She might kill me for stealing this picture off of Facebook, but that is Meriem Lahrizi in the blue vest and that is how people who are around Meriem feel and act! There is not a better ambassador for relations between Morocco and the USA. If anyone doubts the impact teachers can make in this world, they should spend a few hours talking to Meriem. Shukran jazilan Meriem for all you have taught me, both in Morocco and in our conversations since. I miss you and can't wait to work together again soon!
One question that remains with me after my school visits in Morocco is the role of administration in schools. In the public schools, there were a high percentage of administrators, but the role seemed to be management of schedules and paperwork and communication with the Ministry of Education and parents. Two administrators, women in a room full of file folders, tracked attendance for the school without the aid of computers. The principal greeted us and made sure the necessary paperwork was received from the Ministry of Education to allow us to visit the campus. I asked many times if administrators ran professional development and conducted evaluations and the answer was always no. Many teachers mentioned that due to the seniority system of school job appointments, most administrators were burned out teachers who were looking towards retirement. In my limited observations, it seemed as if the administration of public schools served as a buffer between the government's decision-making body and the teachers who were working to transform students' lives. In their defense, I heard about energetic and intentional administrators and Ministry officials who viewed their job as a leader instead of a manager, but overall, there appeared to be a systemic need to shift this view.
The private schools I visited had a much different administrative feel. Former teachers had started the program and served as both teachers and leaders. All had a lot of energy and high expectations for the look, feel, rigor, and outcomes of all classes.
Interestingly, the toilets in the two places can tell you a lot. Sparing details, the public school restroom was dirty and did not flush, did not have toilet paper, and did not have running water. In the private school, the bathrooms were beautiful (shared by men and women) and closed at various times for cleaning by the cleaning woman. Abderrazak specifically stated that if he was in charge of public school reform, he'd start with the bathrooms. This speaks to Maslow's hierarchy of needs. A school that cares about cleanliness cares about your well-being and therefore, your learning.
This question led me towards interest in School Leadership and Administration and I am currently in month 4 of Arizona State University's 15-month Principalship program called iLeadAZ. I believe the principal position should be 1) an Instructional Leader responsible for providing quality education and resources for all students; 2) the connection between students, teachers, and families and districts, governments, and local businesses; and 3) in charge of measuring and communicating the current status of teaching and learning in their school.
I hope to be a leader in school reform and to join with leaders in our state, nation, and world to help bring equal access to knowledge and opportunity across the globe.
Savon Noire - the slippery soap for the Hammam
So, I told you I’d share my thoughts on my experience at the Hammam and here it goes. I really had no clue what to expect, except nakedness, which as an American who appreciates privacy was a little concerning. Six of us went together, and I found it cool that nobody looked twice at six (mostly) white women walking through the streets of Rabat and the Medina with towels and robes in hand. Lilia used her Arabic to find the Hammam, establish a price, and meet the women who would clean us. The rest of us watched quietly and copied what others were doing in order to learn the Hammam customs.
Basically, you strip to your underwear (contrary to what I’d read, underwear bottoms are the norm!) in a room that reminds me of a locker room and then enter a very hot room with many buckets of water. You sit around the buckets and pour water on yourself and wipe a very soft soap over your body. The process is both private and social. Some women are there alone and some in small groups and the rinsing is mostly a solo thing, but the women working there fill and bring buckets and chat with visitors and are just plain friendly.
Mentally, I spent the first 5 minutes hyperaware of both the others in the room and myself. On one hand, I needed to watch and learn what to do next (rinse, use soap, wash hair now or later?) But, I quickly realized I was wondering what were they thinking? Could they tell I’d had two babies recently? Then I realized I couldn’t help but compare myself to the women in the room. Were they skinnier, fatter, more voluptuous, stronger, taller, etc. I spent the next 5 minutes pissed at myself for doing this.
