I have enjoyed my time with my mentor, Nezha Youssefi. This is one of the best component of our Fulbright-Hays journey, providing us professional colleagues. Our, Sherrie and I, trips through Fez with her has been so light and breezy. We laughed, smiled, chatted, ate fruit, drank mint tea, and joked with each other as if we were old childhood friends visiting each other after a long separation. It’s as if we picked up were we left off the last time without missing a beat. I wonder if Nezha is so friendly and open because she is the only girl in a family of three. She is sandwiched between two boys. She lives with her parents along with her brothers. She is the only breadwinner in her family. (That’s why she has to think carefully about certain purchases.)Her younger brother is working on a degree in economics and her older brother has a degree. The unemployment rate in Morocco is quite high. I think 34% . After all, 60% of university graduates are unemployed. However, the jobless rate has not prevented the Moroccans from being cheerful and generous to us.
Nezha introduced us to the nurse who treated her mother. She greeted us with a warm, wide smile and shook our hands. We met the doctor, who performed her mom’s surgery. He was a very pleasant man who welcomed us warmly and taught us a few words in Arabic. Below the doctor’s office, we said we would stop into the bookstore for a few minutes. Well, being teachers, we walked from bin to bin, shelf to shelf looking at and discussing books and writing tools. We were trying to find alphabet books and picture books for me to practice Arabic. All the books were in Arabic or French. There were no English books but there were many familiar English titles written in Arabic. We saw many fairytales such as Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, and The Three Little Pigs. I bought an exercise book for me and my students to practice writing the Arabic alphabet, calligraphy pens and pencils. Nezha said she often buys school materials to supplement and enhance her students learning experiences. Cherie and I both smiled and told her we often spend our own money purchasing materials for our students. She said her friends in United States and elsewhere usually sends her English books. We learned that the school year begins in September and ends in June. The first semester ends at the end of January. There are about 34 students per class and the students go to different teachers for different subjects. My mentor teaches four classes a day. I do not know how long each session / period last. The children are tested twice a year.They are tested in all subjects at the end of the first semester and then in math, science and reading at the end of the year. School here is free all the way through college. I wonder what free college for everyone who is capable would feel like in the US? Not being saddled with hefty student loans as an under graduate! Can you imagine if middle and high school teachers in the United States only teach four classes a day. Think of all the planning they could do and how hey would be better able to spend more time with their students.
As we walked, I tried to read all the signs and words. I called out the letters and tried to sound each letter and blend them into recognizable words. Nezha laughed and smiled a lot as she listened to my pronunciations and translated for me. I certainly understand the vast difference between decoding and comprehending. I was certain;ly calling out words but had not a single clue about what I was saying if a picture or recognizable drawing was not beside the word. I also behaved like my beginning reading students who pointed out and tried to read every recognizable letter, word, and number on our fieldtrips.
Nezha lives is an apartment that is not far from the hotel. It’s about a fifteen minute walk straight from the hotel but we had taken the scenic, circuitous route to her home. We met her mother who was convalescing on a bed on the floor in the living room. Her mom had a colonoscopy bag. She welcomed us with a wide smile and sparkling eyes. We shook hands. While our mentor was in the kitchen preparing food, her little brother sat and spoke with us. He read some pages of a book, written by my students, called Our Unconquerable Souls I had given to his sister. She had given me a copy of her student produced magazine, entitled, “Student’s” when I visited the school. He said the students were quite smart for sharing their thoughts and writing so much. I wholeheartedly agreed. He is attending the University - Universite Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdellah, Fes- where we are having our Arabic lessons but he was not taking any summer classes. Her dad greeted us warmly as well and said he was happy to have us in his home and that he wishes we have a wonderful stay in Morocco.
Nezha served tea, coffee, hard boiled eggs with cumins and salt, croissants, rolls, little savory sweet cookies, olive oil. I have never had eggs with cumins. It added a tasty flavor to the eggs. The olive oil was dark green, heavy and tasty served on the bread. She told us that the family made the olive oil from the olives from a piece of property her dad owns. Over tea and coffee, she and Sherri discussed the role of women. She stated that American women believe that Muslims women are oppressed but they are not. She only wears her veil when she is going to pray and not during her regular daily life. She said that many people think that a woman who wears a veil is more pure that a woman who does not. She does not let that thinking concern her because she is comfortable with who is because she knows herself. She helped to negotiate the price for two veils for me in the Medina. I like the viels and think they are quite becoming on the ladies. Nezha laughed when I made the statement. She says there is a stigma of single women and especially of single mothers. They are vilified but not the men. The men often marry someone else a family member has chosen for them. She said the girl has to be a virgin to be married but the men do not have to be.
When it was time for us to return to the hotel, our mentor asked her older brother to accompany us because she said it was not proper to walk on the street alone at nighttime. She would need her brother to walk her back home. We, all four, jauntily walked, happily talked, heartily laughed and playfully teased each other as we journeyed back to the hotel.