I had the opportunity to experience another Moroccan summer camp in August. The El Jadida Everyday English camp is a national camp organized by the Moroccan Ministry of Youth and Sports. It is meant to be an English immersion camp for youth ages 13-16. For ten years now, ten Moroccan staff (mostly Mudirs from all over Morocco) and fifteen Peace Corps Volunteers collaborate for 4 sessions of 10 days each from July to September. At my session, there were 55 participants.In the mornings I taught English to the Intermediate Low level class, which I really enjoyed. The main goal of the class was conversational practice. We worked up to having discussions about healthy lifestyles like smoking and fast food and environmental issues such as littering, both goals and objectives on the Peace Corps Youth Development Framework. I mostly enjoyed engaging in cultural exchange. I learned more about Moroccan cities and politics. For example, my students shared the history of Rabat and Casablanca and the Western Sahara. I posed the question: “Is Rabat or Casablanca more important?” and the majority of my students responded that Rabat and Casablanca are both necessary because Rabat is the political capital of Morocco and Casablanca the economic and business capital. I was surprised that my students wanted to talk about the Western Sahara and I was really impressed since the conversation was entirely in English! My students were all so eager to talk! It ended up not being so much of a discussion as all my students said, “The Sahara is Moroccan.” “The Sahara is ours.” citing historical events with persons, and exact dates that I did not know much about. Politics is generally taboo in Morocco and PC tells us to not to engage in political discussions. At my regular site and before the PC, I taught mostly Beginners classes, so we’re not at the level of these interesting discussions yet.
I must mention that the campers at El Jadida were from a different backgrounds than the students at my site. They are teenagers from upper-class families in Rabat and Casablanca, attend private schools, participate in extracurricular activities and clubs, and receive tutoring in English. They also pay 1000 dirhams (100 dollars) to attend the camp. My students all dressed in Western clothing, have smart phones, and brought spending money for excursions. The US Embassy used to offer scholarships for students from PCV sites to attend the camp but the funding was cut several years ago. I am glad that the camp gave me an opportunity to interact with the Moroccan upper-class youth so that I can begin to understand diversity in Morocco.
After English classes, we went to the beach for a couple of hours. It was only a 5-minute walk from the Sports Center where we were staying! The beach and boardwalk were really crowded at all times of the day, mostly with Moroccan tourists escaping the summer heat of the interior. There were vendors selling potato chips, cotton candy, Moroccan donuts (called sfenj), chickpeas, fava beans, cactus fruit, and ice cream. I treated myself to sfenj and ice cream almost everyday! Delicious sfenj is only 2 dirhams (2 cents), definitely within the PC budget! At the beach we played games like cards, soccer, and Frisbee. I really loved cooling off and swimming in the ocean! It was so hot at my site in July! Having the ocean, a pool, a stream, a river, or a pond nearby is necessary to endure the extreme summer temperatures.After lunch and quiet/siesta time, there were team activities. Six teams competed throughout the 10 days for the most points. There was a question of the day and word of the day (in English) but team members also got points if they were star of the day, they did activities at the library like making a bookmark, writing a book review, and playing a scavenger hunt, and were helpful to others. After team time, PCVs led different clubs: American culture, arts, photography, sports, science, and games; I usually planned my English lesson for the next day.
Evening activities included a talent show, a fashion show, Moroccan game night, American game night, and Halloween among others. For American game night we organized stations that the kids/teams rotated to: water balloon toss, egg and spoon race, popcorn eating contest, etc. The kids already were familiar with some of the games from birthday parties and carnivals though they were far from bored playing them again. I remember well the afternoon they had permission to go out and buy snacks from the corner store and had a sugar high. Hahaha. They liked the popcorn-eating contest best!For Halloween we created a haunted house and also organized stations for face painting, pin the heart on the skeleton, costume contest, and two Moroccan games that involved food: 1. Catch the worm- Participants are blindfolded and they need to catch the gummy worm dangled in front of them. 2. Find the peanut- A peanut is hidden in a pile of flour. Participants must put their hands behind their bodies and find the peanut with their mouths. I even tried both of the games and had great fun!
We also had time to go on an excursion to the medina (old city) of El Jadida, a UNESCO world heritage site for its Renaissance military design. El Jadida was previously known as Mazagan during the Portuguese reign from 1502 to 1769. The Portuguese cistern and Church of the Assumption are the only parts of the Portuguese colony that still remain. We visited the cistern, walked along the old city walls and to the souq.The El Jadida Everyday English camp felt like a working vacation because I had more free time than in the children’s camp at my site and I got to enjoy the beach! A coastal resort like El Jadida has a more relaxed feeling, too. I really enjoyed getting to know my students and helping them to improve their English. I realized that I like working with teenagers more than with children. They are more independent and I can really talk to them about important subjects. It was great to collaborate with Moroccans and other PCVs, too. A couple of nights we went out in El Jadida and chatted about service and life over beers in some seedy bars.