The next thing I knew one of the workers told me to lay down on the floor (American germaphobe issues abound here and thank god there was no drain near me as I’m deathly afraid of touching those in a shower!) and she began scrubbing my entire body with a glove that initially felt more like sand paper than a loofah. Large amounts of dried skin running past me took my mind off of my thoughts for a few minutes and then suddenly the scrubbing was super relaxing and I looked around the room and realized that we all looked very much the same. We each had our differences, but ultimately, we all looked a lot more like each other than the pictures of models that bombard advertisements in magazines and TV.
The rest of the time there (almost two hours total), I was totally comfortable with the public nakedness and even more comfortable with myself. I don’t consider myself to be a woman who lacks self-confidence or struggles with body image (although, it’s something that I work on…or at least think about working on…especially post babies) or who is trying to meet a societal standard, so my mini metamorphosis in that environment caught me off guard.
I really believe that in the US we over value privacy at the expense of losing our identity as women. If we saw real women, in the flesh, more often, we would be more comfortable with our own bodies and less susceptible to media influence. I’ve had many girl students and basketball players who have struggled with body image issues, and perhaps these would/could be lessened with more exposure to each other. I realized that in Moroccan culture, where it is not uncommon for women to cover up in public, women are actually more comfortable with their bodies and each other’s bodies than we Americans would ever be.
After our visit, I talked with my other colleagues about their experience, and each of us went through similar mental experiences during our bath. I can’t help but think that most American girls would benefit from a Moroccan Hammam visit! And, my guess is that American boys and men might have this same experience if they were to visit the men’s side.
Students in Abderrezzak's class begin abortion debate. Students facing the camera argue pro-choice while students facing them argue against abortion. This debate broke many of my misconceptions about Islamic culture.
After our presentations in the final class today, we were able to observe a class debate. Because the English curriculum is issues based, the units often wrap up with mini debates. In this case, the students were able to choose the debate topic and take the side they felt was correct. Originally, the topic was polygamy (it is legal in Morocco, but not widely practiced; however, it is accepted in the Quran). The students decided to change the topic to Abortion (which is illegal in Morocco, and not accepted according to the Quran; however, practiced illegally which compromises safety).
Nine students on each side came prepared with notes, statistics, speaking points, and opinions. Two students introduced the debate topic and the students proceeded to state their points and respond to the other side. They were very respectful towards each other and made sure that every student took the opportunity to speak, without choosing an order or losing an opportunity to make an important point. Students rarely cited their statistics and many used logical fallacies; however, you could tell they had taken the time to really research and prepare for the debate.
Interestingly, the side arguing against abortion never used religious beliefs as an argument against abortion. At the end, we learned that the students had decided to debate the topic without using religion to support or defend their argument. Thus, the times it made sense to make that argument, they could not.
The following are my thoughts on the activity:
1. Americans have a lot to learn from the openness of discussing such a controversial subject in a classroom setting. At the end, the student moderator asked our opinions on both the issue and their debate in general. I will admit that is the most uncomfortable I’ve ever been in a classroom! As a teacher, I find it important to teach students to make their own opinions separate from my own, but it was clear to me that these students had done that already.
2. The Moroccan English classroom embeds language, social studies, 21st century skills and more into student-centered, issues-based curriculum and puts students in situations where they must use language to communicate meaningfully.
3. The complexity of argument about this topic in a culture that is 97% Muslim was eye opening to me, and the fact that students agreed to a rule to debate this separate from religion was even more interesting. Issues of rape, contraception, prostitution, safety, medical ethics, psychology, adoption, black markets, societal norms, and family responses were all addressed within the 40 minutes, as well as law and statistics from Morocco and other countries.
4. Students throughout the world (and on both sides of the argument) need work citing their sources and using logical reasoning to make valid claims.
5. Moroccans are very comfortable critiquing the ideas and presentations of others, but do so in a very respectful manner.
Lauren and I took the train five hours to Marrakech in order to meet up with Lilia and Cathy, our TGC colleagues. Morocco’s two most known cities are Marrakech and Casablanca, the former the epicenter of tourism and culture and the latter the economic capital. I will admit, I’ve heard of both of these cities in name, but had no knowledge what each has to offer. So, we chose Marrakech, mostly because people who hear you visited Morocco expect that Marrakech was on the agenda.
