Sunday, February 24, 2013

Cultural Representation: Incorporating the Berber Language in the Moroccan School System

Most people think of Morocco as an Arabic country, with a culture similar to those of Middle Eastern countries (ex: Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Iran). However, Morocco's rich culture not only has Arabic influences, but also French, Spanish, and Berber influences. This cultural blend is apparent with the large number of trilinguals (even quadrilinguals) in the country. Darija (Moroccan Arabic) can be heard on the streets, Spanish music is blasting from the radio, French signs are posted everywhere around the city, and on occasion one can hear teenagers shouting oh-so-sophisticated English terms such as "OMG", "LOL", "cool", and "swag". Strangely enough, Berber, one of Morocco's two official languages (the other being Modern Standard Arabic) is by and large restricted to rural areas (especially the Atlas mountains). The majority of the Berbers living in this area only know one or more Berber dialects and as such would need to learn Arabic or French in order to properly function in a Moroccan city subsequently preventing Berbers from climbing up the social ladder. Why is this?

Not pictured: Berber

When Maghreb (Northwest African) countries such as Morocco gained independence from the French, they followed an Arabization policy in an attempt to replace French (the language of the country that colonized them) with Arabic as the dominant language of education and literacy. Ironically, this move to preserve and maintain Morocco's Arabic roots has led to what Berbers (the indigenous ethnic group of North Africa) perceive as the oppression of their culture. This is reflected in Moroccan schools (both those that follow the Moroccan school system and the french school system) which offer French, Spanish, and English language courses but don't offer any Berber language courses despite it being a language deeply connected to Moroccan culture prior to colonization and spoken by at least one-third of the population.
The issue of whether the Western Sahara is part of Morocco is complicated so let's leave it at that...

However, this is all about to change as more and more schools are introducing Berber courses into their school system. However, a lot of problems arise from this, the first one being that Berber has three different dialects in Morocco (Tamazight, Tashelhit, and Tarifit). To represent Berbers all over Morocco, the Moroccan Language Center (specializing in the instruction of languages for all ages in Morocco) is trying to standardize the Berber language by combining the three dialects into one. This has been met with negative reactions from a lot of Berbers which see it as a bastardization of the language and another example of the oppression of their culture by the Arabs. Adding to this, is the ongoing debate whether Berber should be taught with Arabic or Berber writing.
Berber Poetry

Hopefully this issue will be resolved. As Moroccans say it: "Inshallah"

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Wait... You went in... *GASP*

Well I've finally found time to write in my blog. If you all remember my last post, I promised that I would write more details about my trip. I could talk about countless experiences but I decided to talk about the one I found the most interesting: the public hammam

for mentions of partial nudity
Basically a public hammam is the Turkish equivalent of a steam bath or a sauna. In Morocco there are two types of hammam: public and private. The whole group had the wonderful opportunity to go into one of the public hammams of Moulay Yacoub which are famous for their sulfur springs (apparently it's good for your skin). The experience was quite... interesting.

I was quite overwhelmed at all the women wearing nothing but their underwear (some of them  with children clinging at their legs) swarming around like a pack of bees in a hive. After regaining my senses I stripped down and handed all my bags to what I conveniently call the bag-keeper. Slowly but surely, the whole group ventured into the hammams core a.k.a. the sulfur pool... and that's when I knew what "overwhelmed" REALLY meant. There was now barely any space left to walk much less sit and I was starting to sweat profusely. It as clear upon observation that the women were definetly NOT there to relax. They were srubbing their skin with soap and brushing their children's hair with unmatched ferocity.

By the way, this is the soap they used. Neat huh?

On occasion, a woman would dive into the sulfur pool with one or more knee-high buckets and fill them with sulfur water to the whoots and cheers of the other women. They would then give the buckets to their owners who would use the sulfur water in the bucket to wash themselves. The best thing about the public hammam is the women's utter willingness to help each other. Thoroughly shaken the other girls really wanted to get out but I was determined to get the full experience and as such I leaped into the sulfur pool and HOLY MOTHER OF- IT WAS SCALDING!!! DX

NO WONDER THOSE WOMEN WERE CHEERING!!! Despite the heat, my ever-stubborn self kept swimming in the pool to get the legendary skin-treating properties of sulfur. When I finally got out- to the immense joy of my peers- I dashed towards the exit and before you could say "beet red face" I was out of there. If given the choice I wouldn't go in again but it was a new experience and as such it was totally worth it.


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Oh. It's YOU ALL.

It's been a long time. How have you all been? I've been really busy...

Above: My pathetic attempt at apologising for the lack of posts

Most of you have probably abandoned this blog but here I am. So about 1-2 weeks ago the whole YES group went on a trip to Fes. We stopped at Meknes and Volubilis on the way there.

Volubilis Mosaic
Most of you have probably abandoned this blog but here I am. So about 1-2 weeks ago the whole YES group went on a trip to Fes. We stopped at Meknes and Volubilis on the way there.

Gates of Meknes Medina
Fes Tannery

Fes Tannery
Stables at Meknes

It is really late so I only had time to quickly post some pictures. I will write more details later.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Mega Mall and Equestria

Hey Everyone! I've been busy lately with school so sorry I haven't been updating frequently. Not much of note has happened in the past week. However, my host family and I visited the Equestrian Club yesterday where I got to see some people training for a horse tournament. Apparently, members of the royal family often visit there (which was why there were a couple of beautiful cars parked there) so that was kinda cool.

