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Friday, October 31, 2014

Rediscovering Ms. Austen

I recently posted a link to this great article on my Facebook:

While I truly am looking forward to reading an updated Emma by one of my favorite contemporary authors, there's nothing quite like original Jane Austen. This spree I'm on of her novels has come about due to my mother somehow sharing her Audible app with me, so every book she downloads (read: pays for) appears on my device also for me to listen to (for free)! She happens to have bought all of Jane Austen's novels, and I had been wanting to reread Emma for a while anyway, so I thus began my journey into Austen's world. I started with Persuasion, upon my mother's recommendation, never having read it before. Next came Emma, then Sense and Sensibility, and now I'm just beginning Mansfield Park again new territory for me. I've been rather shocked realizing how many of her novels I'm unacquainted with! 

This glut of Austen has seen words like "approbation" creep into my vocabulary, which I find amusing. Her works are an interesting testament to the English language even though they were written about 200 years ago their language remains extremely accessible, because her English isn't all that different. Yea "approbation" may have gone out of style, and I'm still a bit fuzzy about what "sanguine" describes, but I chuckled when I heard "awkward" used it seems like such a modern word. (This isn't to say it's not a testament to her writing as well, because it certainly is. I read Wuthering Heights last spring, which was published decades later, and Ms. Bronte was unable to enthrall me, in large part because there were so many sentences that were so wholly unintelligible to this modern reader. Dickens as well wrote many years after Austen, yet his excessive language can't begin to compare with the clarity of hers.)

There is something so rewarding about listening to books on tape; I can expand my mind with great literature as I cook dinner, or pick up the apartment, or brave Casablanca taxi rides! Hearing a book read by an accomplished reader does wonders to make the story come alive and makes for a totally different experience. When I read to myself I do so quickly, and really too quickly, and end up missing out on details or discreet messages that the text holds. Othman and I had a conversation a while back about reading, and I realized that when I read I don't do a lot of work myself to make the characters come alive I don't give them voices, imagine them vividly, or even "hear" their tone of voice, pauses, gasps and the like as I read the words on the page. As I'm a huge reader I obviously have no issue with this, and it works for me, but maybe it explains my lack of patience for poorly written books, and why character development is such an important point for me I'm lazy and want the author to do all the work! Anyway, having an amazing reader, like the aforementioned Juliet Stevenson, makes the book seem almost like a movie for me. It's really the best of both worlds.

Audible Audiobooks Free Trial

For anyone reading this who hasn't picked up an Austen novel in ages (or ever), consider trying out the Audible app for free, and get one of her works as your first free bookmaking sure of the narratorand get ready to discover 18th century England like you've never seen (heard?) it before.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

My Kindergarten classroom, version 2.0

Remember the post about my Kindergarten classroom? All the pictures I posted were taken during the first couple days of school, and since then much has changed in our room! 

We've received new materials from abroad, I've gone and done tons of shopping  for classroom materials, and my understanding of my students' needs in the class has deepened as well. A few weekends ago I spent a ridiculous amount of time at school rearranging my classroom, and have been meaning to take pictures to post ever since. This Friday before class I finally got around to it! Everything was ready for our Friday, which is a half day and so lessons are a little different than usual. Down below I'll explain why things are set up as they are, and how the day went! 

Here are some pictures that give a general idea of the class set up to start with.

The view from my (messy) desk.

Usually these tables are in this position but separated,
I pushed them together for a sorting activity.

The white table is usually clear, and used for the writing/art center,
but it was all set up for a sensory tub activity on this day!

In front of my desk is the supply shelf where students help themselves to
pencils, crayons, early finisher activities, coloring sheets, playdough, and
more! They've become remarkably self sufficient in such a short time.

Also, I can't believe I'd ever complain about having too many windows, but
having so many makes wall displays really tricky! Plus the bulletin board seen
here is for the Arabic teacher's use, so that limits my options even more. 

A view from the back corner, you can see the "game center" cabinet
which is filled with puzzles, flash cards and dominoes for the moment.