The city reminds me of Sedona with beautiful “red” buildings, fancy resort hotels, cultural demonstrations, and tourists abound. I enjoyed the trip greatly; however, I much prefer the everyday life of Rabat and Kenitra.
We started with a visit to Jami' al-Kutubiyah, a mosque that dates back to 1150 AD. Lilia, who is a Muslim from Missouri born in Tunisia, convinced three locals to let us into the mosque; however, two men (an officer and a gentleman) quickly moved in to make sure that didn’t happen. Many of the mosques in Morocco are not open to non-Muslims a practice that may seem exclusionary to Westerners. While I wish we would have had the experience of seeing the mosque (Lilia did enter to pray and says it was absolutely huge and beautiful!), I understand the practice. Praying is a very important part of Islam and a chance for Muslims to connect with God. Including non-Muslims makes this a spectacle and takes the importance off of this connection. If Lilia would have been able to show us the mosque, she wouldn’t have had the chance to pray. (I should say, in Tunisia mosques are open to non-Muslims who are allowed to watch the prayers). We were able to watch part of the prayers through an open door at the back of the mosque and I found it amazing that she got to pray with others of the same belief system in a place where Muslims had prayed together 5 times a day for almost 900 years!
In Marrakech, the nightlife begins at 6pm and continues until early morning hours. Djemaa el-Fnaa, the large square and marketplace in the old town, is a gathering place for both locals and tourists. The square is packed with vendors, henna artists (I said Lla!), pop-up restaurants, musicians, magicians, and more. Small crowds gather around small bands and sing and clap along to the music. Entertainment is free; however, you should pay for taking pictures. Many of those gathering around are locals who visit the square for entertainment. The majority of the people in the square are poor, those who are working are trying to make a living and those who are watching often can’t afford the more expensive entertainment offered elsewhere in the city.
Afterwards, we walked to a super expensive resort hotel La Mamounia, which was originally a gift from a prince to his wife. There was a casino on the grounds and the size and the beauty of the hotel and gardens was impressive. The hotels and houses that lined the nearby streets were all very fancy. It was mentioned that people in Marrakech are either rich or working for the rich and I realized the contrast between the square and the hotel told an economic and historical story of Morocco.
The next morning we visited the Menora Gardens and Pavillion, an abandoned palace with a huge “pool”. This property sits on four acres of olive trees! There were camels in the park nearby; however, I think it’s important to mention the camels and mules are here but not prevalent. My original mental picture of Morocco (from media) involves camels and mules in a desert, which definitely doesn’t paint the entire picture of a bustling historic city. Lastly, we visited the square again and saw a much quieter, more touristy version. Apparently, Marrakech is known for snake charmers and monkey trainers. Again, this exists, but does not pain the entire picture of entertainment in the square. The real picture is a total dichotomy of rich and poor where tourism is both the cause and the effect of economic conditions.
We have had the privilege of meeting students in two private schools and teaching five English classes. Our host, Abderrazzak, teaches 23 hours in the public school and 8 hours in a private school. Unfortunately, because our placement was changed at the last second, we’re still waiting for permission from the Ministry of Education to enter his public school. Unlike US schools where visitors just need the permission of the principal, everything in Morocco requires paperwork from the Ministry. Fingers crossed, they’ll receive the fax today!
The students in the private schools have studied English since primary school and have excellent command of the language. Lauren and I each gave a short presentation on our city, the education system in our state, and the opportunities offered at our schools. She works at a publicly funded Math and Science boarding school in Mississippi!
Afterwards, we used Sara Bareilles’ song “Brave” to lead a discussion about American and Moroccan teenage culture. The lyrics of the song ask people to not let words be used as weapons and drugs and to instead be brave and express themselves. One girl defined brave as, “to pour yourself out” and I loved the imagery of Moroccan tea!
