makethislast

Spring Camp: Day 1

Posted in Uncategorized by Diana on April 4, 2011

The most important single ingredient in the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people.

– Theodore Roosevelt

How do I describe the first day of spring camp? Let’s see…

I conducted English Language Proficiency Interviews (LPIs) for the campers as they arrived. There’s definitely a range of English proficiency.

I am impressed by some of the campers’ level of English.

There’s a team of girls that named themselves “Group Girls” and their chant is “xoxo Gossip Girl.” I laughed when they explained the group name to me, mostly because I am guilty of indulging in that show.

There are two girls – sisters Jihane and Issema – who are awesome. Jihane is seventeen and wants to work for NASA. She’s probably seen more American films than I have. Issema is teaching me Hannah Montana’s Hoedown Throwdown.

There isn’t an electrical outlet in any of the dorm rooms so another PCV and I jimmy-rigged an extension cord out of the window of our room, down the wall outside, and into the office below where we plugged in the outlet. Sometimes – what am I saying? Many times is more like it – in Morocco, things happen a lot faster when you take action into your own hands instead of trying to explain to Moroccans what you want to do. Mostly because Moroccans will say “okay” or “later” without fully understanding what it is you want. Or they put it off until later (or never).

I played Red Rover and a few outdoor games with the campers.

Spring camp reminds me of summer camp. Except the genders are mixed less.

A girl was made to change her sleeveless top because the older Moroccan staff were uncomfortable with it. It was just a sleeveless top. Hardly any shoulder was showing. She later told me her father doesn’t even impose these gender rules on her.

Campers changed clothes as many as four times in a day. Apparently this isn’t uncommon at spring camp. At each break, mostly girls (but not all of them), went upstairs to change into a new outfit. This includes swapping clothes with another camper. Boys also did this too (though not as much).

(Last but not least…)

I did not laugh when one of the Moroccan camp counselors kowtowed at me.

The first time he did it, I was taking a stack of plates into the kitchen after dinner. I know I’m an American and a counselor here but that doesn’t mean I can’t contribute to cleaning, especially if the kids are doing it. As I walked by him, he kowtowed at me. I’m sure he “didn’t mean anything by it” but, after being in country for a year now and encountering these “gestures” on a more than frequent basis, stuff like this no longer “means nothing” to me. Thus, in response to his kowtow, I Hsuma’d him.

The second time he did it, I was standing with the other American counselors. We were standing at the front but off to the left of the campers, who were all scurrying to line themselves up in their teams. He approached us and kowtowed to me again. “Seriously,” I thought, “does he really think this is acceptable considering how I responded at lunch?”

Again, he expected me to find his actions humorous and laugh. But I didn’t. Rather, I just stood there and looked at him with a stern expression on my face as all the campers turned to see what was happening. I didn’t budge. I want to say that I stood there for a few good seconds before he tried to “rectify” the situation by deferring to the PCV coordinating the camp. He tried to get her to explain his “harmless” humor – which, by now, I’ve come to find not so humorous from Moroccans – to me. She tried to make light of the situation (likely because it wasn’t a comfortable situation to be in for her or him) but wasn’t able to.

When that didn’t work, he ran to the other Moroccan staff member who we will call Mohammed and tried to do the same thing. Mohammed came over and apologized for his friend. An apology which I refused because he wasn’t the person who the apology should’ve been coming from.

This discussion went on for 10, maybe 15 minutes.

Finally, the guy who kowtowed apologized to me. Only after using an analogy that to explain how offensive it’d be to a Moroccan if someone was to mock the way Moroccans pray did he somewhat understand what he did. Then he tried to throw in the “culture” reasoning – except, as I pointed out, my culture is American. And the kowtow is Japanese.

In retrospect, sure, I could have “gone along,” shrugged, and “laughed it off,” but I didn’t.

Why?

Because I saw this as an opportunity to educate young Moroccans about Americans, cultural sensitivity, and respect. I wanted them – both males and females – to see that this guy’s actions were not okay. That he was not going to be able to get off the hook. That non-Moroccan/American women are outspoken and will stand up for themselves when they have been wronged and disrespected. That Moroccan males should be held accountable for their actions even if it makes them feel uncomfortable.

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