Tag Archives: Morocco

Attitude of Gratitude–Day 28–Painting Friendships

One of the hardest things about moving to a new place is feeling alone. In the last seven years I’ve moved four times and have had to start my life from scratch each time. But moving somewhere new can be exhilarating for me, because it is like having a blank canvas  in front of me with endless opportunities to paint something beautiful–like friendships.

Painting friendships is not easy. It requires patience and perspective and many different shades of color to capture the the light and the moment just right. The mediums may always be different, but a skilled artist learns over time that laying strokes of colorful moments onto a blank canvas will capture light and time and leave you with something incredible and tangible.

In this sense I am an artist and my studio is filled with canvases. Some of them are masterpieces–framed and displayed and fill me with pride when I look at them. Some of my paintings have faded over time and others that were a messy experiment. Some of my canvases are half-painted, and I have many still that are blank, just waiting for the moment when my brush meets the pallette.

Today was a special day because I came back to an old painting–one that I had left two years ago when I moved away from Morocco. This friendship had potential to turn into a masterpiece, and was left to the side in order to pursue the natural movement of time and space. Meeting up with my friend Ioana today, after two years had passed, was a wonderful reminder of the power of friendship and connection. My canvas, while it was only half covered, still existed, and the colors I had left on it were as vibrant as ever. Sure, my perspective on the painting I’d started two years ago had changed slightly due to natural growth and age, but coming back to this friendship, it felt like it was only yesterday that we hugged goodbye in the Rabat medina on the last day of June, 2013.

I am grateful to have had such a wonderful person come back into my life today, and for the lovely day we got to spend romping around Queens together, reminiscing about Morocco and catching up on each other’s lives since we last said goodbye. I am happy that she is here in the United States and that the painting I started two years ago has the opportunity to become a colorful masterpiece.

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Attitude of Gratitude–Day 8–Opportunities

I caught the travel bug when I was 15 years old on my first international jaunt to Geneva, Switzerland. The experience was so exhilarating and magical that I vowed to myself I would make it my priority to appreciate the far flung corners of this beautiful earth as much as I possibly could. Since that trip I have managed to touch my feet on the soil of 16 different countries and 4 continents, and have called two of these countries my ” home away from home.”

Traveling provides priceless growth opportunities. Opportunities to push yourself outside of your comfort zone, meet new people, learn a new language, eat different foods and invites time for self-reflection.

When I chose to study International Relations in college it all boiled down to that feeling I felt the first I traveled–the exhilaration, curiosity, confusion, magic. Those who study the workings of the world can attest that the reason is due to a genuine desire to call it our home. We want to make it accessible. We want to break down the barriers of language, culture and geography. We want to impact the world and leave our marks on it.

And so when I would get the question, what do you want to do with your studies? my answer my answer was pretty generic. “I would like to find a job that would allow for me to travel.” (Unless I was talking to my dad..then, of course, it was because I wanted to be some high profile diplomat, yielding immunity to traffic tickets and paying off my student debt…)

Today, as I booked my first international work trip to Poland, I thought to myself, “ya done good, kid!” Not only am I doing a job that is fulfilling my need to learn and grow, but I get to travel too!

So today I am grateful for the feelings of excitement I get when I start to plan a new voyage. I am grateful for the opportunity to travel and explore a new part of the world, to my company, Education First Cultural Care Au Pair, for encouraging it, and I’m grateful for all the roads that lead me to my home.

“May your trails be crooked and dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.” Edward Abbey

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Fes and Meknes

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ACCESSible Inspiration

For the past four months I have been teaching a group of exceptional Moroccan students as part of a US State Department English Access Micro-scholarship Program. The program provides English instruction to under-privileged youths in the Rabat-Sale area, as they follow our high school level curriculum.

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At AMIDEAST, most of our students are upper-middle class Moroccans, who have the means to pay for English instruction. Therefore, the Access program is unique in that it strives to open educational doors for exceptional students who would otherwise not be able to pay for their classes.

My students are all stand outs, and in comparison to my other high school classes, their motivation and determination to master the English language is actually inspirational. They are thirsty for knowledge. They ask poignant questions. They are appreciative of their educational opportunities.

