Tuesday, October 20, 2009

First Embassy Party

Friday, October 16, 2009

Last night I was invited to a party at the Mexican embassy. It was my first embassy party and therefore a very exciting moment for me. I have been in contact with a Mexican couple here in Rabat and finally got to meet them last night. At first, I was a bit on my own since Olivier was busy working. Right away, however, I found a nice Mexican (Tapatía) woman and her husband. They live in Casablanca and have been in Morocco for about two years. Her husband, Abraham, works for a big security company and is the North Africa regional manager. Apparently it’s the second biggest employer in the world after WalMart. Anyway, I mention this because his is one of a few business cards I got last night. With that couple I began talking to another Casablanca-based couple that also came to Rabat for the party. I got a long really well with them because they, although Moroccan upper class, are really down to earth. I talked a lot with Saladino about his time in Mexico in the 1990s. With his wife we talked about being from small cities (she’s from Tetouan) and having to live in cities like Mexico City and Casablanca. By the end of our conversation we were all pretty comfortable and Saladino’s wife and I even ganged up on him in explaining how windsurfing (his hobby) is such a terrible sport.

At the party there were Mariachis from Mexico, lots of margueritas, Corona, wine, and lots of food. After getting away from the “older” crowd, I found the people who are my age. At the party there were lots of Spaniards and a few Mexicans and Moroccans. I met a really cool girl named Genesis from LA who has Mexican parents. She’s dating a Moroccan and we all got along really well. She lives near me which is always nice as well. We made plans to go surfing on Tuesday.

The party at the embassy ended around 11pm but everyone wasn’t ready to go home so we went to the house of the cultural minister for the Mexican embassy. A bunch of people came with boxes of alcohol (I think they brought it from the embassy) so there was plenty of drinks for all of the Spaniards, Mexicans, Moroccans, and Americans. I just realized now that Genesis and I were the only Americans at the party. I have to admit, that was quite nice considering I’ve only been with Americans since arriving here. At the house party (it was definitely a house party) I met a really nice guy from Mexico City who works in the embassy. He’s only been there for three months so we talked a lot about first impressions etc. I also finally met a cool gay guy. I told him during the night that now my circle of friends in Morocco can finally be considered complete because I hadn’t met a gay guy yet. He’s really interested and I got to hang out with him a lot last night. He’s from India but works here consulting for hotels. After the after party, Genesis, her boyfriend, and Visty (the Indian), and I went for late night food in the medina. We had sandwiches with Keftka (flavorful ground beef) inside. It was great to finally discover a good spot for late night street food.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Who says Mondays are no good?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Yesterday was my Sunday. I slept in and went to Agdal with Angelo who needed to get a computer and a 3G internet modem. Since I still need internet, I went with him. We got to the store at 12:30 but like many places here, it was closed for their “lunch hour.” We had to return at 3:00. I did a little work at Amideast and then accompanied Angelo to the store. I still couldn’t get internet because I need a Samsung modem apparently. Apparently not many Moroccans have Macs yet which explains why getting a good 3G internet USB modem has been so difficult.

I returned to Amideast to use their internet and work on grad school applications and at around 7pm went home. I’ve been taking taxis a lot lately and have started forcing myself to take the bus more often since I haven’t gotten a paycheck yet and I need to be careful until I know how much it really is. Obviously I know how much I’ll be getting but it’s hard to gauge what that really means until I’ve seen how much I really spend in a month here. What’s nice about living here is that a taxi from my home to work is a little over 20 dirhams (about $2.75). When I consider that my vodka tonic last night cost $60 dirhams, the taxi rides seem quite insignificant.

Although I haven’t been out much in my short time here so far, I do know that bars here are very expensive. I don’t know the exact socio-political reason but since this is technically a Muslim country, it wouldn’t surprise me if the government restricted the amount of bars and taxed them heavily. Last night, Sam, Rob, and Charlie* invited me out to a bar called Yakout. It’s located downtown and is pretty close to where I live. I left my place at 11pm and was lucky to get a taxi that was leaving off a woman at the entrance to my neighborhood. Rob had told me to tell the driver to take me to a specific hotel downtown and from there I could walk to the bar. So, after an easy 15 dirham cab ride in a nice car decorated with FC Barcelona pillows and seat belt pads, I was dropped off at the hotel. I asked the bellman how to get to Yakout and he asked his friend in Darija (Moroccan Arabic). His friend answered in Darija and the bellman then translated into French for me.

