I came to one of two schools of the British Language Academy here in Casablanca to help Moroccan students practice and learn their English skills. After just one session, a very prominent question arose. Who was teaching who… me to the student, or the student to me?
I walked into this city not knowing anything, barely a word of French or Arabic. I gawked at the size of it. Casablanca rivals New York in population with roughly 8 million to the world capital’s 9 million inhabitants. This is most likely not an accurate number, considering all the undocumented people living with families. Casablanca is by no means the tourist city that Marakech is. What you see is what you get. Here, it is real 21st century Moroccan living, and over the past month, in some ways and at the risk of being presumptuous, I have become one of them.
I feel very fortunate to be stationed at the old school near the Medina or “City Center”. It is the oldest section of the downtown area, bordering the old Medina, which also lends an “old world” feeling to my neighborhood. I would often get lost in its labyrinth, one of my favorite things to do.
I am not sure exactly how old the apartment is that I live in, but by the looks of it and by the fact that hardly anything works, I have a fairly good idea. Most mornings, I wake up to a quick breakfast of yogurt and coffee before setting to work on my laundry which I do by hand and hang to dry on the roof of our building. I’m sure most 21st century Moroccans have more effecient methods, but in our apartment, we do not. If my breakfast was not hearty enough, I will stop at a favorite cafe on the way to the Academy for an avocado juice. A pint of that stuff will easily sustain you until lunch. There are souks, or open-air markets everywhere, offering a wide array street vendors… and the food is amazing. I am sorry to say that I have put most of the weight back on that I had lost in the first two months of my journey.
There are four other locations for the British Language Academy here in Morocco… another new school on the south end of Casablanca, one in the neighboring city of Berrichid, one in Fez, and one in Chefchaouen… but my students are the best. Of course, I am biased. I love them all like my own children, even the ones whom are older then myself. The majority of the students are teenagers or are in their early twenties, but they are all very curious and hungry to learn, some more than others, but they know that learning English is very important for their future, no matter what vocation they choose.
My job is simple. I sit down with a small group of students, speaking my first language to have a random discussion. They ask me many questions about myself and America, and in turn, I ask about them and Morocco, which can be the best way for a tourist to learn about where they are. I learned a great deal from my students about Marakech and Southern Morocco, and its people, the Berbers, before I even went there. They told me of the southern snow-capped mountains adjacent to the Moroccan Sahara, of the fact that the rudimentary Arabic I was learning at the academy, would help me little with the Berbers whom have their own separate dialect. With great expectations, I found this all to be true on a four day excursion to the south, a trip to Marikech, then through the Atlas Mountains, and a one-night camping adventure in the western Sahara Desert, complete with my own riding camel to get me out there.
I love talking to my students. We share a similar humor and a love of laughter. They laugh mostly at me and my silly accent, especially when I try to speak Arabic. In fact, generally speaking, Moroccans are very kind and welcoming. I have rarely met in a foreign country a person more helpful and accommodating than your average Moroccan. In the grand scheme of time, five weeks is not a long time, but it was certainly long enough to get myself into a strict city routine, and it was just long enough to learn a little Arabic from the wonderful teachers at the academy. It was certainly enough time to form a strong bond with the students and teachers. I will miss them dearly.