing sentences in the active voice on the board, and having the girls switch the sentences into the passive voice, so they could practice putting sentences into the passive voice.

I often try to use English lessons as opportunities to plant and/or water seeds in the minds of Moroccan youths. So at one point, I wrote a sentence on the board mentioning Fatima Mernissi, who is a Moroccan feminist, and who thus writes about how we need to empower women. She's probably the most prominent feminist in Morocco; indeed, some consider her the most prominent feminist in the Arab world. I had already seen a picture of Ms. Mernissi in an English textbook used here in Morocco, so I figured that they probably already knew about her. So I wanted to help encourage any interest they might have already had in her. So I wrote, "She read the book by Fatima Mernissi." After a little while, they correctly answered that in the passive voice, the sentence should read "The book by Fatima Mernissi was read by her." After our small class had ended, I thought that because I had written that sentence on the board, which they copied into their notebooks, and which they'll likely re-read, perhaps it will reinforce the idea of reading one of her books, and consequently perhaps one of them would end up reading one of Ms. Mernissi's books.

After we had reviewed what that sentence should look like in the passive voice, one of the girls noted, "But she is not here!" I capitalized on her comment as an opportunity to again water that seed, that idea of reading the work of a major Moroccan feminist. However, this time, I made the suggestion more directly, replying, "Ah, but you can still read one of her books!"

I also try to use English lessons to point out what must seem like unexpected, inexplicable, anomalous inconsistencies in spelling and pronunciation in English. Thus I explained that both the past tense and the present tense of the verb "read" are both spelled the same way, even though they don't sound the same way. I added that in the present tense, the vowels in this word collectively have a long "e" sound, but not in the past tense, when it sounds like the color "red." After illustrating these inconsistencies, I decided to employ some humor to try to ease any mental anguish that they may have been feeling over trying to get these spellings and pronunciations straight. After acknowledging that they must think that these inconsistencies seem crazy, I remarked, "The people who started spelling "read" in the past tense and "read" in the present tense the same way should have been sent to Berrechid!" Berrechid is a city here in Morocco where there's a psychiatric institution. The name of the city is often used synonymously as an insinuation that someone is mentally ill: that is to say, if you say that someone should go to Berrechid, you're suggesting that that person is insane. So, in declaring that certain people--who started pronouncing both the past and present tenses of the verb "read" the same way--should have gone to Berrechid, I was saying that those people must have been insane. Since Moroccans almost always are amused when someone else is called insane, the girls did indeed laugh at my comment.

Jocularity aside, I also capitalized on the opportunity to encourage these girls in their studies, given that a couple of them appeared to be wearing wedding rings, and thus apparently were married. Given that many rural Moroccan girls are expected to stay at home and raise a family once they get married, even if they get married while they are young, I felt it was important to reinforce their studiousness in light of their seemingly being married. Therefore, regarding how they're continuing their studies while evidently being married, I said to them, "Tbark Allah Elikum," which you say to people who have done something which you feel merits approval or support.

One of the girls clarified that she's engaged to be married. The other admitted that she's not actually married. Then she asked me if I'm married. It occurred to me that perhaps she asked me because she likes me. I've been out of college for more than a few years. Considering the question of marrying a Moroccan more generally, I wouldn't want to become romantically involved with nearly all Moroccan females because I'd never convert to Islam. Added to that reason of never being able to become a Muslim, amongst the many reasons why I wouldn't want to become romantically involved with Moroccan females, I thus include not wanting to get involved with girls who necessarily are a lot younger than me.

However, you should know that not only do Moroccan men marry much younger females, it's also socially acceptable for them to do so here in Morocco. Why? The historical figure most revered in Morocco did so. The founder of Islam married a female who was significantly younger than him. He also claimed to have revelations authorizing him to marry multiple wives; after claiming to have had those revelations, he indeed married multiple females. Consequently, one of his wives accused him of having self-serving revelations. He also said that it's best not to marry more than one wife if you can't give adequate attention to all of them. Ultimately his other wives wound up ceding their time with him to his youngest wife, the one who was significantly younger than him, because she was perceived to be his favorite wife. Anyway, I could go on, but if you want to know where Moroccan men get a role model for marrying females much younger than them, know that many of them get such encouragement and reinforcement from the founder of Islam.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due

Yesterday I went to the store of a man here in town where I frequently buy food. When he saw me, he got up, asking me if I wanted to buy food. I told him that I didn't come there to buy food.

