Monthly Archives: October 2011

Arabo-Andalouse Music Concert


This weekend, I went to the National Theater for a concert of Arabo-Andalouse music, a popular traditional style here in North Africa, mixing Arabic and Berber with Arabo-Spanish music, including from the Moors and Sephardic Jews who used to live in Spain (al-Andalus) before being pushed out.  Popular instruments of this style include the oud and tambourine.

At the concert

Rainy Days


This week was the routine: School, teaching at the orphanage, and recovering from last weekend in Paris. It was funny in Paris to see the giant Morocco travel adds at every metro stop, with catchphrases like, “dicover yourself in Morocco!” Man, I wish I got a picture.

Lesson planning for the orphanage has been taking more time than I thought. I have about 12 students, all boys between 16 and 18 years old. They know just a bit of Enlgish from movies, TV, and the occasional past volunteers at the orphange, though I don’t know if they’ve had before regular volunteers like me that are going to come twice a week for several months. But because of those other volunteers, some of the older students have had a bit more English than the younger ones, which also makes it challenging to try to teach to some who are pretty much absolute beginners and others who can at least introduce themselves and know a lot of basic words, especially types of food and sports. They can all read and write the Latin alphabet, because they have already learned very basic French, but some read with much more ease than others. I don’t have any books to work from and the chalkboard in the classroom I’m supposed to use doesn’t even work. That means I have to teach many words orally and then prepare a lot of worksheets so they can see how the words are written and practice reading and writing. Here’s an example:

Letter from John

Dear …….

My name is John. I am 18 years old. I am from the United States of
America. I live in the city of Baltimore in the state of Maryland. I am a
student in high school where I study math*, reading**, writing***, science^,
history^^, and Spanish.^^^ My favorite subject is history. I like to play
sports. My favorite sport is basketball. And you?



كتابة ***          **  قراءة        * الرياضيات
^^^ اللغة الإسبانية        ^^ تاريخ             ^ علم

Letter to John

Dear John,

Nice to meet you. My name is….

Took this pic while waiting for the tram to the orphanage. Guess they weren't prepared for the rain.

Volubilis, Meknes, & Fez


This weekend I journeyed through Morocco on a whirlwind tour of Volubilis, Meknes, and Fez and learned about different periods in Morocco’s history.

Volubilis (called “Wallili” here) is a city of Roman ruins, dating from ~200 BCE to ~300 CE, and a UNESCO world heritage site. Most fascinating to see there are the well-preserved ornate mosaic floors, with themes ranging from water nymphs and Roman gods to animals, everyday life, and even an acrobat riding backwards on a donkey.

Meknes is known as the “City of a Hundred Minarets,” and indeed on a rooftop there, one can spot multiple minarets in different directions, all decorated with green tiles. Most impressive to see there was a beautiful, medeival-era madrassa, like the Islamic version of a monastery for monks. Other important sites are the mausoleum of Moulay Ismail, his palace, and gardens (now a golf course). Meknes had actually been the capital of Morocco (1672-1727) under the reign of Moulay Ismail, and he sought to model his contemporary Louis XIV of France in beautifying his city with elaborate monuments, earning Meknes the name, “Versailles of Morocco.” Moulay Ismail was known for marrying/ taking as concubines about 80 Berber women from all the surrounding tribes in order to solidify alliances with his Arab-Islamic monarchy and the Berbers, and was said to have fathered some 1,000 children. He is also said to have murdered tens of thousands of people during his sometimes harsh reign, though he is very much still revered. In Meknes, we also travelled to a silver workshop, where we were told the craft has long roots in Morocco, originating from gold and silver craftmanship brought by the Jews. We ended the trip to Meknes with an evening in Lahdim Square, to experience the ever-busy, present day city-center.

Finally, it was off to Fez. First, we passed by the 17th century Royal Palace and nearby Jewish Quarter. It was interesting to see the structure of the houses in the Jewish Quarter with craft stores on the ground floor and open air balconies on the top floor. Our guide told us that the open balconies differed from Muslim ones, because Muslim households had to have closed balconies so their women could not be seen from the outside, whereas this did not apply to Jewish women. Next, we saw al-Karaouine, the world’s oldest university (and still functioning!), dating from the 9th century. Then we toured the Medina of Fez, which is thought to be the largest urban area in the world without cars. Many “streets” of the Medina are barely wide enough to allow more than one person at a time to pass through, so obviously one could not use motorized vehicles there, though I did see a few horses. I’m glad we had a tour guide, otherwise I definitely would have gotten lost in the Medin’as labyrinth. In the Medina, we visited various craft shops/ factories, including the leather tannery, the potters, mosaic-makers, weavers, and beauty-products/perfumes/ cooking spice mixers. (Please see previous post for pics of people working in these crafts). Overall, a wonderful trip.

