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Fondation Orient-Occident (re)Visited

MOROCCO | Sunday, 13 July 2014 | Views [312]

 On Wednesday, I tried to go to lit class at 10:45. Normally by then, Natasha and Cynthia's poli sci professor is long gone, so it's just the two of them talking about Tumblr and other things they've found on the Internet. On Wednesday, however, there was still a woman in there, talking. So I slunk back to the classroom right next door to wait. 

When she was gone, it was 10:55, which is the time Natasha usually gathers her stuff and leaves so that she can be gone by the time our lit professor shows up. So she did, but not without warning us that we all needed to be up by 8:45 for a field trip the next day.

“You mean you need to be up by 8:45 for a field trip tomorrow?” I asked.

“No, all of you. The woman who was just here told us to tell you that it's mandatory for everyone.”

“Unless one of my other teachers mentions it, I'm not going to believe that.”

“She said Oussama would be coming in to talk to you about it.”

Oussama never did. Near the very end, as she was kicking us out of the building so she could lock up (she does that a lot) Fatima mentioned the field trip and asked if we were all going. Had Natasha and Cynthia been lax in their telling us, that would have been the first (and probably last) we heard of it. She didn't give much more detail, aprat from the implication that it was optional and not mandatory.

Megan's Facebook message while we were studying Arabic was in fact to ask what we knew about this field trip. Since the only people online were Nathan, Erika, and kind of me, the short answer was “It's happening. 8:45 tomorrow. Be there.” Eventually, Cynthia would chime in with the additional information that it was held at the Fondation Orient-Occident, the same group that had put on the gospel music and African dance that we'd seen several weeks ago.

So, at 7:00 the next morning I forced myself awake. I didn't hear anyone else moving around the house as I normally did in the mornings, and it occurred to me that I should have told them I was leaving. Otherwise, no time like the present to join the full culturual immersion of Ramadan!

Then I went to take my shower. It was colder than the Isle of Goree shower had been. I thought way back to my first full day in Rabat, when they'd been warning us about things we should be prepared about with our homestays. One of them was that most showers were heated by gas, and people were leery about leaving it connected, so they'd only turn it on when it was being used. I'd never encountered a problem with it before, so I'd forgotten that piece of advice. I really should have warned my host family.

Now thoroughly awake, I went back to my room. I'd decided that I should leave a note, and was trying to think of which of a more polite way to say “Sorry. I am at school. Don't make breakfast or lunch, please. Goodbye” using only phrases I'd learned. It would also require me try and imitate the Arabic script we had in the packet pretty closely. It would have been a challenge, but it was avoided when my host father saw me awake and woke up my host mother. (He did also try and get me to take another shower, now that he water was hot, but having gotten through the first one, I declined.)

My host father actually prepared most of the breakfast (heating up the bread and putting cheese and olives out on the table) and my host mother made me a simple lunch. I felt guilty about the short warning, and also making her get up two hours earlier, but I'm not going to complain about having the food. Even with slight delays on that, I was ready to go by 8:00.

On my walk to school, I kept commenting to myself how many things were different. “Wow, it's cool. It's not normally this cool.” “Yes, Sabrina. It's two hours earlier.” “Oh. Right. (Pause) Wow, there are so many less cars out!” “Yes, Sabrina. It's two hours earlier.” “Oh, right. (Pause.) Wow, there are so many more people looking at me like I'm crazy!” “Yes, Sabrina. That's because you're talking to yourself.”

I do think the walk that morning was more pleasant than normal. This might just be me trying to prepare for the next two weeks, though. Sociology ends on Monday, and after that Poli Sci will begin at 9:00 in the morning. I'll be done by 1 PM (12:30 if the lit instructor pays attention to the time) but I'm still not looking forward to it.

When we arrived at the school, it wasn't fully unlocked. We couldn't put our lunches in the fridge, and there weren't that many places to sit. Later, they opened up more of the building, and we could go sit down in the classroom and put our food away. We could have sat down elsewhere, but then the risk of the bus leaving without us would be higher.

