How Long is Long Enough?

My workplace in Morocco primarily offers two year contracts, which for some is a dauntingly long amount of time, for some is just the right length to spend in one place before moving on to the next, and for a few people, two years becomes twenty.  I’ve been in this country now a total of a year and two months, but when I say that amount of time to those who ask, it doesn’t seem quite right to me.  I keep thinking, haven’t I been here longer?  When will I be able to cite an impressive number of years, and to be accepted as a seasoned inhabitant of Morocco?

We had to have two parties just to figure out which kind of cake is best.

We had to have two parties just to figure out which kind of cake is best (it’s the strawberry).

It seems to be very popular to teach for two years in one country and then move to another, experiencing new cultures with every move, but always having the same type of teaching job.  I sort of understand this from having moved between schools, programs, and locations several times during college, but am also confused by the idea of moving around so much.  One year feels to me like just enough time to find out what I want to be able to do here, but not enough time to actually do those things…especially when many of them run on “Moroccan time.”  This is technically my second time in Morocco, and my two experiences here (Ifrane and Casablanca) have been totally different, which makes me think that there are yet more experiences to had.

I went to the Hassan II mosque at least three times before realizing that the brochure is incorrect - it is not built on the water, it is built next to the water.  I had been imagining some hidden room with a glass floor!

I went to the Hassan II mosque at least three times before realizing that the brochure is incorrect – it is not built on the water, it is built next to the water. I had been imagining some hidden room with a glass floor!

In the past month, a lot of things have changed (for the better!) in my personal life and my career.  If changes keep happening at this rate, I’ll have to keep adding on to those two years just to fit it all in.

Empty or Full

The other day, I was reading a travel blog written by one of my coworkers.  She had visited both Sacre Coeur and the Hassan II Mosque in one day, and was commenting on how grand they both are.

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The blog entry detailed how beautiful the two structures are, although the cathedral is no longer used and is falling apart.  It ended by saying that it is a shame that the mosque is more elaborate and impressive despite being for an “empty religion.”  After many Islamic studies courses in college, I find this statement surprising and ignorant, especially coming from someone who chose to work and live in a Muslim country with students and coworkers of different faiths. Although I doubt she reads my blog, I am going to tell you, my dear readers, some fascinating things about the Islamic tradition.

Poetry and music – You’ve probably heard of Rumi, the Persian poet.  If you haven’t, look him up!  His poems remind me of the book of psalms; a lot of them sound like love songs, but are about God instead of a man or woman.

Language – The Quran is written in classical Arabic, which is a beautiful and complex language. Even native Arabic speakers have to study it for many years to grasp its many rules and structures, but those who can truly speak or write it can produce wonderful songs, stories, and poetry.

Islamic law – Many scholars have worked together to produce Islamic law and the correct sayings of the prophet.  I think it is amazing that one can read exactly what the prophet said, along with who reported what he said, when it happened, and where, and that we can trust that this information was researched for years.

Science and math – The schedule of daily prayers is very complex.  It involves finding the exact times the sun rises, sets, and is at it’s highest every day.  I also find it interesting that there are set periods of time in which to pray. Many Christians set aside a certain time of the day for prayer and reflection so as to make sure to stay on track, which is much the same idea, though less rigid.

Some Islamic art on display in Londo

Some Islamic art on display in London

I firmly believe that one can appreciate the gifts given to us by other religions while still being steadfast in our own beliefs.  And you never know; you might just learn something new about your own traditions and values by learning about those of others!

Not Just a Port in the Storm

 

 

 

Last Saturday, my boyfriend and I had a party for International Women’s Day, although it was a week after the holiday.  But little did our guests know, it was actually just an excuse for another kind of party…

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“I like Eleanor, so I’m going to give her this pink box.”

 

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“See, our shirts are even the same color.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…an engagement!

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Being engaged means you never have to cut a piece of cake by yourself.

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If it weren’t for my fiancé, I wouldn’t have any matching jewelry (among other things).

The wedding is not going to be very soon (more than a year from now), but I am enjoying the status of being engaged.  It’s more serious than just having a boyfriend, but holds the promise of a party in the future!

Just Do It

The number one thing I feel homesick for when I’m in Casablanca is exercise.  I miss how easily I could exercise in Chicago; there were two gyms right near my home, a beautiful running path, and just a mile away was the lakefront path, which I biked down many weekend afternoons on my way downtown.  Here in Casa, the running is a little more challenging.  Cars block the way, motorbikes speed by, the sidewalks have holes, traffic lights and actual traffic patterns don’t quite match up, and men in cafés stare.  I only rarely see other runners, and I think I’ve only once seen a female running by herself…and she was clearly also a foreigner.

Dodging cars is good for increasing your heart rate.

Dodging cars is good for increasing your heart rate.

Moroccan society certainly has more divisions between private and public life than American society does.  It is perhaps a little strange for a woman to go out in exercise clothing and run in the streets.  Unemployed men have the bad habit of staring, particularly at foreigners.  And perhaps the idea that exercise is important and is not just something for unskilled laborers is new to Morocco, as the wealthiest of society live in such a way that they rarely have to interact with the outside world.  However, I think it is generally accepted that exercise is a good thing for everyone.

There are deceptively few cars in this photo.

There are deceptively few cars in this photo.

Tomorrow I plan to get up and go for a run in the morning.  It will probably be hard to get myself to go out knowing that I will have to dodge cars and bumps in the pavement, and that all eyes will be on me as I pass each café.  But I’m going to do it anyway, because I love the feeling I get from running, and the way that exercise allows me to think clearly and positively.  I’m going to continue doing what I love even if it can be uncomfortable; but I really hope that it starts to catch on!

