Samantha Hubner
Samantha Hubner
Morocco 2016
VIEW FINAL REPORT
سلام/Bonjour! I am a recent graduate seeking to fully experience the vibrancy of Morocco as the ultimate cross section of Western, African, European, and Middle Eastern culture. Join me on this adventure as I pursue a hybrid initiative of women's empowerment in the city of Rabat! Read More About Samantha →

Ancient History, Contemporary Development, & Empowering a Community

Fun fact: Since 2002, Rabat has hosted the Mawazine Music Festival: Rhythmes du Monde. (Rhythms of the World) Artists from all over the globe come to perform, as well as local Moroccan talent, with 90% of the shows being free of charge to maintain a high standard of accessibility for the Moroccan population. In addition to a number of other external sponsors, the Maroc Cultures Association ensures the festival’s unique economic independence from public funds. The festival is touted as one of the largest in the world, and is held in Rabat because the capital city of Morocco is seen as “an intermediary between tradition and modernity” that transforms from a UNESCO World Heritage Site to an open air venue where artists from all walks in life and career perform. Seriously, give it a Google, it really is that cool.

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As a proud Nashville transplant and music enthusiast, my interest was piqued. I confess that I’ve never been to an American music festival before, but this was simply not something I could afford to miss. Fantastic promotion of upcoming Moroccan artists, not to mention a few familiar names gracing the lineup just in time for my second weekend in the city, (Shaggy, Christina Aguliera, and Pitbull, just to name a few) and all at no charge! So a fellow volunteer and I decided to go on Friday night to see Shaggy perform and experience this festival in full. And what an experience it was! We were surprised to note that we were largely the only women in the audience... Likely as surprised as the men were by our presence, I imagine! Now if you read travel guides about visiting Morocco, one of the most fervent warnings for young women in particular is the frequent catcalling from men while walking around. In my experience, the key to handling these unwanted interactions is to refuse acknowledgment of their existence overall. If you give them nothing to go off of, you leave them with no direction to pursue, and they desist. Even a glance in their direction can be seen as encouragement, and so it is best to try and exude “back off” with every movement of your body. Some will still pursue, but in that case a sharp word in either French or Arabic while stroking one finger down from your eye to your cheek should do the trick. This facial gesture means “shame”, and is often used by mothers when children misbehave. Thus, it is particularly shocking and offensive when a foreign woman adopts a gesture they are used to seeing from their mother! We can chat more on the nature of living in a strongly inherent patriarchal society in a later post. For now, needless to say, Kelly and I were worried about what we had just walked into as not only females, but as clear foreigners. How would these men adapt? Would it be uncomfortable harassment? Would we have to leave early? Alas, none of the above. Despite it being the identical demographic to our daytime hecklers, these concert goers went out of their way to give us space, to the point where it felt as if we had an invisible shield around us. The only questions asked were if we could see okay, and would we like them to move over more in any direction to better accommodate. It was quite the surprising change of pace from the mosh pit I was expecting, akin to what I’ve heard about music festivals in the US.

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The concert itself was a wildly amusing trip down memory lane as we enjoyed a number of blasts from the past from Shaggy’s golden years. There was a lot of dancing, though all male on male, due to the aforementioned lack of females. I’m looking forward to continuing to analyze the societal pressures and structures at work here, specifically the role of the patriarchy, but seeing as I’m only two weeks in I feel it best to keep observing before embarking on such a post in the next month or so!


