One of the true highlights of this trip so far has been the opportunity to visit local high schools and interact with both students and faculty. The first chance to do this came a few days after our arrival to Morocco. We were told we would be visiting a local public middle school. Never did we think, however, that the school would be in the middle of “the world’s largest living Islamic medieval city” (thanks, LP!).
Thursday was oppressively hot, so much so that the guys decided to take off a layer of clothing while Azeb and a couple others forwent lunch altogether. We hopped on the bus around 3:30 and drove to the medina (of Fes el-Bali – Old Fez). This was really exciting for the medina is the must-do activity in any Moroccan itinerary. We were dropped off near a side entrance and led through the narrow, winding pathways that characterize the Medina. Just the walk towards the school was incredible (but we’ll save that for another blog entry). A short walk through the streets and alleyways of the earth colored medina and we came upon the nondescript door of the school. Now given the size of the medina’s streets and street-side shops, I assumed that the school would be tiny, nothing but a few small classrooms in an old dilapidated structure. Again, I was totally off the mark.
I really need to check myself. I guess that given the fact that I live in Los Angeles and that our orientation included a brief discussion about rural schooling in Morocco, I assumed that schools here – inside a medina especially – were automatically going to be “a few years behind.” My notions were challenged the minute I stepped onto the beautiful, orange tree-lined courtyard at Mohammed el Fassi Middle School. An inviting group of students, teachers, and parents greeted us with a warm reception greeting us as though foreign dignitaries or celebrities had arrived and not regular, LAUSD teachers (something that has happened, and will no doubt happen again).
Chairs (the kind one would see at a wedding reception or quinceñera) were set up in four rows while the school’s teachers, parents, and students sat behind us smiling and giggling at the sight of our motley bunch. The headmaster gave a brief speech welcoming us to his school followed by a sort of open house. The first classroom we visited was an art classroom with student work proudly displayed around the room and teachers and students excitedly showing off their work. Their latest project revolved around “recycled art.” Students were to collect pieces of rubbish or discarded items and basically create works of art, something beautiful. Maaaaaan, these kids went all out. These students were so darn creative with their pieces and so thoughtful about what the assignment (and more importantly their art) meant to them. Speaking with the teacher about his commitment to art with a message (in this case, environmental conservation), I couldn’t help but think about the wonderful art teachers at my own school and the wonderful things they do with our students on a daily basis. Seriously, the art in this classroom could have easily been a lesson straight out of a page from Ms. Eck or Mrs. Barsky’s book – it was awesome! I also couldn’t help but think of the commonalities we all share and how some things, such as art, are just plain universal.
We wrapped up the day observing a math lesson and having a meet and greet session complete with mint tea, orange juice, and an assortment of pastries. The conversation was great and the exchange, valuable. We finished by taking a whole bunch of pictures and, in a symbolic gesture of mutual love and respect, took down the signage announcing our meeting and signed the banners (our Moroccan hosts signing the English version and us signing the Arabic one). Oh, and we even taught our hosts the [UCLA] 8-Clap! Uh-whuuuuut!
Currently listening to: Scientist - Scientist Rids the World of the Evil Curse of the Vampires