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3 posts from December 2014

12/21/2014

Co-ops: they exist outside of Northern California? Or, the rise and fall of the Moroccan artisan

Coming from Northern California, the words "artisan" and "co-op" are like comfort food for me - these get tossed around an unnatural amount when you're living in a place like Berkeley. When I came to Morocco, however, I was not expecting to encounter them so frequently - and oh how wrong I was!

The past several weekends I've traveled have been trips organized by CIEE, and are therefore a big shift from the independent travel I had embarked on in previous weekends. For one, they were already paid for! Beyond that wonderful fact, they also have an actual structure and intent to them. There are itineraries, tour guides, reservations - in short, organization that 20- something year olds (and in my case, younger) are not prone towards. One commonality in these trips is our interaction with local artisans and rural cooperatives through workshops and conversations (sometimes over lunch!), something that I have greatly appreciated.

Our first excursion was to the city of Fez - considered the cultural capital of Morocco - and surrounding area. After our first day touring the medina and eating in the city, we set out Saturday for the small city of Sefrou. Off the current beaten tourist track, Sefrou used to serve as an important point on the trade route between Morocco and the rest of Africa and is now home to Culture Vultures. This organization was started some years ago by a wonderful British artist who had a "mission to enhance cross cultural exchange and dialogue through art ventures and culture programs" (from their website), in effect meaning that they host artists in residence, hold art shows and workshops to engage with local artisans. Over the course of a day, we visited traditional weavers, plow-makers, a cooperative housing wood workers and women making jewelry from djellaba buttons (the traditional Moroccan dress), and the abandoned synagogue and Jewish school just outside of the old medina before ending our time there with a lunch of rafeesa prepared by local women.

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The loom of a blanket-weaver in Sefrou who told us that his kind were dying out due to increasing availability of inexpensive blankets from places like China

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An incredible lunch of rafeesa

The next day we left Fez and headed to an extremely small village where we visited two women's cooperatives, one of which produced herbal teas, oils, and soaps (and couscous!) and the other absolutely delicious honey. Our conversations with them were conducted through a translator not only because our darija is lacking, but because the village we were in spoke Tamazight. In spite of the multiple language barriers, these women were unbelievably warm and friendly, and shared so much about their lives with us, including the difficulties of balancing this work with being a mother and/or wife. They gave me a lot of insight into the importance of rural co-ops, especially for women, and how challenging it can be for them.

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A group picture with the women from the two co-ops

A weekend in Chefchaouen also proved to be an opportunity to connect with local artisans through workshops CIEE had organized with them. Because of an (ultimately inaccurate) intimidating weather forecast, the majority of the group opted out of the hike on the second day, meaning we were able to participate in two workshops each. The first day I "made" lime leaf extract, meaning that I watched as it was made and drank a lot of tea. Beyond the fascinating process of producing this extract, we learned about various herbs that grow in the area and how the community uses them as natural remedies (again something very familiar for a Northern Californian like myself). The next day I opted for something a little more labor intensive: blanket weaving. And my goodness, was it a challenge. The looms the weavers work with are enormous and extremely delicate, so of course our group managed to break something while we were there. Ultimately the experience made me appreciate the intricacy and delicacy of the blankets I see for sale - how incredibly low the price is for something so well-made by such wonderful people.

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The blanket we supposedly helped to weave in Chefchaouen

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Students proudly display their end result

Cooperatives are an integral part of sustaining rural life in a place like Morocco. They provide people (and especially women) with a way to support themselves doing things that they often are already experts at - for instance, the herbal co-op we visited was based on the knowledge andpractices of thee women and their families; it was simply the structure of the co-op, and the knowing that this was a feasible path for them, that was needed. Similarly, with an organization like Culture Vultures, the traditions and ability, etc, are of course present - they are there only to facilitate and support them, which is an incredibly important job in a time when so many arts and trades are being phased out or only exist in the larger cities. These experiences were among the best I have had in Morocco because of how real they were; because of the ability to witness the making of the merchandise I see every day, and to interact with those who produce it.

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Students pose with various Moroccan turban styles in a scarf cooperative in Fes

12/18/2014

Fall 2014, Issue II

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Here is our second newsletter from current student Corrine DiGiovine who is finishing up her semester abroad. Hope you enjoy!