Senior aged Moroccan students are under tremendous stress because the National Exam they will take in June literally decides their future. Without high scores, they lose out on university opportunities for engineering and medicine (the highest paid jobs in Morocco). I had a conversation with a few students about the lack of choice for Moroccan students to follow their passion and choose their career because the test chooses their fate.
Lauren and I made a Facebook Group for students throughout Kenitra to meet and converse with students in Columbus and Phoenix. If you’re interested, join Kenitra, Columbus, Phoenix Connection and say hello!
Lauren and I traveled to Rabat to attend the Moroccan Associate of Teachers of English (MATE) conference today. What a great cultural/professional experience! The conference was an academic discussion of the issues related to a multilingual language environment in the Moroccan education system. I’ve explained many of the issues in a previous blog Languages in Morocco. We attended the second day of a two day conference.
The first speaker, the Director of Curriculum from the Ministry of Education, shared in French the government’s perspective. While I only understood about 20% of his French, our Rabat host Meriem (who invited us to the conference) whispered key points throughout. Basically, Morocco has the most complex language issue in the world, and there is no clear answer to how to make their education system fair to all stakeholders.
The second speaker spoke in Arabic about the good and bad of the Arabization of STEM education. Again, language was a barrier to my understanding, but essentially, this is a complex issue. Teaching science and math in Arabic allows more access to more students; however, it limits opportunities to higher level education and jobs both within the country and abroad.
After the two presentations, members of the audience were free to ask questions. Once all questions were asked, the two speakers were given time to address the questions. This was done in a very professional manner, however, the questions asked were very direct and often critical. For example, Jemillah, a professor from the teacher training institute asked a series of questions, ending with “How would the education system be different if it was law that all children and grandchildren of Ministry of Education officials were required to attend public school?” Meriem asked, “How is self-esteem and mindset being accounted for in the writing of curriculum and high school requirements in Morocco?” Others referenced a conspiracy theory to keep the elite in power by using French as a weed out mechanism. I learned quickly that in a constitutional monarchy, the people have the freedom to speak openly against the decisions of their government (and that the Ministry has an equal opportunity to skirt the questions!)
After a tea and cookies break a Moroccan English teacher presented his beliefs that the Moroccan government was allowing the West to “pollute” the language environment of the education system. He started with an unfounded claim that Arabic was the best language and shared a series quotes and trends that he felt supported the fact that English and French served a variety of political and economic interests in Morocco. The audience pounced in their questioning, starting with Jemillah calling him out for his use of non-gender equal language and ending with many pointing out his lack of quantitative data to support his claims. He did make a couple of good points; however, his speech was loaded and not appropriate for an academic environment. I definitely hope to take this practice of courteous critique back to Bioscience and encourage all students to call each other out on improper use of claim, evidence, and reasoning.
Dr. Abdelatif Zaki, the President of MATE, spoke last and instead of providing answers to the complexity of the language issue in Morocco, posed questions that must be addressed. I thought this was a great example of the 7-step process in action. I plan to email him and ask for his set of questions to share the example; however, I believe this would be a great practice in Step 2. So, Bioscience students, don’t be surprised if you’re required to submit a set of well-developed research questions on your next journey through the 7 steps!
So, all in all a really neat experience, despite my lack of understanding of both French and Arabic, I was able to learn about governance, culture, voice, academic expectations, and professional courtesy all within five hours and I met my new favorite feminist in the form of a teacher trainer!
Random dinner pic, because when you're dinner looks and tastes like that, you post it!
Foundation of Mohammed VI for the Protection of the Environment.
Our local host in Kenitra, Abderazzak, took us to the Exotic Gardens between Rabat and Kenitra. I will do a presentation at Bioscience on this experience, but let's just say I loved it! See the slideshow below for pictures although they don't do justice for how the design encouraged a love of nature and a sense of play. The many bridges, stairs, overhangs and hideaways definitely brought out the kid in me! I want to come back with the boys and play hide and seek!