Instead I went to his shop to thank him for his son's good behavior in the English classes I teach at the dar chebab (Darija, or Moroccan Arabic, for "youth center"), where I do most of my volunteering as a Youth Development PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer) here in Morocco. While teaching at the dar chebab, so often--indeed, far more often than not--I'm faced with a classroom of mostly unruly children. Thus, I especially appreciate when students behave well rather than encourage classroom misbehavior. Not only are they making my job easier, but also, and far more importantly, they're helping to foster a productive learning environment, by not distracting others through disruptive behavior.

I said to him, "Sir, thank you. In the classroom, your son is serious. He is quiet. When he has something to say, he raises his hand. He respects other people."

I believe that it was out of modesty that the shopkeeper denied that his son behaves particularly well. He claimed that at home, his son doesn't act the way I had described. However, I find it hard to believe that someone's behavior would be so different at home than at school.

Instead, I think it not only far more likely that his son is generally respectful and well-behaved, but also that he behaves so well because his father, this shopkeeper, has been raising him well. And that's why I went to his shop, to thank him, to let him know that I have noticed his son's outstanding behavior and that I appreciate it.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Shame On You

Here in Morocco, when someone does something which breaks a social norm, others might exclaim, "Hshuma!" When they do so, they're telling the person in Darija, that is, in Moroccan Arabic, "Shame on you!" The person who is chiding the other person might also pull down one of his or her eyelids with his or her index finger, which also is intended to convey the idea of "hshuma."

However, the concept of "hshuma" does not derive its force and effect on the behavior of others due to guilt on the part of the person who has been criticized. Rather, the accusation of "hshuma" focuses on the person in a way which makes the person publicly uncomfortable, in effect, shamed in front of others. Consequently, it often becomes important in Morocco to save face.

Nevertheless, I don't hear Moroccans saying "hshuma" that often. There does exist the social etiquette here that, if one feels that one should reprimand someone else, one does so in private, rather than in public. One is expected publicly to compliment and thank one's friends here. There's also the tendency here in Morocco that out in public one does not get involved in the affairs of others. I've seen kids fighting while adults are nearby watching. When I've gone to break up fights between kids, only then do other adults sometimes come to the children, at that point to assist in breaking up the fight. Thus perhaps one can trace how one doesn't hear "hshuma" uttered that much to these non-interventionist cultural norms, of not getting involved in others' business.

At any rate, I was heartened recently when I was heading off toward the palmerie, or massive grove of palm trees, which stretches into, through, and out of my town, for one of the walks I so enjoy there. On my way to the palmerie, a very young Moroccan boy, perhaps two years old, threw a rock at me. A woman behind him, perhaps his mother, declared, "Hshuma!" Especially considering how I often see Moroccan children throwing rocks at each other, I was grateful that this woman, particularly if she was the young boy's mother, was chastising him for his hostile behavior. Hopefully by correcting him while he is still so young, she will help him to treat others better in the future as he grows older and becomes more able to appreciate the moral character of his own actions.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

A Sure Remedy For The Blues

At various moments in my life, I've found that when I'm feeling down in some way, whether it's discouraged, sad, or some other emotion that's bringing me down, I take a turn for the better emotionally if I choose to help someone else. It makes sense for multiple reasons, and from various perspectives.

In psychological research, it has been found that if you choose to distract yourself, rather than ruminate on your problems, you'll feel better. It's also been shown in such research that if you choose to engage in a more active task, rather than a task where you're more passive, or stationary, you're also likely to feel better.

But I'd add that you feel better because you're choosing to do something, rather than simply letting something be done to you. You're making an affirmative, assertive, proactive choice to take control of your own situation, rather than let it control you.

