Miah Davis | Orlando, FL – Political Science, 2019
Miah Davis was born in raised in swampy Orlando, Florida. Currently Miah is a freshman in the class of 2019. As it stands, Miah aspires to major in Political Science with a minor in Russian, but is also keen to explore Medicine, Health, and Society as a major. The generous grant provided by the Nichols Fund will help Miah work alongside other Vanderbilt students in serving the community in Rabat, Morocco. Miah will be teaching underprivileged children English and helping them advance in other aspects of their education.
Blog Post One:
When I chose to volunteer in the community of Rabat, Morocco, I knew I was in for something unlike anything I had ever experienced before. Sure, I had traveled before, but Rabat presented a new set of challenges and opportunities that made me realize my comfort zone was going to undergo some serious changes. But I don’t see this realization as something frightening. As someone who dreams of serving the United States overseas as a Foreign Service Officer, I’ve come to realize that trying to hold steadfast to my old patterns and expectations prevents you from fully understanding and accepting the current environment you are in.
I kept this in mind the first time I walked into the Medina.
The Medina is a maze that encompasses shops, homes, hammams, mosques, and even hairdressers. It requires the constant use of each on of your senses. You need to be listening carefully for the rumbles and rings of motorcycles and bicycles behind you to avoid collision, watching the pathways closely to avoid stepping on a random cat’s, inhaling deeply whenever you pass someone frying some m’smen flatbread on a well-oiled griddle (which, later, you might hopefully consume to exercise your sense of taste), and feel the cool breeze blow against your mildly moist t-shirt. The only thing more magical than these winding streets are souks, where it’s all too easy to lose yourself among curtains of carpets and rows of leather sandals. Bargaining is not a suggestion here, it’s a way of life. Well, a way of life for all the native Medina-nites. For me, it’s a bit harder, especially because I clearly don’t appear to be Moroccan (and I don’t speak French or Arabic to boot). But all the same, every time I step under the covered walkways and squeeze myself into the crowd, I feel surprisingly calm and comfortable. Markets are familiar, and they are without doubt my favorite places to visit in any city I encounter.
Perhaps the only thing better than the markets in Rabat is the work I’m doing with the children at the Attadamon Institution. Firstly, just getting there is an interesting adventure in itself-it involves getting nice and comfy with about five other strangers. That’s right-a “white taxi” in Morocco fits about seven people, so excluding me and Jason (another member of our group who’s working at the site with me), there are quite a few sweaty beings in this car (without air-conditioning). It’s about 20 minutes to “Mini Park” (certain I’m spelling that wrong), and then a short walk through the neighborhood and to our site. The room we teach in is small, but it’s actually for the best because we can be closer to our students and avoid shouting matches (well, most days). Our first day was Wednesday, and we had four students. Then, that number grew to eight. Now, we have 13. I work tomorrow and I’m certain that the number will continue to remain fluid.
Now, I don’t speak any Arabic, and barely more than four words of French. But what I can speak is English-which is what I’m there to teach. Fortunately, Jason speaks Arabic and helps to translate and communicate when I am a loss for words (and actions). The students are a range of ages. Our youngest is about eight, while our oldest is in high school. They come with all different levels of English, though the girls (there are four so far) seem to be pretty familiar with the language already. It amazing how quickly these students can pick up the language. I remember when I was learning Spanish in a classroom setting, all I wanted was for those 45 minutes to be finished so I could move on to the next subject, which was lunch! They say that the best years to learn a language are those before the age of four, but after watching my students’ eager smiles in the classroom as they learn how to ask questions and describe the world in English, I don’t know if I believe that assertion completely. A lot of learning has to do with both practice and dedication-together, those two can make up for the lack of pliability in the mind after the “age of four”.
Our classroom is a loud classroom, for sure. We are always encouraging the students to be vocal when speaking and repeating things in English. While this makes for an awesome and receptive atmosphere, it can be difficult to control the younger boys, who are always up to mischief (like throwing spitballs and the like). But discipline is difficult, especially when these kids look up at you with their endearing smiles. One method we’ve started using to keep the students from bouncing off the walls (literally) is starting competition-style reviews. Dividing up students into two teams and having them compete against each other can help a teacher command 100% of the attention in a classroom. Starting next week, our classes are going to be separated into young kids and adolescents, so I’ll be spending about five hours with the students total. It’s going to be an adventure, but as I’m realizing, the motivation of my students is contagious-I can’t wait until the weekend is finished and I can start teaching again!
Blog Post Two:
Well, I’m back to the land of alligators and Disney World. Even as I pace the halls of my house and splash in the cool, chlorinated waters of my pool, I find myself wishing I was strolling the winding streets of the Medina and splashing in the Rabat’s salty ocean waves. There’s nothing quite like walking to the Casbah on a sunny day and just staring out over the coast (compared to staring over a swamp). It’s quieter back at home, too. The sounds of people yelling out to each other on the streets, the mews of kittens calling to their mothers, are now replaced with crickets and frogs.
But it’s not just the city that I miss. There are so many incredibly kind people who I was fortunate enough to get to know in Rabat. Every one of the children that I worked with was unique in their own special way. Our classroom was always filled with laughter and learning, no matter how hot the room was. I know my students picked up more English than they ever believed they could. Their passion for learning and willingness to continue practicing on their own, even when the material got difficult. English lessons (especially those offered for free) are far and few between in Rabat. My students really took advantage of the opportunity that came their way, and I am prouder than I ever thought I could be. Even though I won’t be teaching them English anymore, I know they will seek out ways to continue learning the language on their own!
I was also fortunate enough to work at the Center for Women in Islam, which was a mere five-minute walk from my host family’s house. There I met Ilyass, an incredibly passionate supporter of feminism who taught me everything about the center. The work that he is doing with the other employees and interns is truly important and has been making an impact in the Rabat community.
Even though I’m homesick for Rabat (which, thanks to the help of my wonderful host family, I can definitely call a second home), it does feel good to be back at home. In two short weeks, I’m going to be back at campus, with all these fantastic summer experiences under my belt. My time in Morocco may have lasted only six short weeks, but I know that the memories will last me a lifetime!