Day Six: Friday, March 11th
Today marked our first day presenting to classes at Al-Montanabi High School with Houria. We met with and presented to four classes that morning, while also observing a few more student presentations as well. Once again, we were impressed with the level of engagement that the students demonstrate in classes. Today we observed a wide variety of language levels - as Houria had a variety of classes today, with diverse class dynamics that seem to be directly tied to whether they are in the Math/Science track or the Humanities track...While classes were interesting and lively today, perhaps the greatest learning for us came by means of local culture and cuisine today! After classes, we took a bit of rest time to explore the neighborhood in which we were staying, visiting the local grocery store, a pharmacy, and dropping by a cafe around the corner... then for lunch, we joined Houria and her mother at their home for a delicious and plentiful feast of couscous. In a presentation earlier that day at Al-Montanabi, one of the students claimed that on Fridays, all Moroccans were eating couscous in their homes for lunch. I remembered snickering a bit at such a broad generalization, but when we asked the class how many students eat couscous on Fridays, we were a bit taken aback when every single student in the room raised their hands indicating that perhaps the student was right - that all Moroccans, generally speaking, eat couscous on Fridays. :-) Regardless, we thoroughly enjoyed visiting Houria's home, sitting in her beautiful and typically Moroccan living room, and dining, Moroccan-style around her table as we shared one very large dish of couscous, complete with piled-on meat and vegetables. When we had eaten to the point of lethargy, Houria's mother insisted that we all lie down on their couches and relax while digesting for awhile - of course we obliged. :-)
That afternoon, we went on two outings - one to the museum of modern art - which was featuring an exposition on sculptures and then a large gallery and collection of modern Moroccan art. After an hour long tour through the museum, we then walked to the Rabat train station in order to purchase ourselves train tickets for the weekend to travel south to Marrakech.
Later this evening, while Tricia and Kit went out to eat, I returned to Houria's house where she graciously allowed me to use her laundry machine. Although a rather routine and menial task, as a mother of four children currently, laundry plays a large role in my daily life and weekly survival routine. There is something so real and simple, beautiful and moving, to me when it comes to the trivial tasks in life, so it was a joy to me to get to hang out with Houria and her mother as we washed clothes in their kitchen and then went up to the rooftop late at night and pinned all of my clothes up onto their roof-top clotheslines by the light of the flashlight feature of my smartphone.
Day Seven: Saturday, March 12th
Although today was Saturday, and in the U.S. you would be hard-pressed to find a public school with its doors wide open and its seats full of students... however, here in Morocco, students often attend school on Saturdays. We taught classes for the first four hours today, 8am-12pm, then we quickly transferred ourselves to the Rabat Train Station to travel to Marrakech in order to see a bit more of the country and experience another city. The train ride was well over four hours, and it was nice to watch the countryside roll by as the landscapes changed from lush and green to arid and dry as we traveled further and further south. Once in Marrakech, we were impressed by the city's vibrant beauty and intense nightlife in the main square and markets! We had quite the misadventure this evening as Kit and I were separated for about 45 minutes from Houria and Tricia after a slight communication error with a taxi driver and then getting swept away into a bustling crowd of traveling Moroccans and international tourists... When we did reconvene, we transferred immediately to a large complex: Chez Ali for a cultural dinner, show, and celebration. While there, we observed various bands that represented diverse regions and cultures from different places throughout Morocco, as well as Arabian horse-riding expositions and an impressive fireworks display following a show of belly dancing, singing, fire throwing, and camel riding. All in all, it was a feast for the eyes and a lot to digest. A truly unique experience.
Day Eight: Sunday, March 13th
Today we spent a full day in Marrakech exploring the city, visiting the ruins of a castle (palais), shopping for goods in their famous Souk (where I was able - with Houria's help - to barter for a Moroccan rug made in the Atlas mountains), and visiting the main square by day time, which was a completely different experience altogether. At the close of our time in Marrakech, we returned to our hotel and went to the train station to depart. However, when we reached the train station, we realized that we were not going to make it home by train tonight - for the trains had been cancelled all day long in order to support the government-encouraged protest about the Western Sahara and its importance as a part of Morocco. As it turned out, the trains had been transporting (free of charge) protesters to Rabat all day long to support the protest. Realizing we were not getting on a train, we arranged for a private transport and rented a van to take our small group home to Rabat for the night. We arrived home quite late, tired, and road-weary, but happy to have experienced Marrakech!
Moments of Note: During classes on Saturday, I was able to deliver letters to our classes from my students back home in Buffalo, WY. It was fun to describe my home state and my school to the students. And it was an incredible experience to share my students' letters with the students in Houria's classes. As I had previously told my students back home - they have a lot more in common with the high school students in Morocco than they have differences. Watching our Sale students read through the letters, visit, and begin drafting responses just made me all that much more aware of just how alike our students are, half-way across the world from each other.