Not only are we affected by whether or not we choose to do something, we're also affected by what in particular we choose to do. If we choose to do something helpful and selfless, that makes us feel differently than if we react vindictively or selfishly.

We feel differently when we make such divergent choices because we're also affected by the effect we have on others. Often we have the blessing of getting to see how others react to us, which then helps guide our actions in the future. If we hurt someone in front of us, we're likely to see their pain, which is likely to make us regret what we did. We empathize with others. When our friends are happy, we celebrate with them.

When we help others, often the people we've helped thank us. Then we know we've contributed to others having a better day. We know that the other person has appreciated what we've done for them, and that reinforcement also guides our actions in the future.

And after we've helped someone, we have the benefit of thinking about how we've chosen to spend our time. When you reflect on something that you've done which is both productive and beneficial, that is, something that not only accomplishes something, but also supports and nurtures someone else, you feel better about how you've spent your time.

So my recent experience here in town makes plenty of sense. Recently on one night when I was in the dar chebab (Darija, or Moroccan Arabic, for "youth center") where I do most of my volunteering as a Youth Development PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer) here in Morocco, my mood was in the tank. It was looking as if, due to other work, that I wasn't going to get to travel to help some people who needed my help. I was despairing over this obstacle when a student asked me to help him in reviewing an English lesson which was especially challenging for him. It wasn't long after I'd started helping him that my mood started improving, and significantly, at that. And it makes so much sense. Rather than ruminating over how I thought I wasn't going to get to help certain people, I set about to start helping someone who I could help, someone who was right in front of me.

And that reminds me of other wise words of guidance I often try to follow: focus on what you do have. Do what you can do. Help the person who is right in front of you.

Friday, March 9, 2012

International Women's Day

Yesterday was International Women's Day. Accordingly, I started a discussion at the dar chebab (Darija, or Moroccan Arabic, for "youth center"), where I do most of my volunteering as a PCV here in Morocco. A couple dozen students, about a quarter of them girls, and the rest boys, were present.

I explained that in many different countries, people celebrate International Women's Day because they think that it's important to know about and talk about the needs women have and the challenges that they face around the world. Then I noted that sometimes people face challenges because their needs are not being met.

I asked the students what all people need. We came up with a partial list which included air, water, food, education, employment, medicine, health care, housing, community, family and opportunities to grow.

I asked them to name a challenge which women in particular seem to face, perhaps here in the town where we live, throughout Morocco, or elsewhere in the world. One of them said, "Some women are not working." I agreed, and wrote it in a couple of different phrasings on the board, to help make sure that they understood its meaning. I wrote "Some women are unemployed" and "They don't have jobs."

I then asked the students why some women are not employed. One student responded that some women did not get a lot of education, so I wrote that on the board too.

Next I asked the students why some women have not received much education. They began to supply reasons, which I wrote on the board, and I added ones on the board that they didn't mention. We soon had a list which stated, "They could not pay," "In some places, there are not a lot of schools," "Some people don't understand that education is important," "Some girls stopped going to school because they were working," "Some girls stopped going to school because they got married," and "Some girls stopped going to school because they had children."

One of the students noted, "But here (in this town), there are girls who are married and they are still going to school." Rather than feeling stymied because he had just provided evidence to undermine one of the reasons we had found why some girls don't get a lot of education, instead I immediately realized that it could serve as a convenient segue to the next, critical part of the discussion.

Excited, I asked, "And how do they do that? What happens that makes it easier for them to do that?" When they didn't offer any explanations, I made my question more specific. I asked, "What can their husbands do to help them go to school?" One boy replied that they can drive them to school.

I asked what else people could do to ensure that married girls keep going to school. Another boy suggested, "The state can encourage married girls to stay in school."

I liked how they were coming up with solutions at different levels of society. However, I wanted to focus on personal responsibility, to steer them towards keeping themselves accountable for how they themselves deal with these challenges. I asked, "And what about her husband?" One of them replied that her husband can encourage her, so I wrote on the board, "Her husband can encourage her to continue going to school."