As you can see the space is much more compartmentalized now, and there is a lot less open (read: wasted) space. The shipment that arrived from Turkey was full of furniture which was very useful as a way of creating boundaries between centers. I only have six students but this room is functional enough in my judgement to fit fifteen or so without an issue, which is a likely class size for next year.

Now I'll explain some of the areas we have in the room. This is the circle time area where we gather first thing in the morning, last thing in the afternoon, and periodically throughout the day in order to regroup or read a book. The rug is not one I would have chosen in different circumstances, but how ridiculously difficult it was to find a decently large circle rug in Casablanca was astounding. In the end my boss kindly got it for me on a Sunday afternoon and picked the most colorful and biggest one he could find. It serves its purpose for sure and the kids love it, but they definitely get distracted by the Cars! 

This is our reading center, which usually looks a bit more inviting with the pillow arrangement, but one thing I hold to in my classroom is that the children must pick up after themselves, and the way they leave a center is the way it stays. They've been extremely good at keeping them looking nice so far, but sometimes their ideas of interior decorating don't match mine exactly. ;p 

This is everyone's favorite center-- the block center. For now it's stocked with toy cars and dinosaurs, two kinds of big blocks and two kinds of smaller blocks. The Jenga blocks have been the favorite of late. I limit this center to two kids because otherwise I'd find all three of my boys there sometimes, and things would get out of hand. There are all sorts of real life physics and math skills that are learned here every day!

Our "home" center is a popular one too, where we have baby dolls, stuffed animals and toy food. I've seen eggs being scrambled, soup being served to the construction workers in the blocks center, the baby dolls being handed from one child to another as if they were real babies with necks supported and everything, and lots and lots of enthusiasm for cleaning the classroom with that little cleaning cart. That cart is probably the single most popular item in the whole room, and the kids love to voluntarily clean the room!

One thing that's important since my class is totally full of ELLs (English
Language Learners) is keeping the center names simple and to the point, thus
this is the "Home" center even though it's more of a supermarket right now!

The centers will be developing and changing throughout the year as I receive new materials and rotate the ones available to keep the students interested. Once I get more materials that are on their way now I will be creating a math and a science center, or possibly a math/science combination center. 

I don't have a sensory table, but last weekend I went to the store and bought a tub to use as a sensory tub. We've used it twice already and the kids loooooooove it. I was silly to have started with confetti as the filler since it's so hard to clean up, but it was store bought and therefore easy to just dump in and start using. It also sets a good precedent, because the kids spend so long cleaning after themselves now, so when we use less messy materials they'll be sure to leave the area spotless.

I was very proud of their hard work with the sensory tub yesterday, because I gave them quite a task! Hidden inside were flashcards and small realia of objects beginning with A, B, C, or D. The students had to:
1) Find the objects and put them in the correct sorting plate, 
2) tally the objects found on their tally sheet, under the correct letter heading (and the sheet had capital letters and the plates were lowercase!)
3) graph their results at the end.

For two of my students I skipped the graphing part, but next time I'll probably change their task as well, since the level of challenge was a bit too much for them. With a lot of teacher intervention they did a good job at the end though! The other four students were able to do all of it themselves with just some teacher guidance, and I was very proud.

Their little faces were so concentrated!

Our daily routine is some variation of the following:
-Circle time (as detailed above)
-Whole-class instruction (usually either alphabet/literacy work or English language learning)
-Center time (I choose centers for students to rotate though, where they do specific work I've prepared for them or just explore the materials there)
-Choice time (students choose what center they want to explore and stay at. There are limits to how many students can be at each center, so both making good choices and accepting the choices of others is a big learning experience!)

I used the sensory tub as part of a Friday-morning center time. Fridays are half days for us so I usually skip the whole-class instruction. The other centers were the reading center (mostly because the kids rarely choose it during choice time, so I need to get them there sometime! Reading to children is not a priority in most Moroccan families and it's clear that most of my kids don't even know what to do with books)...

and the aforementioned sorting activity. One thing we focused on this week as a crossover of language and science/math was "big, little, in the middle!" We chanted and sorted various things all week, and that's how I introduced tallying and graphing. The challenge for this activity was for them to sort the flashcards we'd been working with all week without any teacher help into the big, little and in the middle categories! They did a lovely job.

