I spent the first weekend of my independent study in journalism in Morocco running around a classroom in yet another rural village, crouching down from various different angles and hovering over students’ desks with my Canon. Sweat collected under the jacket I didn’t have time to take off before the heat of the day was upon us and my scalp was still tight from my micro braids, which were done by a woman from Côte D’Ivoire a few days before. Still, all the while I was trying to get those vivid, storytelling shots.
I came to this village, named Tamassint, with Kiannah, an American classmate who was writing a story about rural education in Morocco; Julia, an American classmate who was taking pictures for the story; and Oumaima, our Moroccan partner who contributed to reporting and helped us translate from the local dialect, Amazigh. The Amazigh is Morocco’s indigenous ethnic group, and their language is vastly different from the Darija I’d been learning (but it is oddly similar to Spanish. Kind of. Azul=hello.). I produced a video package to go along with the written piece and pictures.
Our eight-hour journey to Tamassint was long, dark and scary at times with little light save the charter bus’ headlights on some roads. Once, I awoke to the jolt of the bus inching itself through the rocky earth surrounding the Atlas Mountains, right after a dream about a Bats-style cat takeover of the medina.
We arrived in Al Hoceima, a city on the northeastern coast of Morocco, where Oumaima’s uncle met us and took us to his home where his wife served us a delicious and much appreciated breakfast of bread, over-easy eggs, cheese, olives, tea and coffee. We rested there briefly before it was time for us to set out for a full day of reporting at the village’s schools.
Our mission was to see what improvements had been made to Morocco’s rural education systems in lieu of the United Nations’ 2015 Millennial Development Goals, which include achieving universal primary education. Problems facing these rural schools include teacher shortages, lack of transportation, poor infrastructure and negative societal attitudes regarding education, especially for girls. For instance, one teacher told us that one of his female students dropped out of school at an early age because her family said she was too old to continue her studies. However, her brother, who does not make as good of grades as she, still came to school.
We visited multiple classrooms that day and even spent some time in who we called “The Man”‘s office–he was the equivalent to a mayor of the village. And, I swear, he looked like a character in the Wizard of Oz, though I’m not sure which one. The Wicked Witch of the West comes to mind. He had a long, narrow face with beady eyes and dark, wispy hair. And because he summoned us on some pretty suspicious terms (he asked for all of our passports, letters that explained what we were doing, and our parents’ names), he was pretty shifty. He did offer us some tasty mint tea, though, and was simply upset because we didn’t give forewarning that we would be parading into the village waving cameras and recorders and pens, running around classrooms trying to get any valuable quote from a student or a teacher. He just wanted to know, bless him. After he knew, he welcomed us to the village and we smiled as he sent us onward to more reporting.
One of my greatest challenges and greatest rewards during this adventure was working as a one-woman band. I was fortunate to have Julia, Kiannah and Oumaima to help me with reporting, but production was all on me. There were many things I could have done better; I lacked proper sound equipment and my shots were sometimes shaky as a result of moving around so much. Nonetheless, I left Tamassint with footage that Kiannah would find useful to her piece. I’ll share the finished product soon!
While Tamassint School may not be over-achieving the Millennial Development Goals, it is evident by its clean classrooms, ample school supplies, and enthusiastic teachers that the school isn’t doing that bad. We had planned (and, honestly, wanted) to visit a school with very poor conditions–i.e. kids coming to school without shoes on their feet, not having school supplies, sitting outside waiting for teachers who never show up, having to walk hours to get to school, etc.–and while that sounds like an obnoxious, somewhat orientalist point of view, it’s the story we were looking to tell. However, we still found a great story–one of succeed despite unfortunate circumstances.
Additionally, being in Tamassint offered another look into Moroccan village life, both similar and different to our time spent in the Sbaa Rouadi village. We were only in Tamassint for two days and there wasn’t any cow milking or manure shoveling to do, but there was still that feeling of small-town familiarity. For instance, as we were walking along a trail back to Oumaima’s uncle’s house one time, we became thirsty. Oumaima suggested we stop at someone’s home and ask for a drink of water, saying, “I might even be related to them.”
As it turns out, she was.
Three friendly, middle-aged, single women answered their door and welcomed us into their home for water, peach juice and wafer cookies. They were Oumaima’s distant cousins.
We also spent the evening at Oumaima’s aunt’s house, who lived about a 15-minute walk away from her uncle and had Wi-Fi, hamdoulilah (thanks to God). It’s a first world problem, yes, but seemingly a necessity when you need to check in with your editor, upload video files, and look at YouTube videos until you fall asleep with Oumaima’s bubbly and funny cousins who played music and videos on their smartphones for us all night. I was almost in disbelief at how great the food Oumaima’s aunt prepared for us was–a huge plate of warm, buttery croissants with chocolate, flaky Meloui bread with cheese, decadent fruit cake sprinkled with fresh coconut, and warm mint tea was our appetizer before a large turkey decorated with vegetables and rice landed on the table for dinner. I also tried for the first time green almonds. They were fuzzy on the outside and juice seeped out as I crunched into them. They had a somewhat sour taste, but I ate several of them. I still prefer the ripened almonds that would be coming in a month or so, though.
One thing I am really going to miss about Morocco is the hospitality. Just like with Oumaima’s distant cousins who gave us the light snack, people are always willing to help you here. A friend of mine once said, “Everyone in Morocco knows each other,” and this is a prime example. No matter where you go, there’s always a friend willing to help and a family willing to feed and house you for the night. Even in the schools, each teacher was more than happy to talk to us and allow us to walk around their classrooms. The students were a little different–the looks on their faces made me feel a little guilty that I was poking cameras at them as they were trying to receive their lesson, and when I tried to talk to some of them they just stared at me. Some of them snickered and whispered to their classmates. But there were a few who were a great help, such as the ones who posed for pictures, tried to understand what we were saying and help us find students to talk to, and answered questions for us.
By the time we left Tamassint, we’d collected many new friends who encouraged us to come back and visit sometime soon, and we’d also gained greater international reporting knowledge. This included how to work through language barriers and, for me, how to be confident and self-responsible when you know you may be making others uncomfortable, so that you can help them be a little more comfortable. I also had more delicious food (I promise, the best Moroccan food lies in its villages because everything is so fresh!). I’ll definitely put Tamassint on my “to be re-visited” list, and you should try to land there, too!