The bar was in a residential area and I had to ask some people in front if I was at the right place because the entrance was not clearly marked. Inside, it was beautiful. All I knew about Yakout was that it’s called the “African place.” Inside the walls are painted a warm brick red, there are brass and colored class lanterns lining the walls. Dark wooden masks fill the space between the lanterns, and like any good Moroccan space, couches and places to sit are never in short supply. I found my friends sitting at a table and ordered a vodka tonic. The band was just about to get started so Rob told me everything he knew about the place. The band, we think they are from Benin, plays every night. The owner of the bar is one of the players. They play everything from African drumming songs, to salsa, to reggae. One of my favorite songs of the night was a song that could have been played by Buena Vista Social Club. Their Marley cover was also dead on. Their singer for the reggae songs is very talented. They also have a female member that sings quite well too. Based on my time last night at Yakout, this is one of the coolest places I’ve been in my entire life. Plus, my schedule is very conducive to my continuing to enjoy it. Since I don’t usually like extremely packed places, it’s nice that I can go on a Monday night and really enjoy the music and having room to dance. Sam and Rob aren’t big into dancing which is fine but I’m anxious for Mau to get here so we can dance together. Going out on the dance floor by myself really isn’t an option since it is packed with 99% men. So far I have come to the conclusion that Moroccans, in general, aren’t too great at drinking. As Charlie said last night, “it’s like going out to a bar and having a bunch of high schoolers there.” Just as high schoolers are forbidden from drinking, a good Muslim Moroccan shouldn’t be drinking either. At one point Sam went to the bathroom and on her way back, a guy blocked her path. He tried to “start a conversation” with her and she had to push him with her whole body in order to get by. A week ago, I, too, had to tell some drunk guys in Agdal to let me go. One of them was holding onto my arm and if it wasn’t for a nice passerby who saved me, I probably would have had to kick him or something. Generally, as I know so far, it’s not the case that drunk guys will just come up to Western girls and try to dance with them or take their arm or try to talk to them. What happened with me and with Sam was that we acknowledged their presence in some way and that led them to think that we were interested. Sam apparently looked at the guy initially, smirked in a way that meant, “hi, let me by.” In my situation, I had stupidly asked the kid in Agdal if he knew where a public phone was. Here’s a tip for any nice Moroccan man who encounters a white girl on the street or in a bar. If we seem like total bitches, it’s really not our fault. We’ve tried to be cordial with random people and unfortunately had bad experiences.

My time at Yakout was great but I really wanted to write this blog entry because of what happened afterwards. By the way, Mom, don’t read this. If you do, remember that I warned you not to so don’t give me a hard time the next time we Skype. Anyway, Sam, Rob, Charlie, and I were talking about how to share the taxis so I wouldn’t have to take one all by myself. Usually only three passengers can go in one taxi but Sam was able to talk the driver into letting us four go since I was getting off soon at Les Oudayas. We were on the two-lane stretch of the road that goes along the river, almost at my stop, when a car pulled ahead of us and stopped perpendicularly, blocking us off from passing though. At first I thought that the diver had done something to piss off the two guys in the other car, but Rob said that he saw nothing. Our driver started to reverse but then saw that the other driver was getting out of his car, so decided to speed ahead, passing through an amount of space just one inch wider than that of a 1998 Fiat sedan. The angry driver then passed us again so our driver turned around to let show the other guys that he didn’t want to play. At this point we all just figured that we’d have to simply take a different route to get to Les Oudayas since that guy went the way we wanted to. But, the next thing we knew, the angry driver was chasing us in the direction we wanted to go. At this point we asked the driver what was going on and he simply said that those guys are crazy. For the next 10 minutes our driver was darting this way and that, trying to trick up the other car. He faked going one way and turned last minute, he went around and around a roundabout and turned when he thought the other driver couldn’t. Although we were all a little freaked out, Rob and Charlie were enjoying the ride. In fact, Rob said that this had happened to him before. Sam and I weren’t enjoying it as much. We finally got rid of the guy by going fast down a straight-away, letting the crazy guy pass us, and turning around quickly and escaping into an area with lots of places to go. We drove around turning into various residential streets for about 10 minutes, just to make sure the other guys couldn’t find us. Then, finally I got dropped off. It was honestly quite exhilarating, I felt excited when I got home, and during it all we all nervous-laughed quite a bit. What’s ridiculous is that this happened in my third week here. What on Earth still awaits me?

* Sam, short for Samantha, is from Washington State.
Rob, Sam’s boyfriend, is from North Carolina. He’s not of the white/conservative variety, but actually the son of two foreign college professors.
Charlie is from New York State. It’s his first year out of college.