It may not seem all that significant to many people in the USA whether one encourages girls to go to school. After all, so many girls go to school in the USA, that perhaps to many people there doesn't seem to be a need to encourage girls to go to school. However, here in many parts of Morocco, not only do fewer girls complete as much schooling as boys, but additionally, they feel pressure to get married and start having families of their own, rather than focus on becoming more educated while they are young. Accordingly, I asked, "Who else can encourage her?"

A student replied, "Other family members." Again, wanting to keep them thinking in specific, personal terms, I asked them which family members. They started rattling off many family members, including father, sister, grandfather, brother, mother, uncle and aunt, all of which I wrote on the board next to "husband."

I wanted to make sure that I adequately emphasized the role which anyone can play in empowering girls, and thus women. Consequently, I aimed to develop further the theme of taking personal responsibility. I said, "Any of these people, her father, her sister, her brother, her uncle could think, 'I'm not deciding whether she goes to school.' But they do have to decide what they're going to say to her. And just like her family members have to take responsibility for what they say to her, we also have the responsibility for what we say to girls who are in this situation. So you see that International Women's Day is about raising our consciousness about the needs and challenges which women and girls face."

The students asked me what it means to raise your consciousness. I explained that once you've raised your consciousness about certain problems, such as the challenges which women face, then you know more about these problems, and thus you can speak more intelligently about them. Also, now that you see why it's important to be educated about these problems, you're also going to do something to help. Now that your consciousness has been raised about these problems, it has become important to you to do something to help.

At least that's my wish. I hope that yesterday I planted and watered some seeds of concern and care about the plight of women and girls in the international community, so that these students, in their daily lives, may bear some beneficial fruits in their efforts to improve the lives of women and girls around the world.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

He Doesn't Know Me Very Well

Earlier this week, I went to the gendarmerie, or the headquarters of the gendarmes, where I live down here in the Sahara in Morocco. Since I live in a town, we don't have any police here in town like there are in Moroccan cities. Instead we only have gendarmes in this town.

Anyway, I went to the gendarmes to check on the status of my application to renew my carte de sejour (French, literally for "the card of one's stay"). Once a foreigner is in Morocco for more than three months, he or she is illegally staying in Morocco. To stay longer than that, one has to get a carte de sejour. After my first few months in Morocco, I obtained a carte de sejour. However, the carte de sejour is only valid for one year. Thus, at the beginning of this year, I applied to renew my carte de sejour. I gave the gendarmes passport-sized photos of myself, copies of the identification page of my passport, copies of my authorization to work here through the Peace Corps, and copies of my rental agreement for the apartment in which I live here in town. After I gave these photos and all of this documentation to them, they gave me a receipt indicating that I had applied to renew my carte de sejour. However, I figured that it wouldn't hurt to go back and check with them to make sure that they had everything they needed to process my application. It turned out that they indeed had everything that they needed, so I left the gendarmerie happy upon confirming that my application was indeed complete.

Later in the day, I headed over to the dar chebab (Darija, or Moroccan Arabic, for "youth center"), where I do most of my volunteering as a PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer). Usually when I arrive at the dar chebab, I visit with the moudir (director) in his office for a little while, to catch up on recent events which have occurred at the dar chebab, as well as to discuss upcoming activities there. When I arrived at the dar chebab on this particular day, the moudir was speaking with a computer science teacher in the office. A little while later, a boy, perhaps ten years old, came into the office.

During the usual banter of conversation, if a Moroccan thinks you're a little crazy, he or she is likely to say so. It's not only a common assertion, but also a relatively sure way of making Moroccans laugh, whether you call someone else crazy, or whether you claim to be crazy yourself. At one point, I told the computer science teacher that I'm crazy. He turned and asked the boy if he thought that I was crazy. The boy, certainly appearing to be a bit meek, said that he didn't think I was crazy. The computer science teacher turned back to me and said, "You see? He doesn't think you're crazy." I rejoindered in Darija, "Ah, but he doesn't know me," insinuating that if the boy did know me, he wouldn't say that, thus implying that I'm crazy. Unsurprisingly, the computer science teacher and the director laughed at my comment. It's a well-worn, but nevertheless reliable, source of laughter here in Morocco.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Ask Her

Last night I was in the dar chebab (Darija, or Moroccan Arabic) where I do most of my volunteering as a Youth Development PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer) here in Morocco. At the dar chebab, I do most of my volunteering as teaching and tutoring Moroccan students in English.