Escape to Tangier

This past weekend, my boyfriend and I left the speeding cars and dusty air of Casablanca for a few days in sunny Tangier.  Tangier lies right where the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea come together, and is known for its beautiful beaches.  It was a little cold for swimming or sunbathing, but we still enjoyed walking around the city and enjoying how calm it is compared to Casa.  I also really liked our walk in the evening, following a seafood feast near the ocean.  There were lots of people walking around at night, and it felt very safe to be out.  I also loved the view of the city we got from a rooftop; the combination of hills, ocean, occasional dark red walls, and colorful laundry hung out to dry made for a very stunning landscape.

Nobody has a dryer but everybody has cable TV.

Nobody has a dryer but everybody has cable TV.

It was nice to be reminded that not every city in Morocco has as much traffic as Casablanca, and I always find it refreshing to see mountains, hills, and the ocean.  It was a much needed break!

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Hercules’ Cave

But You Haven’t Eaten Anything!

In many cultures, it’s considered to be a sign of hospitality to encourage others to eat.  The best way to make a guest feel at home is to bring them plates of food until they can no longer move, and then to exclaim, “but you haven’t eaten anything!”  Or to ask someone who has eaten modest portions why they haven’t eat much and if they might be ill.  I certainly enjoy situations like this on occasion, because it makes me feel like royalty; not to mention the fact that there are some truly phenomenal cooks in the world.

But if these situations of being encouraged to eat too much happen on a regular basis, it becomes a burden.  It is difficult too eat enough to please your host without making yourself sick, or to praise the food profusely enough that you can get by without offending, or to come up with a convincing excuse, often a lie, as to why you can eat no more.

We're having pastries for dinner tonight! (If only my mom had ever said that...)

We’re having pastries for dinner tonight! (If only my mom had ever said that…)

Nutrition is certainly a confusing thing, and new studies still come out on a regular basis with new information on what we should or shouldn’t eat, how we should eat, or when we should eat.  I have made it one of my goals to teach my students (and their parents) about proper nutrition, but I’ve realized that one of the major obstacles is that many people just don’t know what good nutrition is.  I think this is the same issue with food as hospitality; it is unclear whether eating more is good or bad.  In some situations, eating more might give you the necessary nutrients that you might not otherwise have gotten, and if you do not have enough to eat normally, it is helpful to be served too much every once in a while.  But if you make a point of eating only healthful foods and in appropriate quantities, being to told eat more can be annoying or offensive.

Look at all of those fruits and vegetables!  I'll trade in my pastries for some of those clementines.

Look at all of those fruits and vegetables! I’ll trade in my pastries for some of those clementines.

When I cook for myself, I like to make dishes like lentil soup with cauliflower instead of potatoes, or bread with yogurt instead of butter in order to make them a little healthier.  But that doesn’t mean that I can’t enjoy some pastries every once in a while.

Shhhhh!!

As a teacher of both kindergarteners and adults, I see both ends of the spectrum of students.  Here in Morocco, both ages of students tend to be quite talkative, since speaking a lot is acceptable in Moroccan culture.  For my different classes, the effect of this cultural practice is totally different because I tend to want the adult language students to talk but the kindergarteners to be quieter.  When I am teaching adult ESL, being with a group of people from very talkative cultures makes my job easy because I never have to encourage students.  With my young students, I’m also glad to hear them practicing English, but feel like I have to repeat myself millions of times every day…they just never stop talking!

As a very quiet person, having to talk all day is completely exhausting.  For my first few months of working as a teacher, I felt like I always had such a strong desire to just be alone.  I was worried that this was a sign that I was on the brink of becoming depressed.  But then one night, as I was staying up later than my roommate so that I could have a couple hours of alone time (thankfully she goes to sleep pretty early!), I found some articles on introversion on the internet that explained what might be going on.  If you believe what you read on the internet, which I do, then you can read about how extroverts recharge themselves by talking and processing what is going on by sharing it with others.  Introverts, on the other hand, process within themselves, and need to spend a certain amount of time alone so that they can recharge their minds and emotions.  Perhaps the fact that I don’t have this time is part of what is tiring me out.  When I was a student, I slept about an hour less than I do now, exercised a bit more, spent more time working or focused, and was constantly a little bit worried about things like impending finals, my thesis, graduating, and finding a job.  However, I did a lot of these things alone.  I spent long hours in libraries and coffee shops, with the freedom to occasionally let my mind wander.  Of course, there were times when being a student was very lonely, but I never found it to be exhausting.  I think that may have been because I had so much more time to process things in my own introverted way.

I also recently came across this TED Talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c0KYU2j0TM4 This talk summarizes Susan Cain’s argument in her book Quiet, that our society is set up for extroverts to succeed, and often neglects even the most intelligent introverts.  Offices and classrooms are set up so that those who talk the most do the best, even if they are not putting thought into their work.  She writes that introverts tend to be very thoughtful and observant, but don’t like to share those observations with large groups of people.  Her idea is that introverts should be confident in their style of interaction and should play to their strengths by expressing themselves in writing or in small groups instead of pretending to be extroverts, or feeling like there is something wrong with their disposition.

For while I’m a teacher, there’s not much I can do about how exhausting I find my job to be.  But perhaps I can find ways to get around this by being aware that quiet is something I need, even if others don’t.  And when it comes to sharing my ideas, I know I’m not going to feel comfortable saying them to a crowded staff room or big bible study group, especially if I don’t know each person who is there.  I know I should push myself occasionally to step out of my introverted nature and to share, but I can also use my own ways to express myself.  For example, I’ll keep writing on this blog, a nice quiet and thoughtful way to share what I’ve been thinking.  Because according to Susan Cain,  “Everyone shines, given the right lighting.” 
Sometimes we can express ourselves using big machinery.

Sometimes we can shine while using big machinery.