Monday, February 28, 2011

World Wise Schools Teaches Me a Lesson

As part of my Peace Corps application, I volunteered for World Wise Schools, a program that matches a PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer – might as well start using the jargon), with a school back here in the States. The object is to further understanding of the foreign country by Americans and vice versa.

My former wife teaches seventh grade social studies here in West Michigan and was enthusiastic about participating in the program, so we became a match. I live only an hour from the school, so we decided it would be good to for me to do a pre-departure school visit rather than waiting till I was already in Morocco to start the contact.

Last Friday was the day of my visit. It went well, though it was exhausting. I talked to five classes of 7th graders and by the end of the day I was whipped. Not that they were bad. On the contrary, they were very good – not only in their behavior, but in their preparation. They knew where Morocco was. Some knew about the unrest in North Africa. They’d studied Islam a few weeks ago and astonished me by volunteering all kinds of information about it, including the Five Pillars of Islam. They were curious and smart and active and all so different. Engaging with them for a whole day was…intense. I must say, teachers really earn their keep.

The objective of my visit was not so much to talk about the Peace Corps and Morocco, but to let them get to know me as a flesh and blood person. They asked terrific questions, like why did I join the Peace Corps, what did I think I would miss the most, what did I think was the most important thing I was taking with me, and of course lots of personal questions about my age, family, etc.

To help objectify what I was doing I took all of my packed bags with me and wore the clothes I plan to wear on the plane when I leave. Basically, I took with me all of, and only, the things I plan to take with me to Morocco. The kids were interested not so much in what I was taking but how heavy the bags were. Several offered that I could put them in my bags and still meet the 80 pound weight limit, which prompted all kinds of smart remarks.

They really liked seeing Arabic written, which I discovered by accident during the third class, when we finished early. The teacher had stepped out of the room temporarily. In desperation to fill the time, I wrote شكراً (shukran – thank you) on the whiteboard. A kid asked me if I could write his name in Arabic. Then the word spread, so that in the remaining two classes, kids asked early on if I would write their names in Arabic.

I also played a short mix of “travelin’ music” as class was beginning. And I made my first-ever video, “The Further Adventures of the Earl of Luggage,” as part of my presentation, and I’ve attached the video here for your entertainment. Haven't figured out how to attach music to this blog yet, so I've listed the tunes here: "Movin' Right Along" (The Muppet Movie); "America"(Simon & Garfunkel);"On the Road Again" (Willie Nelson); "Ramblin' Man" (The Allman Brothers); "Everybody's Talkin'"(Harry Nillson); "Like a Rollin' Stone" (Bob Dylan); and, of course, "The Marrakesh Express" (Crosby, Stills and Nash). I'd be curious to know what tunes other people would add to the list.

The school visit was a great learning experience for me in many ways, but the really BIG LESSON came out of my packing early. As the video shows, even though I pared back the items I wanted to take with me in order to meet weight, I still was unable to fit them all in my bags. If I had followed my usual behavior, I would have been packing on Sunday, March 13. And what would I have done then? At least now I have some time to make adjustments, though not a clue yet to what they will be.


  1. Fabulous! Love the blog, love the video. How exciting that you want to make the world a better place! I'll be reading your blog from now on. Good luck

    (Also love your house on the water!)


  2. Oh my gosh, Jim.........too funny! I am going a little crazy with what to take and what not to take. And to top it off - I went shopping yesterday for more clothes! I can't believe I did that - but I wanted a few more "business casual" items. And yes, the electronics - they all weigh so much. Luckily Bulgaria is considered to be a "winter" climate so I get to take 100 pounds. No one tells us that the luggage itself weighs quite a bit. COngratulations!

  3. Hah! Sounds familiar, Patricia. Even though I'm over, I went looking for a pair of sweatpants today. Am I delirious? I've been watching your posts on prepping for Bulgaria. I met an RPCV from Blugaria two days ago. She got married while she was there!

  4. Thanks, Karen. Good to hear from you.

  5. Hey Jim, how about "life Is A Highway?"