Not all my classes are like this, however. Last term, I taught three sections of Inspiration 3 (the name of the 3rd level high school course). I would frequently refer to it as un-inspiration 3, or constipation 3, or kill me, I can’t stand this class 3. My (paying) students would come to class and play with their iPhones, chat with their friends, and take all sorts of liberties with their break time. I would leave work on Wednesday’s and Saturday’s after a grueling 3 hours of blank stares and snotty girls with raging teenage hormones, and crawl into my bed exhausted and disappointed.

Finally, I decided to stop wasting my energy on those who were killing me softly. I decided to focus on the students who showed up prepared and ready to engage…… and I’m a better person and teacher for it.

I believe that students need to take responsibility for themselves. Especially high schoolers. I don’t want anyone to fall through the cracks, but at a certain point I had to realize what was effective and what wasn’t. What proved effective was to cater my classes to those who wanted to learn.

My Access class was (and still is) the uplifting end to my work week. They continue to amaze and motivate me to be a better teacher. They demonstrate time and again that education is the most valuable thing a person can possess. Nobody can take it from you. It’s yours forever, and you are responsible for cultivating it.

Education is like a tree. If we plant firm roots in rich soil, we can grow our branches and blossom beautiful fruits and flowers and leaves. What’s more, trees are also active participants in the well being of the rest of society. They transform CO2 into O2 so that we may all breathe clean air. A responsible, well educated person can also do something of the sort.

I think we all need to ask ourselves more often: in what ways can our education serve as our foundation for service. How can we help to create a more healthy society for everyone to live in? What are our talents? How have we honed them thus far, how can we continue to hone them in the future?

** This post is not an official AmidEast or Department of State website. The views and information presented are my own and do not represent AmidEast, the Access Program, or the Department of State.

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Need anything from the hanooot, eh? The little Moroccan conveniences.

One of my favorite local conveniences here in Morocco is called a hanut (pronunciation: hanoot). A hanut is the Moroccan equivalent to a quickie mart, and there are multiple on a single city block, which offer a plethora of quick and convenient buys. I love the idea of the hanut for a variety of reasons, including it’s pronunciation, which I believe is best pronounced by Canadians.

More seriously, however, I love the idea of small businesses in Morocco. Everyone here dabbles in a little bit of everything. When asked, many Moroccans will tell you that their occupation is “business,” which to my American ears sounds as Shady as Slim. To their credit, however, I truly believe that Moroccans have an innate ability to network and seize opportunities; the hustlin’ spirit of entrepreneurship runs in their blood. Therefore, the hanuts, were particularly interesting to me because they take the business concept of a superstore and condense it into one small roadside market.

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On our street, we have two juxtaposed hanuts. We began frequenting the larger (super) one due to its relative proximity to our house, though the other one is literally a few steps further. From my doorstep to the entrance I have to walk a grand total of 50 paces. Its exquisite convenience aids my lazy cooking habits and my late night chocolate cravings. Food is not the only thing offered at the hanut, though. If you  so wish you can buy cell phone minutes, cigarettes, cleaning products, bread, toilet paper, shampoo, razors, assorted nuts, milk, propane gas, eggs, vegetables…Everything. Kolshi as they say in Darija.

I love the melange of products, the small local environment, and of course my hanut friends. My interactions in broken beyond repair Moroccan or Berber languages with the hanut boys have become some of my favorites. They try relentlessly to teach me the words for eggs and bread and butter, and then they humor me when I pretend to have understood. They never (openly) judge me when I show up in my pajamas looking for milk or eggs, and they have even gone out of their way to retrieve products from neighboring hanuts if they are lacking. I’ve developed a sense of fierce loyalty to my hanut and would now go out of my way to shop at their store even if it wasn’t convenient, just because I enjoy seeing their smiling faces thrice daily.

Last and least, because I can never resist a good metaphor, I like to think of the country of Morocco as a hanut. Aside from it’s obvious inconvenient distance from home, the country itself if fabulously convenient. Here, I feel like I can have it all with small compromise. Morocco, is a super synthesis of all my interests: Africa, France and the Middle East. Include a big kid job, great roommates, a cheap standard of living, and a unique cultural experience in the equation and I’ve begun to feel like I could stay here as long as the convenience serves my higher learning. How long will that be (surely the question on my parents lips as they read this) ? Time will slowly reveal the Master plan.

Salaam.

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