Monday, October 12, 2009

First Week of Teaching

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Well, I’ve officially finished teaching my first week. Yesterday was horribly long but I survived. Since each session is ten weeks long, I can at least hope that in nine weeks I won’t have to teach ten hours on Saturdays again. Here’s my teaching schedule.

What’s nice about my schedule is that besides the tutoring, I only have to prep for four classes. Kenn had told me during the interview that they try to give us similar classes to help keep the prep hours down and I’m relieved that he was being truthful. Kenn has been a great boss so far. Yesterday, my adult class had more than the limit of students and I sent someone down for Kenn and he and his assistant came up right away, explained to the class about the limit, went down to his office to work it out, and came back up later with a solution. At Westhill, I would have been brought more chairs and told to deal with it. Class limits are actually respected at Amideast. It’s nice to be at a place where rules are actually enforced.

The other day, there were lots of teachers in the teachers’ room prepping for classes and Kenn came in to see how we were doing. He asked me how surfing classes were going and chatted to a few other teachers. It was a great moment for me because I can remember the very moment when last year I was telling one of my co-workers how badly I wanted a boss whom I could trust and who took an interest in the teachers’ lives. Kenn makes himself available to us, he asks us how we are doing with work, and he cares about what our interests are outside of school. Plus, on Thursday evening he told us he was going to the liquor store and asked if we needed him to pick anything up for us.

Teaching went well during the week. The middle school kids are pretty cool so far. Some people complain about behavior but so far I haven’t had any problems. I’m hoping to have a good time with them this year since they seem eager to learn and they’re obviously capable of more things than the students I’ve had for the last two years (since they’re older). I did a grammar review this week by playing “Around the World.” It’s a perfect game for that age and it makes me happy to be the first teacher to show them the game. The first unit in the book is sports so I’m also happy to be able to start off teaching them a topic that’s interesting to a lot of kids. My high school group, on the other hand, has to start with the “At a Convention” theme which sucks because I would rather start off with a more interesting topic. I made up a quite elaborate Jeopardy game for them for review and it went pretty well. I’m hoping to use it for the adults because they actually appreciate my hard work. A lot of the high school kids just don’t seem to want to be there. I had one who was really bad. He was so bad that I had to give him a formal write up and I asked him to stay after class to sign it but he took off before I realized it. Amideast has a three-strike policy that is supposed to help with behavior problems. After one strike, Kenn is informed. After the second, the parents have to meet with Kenn before the student can return to class, and after the third the student can’t return to Amideast for the duration of he session or term. I don’t have much practice with high schoolers and the bad ones quite honestly terrify me. I have a lot of confidence when little kids have behavioral problems but dealing with high schoolers is really hard. I hope that I’m handling it ok. There are some awesome kids in the class too. I feel so bad for them considering that there are some real jerks in the class too. I hope that am able to teach to all the students and that the ones who want to learn get a lot out of the class. There is one kid, Ali, who is really young and very excited about learning English. He’s a total nerd but led his team to victory in Jeopardy so hopefully he won’t get too much crap from his classmates later on. In the questionnaire they filled out, Ali said that he wants to be a computer programmer.

My adult students are GREAT. I can’t even describe how amazing it is to be teaching adults after dreaming about having them for the last two years. So far, having them has exceeded my expectations. To make them laugh and see them nod their heads as I talk is such a satisfying feeling. I’m hoping that the excitement doesn’t wear off; it is so refreshing to have them. What’s neat is that some are moms, some are businessmen, and some are college-aged students. Imane, a college student with super cool hair and shoes said in her questionnaire that her interests are the 60’s, 70’s, and pop culture. I asked her if she had heard about a show called Mad Men and she and her friend excitedly responded that they have it here on Satellite TV. It was awesome to be able to talk to a student about something like that.

Tutoring & Surfing

Friday, October 9, 2009

I’m sitting in Alaa’s house right now, waiting for her and her two brothers to get home from school. I’m going to be tutoring her for two hours a week. Her parents are from Saudi Arabia and Alaa and her brothers go to the Rabat American School. The parents want their kids to have the very best grades so even though the kids’ English is nearly flawless, they still “need” tutoring. I’m anxious to work with Alaa and see what the Rabat American school 5th grade program is like. Their house is beautiful. The other day when Matt and I went to meet them, they offered us avocado juice (avocado, milk, & sugar), and they had fresh dates on the coffee table. The dad smoked hookah as we talked and Hamudi, the youngest sibling, played on his i phone. The entrance to the house is beautiful. They have a huge double door that is carved onto dark wood and gold plated. It’s hard to describe but it looks very Middle Eastern. I’ll have to ask Ms. AlGethmi at some point if I can take a picture of it. She is happy that I speak French and I’m sure that she would be happy to hear that I like it so much to want to take a picture.