Just when I thought it couldn't get better, the guide showed us through the designer's home and then to a dark room. He flipped the switch to show a large model of ways alternative energies can be used in rural Morocco development. (see below slideshow!) Definite project in the works for next year's Freshman!
For those interested in learning a little Moroccan Arabic, please enjoy the following link! This place is amazing because you can pick up languages so quickly being immersed in such a multilingual environment!
Jon, I found a red head! Now we can visit Morocco together and we will both fit in!
I was invited by my friends to attend a Moroccan Hammam. Their description follows: A public bath house where women bathe together (mostly nude) in a large hot sauna-like room. The women who work there (also mostly nude) scrub your entire body with an exfoliating glove and continuously bring hot water for you to rinse yourself. Moroccan women usually attend Hammam once a week and often spend four hours there socializing with the workers and other women in attendance.
There is also Hammam for men, a very similar experience but visited and run by men.
I attended and will share my experience in a later blog post; however, after discussion about the experience with locals and Americans I really wanted to hear your original thoughts upon hearing this cultural tradition.
Please comment below. Would you attend? Why/why not? What are your initial responses to this cultural practice? If you have attended Hammam or a Turkish bath before, please save your comments for the next blog post. Thank you, I really look forward to hearing from you on this!
Today we made a visit to MACECE, the Moroccan American Commission of Educational and Cultural Exchange in the Political Diplomacy division of the US State Department. The Commission is funded by both countries and oversees many Fulbright core programs as well as a number of other exchange programs for both Moroccan and American citizens. Dr. James Miller, the Executive Director of the Commission is a walking encyclopedia of North African history, geography, issues, and programs.
The most interesting discussions revolved around parallel immigration issues in North Africa/Europe and the United States. In this global world, it really is important that we work together to tackle global challenges such as population growth, human rights, and inequity. We are all connected!
Fulbright Programs were started by Arkansas Senator William Fulbright in 1946 as a way to avoid a third World War. Senator Fulbright believed that the direct exchange of people and the resulting share of culture and ideas could and would bring peace between nations. For those who have not traveled, I agree with this vision because immersing yourself in a culture and learning from its people breaks down misconceptions and builds understanding. The thing I always take away from a trip is how similar people of all places really are. We may speak different languages, dress differently, practice different traditions, and have different social norms, but ultimately we all laugh, cry, want, and need the same things.
When two people of different cultures interact, we often realize that the picture that the media portrays of the other and/or the decisions that the ruling power enact are often not representative of the people as a whole. Continuing to facilitate positive interactions between cultures must remain a priority in our US foreign diplomacy strategy.
Last week, State Departments around the world learned that the Fulbright budget may be slashed by 13%, down to $30 million from a once $210 million (previous cuts). This further cut in budget could mean the closing of programs in smaller countries such as Algeria and Jordan in order to save more established programs in countries like Morocco and Israel, thus hurting US foreign relations across the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe. It’s probably best that Fulbright lead these cultural exchanges rather than Dennis Rodman and his basketball friends.
Please call, email, and/or mail your Senator throughout the next three weeks to let them know how important these cultural exchange programs are and to preserve the Fulbright program budget. Thank you!
Today, we had the privilege of attending a Moroccan Teacher Preparatory School. Students who earn their Baccalaureate by passing hard Regional and National Exams during their final two years of high school attend Moroccan public universities for free. Families who can afford it pay for higher education at private universities either in Morocco or abroad. Public University is a three year program where class sizes are very large and might approach 500 students. There are more women attending than men, and women and girls throughout the education system are outperforming the men and boys.
Those who wish to become teachers will attend teacher training schools for one year after they finish University. At the school, they will learn pedagogy, educational psychology, best practices, content, integration of technology, and complete one week of observations and three weeks of practicum. Teachers who will work in private schools are free to find employment anywhere, while those entering public schools are government employees and can be appointed to teach in any school in any region in Morocco.