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Harkening back to the idea of history transformed, one of the venues for the Mawazine Festival was the Chellah ruins, located in the south of Rabat. The festival is accurate in describing Morocco as a profound cross section of ancient history and increased development, which can be seen in the adapted modern use of the ruins not just as an archaeological site, but a frequented place for concerts, families, and young couples seeking to escape the constant lack of privacy. The ruins are left from Phoenician and Carthaginian settlement in the third century BC, but were later refurbished as the Roman city of Sala Colonia according to Ptolemy’s writings, which dated around 40 CE. Eventually the city was taken by a Berber tribe and fortified to protect from Spanish invaders. The remainder of some of the fortress walls are pictured below. When the Romans abandoned the city, it became a burial ground until the 13th century when the Merinid dynasty resettled the city by building a mosque and other structures whose remnants remain today. Though I recognize that history is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, I felt it important to discuss in the blog because the ancient history of Morocco is, in my opinion, still very much alive in the contemporary culture. Walking through the ruins, I was struck to think of how many generations of feet had followed the path through the city that my feet now walked, not to mention how many more would follow in years to come. Unlike the archaeological site in Xian, China where the Terracotta Warriors stand tall, walking through the Chellah ruins feels nothing like a museum or a tourist attraction. It more so feels like a park that just so happens to have incomprehensible historical depth in addition to being a lovely place for an afternoon stroll.

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As a side note, the ruins are also home to most impressive stork nests I imagine one will ever see.  Yes, I mean storks as an the bird that delivers babies to your neighbor’s doorstep from time to time. For a second there, I thought I was looking out into the flawless CGI background of Jurassic World or Avatar gauging from the remarkable size of these nests. The storks were also in mating season, clucking their beaks quite loudly, which made for an interesting soundtrack as we meandered around the old city!

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Finally, as promised, I am so excited to share what I’ve been teaching (and learning!) in the classroom at the Empowerment Center. Many have asked me, why Morocco? And though there are many answers to that question, one of the most relevant reasons to my project here is the definitive need to improve national education.

Morocco is not what I would call a poor African country. It enjoys a rare stability thanks to the autonomy of the monarchy, which has protected it from the struggles faced by many other African and/or Islamist countries. While it is still developing, it is leagues ahead of many of its neighbors.

However, for all its success, there is still a lot to be done in the kingdom before it can claim developed status. This can be summed up with two simple words: education and equality. Schools are publicly funded in Morocco, but as a result the quality of education is often compromised. Private schools – once looked down upon as the schools where students who failed one too many times would have to attend – are increasingly in popularity with those who can afford it thanks to the guaranteed quality and opportunities it offers. Meanwhile, kids in rural regions struggle to find consistent transportation to and from school, and kids in urban areas share their pain of finding a way to pay for their school supplies.

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The Empowerment Center I work at provides free English lessons to anyone and everyone. The office space is located in the heart of the city, but my students come from all over the region. I admit, these classes are not at all how I had imagined they would be. Halfway through my second week, I scrapped my detailed lesson plans for building up technical grammar skills and vocabulary in favor of a new approach to accommodate the many challenges of my classroom: generational differences, varying levels of general education, and implicit gender biases, just to name a few. My new approach is entirely conversation-based, where I introduce a topic question and have my students speak to their opinions on the matter. Occasionally I have them write brief statements or paragraphs to read aloud to improve heir comfort speaking the language, and sometimes I integrate American music for them to practice listening comprehension and application. (Most recently, I used the Hamilton soundtrack to supplement a lesson reviewing proper use of the three types of past tense to discuss the history of America’s revolution with a “Who’s Who” on American currency, in honor of Memorial Day. One of my favorite lessons thus far!)

 

One of my dear students and I after class!

One of my dear students and I after class!

 

When asked about how they would change the national education system, I watched in amazement as their eyes universally brightened, impassioned by the introduction of a subject that has affected them all in some way despite their different stages of life. “There needs to be more funding allocated to the rural districts,” declared my econometrics major. “We need to improve the scholarship funds to help those who can’t afford to continue their education in their own,” explained my often quiet but just astute engineer. “There needs to be a way for us to do things like you are doing here, Teacher. A way for us to go places and share our culture and our skills. Without those opportunities, Morocco won’t have a bright future.”

Right now, they're my playful neighbors. But tomorrow, they could be world leaders... Who knows! But they are who we fight for.

