Sunday, July 15, 2012

Results Are In

The first ever Spelling Bee Morocco championship was held May 25 & 26 in Ouarzazate and was deemed a success by nearly everyone. We crowned champions in two events – the team bee and the solo bee. While it is great to introduce a new kind of event for Moroccan students and provide a touch of Americana, what is most rewarding to me is the emotional and psychological impact of the event.

Ibtissam Boulaghmane, the solo bee winner, told me after her victory that she had never won any medals before,  that she was not good in sports, so she had never been able to compete for anything. But she won two at the finals – first in the solo bee and second in the team bee - and one at her City Bee. Plus the trophy, of course. She added that it was great to meet all these other kids, too.

At lunch, after the final event, as they were going around the table, telling me what their plans for next year were, one girl said, “This is it for me. No matter what happens on my baccalaureate exams, I am done with school. But what a way to finish! I will remember this for the rest of my life.” The other kids chimed in and told me her father and brother insisted that she stop school and adopt the traditional woman's role, which means she will live and work in her father's house until (if) she gets married.

Three 11th grade girls won the team competition.  They
renamed their team "Heroines" after the win.
Despite stories like that, the role of women in Morocco is changing. One of the gratifying things about the Spelling Bee Morocco project to me is that it provides an opportunity for girls to compete with boys on the same playing field. And in this case, they excelled. Of the 27 qualifiers for the finals, 20 were girls. And all the champs were girls.

Another deeply satisfying aspect of the competition was that my younger son Joe helped me out a lot. He was in the country, visiting and traveling. He accompanied me to several of the trainings I gave to Moroccan teachers.

On one we went to Zagora, a southern city on the edge of the Sahara. Even in the spring it was very hot. In earlier days, it was the traditional staging area for camel caravans and boasted a famous sign saying “52 days to Timbuctou.” We also had a memorable day at the training in Kalaa, across the river from my village. It rained hard during the training, and it rained in the mountains. By the time we were done, the river had flooded and the road bridge was washed out. But the transit driver knew of a place a few miles north and dropped us of there. Following the lead of a few other locals, we tramped for an hour through flooded muddy fields in the near dark until we did, indeed, come upon an intact cement footbridge. Once on our side of the river, I soon realized we were on a road familiar to me from my running. The rain had stopped, and we had a pleasant hour's walk home along the dirt road lit by a starry sky.
My son Joe served as score-keeper for the finals.

Joe enjoyed the experience, too. When we were making arrangements for his flight home, he said, “I'd really kinda like to stay for the regional finals.” So he did, and he served as the official scorekeeper.

His involvement served another benefit, too. The day after the finals, a teacher who had been at the Kalaa training as well came up to me and said, “I want to tell you how good it was to see you and your son working together. We've been talking about this. You know here in Morocco we have the impression that in America, when kids are 18, they leave the home and don't come back again. Maybe they call on the phone once or twice a year, but don't come home. Now we see that's not always true.”



It's hot here now. In my courtyard (usually a relatively cool place), it gets into the 90s during the day. Outside, in the sun, between 110 and 115. I bought a fan. It helps.

I had my mid-service medical exams in Rabat a couple of weeks ago, and all is well. Hard to believe I've been here this long – 16 months, actually.

I've continued work on Spelling Bee Morocco, planning for our expansion next year into other regions of the country.

In a week, I'll be leaving for a two-week vacation in Germany and the Czech Republic – Berlin, Dresden, Prague. Really looking forward to it.

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