The pre-service students we met with will work in private schools; however, all attended public schools. It was amazing to sit around the room and share experiences, issues, and concerns and hear the same visions, worries, issues, and debates we have in the US. I believe the biggest issue in both countries (and many other throughout the world) is that teachers are not respected enough as professionals. Expectations are set high, while resources and trust are low, and teachers are not given the control to make the best decisions to help their students. I could not help but imagine how the world would look if teachers had a bigger say in the top down decisions of the education systems in each country. I’m all for accountability, I just would love to see great teachers working together to make educational policy decisions in order to improve educational systems throughout the world.
The area the US and Morocco differ most is in language. You’re probably thinking, duh, they speak Arabic and we don’t, but it is much deeper than that. We learned yesterday that the unique history and geography of Morocco has resulted in the need for students to speak five or more languages.
Let me start with a list of the most common languages.
Derija, Moroccan Arabic, is the language spoken at home and in the streets by the Arab community. Because of the influence or French and native language, it is a much different form of Arabic than in other countries. Our Tunisian colleague and our Moroccan host converse by speaking their own dialects, and they understand each other most of the time. It is traditionally an oral language, not written.
Beginning in primary school, students learn to read and write and speak standard Arabic, called Fusha. This is the official language of the country. Most instruction in school is given in Fusha, and teachers are highly discouraged from using Derija in the classroom.
Also beginning in primary school, students learn French. During colonization, most of Morocco became a French “protectorate”, essentially meaning France colonized Morocco peacefully. From 1912 to 1956, France controlled Morocco and changed their culture significantly by making changes in the education system. I have a ton of information about this, but that’s a conversation for another time. The short version is, French colonization was bottom up, essentially conquering a country by taking over the education and culture of the society. This history has made French the primary language in business, government, industry, and education. The Fessi (people from Fes, Morocco) people control 85% of the Moroccan government and similar to the US, money buys power in government. The decision makers have benefited from the French language, thus, learning French is an important step to economic success in Morocco.
The native people of Morocco are not Arab, but Amizghit. You’ve probably heard of them as Berber (use Amizghit as Berber means barbaric and the name is a product of French “civilized” colonization). Amizghit speak Tamazight (there are three dialects in Morocco) another spoken language. Recently, a written form of the language was developed that uses symbols from hieroglyphs (cool research project waiting for someone!). There is a movement to recognize this language and many primary schools are making this another primary school requirement.
So, let’s stop for a second. If you are Amizghit, you speak Tamazghit at home, need to learn Derija to play with your friends in the streets, and learn Fusha and French in the classroom, all by 2nd grade.
Now, English is the language of the Internet and tourism and secondary school students are required to study English for three years.
Lastly, the proximity of Morocco to Spain (northern Morocco was Spanish territory not French) makes Spanish a popular language in the North, although I have not heard any yet on this trip.
Moroccans can not only speak these languages, but switch from one to another seamlessly. There is a definite implication of social class based on your pronunciation and how well you speak French, so Moroccans code switch regularly (change their language based on the social situation they are in).
Meriem, our host, made a comment that because of the code switching “Moroccans can understand every dialect in the Arab world; however, no other countries can understand the Moroccan dialect.” She followed this with a story about talking with her Egyptian friends. They could not understand her Derija so would ask her to speak either Egyptian or English. My colleagues and I looked at her funny and asked, “Where does the Egyptian come into the language picture?” and she replied that because Egypt rules the Arab film industry all of the television and movies they watched growing up were in Egyptian. Thus, Moroccans also speak Egyptian very well (so do Tunisians, same story for my colleague Lilia). Interestingly, much of the history of Morocco that I share, is also the history of North Africa in general.
Obviously, in the US, we do not have this rich culture of language and speak primarily English. In fact, the prevalence of Spanish actually scares many people. I believe this is for the same reason that French remains prevalent in Morocco. English is the language of the ruling class.