Right now, they’re my playful neighbors. But tomorrow, they could be world leaders... Who knows! But regardless of who they will become, they are who we fight for. They are the future.

 

This is why I chose to come here. Not just to teach English and immerse in a foreign culture, because there are many places one could pursue that. I came to Morocco specifically because it is a country on the edge of what I believe to be great potential, and it is my hope that by leading discussions like this, my students will heed the spark of desire for change and pursue making a difference in their country as only they can. Young and old, female and male, it is my goal to show them how strong they can be as a united front in advocating for a brighter future.

To conclude, I want to leave you with the inspiring words of one of my students in response to today’s conversation question: Can money buy happiness? The author is a vivacious older woman whose sense of humor and intellectual depth know no bounds:

“Happiness comes from our mind, which we find in good company. It comes also when we see the future generation will live in a world without war. In a world of peace and love, without chemical products. We in the world where we feel we are all brother and sister, with no difference in color or religion. As Martin Luther King Jr said, I have a dream. This is my dream for happiness.”

This is why I am so grateful to be here, investing in these people’s lives as best I can, for the next three months. No one gives me hope for the future quite like they do, which is a feeling I hope will continue to propel me forward as I continue my work here. Thank you for reading, as always I am so lucky to have so many others be a part of this journey! Tune in next week for a breakdown of the Moroccan political system and the complex history of US-Moroccan relations! (I just graduated with a BS in political science, surely you all saw this one coming!) And of course, more stories from the classroom and an update on what will be my first week of celebrating Ramadan! The fast begins tonight at 2:30 AM, and I can’t wait to rise to the challenge, inshallah.

Chiming in just in time for brunch with the dearest of friends can make all the difference when you're an ocean away

Chiming in just in time for brunch with the dearest of friends, even just for ten minutes to say hello,  can make all the difference when you’re an ocean away.

Quick shout out to those of you who have continued to love on and support me from afar. Your constant texts, emails, and messages always brighten my day! From the bottom of my heart, thank you for helping me build a home away from home by reminding me that you’re only a phone call away. All my love!

Meet Morocco!

Salam alaykum, my friends!
In English, this greeting translates to “peace be with you”. I use it interchangeably with a hearty bonjour on a daily basis, but I must admit that the Arabic feels more genuine both to give and receive. I am continually intrigued by the linguistic identity of this country, where nearly everywhere I go I see French and Arabic side by side. That being said, my studies in French have proven to be my most valuable asset as I continue to build relationships with my fellow volunteers, the local staff, and my dear students.

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This is the Empowerment Office in downtown Rabat, where I teach intermediate and advanced English classes during the week.

 

I was fortunate to have an incredibly smooth arrival into Rabat, having befriended the man seated next to me on my flight from Paris. He was a young father excitedly returning to his wife and young child after two months of working abroad. In a display of what I’ve found to be classic Moroccan hospitality, my friend insisted on remaining with me until I had safely found my Country Director, Mohamed. It didn’t take long, and within a few minutes I was on my way back to Hay-Riad, the quiet yet bustling neighborhood where the home base is located.

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The river that separates Rabat from Salé, just 10 minutes away from our home base.

Determined to defeat the jet lag, I persevered through my exhaustion and stayed awake until 10:00 P.M. that day. I was terribly excited to finally meet Mohamed, a former PeaceCorps employee who happens to know quite a few of my friends and colleagues from my office at State in DC last summer. I also got to meet Hassan and Abdou, our security guard and bus driver. These three, as well as our incredible cook Fatiha and house manager Khadija, are all native Moroccans which creates such an authentic feeling in the home base. I speak French with all of them except for Mohamed, who usually speaks English because the other volunteers currently living in the home base, Kenzie and Kelly, speak neither French or Arabic. Throughout my three months here, there will be many volunteers coming and going through the house. Kelly left us on Friday and Kenzie will be on her way next weekend. All sorts of people come through CCS, though according to Mohamed its mostly older women who choose Morocco. Of course, there are always exceptions, such as myself! Nonetheless, I am excited to cross paths with so many different kinds of people throughout my time here!