The sociology professor came into the classroom to give a short spiel about how this was adding a human face to lessons about migrants Natasha and Cynthia had been having in class. Which sounded rather depressing, but probably enriching and meaningful. Hopefully.

Around 9:00, the bus was ready to be boarded. I know it was around 9 because we were standing waiting when I became aware of music very nearby. “Don't want to waaaaaake up. Don't want to wake up.” I pulled my phone out of my pocket, trying to use my left hand to cover the speaker while my right hand disabled the alarm. Cynthia had shared the room with me enough times to recognize it. “This is what time you usually wake up?” “Yep.”

The bus ride to the center was a quiet half hour. Then we got out and walked through to one of the buildings where we met our guide.

 Respect the voice of others

In many ways, the Fondation Orient-Occident is the same as the Femmes contre le migratation clandestine of Senegal. From a human rights perspective, the problem with illegal immigration that people are moving from one country to another. It's that in any country, they're not able to support themselves. The organization in Senegal focused on giving people the skills that they needed to find work there. In Morocco, they're giving people not only the training, but also the medical and legal support they need to make sure they're not taken advantage of in Morocco.

 The classes were slightly more comprehensive here than in Senegal. It was also a larger center. Classes included sewing, jewelery making, French alphabetization, English, Computer (at the beginning and intermediate levels) and cooking, just not during Ramadan.

 We were shown into a workshop where women were sewing and given a description of the work they do. Because the sewers come from all different countries, they have a vast span in terms of technique, design, and ornamentation. The clothing that they produce reflects this. Everyone makes their own garments, and they are sold at an annual event. The woman describing the sewing workshop showed us several articles of clothing. (Yugoslavian embroidery is so pretty.)

 She then took us away from the sewing to give us a tour of the more administrative functions of the building. Her voice was quiet, and twice during our tour of the center it became almost impossible to hear. The first time was when we entered the library and she seemed to decide she was speaking too loudly and lowered her voice even more. The second time was at the end, when we were standing outside and someone nearby was sawing down a tree.

 We saw their kindergarten, which is for the children of immigrants. I saw maybe two immigrants and 8 teen-to-twenty age girls wearing white shirts and knotted scarves (red with an outer lining of yellow and green) which I took to mean they were volunteers with the children. They have two groups, one for 4-5 year olds, another for 5-6. At 6 the students start school, but the center continues to offer after-school support with special tutors.

 Below that was a nursery. The colors here were pastels (as opposed to the bolder kindergarten colors) and the walls were decorated with the names of the months and days of the week in French and Arabic. At least I'm assuming that's what the Arabic said. There were no children there at that point.

 We also saw the classroom for students who were older than 6. They were learning English with the help of an American. He'd been in Rabat for 4 weeks and teaching for 3. It was his last day here, as he was going to other places in Morocco for another few weeks. He was here with SIT (Fatima mentioned that in spring and fall semesters, students often came here to teach English as an internship.) He was learning fusha and a little Darija though I was able to understand the entire conversation he'd had with the woman showing us around, so we were at about the same level with the latter.

 In the beginning, he'd had some difficulties both with communication and with different cultural norms. The same sort of things that we'd had to adjust to in our classes and host families, only intensified because he was the teacher. Now, his main struggle is still learning to “accomodate my lesson plans to an ever-shifting classroom.”

 Before we left, the woman giving us the tour told us a lot of nice things about him in French. He watched on with a confused/neutral expression on his face. (His language study consisted of the Arabic here and some rusty Spanish.) I was so tempted to make up a translation, but Fatima beat me and told him the truth. He responded back in English, asking her to tell the woman how grateful he was for this opportunity and what a pleasure it had been. Fatima spoke for a bit in Darija, again, presumably translating directly instead of making things up.

 After that was over, we got back onto the bus and drove back to the school in time for lit class. I think I'd been expecting it to be a more multidimensional version of the pictures that were outside the theater when we went to the music show. Something about the horrors of immigration, or border control, or both. A full center devoted to helping immigrants with all aspects of their life was so much more inspiring.

Tags: field trip, immigration, sewing, teaching

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