Yesterday in the dar chebab, a student opened his notebook and asked me to explain certain words which were in his notes which he had taken down during his English class. He especially wanted me to explain the word "ambition" to him, which I did. I also explained other related vocabulary to him, such as the verbs "to hope" and "to aspire." Later he clarified that he had been assigned to write an e-mail to a friend explaining what his own ambitions are.

Before I realized that the teacher had assigned him to write about his own aspirations, I thought he was asking me for a topic about which he could write. Students often ask me for subjects about which they can write in English; then they write something so they can practice their English, and then I correct what they have written. Thinking that he had requested a topic about which he could write, I asked him if he had a sister. He replied that he has a sister. I suggested to him that he write an e-mail to his friend explaining what his sister's ambitions are.

The student replied that he didn't know what his sister's ambitions are. Unfortunately I can't say that I was surprised. At least here in southern Morocco, which is such a relatively conservative region of the country, girls and women are widely expected not only to get married, but to work in the home and raise their children. I wouldn't find it surprising if girls' and women's husbands, brothers and other male relatives simply don't ask them what they would most like to be. I suggested to the student that he ask his sister what her ambitions are.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Where Have You Been?

Yesterday I went to the home of a family I often visit here in the town in which I live in the Sahara in Morocco. When I run into them on the street, they invite me over to their home for meals. If I haven't gone over to their home for a meal in a while, usually they'll ask me why I haven't come to their home.

Before I went over to their home, I thought I might be able to get some shopping done before most everyone in town disappeared to have lunch. Between about 1 p.m. and about 4 p.m., most hanoots (Darija, or Moroccan Arabic, for the rough equivalent of corner stores in the USA) are closed while their proprietors are having lunch (and perhaps napping after lunch).

I headed out from my apartment a little before 1 p.m. and was glad to find the hanoot where I mostly frequently shop for groceries open. I stocked up on food, then returned home to drop it off.

Then I continued on to the family's home. When I arrived, I took off my shoes and joined the father on a mat, on top of which was a table with a teapot and glasses. Moroccans love to drink tea, and they always offer some to their guests.

As the father and I sat enjoying the fine weather, bounded by the beautiful blue sky and puffy cumulus clouds, he inquired about my family in the USA, as Moroccans typically do. He also asked me if I had been traveling. I mentioned that on some recent weekends, I'd been to the city which is about an hour north of this town where we live.

All of their kids were traveling, so I only ate with the father. In some conservative Moroccan homes, the women and girls eat separately from the men and boys. In their home, at times we've all eaten together, so I don't know why the mom didn't eat with us yesterday.

The mom brought out lunch, which included some fried fish, accompanied by some hot sauce in which to dip the fish. I enjoyed all of the food, but I enjoyed the hot sauce in a way I didn't enjoy the other food. I don't get to eat much spicy food here in Morocco, so I enjoyed the hot sauce as something which I don't eat too often here. We also ate a vegetarian tajine, or stew, which included potatoes and carrots, grabbing our morsels out of the communal plate with pieces of bread we broke off from the typically round, flat Moroccan loaves of bread.

After lunch, the mom brought us some small oranges for dessert. When we had finished eating the oranges, she came over to the mat and sat with us. She too asked me if I had been traveling. I finally realized that they had been asking me if I had been traveling because I was at their home for a meal for the first time in a month. They felt that it had been too long. They figured that since I hadn't come over for a meal, that I must have been traveling.

I must admit that I had been wary about overindulging in their hospitality. I had been concerned about going to their home too often. Now I know that they expect me to come over more than once a month. It strikes me as a bit notable that even after being here in Morocco for nearly a year and a half, that I am still learning the parameters of the customs and cultural norms here.