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Khadija, my partner in sass, also used to work with the PeaceCorps.

I have decided that since I will be living in Morocco for the entirety of Ramadan, I am going to fast alongside my students and the local staff. Mohamed gave a particularly scintillating lecture on Islam this week, discussing the fast as a test of willpower and perseverance to remind us of all we have to be grateful for. By fasting, I hope my perspective will be challenged to feel and understand what it truly feels like to be hungry and thirsty, like so many throughout this country, my home country, and around the world. I am nervous of course, but I strongly believe that this is a challenge that coincides perfectly with the Lumos mission to culturally immerse and seek understanding. Not to mention that in Arabic, the verb “sam” means to fast, so perhaps that will work in my favor!

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The pictures don’t do the mountains justice, but Kenzie and I were having to much fun to worry about taking better ones... You’ll just have to go see for yourself! ;)

This weekend, Kenzie and I ventured out to Marrakech where we went quad biking (ATVs) in the dunes surrounding the breathtaking Atlas Mountains, explored the famous Marrakech Plaza/surrounding medina, (aka market) and relaxed in our peaceful riad. A riad is a word used to describe a house with a courtyard, and if you want to see why I’m quickly falling in love with this country, I encourage you to Google some images of Moroccan riads. People don’t really stay in hotels here... Instead they rent rooms in these beautiful courtyard houses with amazing rooftop terraces. You meet and often interact with your host, who is there to help you navigate the new place as much as you need. It’s a much more personal experience than a hotel, and Kenzie and I had an easy time getting around this intimidating city largely due to the kindness of our hosts. Needless to say, this was a wonderful weekend trip, only made better by the good company I shared!

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Watching the sunset from the terrace atop our beautiful riad in Marrakech.

Tune in next Monday to learn about what I’ve got going on in the classroom at the Empowerment Center, photos from my trip to the Chellah ruins, and a review of the famous Mawazine Music Festival!

 

Worry: The Wasted Emotion

As most of you have seen, reports of the missing aircraft that was traveling from the Charles de Gaulle national airport in Paris, France to Cairo, Egypt have been overwhelming international news outlets since Thursday morning. Speculation of the cause of the disappearance of the plane is mounting with every update, as Egyptian and French delegations continue to scour the Mediterranean for the wreckage, and, God-willing, any survivors. After seeing the breaking news that morning, I began to worry for my family. My leaving the country for three months was already hard enough on them, but this breaking news was a little too close for comfort and undoubtedly going to make it even worse. I decided to bring it up to my mother to see if there was anything I could do to alleviate the stress. But the response she gave me was far more alleviating than anything I could have offered in return; my mother told me about how her mother used to always say that worry was a wasted emotion. I found this maxim especially powerful, and here’s why:

There’s no beating around the bush... The world can be a scary place. Over the past few months, I had grown used to the raised eyebrows and mildly disapproving looks from people upon sharing my upcoming travel plans with the Lumos fellowship. In an effort to redeem Morocco, I tried my best to understand their perspectives in hopes that I could respond in ways that would inspire confidence and curiosity in them to see Morocco beyond presumptive impressions. Now let me be clear, I don’t mean to say that these concerns aren’t valid: I only meant to encourage them to look beyond those concerns to also see a deeper understanding of what I am trying to accomplish by specifically choosing to go to a Middle Eastern country in Northern Africa: a true cross-section of culture that will supplement my education in a way no college course ever could. It saddens me to think that anyone could misunderstand my intentions, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t convince everyone.