Today I had a great day of surfing. It was my 4th class and the waves were twice as big as they have been in between the jetties where we surf. I had a lot of trouble paddling hard enough to catch the waves but eventually my teacher started pushing my board and then I was able to finally catch and enjoy the big waves. At first they were intimidating but once I started standing up on the board successfully, the waves suddenly seemed small. By the end of the class I was even starting to maneuver the board and turn it either to the left or the right.

Monday, October 5, 2009


Orientation, Night Out, and Sardines

Monday, October 5, 2009

Today was supposed to be my first day of teaching but Kenn informed me that I won’t be having classes on Mondays. So, he’s going to give me a call tomorrow morning to let me know about my schedule. So much of the scheduling depends on the students who register last minute that it’s hard to know what we’ll be teaching until the morning of. I’m hoping I will have Mondays off this term because that will give me a real “weekend” which is perfect for traveling. I’ll work all day Saturday, and then have Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday morning off. It seems only fair to have this schedule as a newbie since I’ll be wanting to travel around as much as possible.

I had a really great weekend. I had both “foreigner” and “local” activities that helped keep a good balance. Friday morning I went running for the first time. On Thursday, my surfing instructor subtly hinted that I should keep in better shape when he said, “yeah, the coast here is a great place to go running.” So, I strapped on my running shoes and clipped my ipod to my pants, and headed out. Although I was running along the rocky coastline where presumably people often run, I did hear some honks and shouting from men passing by in cars. Listening to music definitely helped drown out the distractions and in the end the experience wasn’t as bad as I anticipated. I’m sure that wearing pants was a helpful factor.

Friday night I hung out with work friends. First we all had a drink at an apartment near the school. Four teachers are renting that place so I’m sure it will be a good place to start our nights out. A weird thing happened on the way, though. Apparently the 1990’s 4-door FIAT taxis here are only allowed to take 3 passengers despite the fact that the back seat is made for 3. There’s some strange Moroccan law that prohibits those taxis from taking 4. Yet, there are Mercedes Benz “grand taxis,” still only made to seat 4 passengers plus the driver, that are allowed to seat 6 passengers. So, Elaine, Matt, Agelo, and I had to take two separate taxis Friday night. After having a few drinks at the Agdal (the neighborhood where the school is located) apartment, we all went to a restaurant/bar in the medina (downtown). There was a West African band playing covers. The place was full of older Moroccans, young liberal Moroccans (I say liberal because they were drinking and because the women weren’t wearing the hijab), and foreigners wanting to get a drink at one of the few bars in the city. It was nice to hear live music and see such happy crowd, but I’m sure that hearing Hotel California and Bob Marley played every Friday night is going to get annoying very quickly.

On Saturday Kenn had an orientation meeting for all of the new teachers. It’s funny because of the nine new hires, all of them are from the Northeastern United States except for Laura (England), Susanna (Eureka), and me. Kenn, who’s a big gay Scottish man (how can you not love him) explained to us about the different levels, the paperwork, and what generally to expect. After our meeting, we all went to a nice Italian restaurant where we had a three-course meal with the country director and a few other office workers. Kenn seems to be a great guy and I’m happy to have him as my boss so far. Here’s why having Scottish boss is cool. The fall newsletter starts off, “Laddies and Lassies, it’s jolly good to be back together after many, many quiet weeks for [me].”

Sunday was a big day for me because Nahid and her boyfriend Yassine took me to a nearby beach where we went surfing and had a barbecue. They picked me up at 9 in front of my neighborhood and we went to Yassine’s house to pick up his bodyboard. I met his mom and brother who were in the house having breakfast. I joined in and had some wonderfully marinated black olives on the typical Moroccan bread called Hobz.

After buying the fresh sardines for the barbecue, we headed north to Plage des Nations. The waves were a lot bigger than what I was surfing for my two lessons, so I had a rough time. Nahid was so nice to lend me her long board but I just couldn’t manage to get up on it. So, I paddled a lot and pretty much watched the waves in awe. They weren’t even that big but I just don’t think I’m ready for a shorter long board and waves that come frequently. Hopefully I’ll get there soon because I don’t want Nahid and Yassine to stop inviting me. Although I didn’t improve on the surfing front, I definitely learned some crucial fish-eating skills. We barbecued sardines for lunch and ate them with our fingers on top of the long board. Nahid had to help me get the “meat” at first but after the third or fourth sardine I was pulling off the spine and leaving the meat in tact like the rest of the guys there.