After that, we went to the Mega Mall which is a giant shopping mall (obviously from the name). The second floor is where all the clothing is found while the first floor is where all the food is. I was surprised to hear from my host mother that there was a bowling alley and an ice skating rink in the middle. I have never gone ice skating, so I'm quite excited to try it out the next time I come. All in all, a pretty good day.

I would have taken a better picture but the giant glass door was blocking my way :(

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


Hey everyone! Sorry for not writing in the last 12 days which have been quite hectic.

Why is that? Because I have been attending l'Institut d'Agdal (french school) since Wednesday. I have already described what the school looked like in a previous post so I am going to write about the classes I'm taking, the education system, and the students.

The six classes I'm definitely taking are: French, History-Geography, Biology, Physics-Chemistry, Math, and P.E.

*I'm not taking Arabic since the classes they offer at the school are way too advanced (although I'm taking beginner courses at AMIDEAST). It's unclear whether I am going to take Spanish since I haven't been to the class yet. It's also unclear whether I'm continuing English class since it's so easy.

Since I am attending a french school I can only tell you about the french education system. First of all, students adhering to the french education system rarely have a choice when it comes to the classes their taking which is why I take classes with the same group of students (some classes however combine two groups). It's also worth noting that classes are much longer than the ones in the U.S., lasting up to two hours (However, I don't attend all my classes each day). In addition, there is school on Saturday.

So far, the students have been very friendly and frankly I don't find them much different from the variety of American high school students. The have also been very helpful when it comes to letting me borrow their textbooks (the lack thereof significantly factoring into the hecticness). Despite the help, homework has its highs and lows. I get moody whenever I get stuck on a problem which only increases the sense of elation I get from correctly solving one. I'm slowly but steadily adjusting to this.

I'm sorry I can't add more details but it's getting late and I need to get to bed. To those who are still sticking by after my period of inactivity. Thanks!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Medal-Worthy Saturday

For those of you following this blog, you are all well aware that I haven't written anything about my activities since Friday. Since I am incapable of coherently writing down my experiences of the past six days in this post, I decided to only write about Saturday, September 1st (which is the most interesting of the six).

The first interesting experience of that day started when my host mother handed me a white envelope and told me that it was filled with pictures of my host sister's birth. Curious, I opened the envelope and gingerly took out the first photo. It was a picture of a a sheep with a cut throat. I also saw my host father standing over the sheep with a bloody knife clutched in his hand. After recovering from the shock, I turned to my host mother and asked her if it was customary for people "to kill a sheep" after a successful birth. Before answering my question with an affirmative, she lectured me about the difference between "killing" and "throat-slitting". "Killing" was crass and ruthless as opposed to "throat-slitting", which was only done after the word "bismillah" (praise be to god) was uttered. She also assured me that all sheep that undergo this process definitely go to heaven. I am glad we had that conversation for it was very insightful.

At around 6:00 p.m., my host mother brought me to the family reunion which was in her mother's house. After introducing myself to all my family members the french way (which is called "faire la bise"), I sat down next to my host mother's fifteen-year old niece, Najua, and struck up a conversation. After having eaten some delicious almond paste-filled pasteries and sipped some overly-sweetened mint tea (Moroccans love sugar), Najua brought me to her nearby house and gave me a bracelet as a gift which was quite sweet of her. As she showed me around the house, I noticed that there were onrnate carvings on the sides and corners of the ceiling (which made me realize how dull most American ceilings are) and that the living room was lavishly decorated (the pictures I took were pretty bad so I'll post pictures later on). I have only seen two Moroccan houses since most Moroccans don't own any houses (which is made apparent by the apartments lining the streets as far as the eye can see) so I can't confirm whether these traits are common in them.

I haven't mentioned that Najua showed me what a hamam was since she wasn't profficient enough in French to explain to me what it was. It's basically a public Turkish bath house (more details in later post). I heard that they were really relaxing and I look forward to trying one out.

Although this may not seem to be a particularly exciting day to most people, I think it is (so far) the most rewarding day I had in Morocco.

Going to bed now. Bye!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


I finally have internet at home! I'm sorry I wasn't able to wrrite for the last three days. As promised, I am posting pictures of Chellah (Sala Colonia), the Kasbah of the Udayas, the Mausoleum of Mohammed V, and the Hassan Tower.

Streets of the Kasbah of the Udayas which ws orginaly built in 1140 A.D. by the Almoravids to defend themselves against the Almohads.
Beach near the Kasbah.
These are the gates to Chellah which used to be the Roman town of Sala Colonia.
It was later abandoned in 1554 and used as a necropolis by the Almohad Dynasty.
In the 14th century, the sultan Abu Al-Hassan built many monuments such as this minaret.

This is the Mausoleum of Mohammed V

As you can see, a lot of work went into it.

It is as intricately designed outside as it is on the inside (this picture of the ceiling doesn't do it justice).
This is Mohammed V's coffin.
This is the Hassan Tower which is the minaret of an incomplete mosque which was intended to be the world's largest. The minaret only reaches 140 ft (44 m) which was onlyy half of its intended height.

This is the eel pool in Chellah. Women come here and throw eggs in the pool with their names written on it. Apparently, if an eel eats the egg, the woman will be fertile
Royal Tombs were later added to Chellah.