Nonetheless, the way I see it, we can spend our entire lives trying to hide from danger, but there’s almost a guarantee that no matter where we go, danger will still find us. This is why it is so important to accept that our fate in this world is simply not ours to decide. We cannot see the future; we can only make the best of the present. And with that being said, I would personally hate to let fear prevent me from seeking the true beauty to be found throughout the world. So as I myself prepare to fly in and out of CDG in just a few hours, I find peace in the overarching uncertainty of life. I have no idea what lies ahead: not in Morocco, nor anywhere else. But what is certain is that worrying will change nothing, so I believe it better to focus my energy on things that absolutely will make a change... such as the honest pursuit of newfound cultural understanding. 

And with that being said, T-minus 24 hours until I land in Rabat and begin my project abroad! I’ll catch you guys on the other side of the Atlantic!

 

 

Excited to step foot on TWO new foreign countries as I make my way to my final destination!

Excited to step foot onto TWO new foreign countries as I make my way to my final destination!

 

The Duality of Commencement

This is where I will be living throughout my time in Rabat. As lovely as it looks in pictures, I can't wait to see it in person!

This is where I will be living throughout my time in Rabat. As lovely as it looks in pictures, I can’t wait to see it in person!

 

With only 16 days until graduation and a mere 30 days standing between me and my flight to Morocco, I have found myself quite preoccupied with the concept of commencement. This reflection was really inevitable, as I prepare to put my 17 years of education to use out in the ever-elusive real world. However, this idea of commencement does not only apply to those wearing graduation robes this May: It recurs through many different seasons of life, which is what makes the concept of commencement altogether worth further exploration.

The certain uncertainty of new beginnings always sounds so exciting at first. Though we as people are creatures of habit, there is something indescribably alluring about turning our world upside down and pursuing something new and previously unexplored. But just as we prepare to take the leap, a hefty dose of reality sets in. Am I ready for this change? Is this a good decision? How will I know?

The onslaught of doubt is not ill-founded: a major life change is occurring, and the transition will most assuredly be difficult at times. As a recent graduate, I am escaping the familiar, defined structure of college and am instead finding myself left entirely to my own devices. What I do in the fall is no longer determined by ClassFinder or the registrar, but by me. The friends I hold dear will scatter throughout the world, introducing new responsibilities in maintaining these friendships to overcome the perpetual distance. The tyranny of choice will set in as I continue to ponder: What comes next?

There is a great deal of beauty in the deeply unsettling nature of commencement. For as much as we may wear ourselves thin in trying to decide “What comes next?”, at the end of the day we ourselves have the power to determine not only what comes next, but how effectively we manage whatever it is that comes next. It is not fortune, be it good or bad, that makes or breaks a person: it is their attitude in coping, reflecting, and addressing the consequences of the choices they make that, in turn, make all the difference. In a world dictated by factors we cannot control, it is all the more important to harness our abilities over what we can control: ourselves.

How fitting then that our commencement ceremonies are held in the springtime, a season just as characterized by rain as it is by sunshine. As I prepare to begin my journey to Morocco, I am doing my best to embrace the hardships I know I will face. Spending three months alone in a foreign land is truly daunting. Add to it the harsh reality of having to rely solely on a second language to communicate, being absent for major milestones of friends back home, and the mounting pressure of committing to a professional next step upon returning to the States, and it becomes nearly paralyzing. But there can be sunshine amidst this rain, so long as I do not allow a poor attitude to cloud my judgment and prevent me from seeing the good that accompanies these omnipresent challenges. I am about to embark on an incredible journey of self-discovery, one that will forever taint the way I perceive the world around me.

And for that reason, with every day that passes, I will choose to be positive. I will choose to have faith. I will choose to always get back up and keep fighting when obstacles knock me down.

Commencement is a scary, beautiful thing. But even scarier and even more beautiful is the choice we have to make of commencement what we will. And with that being said I hope you, in whatever capacity of commencement you find yourself, will join me in rejecting the anxiety and embracing the adrenaline…It is time to leap!