Quite often, as I have been finding out since January, life in a foreign country is a lot about failure. I say things incorrectly, inadvertently making whatever I was trying to say into an offensive swear word in the middle of a room of Moroccan family members (for the record, the words for “to rent,” “to study” and “to poop” are all very similar. I fail to remember the simplest of vocabulary words even when people repeat them for me over and over and over and once more. I set up English classes that no one comes to. I’ve decided I’m not brave enough to try to keep up an outdoor running routine in an effort to make my own safety a priority, a decision which in itself feels like a defeat.
Thank goodness there are also days like today.
As I’ve written about previously, Liz and I are working regularly with the T– ACCESS Program, which is an intensive English program for kids from underprivileged families (one or both parents out of work). We mostly help out with their cultural lessons, with today being no exception.
Today’s culture was an American field day, such as is held at the end of the school year with the entire school heading outside to play games all day long. As we had made an attempt to teach kickball a few weeks ago and didn’t really see it catch on with the kids, we weren’t sure how field day would go over.
It more than went. The kids enjoyed it.
Liz and I selected a number of games we remembered playing as kids and considered to be a big part of our childhoods. I selected Blob tag, sharks and minnows and What Time is It, Mr. Wolf? Liz handled a three-legged race and a roaring round of Simon Says. We also had duck, duck, goose prepared, but ran out of time.
Before each game, we would go over the rules and whatever cultural significance might be attached to the game, like the concept of the wolf being a villain in fairy tales. Then we played. For about two hours.
I wasn’t sure if a bunch of high school kids would be interested in learning kids games, but after multiple rounds of each game, it became clear they were enjoying themselves, running around in the blazing sun, sandles flying in every direction, a mix of Darija and English flying around. Even the ACCESS teachers and coordinator joined in.
My favorite part of the day, however, was when the students started teaching us classic Moroccan kids’ games. They started us on a game of “carré” which is like hopscotch with eight squares and special rules for the “donkey,” their name for the stone that gets tossed into the squares.
Second we learned the Amaziegh version of jacks, which is played with five pebbles, one of which is tossed in the air as the player tries to pick up the remaining stones.
Third we learned “élastique,” which is like Chinese Jump rope, but with amazingly complicated patterns. Those girls were amazing at it.
Today was, for us, part of work in what Peace Corps refers to as the Second Goal – helping people in the host country learn more about Americans, not just teaching the basics of English or organizing a health fair. It’s not always easy to explain parts of your culture to someone who knows little about it. But this felt like a success. This felt like a real exchange because we learned as much from them as they did from us.