These two needed absolutely no guidance!

These two sorted the cards by color as well, which I thought was a great differentiated
activity which they came up with themselves! Little minds at work. =]

Wow, well I kind of got carried away in this post! After wanted to share the new set up I was so excited about how the sensory tub introduction is going, and giving an overview of a normal routine just seemed the natural extension!  I promise not to be quite so detailed in the future.

While I do miss teaching at British Council and have been happy to head back there periodically to cover classes etc, I really absolutely love this world of Kindergarten teaching, and am so glad to be doing it this year!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Pages-- Chapter 3!

This is post number 100 on this blog, which has been in existence for less than a year! I'm so happy I started it, as it gives me a great outlet for writing and is such a great way to keep family and friends around the world a glimpse into my life and travels. It's more personal and detailed than Facebook, but less time consuming than personal correspondence, which it doesn't really replace, but in my sporadic conversations with friends throughout the year it's so much easier to just direct them here for a report on what has been happening!

Anyway, for my one hundredth post, it's an absolute pleasure to talk about the very exciting event that happened last Wednesday! I had the opportunity to speak in front of a crowd of Moroccans and expats at a bar in the "old downtown" of Casablanca at an event called Pages. If you missed my previous post about Pages, take a look here.

Photo from the Pages FB and photo credit to Rapax Studios!

The night was fantastic, the other speakers inspiring, and the music enjoyable! Tahir Shah, the author of The Caliph's House which is based on his experience moving to Casablanca, was there and spoke a bit about stories and storytelling to open the night. Having read his book (along with every other expat in Morocco I think...) and been to his house (as the venue for the baby shower of a friend sometime last year), it was really interesting to see/meet him in person. I really enjoyed his thoughts on storytelling, and especially his point about how the same stories, Cinderella for example, crop up in totally different cultures and corners of the world repeatedly. Certain stories and characters are transcendent of time and place, simply because they are so compelling, and are unlikely to disappear any time soon.

I was the last speaker to talk, which was a bit nerve-wracking since I had to wait my turn the entire night, but being a teacher I'm so used to standing up and "performing" in front of a bunch of people that I wasn't too nervous. I mentioned in my introduction at the event that although anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that I'm a talker, even more than talking I like to write. So instead of talking in front of all those people, I read something I had prepared. And due to the fact that while here in Morocco I'm most at ease speaking mix of French and English, what I wrote was in that same mix, given that I was privileged enough to be speaking to a crowd who could understand it all. Feel free to use google translate to get the main idea of the French sections. ;D

Photo from the Pages FB and photo credit to Rapax Studios!

 My Maroc

3 years.
3 years, 8 months, 6 days.
I’ve lived in this city for 1344 days. Almost two million minutes.
I’ve lived in this city for 192 weeks— that's 18 weeks longer than my college career.
Those weeks have been full of sunshine and tears, white knuckled car rides and donkey pulled fruit carts, hair tearing bureaucracy and toes dancing with seaweed.


The first time I came here was on my University’s account. Bank account. I scrapped together some BS grant proposal as a pretext for visiting that man right there, and getting to know his country, his family, and him. He and I had had some good times en France plus tôt dans l’année, et ça a commencé d’être plus sérieux. Ma première vrai journée à Casa, et il m’amène ou? Bah a Derb Ghallef bien sûr! On a bu du thé marocain dans un magasin de pièces de voiture. J’étais trop excite de montrer ma grande connaissance d’Arabe—atay nana ! Mais non, c’était même pas nana.

The shopkeeper’s sob story how his wife had just left him was translated sporadically, but I was content watching the pitter patter of pedestrian traffic on the small side alley, everyone picking their way to avoid the ablution runoff. I didn’t see any women.


Au début, chômeurs, on a habité avec ma belle-famille. J’ai appris le Français. Mais c’était pas facile.


