by AVA News Service, July 15, 2009
Last winter I had the opportunity to discover my roots on my father’s side in the country of Morocco. This was my first time flying by myself and so I was nervous about switching planes, but managed just fine and arrived in France in one piece. I was born and raised in France and so this is where I met up with my dad; we took off for Africa a couple of days later. Morocco is located in the north of Africa and is directly below Spain. The population is 34 million, of which 50% are illiterate and up to 90% of the illiterate people are women. On my trip overseas, I was incredibly touched by the big welcoming smiles and hugs I received along with the delicious mint tea offered in every household. Being Arab, Arabic was my father’s first language enabling me to experience things tourists would only dream of.
My first stop was Casablanca, the country’s biggest and most industrialized city. As dreamy as the film, “Casablanca,” makes it look, I felt extremely uncomfortable in this city; I had never seen streets so crowded and so filthy. This came as quite a shock to me, having been raised in a rather clean environment. Despite my discomfort, I will always remember those hugs I received that made me feel like a part of their families. Our next stop was Marrakesh, which I found to be an extremely charming city due to its beautiful rich colors, mainly reds and yellows, and its detailed architecture.
After spending some time with my father’s friends — being an only child himself, none of his direct family remained — we took off for El Jadida, a town a little south of Casa in the middle of nowhere. This was the epicenter of my dad’s and my project. Earlier, in the US, I had gathered pens, pencils, highlighters, notebooks, paper, erasers, pencil sharpeners, addition/multiplication cards and chalk which I then put in a suitcase weighing about 40Kg (almost 90 pounds). These were the supplies I brought to the one 150 students ranging in age from 3 to 12, in a school consisting of three buildings which lacked electricity, plumbing, and glass for the windows, but with newly installed doors. Each building was like a small classroom, consisting of about 12 three-person desks. The school day was divided into two sessions: the first group of 75 students occupied the rooms from 9am-noon, and the second group occupied them from noon-3pm; only three teachers taught all day. Some students had to walk as far as two miles to get to the school in harsh weather.
Although I was not able to communicate directly with the children, since I do not speak Arabic, I’ve had no greater joy than to see the looks on their faces when they knew I was there to help them. Unfortunately, this was my only visit. However my father is keeping in touch with the teachers and I will be returning this coming winter with my brother to continue the work. This time, not only will I bring supplies but clothing as well. Ultimately, the plan is to install electricity, plumbing, and create a safe and fun environment for these children to learn.
Laura Essayah is a senior at Anderson Valley High School in Boonville.