 

A few months into the program many students participating in CIEE’s Fall 2014 semester in Rabat, Morocco are well-adjusted to living and studying in Morocco. Students attend class Monday through Thursday and have long weekends free to stay at home, explore Rabat, or travel throughout the country. CIEE also provides several overnight and day excursions that give students the opportunity to experience Moroccan culture, history and art.

 

Excursions and Travel

The CIEE excursions this semester include overnights to Fes, Chefchaouen, and Marrakech and Essaouria. There are day trips scheduled to Larache and Meknes. During these weekend trips, students attend guided tours, meet local artisans, participate in day-hikes, and feely explore the cities. The excursions usually conclude with a visit with a family in a neighboring rural village. 

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Nadia, Lauren, Kelsey and Kelly in Moulay Idriss outides of Meknes.

 

The last week of October was the students’ mid-semester vacation, in which the students were free to travel independently. Most students traveled through Europe, while some chose to remain in Morocco.

 

There are various course field trips planned throughout the semester. Students recently took a tour of Parliament for the program where they participated in a session with the President.  The trips are planned in accordance with student’s courses and intended to enhance their academic experience.

Students use their weekends to take their own excursions around Morocco to places such as the Sahara Desert, Tangier, and the Atlas Mountains. Students plan and fund these trips on their own, which gives them the experience of planning their own travel and the opportunity to see areas that they so desire.

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Nadia, Lauren, Kelsey and Kelly in Moulay Idriss outides of Meknes.

The last week of October was the students’ mid-semester vacation, in which the students were free to travel independently. Most students traveled through Europe, while some chose to remain in Morocco.

 

There are various course field trips planned throughout the semester. Students recently took a tour of Parliament for the program where they participated in a session with the President.  The trips are planned in accordance with student’s courses and intended to enhance their academic experience.

Students use their weekends to take their own excursions around Morocco to places such as the Sahara Desert, Tangier, and the Atlas Mountains. Students plan and fund these trips on their own, which gives them the experience of planning their own travel and the opportunity to see areas that they so desire.

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Cassandra, Lauren, Suad, Nadia and Janice enjoy the beach.

The students are now entering their final month abroad. In the next few weeks they will attend the next and final CIEE excursion, which is to Marrakech.

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Meagan, Sherin, Kelly, Ruby, Lindsay, Fiona, Cassandra, Nadia, Fatima-Zahra and Janice at the Roman ruins of Volubilis.

 

 

 

Volunteering

Every Wednesday, many of the students participate in CIEE’s volunteer program. Volunteers either teach an English workshop to university students, lead children in games at a youth center, or coordinate activities at a children’s hospital. Students are also accompanied by local Mohammed V University Students at their respective volunteer programs

Student of the Month:

Suad Abeeb

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Suad is a senior at Eastern Michigan University from Columbus Ohio. She studies international affairs and she aspires to work with various NGOs throughout East Africa. She came to Morocco because she thought it would be an easy and fun way to transition into African culture. So far, her favorite city in Morocco is Tangier, as she appreciates the cultural diversity in the city. Her favorite Moroccan dish is Rafisa which consists of lentils, chicken and fenugreek and she enjoys spending her spare time with her friends at a Shisha café in Sale.  

 

Around Rabat:

 

The new Mohammad VI Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, which just opened its doors to the public on October 9, 2014 makes for a highly suitable attraction for a student in Rabat. Located in the heart of the city, the museum is free of admission and attractions include both visual as well as interactive art.

Rabat

Check back soon for our third and last post from our Fall 2014 group!

 

12/08/2014

Volunteering in Rabat

Did you know a lot of our students take time out of their busy schedule to volunteer with various organizations in Rabat?

This semester we had students teaching American culture and English to university students (CAIOS), educating children at an after school center, also known as a Dar Chabab, and spending time with children at the Children's Hospital. 

We've asked our volunteers to reflect on their experiences participating in the program and share them. If you read on, you will see, as with anything, there are positive and negative aspects to participating. Disorganization, lack of space, and limited resources...all of which are readily occurring challenges to volunteering and working. These issues are of course exacerbated and stressed in a different language, new environment and in a fast paced capital city.

Hats off to our students for taking the time out to share, participate, reflect and grow in what for most, is a first, and once in a life-time opportunity. We hope that through the program our students share and take with them the culture of volunteerism, a sense of community, and a better awareness of cross cultural communication.