Today I’ve been at Amideast for most of the morning. I was to come by at 11am to pick up my check for my flight and hotel. I just purchased a prepaid USB internet thingie and am excited to use later tonight at home. Plus, I got some speakers from a little office supply store since mine died from the change in voltage.

I’m going to head back to my apartment soon. I definitely need to start cooking and deal with the unfamiliar cookware in my place. I’m thinking tonight’s the night.

Things I like so far:
- the 1 dirham (13 cent) pastries at the entrance to the open-air market by my house
- being able to get on the bus and sit down before the person comes by to collect my money (I hated having to get my wallet out on the street in Mexico in order to pay upon entering)
- marinated black olives with fresh bread
- Fanta Lemon

Things I don’t like so far:
- having guys say things to me as they walk by
- not being able to speak the local language
- having too much free time because school hasn’t started
- the dirty yucky beach by my house (but still happy to have one at all)

Saturday, October 3, 2009

First Great Day

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Today was my first great day. Last night I spent my first night in my new apartment and had plans to stick around the apartment for most of the day, cleaning and making it feel like it is finally mine. It actually wasn’t that dirty, but I just wanted to do some extra scrubbing that will help me know that when things get dirty, it’s my dirt and not that of the previous renters. The day started off at 4:30am with the call to prayer. Well, that’s not how my day started but it’s how the day for many in my neighborhood started off. I was able to sleep a few more hours after hearing the sunrise call for prayer. I’ll be excited for the morning that I don’t wake up to the five minutes of wailing at the break of dawn. That will mean that I have finally gotten used to living in the Kasbah. At 9am I headed to the Oudayas Surf Club down the street to have my first 1.5 hr lesson of the 10-lesson beginner package I bought. It’s a great surf club. They have lockers, showers, a café that looks onto the ocean, insurance that covers hospital trips, and even a little mosque. The mosque is my favorite part because every other aspect of the club seems like it could be in any coastal surf spot in the Americas except for the room with carpets used for prayer.

My lesson was great. Hussein, the English-speaking director, gave me the lesson today. I ended up getting a private, which was fantastic for my surfing but also very exhausting. I think he was pleased to see that I could stand up right away and I was quite happy with myself too, but that meant that right away I had to work on fixing my weight and how I place feet on the board. As is the case with learning any new sport, there were a million things I had to remember to do all at the same time. It was overwhelming but also a great feeling. Hussein happens to be a black belt in taekwondo, so we had a lot to talk about. He grew up in the Kasbah where I live, and told me that he saw me the other day and that his parents’ house is right next door to mine.

Shortly after the lesson I went to a big super center market to get cleaning supplies and general things for my apartment. The taxi ride there was quite interesting. After walking about half a mile, I finally got a taxi. Here in Rabat, it is common to get in a taxi that already has people. If you’re going the same way, it works out for the passengers and the driver gets more money. This trip was a little bit more confusing since I opted to stay in the cab while he dropped off a couple in a direction that was different than where I was going. I did this simply because I wasn’t going to get a cab any other way. So, I only ended up paying the price for what the distance would have been had we not taken the detour to drop off the other passengers.

During the course of my afternoon of cleaning, I went up to see, Haja, my landlord/host grandmother a few times. She invited me to dinner and told me that she wanted me to meet her American host student later. So, I met Angelo from Pittsburgh over a great dinner of chicken and potatoes cooked by Haja. We also had fresh Moroccan bread, a great salad, and grapes and melon. It was fantastic since I really didn’t get a chance to eat all day. Haja just seems to be a really nice woman who likes to have people around since she lives alone. Part of Angelo’s rent includes meals so really, it doesn’t make a difference whether I join in on the occasional meal or not. I’m very excited about the prospects.

After dinner, Angelo and I met up with some of his Moroccan friends to watch a Champions League Game. Barcelona won as was expected. Afterwards we went to one of his friend’s houses and hung out for a bit.

As I get ready for bed I feel grateful for my awesome apartment. The call for prayer at the break of dawn will take some getting used to, but who knows when I’ll get to experience living the Kasbah again? Plus, if I ever get home really late from a party or club and am afraid to make the walk alone, I just have to wait until 4:30 and they’ll be lots of people out heading to the mosque.