Roman mosaic in Volubilis

Meknes is also known for its olives

Evening view of Lhadim Square, Meknes


Typical green minaret of Meknes

Fez: Father and son on horseback in ceremonial celebration before boy's circumcision

Fez: Calligraphy and decoration on wall of world's oldest university, al-Karaouine (founded in 9th c.)

Visit to the Royal Institute of Amazigh (Berber) Culture


Today I participated in a school trip to the Royal Institute of Amazigh (Berber) Culture. This was a wonderful opportunity to celebrate Moroccan diversity and learn about this indegenous North African people who seem like a minority, though it is beleived that the vast majority of Moroccans (maybe 80%) have Berber roots. Morocco’s new constitution does recognize the Berber tongue as an official language, but it is still a struggle to keep the language thriving, especially given the competition with Darija (the local Arabic dialect), Fusha (standard Arabic), French, Spanish, and English. Some Berbers feel that their language and culture have been historically marginalized as the Arabs gained power in North Africa, and are thus seeking to revive their heritage. Though a good chunk of the Berbers have integrated with the Arabs, and almost all have taken on the Islamic faith over the past several centuries.

Because there are a few different Berber dialects (three in Morocco), the Royal Institute was involved in the creation of a standard Berber, including a standardized alphabet, established in 2001 and based off the various Berber alphabets. This is now taught in some schools, though truthfully, the number of people who can read it is relatively very small. (For example, my host parents both have Berber roots and can understand much of the language, but can’t read it).

Aside from the complications that arise from the multitude of Berber dialects, the language politics of Morocco are generally complex. We had many discussions and debates about this in my Arabic class. Should schools here teach in classical Arabic? In Darija or Berber (and in which of the many dialects of both of these)? In French, Spanish, and/or English? Although children grow up learning a dialect of Darija or Berber at home, they have to learn another language at school, considering these two are not used for purposes of sophisticated communication. They are hard to find or entirely absent in higher education, meetings, news reports, government documents, and most writing in general. This means that if you didn’t go to school (which is a huge chunch of the population), you won’t even understand TV or radio news broadcasts.

Anyways, at the Royal Institute today we were given copies of an issue of a Berber newspaper, dated Nov. 1, 2010 (whose articles were all in French and Arabic, though we were told occasionally the paper includes articles in Berber). Some of the headlines were rather interesting:

  • “Amazighs [Berbers] Defend Secularism”
  • “Why Should Algeria, Morocco, and Egypt Call Themselves Arab States if Israel Cannot Call Itself a Jewish State?”
  • “Breviary of Arab-Fundamentalists”
  • “Morrocan Researchers and Academics Warn of a Return to the Arabic Language in Contemporary Media Discourse” [This article is in Arabic!]
  • “The Human Rights Forum of North Morocco: Condemns the Continuing Arrest of Chekib el-Khayari [Berber human rights activist]”

At a tour of the Amazigh (Berber) Institute. Outdoor theater modeled after ancient Berber ones

Learning the Berber alphabet (Tifinaghe)

Amazigh (Berber) art

Teaching English at the Orphanage


After many weeks of making arrangements, I finally taught my first English lesson at an orphanage in Salé, a neighbouring city flowing into Rabat. (The two are like the Twin cities of Minneapolis & Saint Paul). Today, I suppose, was a trial session. I tutored one student for an hour and a half, though in the future I will teach larger classes. Anyways, I think the lesson went well! By the end of it, the student was able to speak more articulately about what he does everyday in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening, and at night, and what he does sometimes, usually, always, and never. For homework, he will write a similar conversation, but  talk in the third-person about his friend, rather than in the first-person about himself.

English is important to the future prospects of these orphans, and for economic success in Morocco in general. This is not only because of the significance of the country’s tourism industry, but also because of the U.S.-Morocco free-trade agreement, which entered into effect in 2006 and will likely have a growing impact as more American companies discover this place. And it’s generally beneficial for higher education to understand and communicate in what is increasingly becoming the international language.

As a side note, it’s easy enough to get to Salé by the tramway, a modern escape from the usual crazy traffic of the city. I almost feel as if I’m back in Switzerland while riding it. Actually, the Moroccan government seems to be very keen to invest in sophisticated transportation. The country already has a decent train system, linking its major cities. And recently, a decision was made to hire a French company to build a super-fast train (TGV)  between Casablanca and Tangier. Though the project’s cost of a few billion dollars–and to the French– is raising protests from some quarters.

At the orphanage

Courtyard at the orphanage