 

CAIOS

Brianna

Volunteering to teach American culture at Mohammed V University is definitely a great experience! The students are very open about various topics, and it’s interesting to get their perspective about certain aspects of American culture.

Lauren

My experience as a volunteer: It is a little stressful. On some days your students will not come. There will always be different people in your class/different number of people. They might not participate very much. I like being able to choose topics to present on. I am teaching a class on “ American culture” with a partner.

Lauren Brianna

Sherine

Volunteering at the university has proved to be both an interesting and valuable experience. Although presenting in front a group of similarly aged students can nerve-wracking. I have found it to be a rewarding experience thus far. The process of creating effective and engaging lesson plans has been somewhat stressful as well, but seeing an activity that the students genuinely enjoy is a great experience!

I have had some trouble catering the contents of my lesson to each individual student due to their differing proficiencies.

Either way, I highly recommend the volunteering program as a way to both develop yourself and the community.

Sherin

Madeline

I enjoyed teaching the students and learning from them at the same time. I think the hardest part would have probably been evaluating the levels of English. Other than that the students are ready to learn what they can be taught. It was admirable of them to be excited and ready for one daily lesson.

Overall I really enjoyed working with these students and trying to help them sound more like native speakers.

Corrine

When I applied to study abroad, one of the things about CIEE's program in Rabat, Morocco that drew me in was the option to volunteer. With seven years (and counting) of Jesuit education, service to others has naturally become a habit for me. I chose to teach English with CAIOS to university students, as I had always taken an interest in teaching English and had been considering it a possible career option. So far, my experience teaching English has gone above and beyond my expectations. The enthusiasm and gratitude of many of the students fills my heart with joy, and I leave the classroom with nothing but excitement for my next lesson. Managing your classroom with no background experience can be quite stressful- sometimes my lesson won't go according to plan and I’ll have to improvise. Some students need extra encouragement to put their phones down and participate in class. While these challenges can be discouraging, they showed me that I have the ability to manage a classroom, regardless of how difficult it can be. At the end of the day, despite the challenges that come with teaching English, all I really remember is the warmth and dedication that the majority of the students display. After this experience volunteering, I can safely say that this semester won't be my last teaching English as a foreign language, InChallah. 

 Hospital: Dar Tefl

Cassandra

Volunteering at the hospital is rewarding; the children are very sweet! It can be a bit disorganized and you will spend 20/40min waiting before you interact with children. There are two rooms stocked with toys and puzzles and one room with only chairs and a table. The first room is great for days when there are no concrete activities, while the second room is good for coloring/paper airplanes/Origami…you never know which room you will be placed in!

Kelly

I really enjoyed the hospital and the kids. The Moroccan volunteers that came with us are great. The only thing is that the hospital didn’t take us seriously. We were often kept waiting and kicked out of rooms before the time was up.

Sairam

Volunteering at the l'hopital des enfants was very rewarding. I should however make some remarks and maybe suggest some changes. If you can't bear to see sick children, don't do it. You might be able to work through it, but I'm not really sure if it was the right course for me to take, so I chose to quit. Also, in many ways, it is feels really great to have spent time with the kids who in turn do love spending time with the students from the program. I have to admit that the hospital is quite inefficient at assigning rooms or getting kids form various departments, hence on some occasions we lost some time that could have been better spent with the kids. Hopefully, we can get that problem sorted out but I know CIEE can't interfere much with the workings of the hospital. 

Sai

Dar Chabab

After school center

Kelsey

Teaching English at the Dar Chabab has been an enjoyable addition to my semester abroad. The students are always eager to be there and sometimes even try to teach me words in Darija! The once a week commitment has also allowed me to do other activities and explore Rabat while still being involved in volunteering.

Lindsay

My experience volunteering at the Dar Chabab was wonderful, although different than what I was expecting. The number of kids we had in our art workshop varied each week from 2 or 3 to 15 kids. It can be difficult getting the kids to follow directions or understand what they want to do for activities with the language barrier, so you definitely have to be patient and often creative. Overall the kids are incredibly sweet, and it is great to see them enjoying themselves.

Janice

I volunteered at the Dar Chabab and it really was quite an experience. I taught a dance class which ranged from teaching hip-hop, demonstrating how to do pirouette, and just dancing to whatever is playing. It was a wonderful and challenging experience. I got to meet a lot of new kids each week and just laugh at silly dance moves. 

Dar Chebab