The biggest issue regarding language in Morocco involves education and opportunity. While Standard Arabic is the official language of the country and the classroom, the National Baccalaureate examination (the test Juniors and Seniors take for entrance to college) is in French, as is instruction at the University. The rich can afford extra language schools and opportunities for their children to practice French; however, the working class and poor students do not get the opportunity to master the French language and thus do more poorly on the exams. This prevents many bright students from the opportunity for advanced education and thus keeps the “elite” in control of the government. There are many organizations, interestingly enough many English teachers, who are trying to change this about the Moroccan education system.
Newly developed tafinagh, the written version of Tamazaghit, the language of the Amizghit people.
Sorry it's turned, the Internet is too slow to reload this pic, I thought I could rotate after it posted, lesson learned!
Mostly out of a desire to read the signs, but partially in response to my henna attack (see other blogpost Just Say Lla) I really want to learn Arabic. Last night I looked up all the consonants and practiced them this morning during our meetings.
In the market, I found a kids alphabet toy that you can write on as well. I knew it would be perfect for learning to read and write the letters and make for a gift for the boys as well! I sat on the bus and practiced the letters with Lilia. She is a great teacher and I officially can read and write every letter of the alphabet (that's my handwriting below)!!! The Arabic alphabet is almost entirely consonants, and vowels are marked with a series of symbols above and below the letters. The patterns fascinate me as much as the intricate tile work on and in the buildings! Tomorrow I will learn the vowels!
A funny tourist story!
(Keep in mind this entire story happened in less than two minutes) As we walked towards the Hassan Tower and Masoleum, I happened to be at the front of the group. A woman quickly approached and asked me a question in Arabic. I did not understand. She asked if I spoke English. I said yes. She grabbed my hand and began squirting a cold gold goop in floral patterns up and down the back of my hand. I stood in shock and stared.
After 10 seconds or so I realized it was henna and that I didn’t want to pay for this rushed version. I said no thank you. She said, It’s a gift for you. I realized I was probably being scammed, but was kind of in awe at how bold she was. Suddenly she was whirling around to other colleagues and squirting her patterns onto their hands as we all looked in shock. I heard one colleague loudly exclaim, “I said no and she grabbed my hand anyway!” Her partner in squirting was busily tagging other colleagues and our host Meriem caught up with us and began giving instructions. Unfortunately, there was no correct place to start as these women were whirling from “client” to “client”.
The woman kept flying past me saying “Pay as you wish”, then “I’m with baby”, then “Pay as you wish” “100”. She kept whispering the 100 because she didn’t want Meriem to hear her. I knew all of this was a scam, but stood and watched in total fascination and mesmerized, pulled out my wallet! I knew I had coins ($1 US = approx. 8 dirham, so 100 = $12.5) and kept digging for them. I think in total it I had 12 dirham. I finally found them and handed to the woman as she was staring down my throat saying “100, pay as you wish, 100”. As I pulled them out of my wallet she said, “No” and pushed them back into my wallet!
Had I not been in shock, I would have said, “Okay, and walked away”, but instead I started searching for my bills! I knew that I had a 100 dirham bill and that I really did not want to give this, but I was hoping the other bill was a 20. I was trying to find it without showing the 100 and was listening to the chaotic conversation happening all around as we were all being scammed in unison!
When I pulled a 50 out, I handed it over like a white flag of surrender, and she whirled on to the next, just as Meriam told me, “No more than 20!”. Oops.
Right when I’m a little annoyed, I look over my shoulder at a man, who is selling necklaces, yelling towards me. I mentally put on my armor, when he points to my camera I had set on the wall to perform my secret money search. My henna “artist” says, “Oh, no,” and picks it up and runs towards me to give me my camera. At this point, I realize the women are not there to scam, but are aggressive because this is how they make a living in this tourist economy and only hope that they will share money with the man.
My Arabic speaking colleague Lilia talks to them and they explain that this is their first day doing this and that they are tired. I feel okay that I got scammed. We take a group picture with six of fourteen of us tattooed and Meriam teaches us “Lla”. Now, we know how to say no, and when we’re being attacked by henna, really stress the Ll sound!!!!!
Someday I want real henna as I think this looks more like Kamdan took a Sharpie to my hand!