Imsouane. Imsouane.
New Year’s. Sunshine beating our skin, Atlantic winds chilling our bones. Nutty argan oil on my veranda breakfast omelette. Blond surfers in the bay, us exploring the shore’s rock formations, afraid of the frigid sea. A fisherman dancing with his dog, silhouetted by the last crimson sunlight of the year. Fish, fish and more fish to eat, and never a complaint from us. The stars. The silence. The next year, we did it all over again.


It’s the day to day things I find the hardest. My death-defying taxi drivers. My lack of time to form proper friendships. The struggle to get the internet fixed, or the fridge, or the water heater, or to get the electricity turned back on when Lydec turned it off EVEN THOUGH WE PAID.  The birds that poop on the clothes I just hung out for the sun to finish my laundering job. The ear splitting, high-pitched road rage of blameless drivers. Walking on the street with self-imposed invisible blinders, shielding myself from the honks, looks and dirty mutters I don’t understand…. but understand.

It’s the day to day things I appreciate the most. The seagulls perched as regularly as piano keys on the construction crane in front of my school. The way the fruit here pops when you chew it. How the wildflower colors change each month. Le fait que je parle français maintenant. Les couleurs de la coucher de soleil au-dessus de l’océan. How little trash I create here, compared to in the US. No heating needed. Central AC? Pff. Real food is cheap, processed isn’t, that’s how it should be.


On Mondays for the past year I’ve headed to la petite église près du Rond-Point du Sports, pour chanter dans une chorale. On est des marocains, des français, des anglais, une danoise, une américaine, et même plus j’en suis sure.  C’est ma thérapie hebdomadaire. Pendant notre spectacle en mai le monsieur chargé d’ouvrir et fermer les rideaux sur la scène a le Rialto était totalement défoncé, et il a fait n’importe quoi. Les rideaux ont ouvert sans le moitié des chanteurs, et après ils ont pas fermer pour que on fait la changement de costume. Embarassing? Ohmygod yes. But this is Morocco, and no one really seemed to pay attention to that.


In a multilingual country such as this, one picks up on things that might not draw attention otherwise. Par exemple comment des voix changent quand on parle dans les langues différents. I imagine my voice to be the same mix of throaty nasal dans les deux langues, but you might not agree. E si eu falo português, a lingua da minha mae, é totalmente differente! Funny how that works.


Part of how I make sense of this world, this life, this country, is through writing poetry. I’ll leave you with a true story.

In the West she’d be locked away

She’s a shadow made of moss and brown,
feet horned and dusty. Her sandals slip
on and off.

She ambles with that monkey gait
through carts of egg vendors,
boys screaming at their goalies,
and the local station de police.
Her chatters and mumbles don’t stop,
going from spider to howler in an instant.

The first time she looked drunk-stoned,
I thought maybe she’s another glue sniffer
or counts among the illicit alcoholics
of this dry and thirsty country.

I saw a man offer her bread at the hanout today.
She didn't seem to understand;
maybe her stomach was sated.

She must have been educated
before the psychosis set in;
her French, spat out with saliva darts,
is better than mine.

I've often wondered if she has anyone,
a sister, uncle, social worker. Him?
But that's just my Western brain,

I think. Because then I remember her wiry hair
tied up with that kind of plastic rope
they string dried figs onto.
She shifts it back onto rough chopped gray
from its flower power place.

There's never a fly too far off.

She is as scenery in this place,
another piece of Oulfa’s puzzle,
and I’m the only one the least bit phased
by her accusing stares.

Photo from the Pages FB and photo credit to Rapax Studios!

A huge thanks to Monika and Amr for organizing another night of fantastic entertainment, which brings so many different people together in such a wonderful way. Already looking forward to Chapter 4!

Monday, October 13, 2014

An inclusive Halloween: the Teal Pumpkin Project

Just a quick post about an article I saw linked to on Facebook and think is really great.

Food Allergy Research & Education urges placing a teal pumpkin outside on Halloween if you have non-food items to share.

The Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) nonprofit has come up with a lovely idea for this Halloween: offer non-food treats for kiddos who come trick-or-treating at your door this year, and place a teal pumpkin (or this poster) outside your home to alert caregivers that non-food items are available. This can literally mean life and death for kids with extreme food allergies, can also be important for kids with other illnesses like type 1 diabetes. Anyway c'mon, do America's kids, with childhood obesity rates as they are, really need more candy?

Also, I worked with a woman during my time in the food court at Notre Dame who lost her 10 year old niece who died for unknown reasons after eating her Halloween candy a few years ago. Candy from strangers can be scary! And handing out
glow bracelets or necklaces, pencils, markers, boxes of crayons, erasers, bubbles, mini Slinkies, whistles or noisemakers, bouncy balls, coins, spider rings, vampire teeth, mini notepads, playing cards, bookmarks, stickers, and stencils
can still be all sorts of fun for both givers and getters! (Ideas from FARE.) Click on the links and take a look! 

If we were in the US this Halloween we'd definitely be participating. Even if you don't know anyone directly affected by food allergies, or think that kids around you don't have any, cute pencils are still healthier than candy. And you could always have two options-- a candy bucket and a non-food bucket-- and have kiddos choose! 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Pages- an event worth attending

A week from today I'll be finishing up what will surely be the most interesting Wednesday night of the month. Othman and I will be at an event called Pages, a super fascinating glimpse into a Casa we get to see much too seldom.

We were invited to Pages, Chapter 2 at the very beginning of September, and were intrigued enough by the Facebook event description to head across town with a friend of mine to attend. I found it funny that it took place on a Wednesday night, but didn't give it much thought. After many minutes of searching for the street in the old "colonial downtown" of Casablanca, notorious for one-ways and no street signs, we finally decided the bar, Le Vertigo, must be close, and parked. We walked down the street, nothing. So we walked up the street following the numbers and looking for 110. Suddenly we were at 130, so doubled back a bit and realized we had walked straight in front of the discreet street opening! "Man this is underground," I thought to myself.

All pics stolen from:

Little did I know, but I was more right than I guessed after paying our 50dh entrance fee and entering our names for the raffle prizes we were directed down a flight of stairsUpon arrival in the cozy basement, the first thing I noticed was the conspicuous lack of something: pretension. I feel rather awkward in many social settings so yes I was a bit uncomfortable, but that's just me no matter what, so when I say it felt like a low-key house party at a buddy's home, I mean it. A buddy with many friends I don't know, sure, but I did meet the friend who invited me on Facebook right at the bottom of the stairs, and we were all soon engrossed in conversation with all sorts of interesting people. We even got offered free mini cupcakes from a sponsor (from the others' reactions, they were amazing).

Can you spot us?

After a while we settled around some small tables and the storytelling started. The idea behind Pages is that there are so many stories to be told about Morocco, so why not tell them? Here's the event description from their Facebook:

"Pages" is an event devoted exclusively to Morocco and life in this charming, yet ambiguous country. We desire to show that it is not as bad as some people tend to think. 
Each one of us, whether the expats or Moroccans have countless stories to share. Sometimes joyful, sometimes a bit tough. No matter what the experience is, it always makes a memorable chapter of our endless book about living in this country. We want to show you Morocco from a different perspective and share our experiences in a different, friendly atmosphere- far from crowded conferences and formal stages.

The idea is to organize "Pages" every month. Each month a new Chapter. We want to make it an endless book that everybody can be the author of!

First we heard from an adorable Italian girl, who I had been chatting with earlier, about how she met her Moroccan husband on a train while touring with some friends. Then that same husband and his band Chouftchouf took over, and they treated us to some live music which was underground, real, and fantastic. There was a bit of rap, hiphop, even reggae all mixed in. After that we had a Canadian man talk about him making his way to Morocco after meeting his wife in Canada at art school, then an exhibition of her stunning photography, and even a Moroccan comedian! Everybody was young, interesting, and real. The stories were ones I could relate to, and everyone found themselves grinning and nodding more than a few times! THIS is exactly the kind of event I've been missing all these years in Casablanca, and finally I found it! What's more, now that I work "normal" hours I can attend evening events, whereas a year ago I would have been shaking my head saying "oh well, another thing I can't go to." Kindergarten teaching FTW.

