Tessa volunteer at Dar Asni II

Morocco’s about as far from New Zealand as you can get.  But here I am!  My name’s Tessa Buchanan and I’m the latest volunteer to start with Education For All.  I’m the just the second volunteer here at Dar Asni 2.  Since I’ve been here a couple of weeks now I figured it was time to introduce myself and offer some first impressions.

I’m in my mid-30s and was born and raised in New Zealand.  I studied economics and sociology for my Bachelors and international development for my Masters.  In my 20s I spent six months as an intern in New Delhi, India, almost three years living in Boston, USA and two months in Tokelau in the middle of the Pacific Ocean doing my thesis fieldwork.  Otherwise I’ve been living in New Zealand’s capital, Wellington, and working in various roles in the public sector.  I came to Morocco in 2012 for a holiday and loved it so much I decided to come back long term.  I’ve been in Morocco for three months now, having spent time in Marrakech on holiday and in Fes studying Moroccan Arabic before coming to Asni. 

I’m really glad I did the Arabic course and spent some time getting used to Moroccan life before starting volunteering.  I think it’s meant I could just settle right in and get straight to work and I’d highly recommend it to any volunteer coming here – even if just for a couple of weeks rather than the two and a half months I did.   It’s less for Khadija (the house mother) to worry about helping me with and explaining. And the girls all love it when I know the words for things during our classes… and think my accent is hilarious.  We’ve decided this is now a French-free house for daily life – only English, Arabic and Tamazight allowed.  We’ve even labelled everything in the kitchen in English and Arabic!

When I arrived in Asni the sun was shining so it wasn’t too cold and there were beautiful snowy mountain views.  Even the locals were commenting on the cold and the thick curtains were just being hung in the house – winter is only just really setting in.  The hills are all red rock and there hasn’t been much rain for a while so the streets are pretty dusty and red too.  
It seemed at first like the girls are all very outgoing and I had a steady stream of groups coming to sit with me and ask me where I’m from, how old I am etc etc.  As the days went by though I realised that there are some who I haven’t really met properly yet because they’re just too shy to approach me and look terrified if they even see me.  I’ve been spending a lot of time standing in front of the wall with all their pictures and names trying to figure out who’s who.  I’m sure we’ll all get there eventually though!

Like any place where forty people live, Dar Asni 2 runs to a very regular schedule.  From Tuesday to Saturday the girls have to be up at 7:00am and school starts at 8:00am.  If they don’t have class first thing they’re allowed to sleep in, although then they miss breakfast.  Like teenagers everywhere sleep is the priority though of course.  On Monday mornings everyone arrives back from their homes in time for school.  Then they all come home from school for lunch by 12:30pm then back to school at around 1:30pm.  School is over at 5:30pm, dinner is at 6:00pm, supper at 9:30pm, bed at 10:00pm.  Shutting up and sleeping time is 11:00pm.  Some of the girls have classes on Saturday mornings, but all have left to go to their home villages by around 1:00pm. 

When the girls aren’t in class they have to come back to the house so there is always someone around.  During those free times they help with the cleaning, run errands for the house mother or the cook, do homework or study for tests, have English classes with me, do research and make presentations on the computers.  

I have Monday and Tuesday mornings free so I try to use them for laundry, lesson planning, writing and Arabic revision.  Sometimes Khadija and I will take some of the girls out for a walk to explore Asni as well.  The rest of the week I have lessons with groups of the girls morning and afternoon.  In the evenings between dinner and supper we’re all mostly in the common area and I help Khadija with her English study or any girls who ask with their English homework.  Saturday mornings Khadija, Khamisa and I go to the souk to buy all the veges for the week and whatever else is needed.  Once the girls have all gone home it’s hammam time – a great way to relax at the end of the week – and then mid-afternoon I usually head back into Marrakech until Monday morning.  Then it all starts over again… and I love it!