Three(ish) months in

I’m well and truly feeling at home in Dar Asni 2 now, and have actually decided and been given permission to stay until the end of the school year in June.  I just couldn’t leave the girls halfway!  I’m also all settled into the routine and more clear on what my role is.  The main thing I’ve realised is that with this older lot of girls it’s a bit different to what I had in my mind the first few weeks. As in I don’t really teach any ‘classes’ as such, because the girls are so busy and have to many tests and exams and projects for school.  But there are definitely still ‘lessons’. So what do I mean by that? Answer: It depends a lot on the day and the particular group of girls.
The first couple of weeks were more ‘class’-like. I wanted to just do general getting to know you stuff and see what levels they’re at and who’s really into their English. My book of New Zealand pictures came in very handy as a discussion starter – of course they all want to go there now! It was interesting to see what different girls picked up on and took away from the discussion. It depended somewhat on their level of English but also on their personalities. Some thought bungy jumping looked like great fun while others were horrified at the idea. Some of the older girls made an analogy between there being about 30 million sheep in New Zealand and about 30 million people in Morocco and thought it was hilarious.
With the oldest girls it’s pretty much just conversation and usually involves going for a long walk or me just grabbing one of them to tell me about their day. They’re also the ones who ask for help with their homework in the evenings most often – usually just with all the big words that get thrown at them! For example they had a unit on ‘women and power’ and before that it was ‘environment and recycling’. Not easy stuff in your fourth or fifth language. I keep telling them to talk to me in normal, small words instead of trying to remember the complicated school words. Once they get the hang of it the conversation tends to be much easier, but they do have to keep being reminded to build their confidence up.
With the rest of the girls it tends to be more revising and extending what they’ve been doing in class and helping them write short presentations or skits they get assigned for homework. The middle group is also learning about society and culture – for example young people and smoking – and seem to do the most straight grammar. A bit embarassing when they told me they’re doing present perfect and I’m like “ummm….?”. But we got there in the end, after they gave me a couple of examples. The youngest lot are learning food and family and things like any vs some, much vs many. I’m starting them all early on the ‘use small words you already know’ path as well, and my darija comes in most handy here since it’s about the same level as their English. We’re constantly surprising each other. Like one girl who had hardly talked so far suddenly leapt into action, rattling off a whole cake recipe in a combination of English and mime when I asked her if she likes to cook. Clearly yes.
I’m learning too of course. Girls’ personalities, families, lives, what they think of Asni, of Morocco, of the world. Who’s most likely to pop a balloon loudly on purpose to terrify everyone and then flee the scene. How the weekly shopping goes at the souk, how much things cost. More and more Arabic words and a few in Berber. How to make friendship bracelets, which I then taught the girls. An English school group had brought over a kit and a bunch of materials so I decided to put it to use. This was a big hit and also revealed a lot to me about their personalities. Who wanted to just do it quickly and hang the mistakes. Who would watch and then go off and do their own perfect versions first time. Who just wanted one made for them but then when they had a go themselves realised it’s not actually that easy and got determined to perfect it. Who wouldn’t listen or follow instructions or demos and then wanted me to fix their colossal tangles.
Another activity we’ve done has been to translate a popular song from Arabic to English. The song ‘Zina’ by Algerian group Babylone can be heard constantly in Morocco at the moment, and it’s one of the girls’ few favourites that’s actually in Arabic. The rest being the usual suspects (Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, Rihanna & co) in English and various similar stuff in French and Spanish. Plus songs from Bollywood movies of course. So Zina has become a bit of a constant companion, even more so after I gave in and bought it on itunes because I was so sick of waiting for it to load on youtube. I figured if you can’t beat them, join them. So I printed off the lyrics in Arabic from the internet and enlisted various of the girls at random times to help me both tansliterate the Arabic (good practice for me) and translate it into English (good practice for them). It took about two weeks in the end, with a lot of discussion but I checked it against another version I found online and I think they did a pretty good job – and had fun doing it.

Saturday 8 March was International Women’s Day we were asked to get five of the girls to write messages in English about the importance of education to them, for the EFA facebook page. I was lucky enough to be around to help them, because it was really inspiring both in what they said and in the process we took to get there.  They were all shy at first and thought it was too hard, but once they got going they couldn’t stop the ideas flowing. I was so proud of them and they were so proud of what they had come up with. And to see pictures of themselves and their words online of course!  Here are some of their messages (excerpts of the full paragraphs we wrote together), in case anyone hasn’t seen them on facebook already…


Tessa Buchanan