Not long into the night, Othman gave me a meaningful look, nudged me and whispered, "You next time?" Myriam, the friend I brought along, made a similar remark later on. They know me well, because before either of them mentioned anything I was already halfway composing my "story" in my mind. 

The evening ended with a raffle drawing with some pretty spectacular prizes nights for two in amazing riads around the country, a signed copy of The Caliph's House by Tahir Shah, and some cool printed calendars, coasters and more. Both the people attending and the storytellers had drawings and a lot of people went away happy! After that I managed to run up to the blonde girl in a djellaba who was clearly in charge, and ask her how to speak next time. She told me just to contact them on Facebook and that they needed people! Needless to say, I left happy too.

A week or two later I met Monika, the blonde Pole who is fearless and infectious in her enthusiasm, and Amr, an Egyptian-Moroccan who never stops smiling, for coffee close to the apartment they share with some other young expats. Joining us was Sarah, an inspiring French-Moroccan who is just beginning an amazing documentary/social work project that is totally worth checking out. We all chatted about our lives, Morocco, and Pages, and Monika and Amr gave Sarah and I info about being storytellers and about how the event came to be. Apparently after living here a few months they two of them felt the same need I did for events like this, and instead of complaining and pining like me, they simply did something about it, and started this up! I'm seriously in awe of these two. Also, they solved the riddle about it being on Wednesdays they wanted to keep the unassuming vibe, and felt like holding it during a weekday would keep it from turning into a Saturday night party. I like that reasoning.

Later on in the month we all met up again at their apartment with a few more people that will be speaking, and Othman came along that time too, and we had a really lovely evening chatting and taking "behind the scenes" photos, despite our pressing work schedules. 

Now Chapter 3 is coming up in a week's time, and I'm really excited to read what I've prepared and share my little bits of Morocco with others. Maybe after it happens I'll post it on here, who knows. If you're in Casa try to make it out it should definitely be a fun night.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Choir YouTubes and more

Between work-work-working nonstop at 100mph, not sleeping enough and the weather changing (it's crazy how it so suddenly goes from summer heat to oooh-it's-chilly here) I unsurprisingly got sick. Along with quite a few kiddos at school too, so I guess flu season has officially begun. Luckily it hasn't been a horrible illness, but I've been totally exhausted.

I also got really lucky that my being sick coincided with Eid al-Adha, which is "the sheep Eid" I posted about last year. We have Monday-Wednesday off this week which seems like it'll be enough time for me to recover, so yay for that! I was too sick on Sunday to celebrate the Eid with Othman's family, which was a bit of a bummer not to be with everyone, but at the same time it's not my favorite holiday seeing as its focal point is the family meal where we eat sheep insides liver, kidney, heart etc. Not really my thing.

In other news I've started up with my choir again, and we're diving in headfirst with some lovely songs. Many of the songs we did at our concert last year are up online now, and I wanted to share some with you!

This is an extract of "Te Deum" by Karl Jenkins. This is all we did last year but this year we've already begun working on the other two parts in order to preform the entire song this year. (Forgive my silly faces throughout these videos please rare is the person who looks nice while singing in a choir!)

It was during the choir's performance of this song in 2013 that I realized I absolutely had to join! It's a mixture of languages and religions Aramaic, Greek, Syriac, Arabic, even Latin. It is a prayer for peace for Jerusalem, and is an incredibly moving piece.

I'll leave you with another I loved Les Djinns by Gabriel Fauré. It's a poem of Victor Hugo's which Fauré set to music, and it's very haunting and beautiful. I think we had sung it much better in rehersals than we did in this performance, but a big factor is the place where we practice has beautiful acoustics a theatre stage with microphones just can't compare. Also the way the speakers were set up made it so that we heard ourselves very differently from usual, so it created a bit of weirdness. But anyway, here's the song:

If you want to check out more of what the choir has done, both this past year and in years previous, type our director's name, Marie Claire Agoumi, into YouTube and you'll find all the videos she has put up. She doesn't put all the songs from each year up, but a nice selection.