Essaouira, the “Little Rampart”

Essaouira (“es-swera”) is a port city on the Atlantic. Though it was formerly named Mogador, its current name means “little rampart”, referring to the old fortress wall that surrounds the old part of the city.

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It is a very touristy place which, if it was like Marrakesh or Fes, would usually mean shop owners would harass passersby to come look in their shop and consider the “very good price” of random items. However, Essaouira is not like Marrakesh or Fes. It has a familiar aura of a beach town in America: people are more relaxed, life moves more slowly, and everyone really seems happier; plus, it’s cooler and breezier than any place inland.

Arguably its best quality – as I observed during my… two days there – is its focus on the arts. Rug makers, musicians, artisans, weavers… it’s known particularly for gnaoua music and has art galleries on virtually every corner.

When I visited Essaouira I brought along my DSLR, as I intend to do the next dozen times I visit, inshallah. These photos are some of my favorites.

I Guess I’m a Teacher

I’ve been in Tiflet for only one month but I’ve already changed. I feel like I have passed the first bump in the Darija road. I know when one word ends and another begins; I can express what I have done in the past tense; new words are easier to learn now than others were a week ago.

But I have also changed professionally. PC Morocco has made me push my comfort boundaries further than ever before. Many of you know that I taught percussion over the summer, but until last Wednesday I had never taught in a classroom setting.

Feel free to call me Mr. Rogers now.

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My five CBT group mates and I each taught an English lesson at the local dar chebab (youth center). This was essentially a test run for what we could be doing in our final sites, so we all picked a topic and prepared a lesson plan. The lesson plans followed a specific format developed throughout the years by PC Morocco volunteers and staff. (As we become more comfortable in our final sites, we are free to change the format as needed.)

On Tuesday, Nikita taught ordinal numbers and the top ten countries in terms of size. Wednesday is when I taught basic music theory. On Thursday, Matt taught language used in American restaurants and Andreina taught nutrition and food groups. Then on Friday, Caleb taught language used in sports and Bethan taught opposites.

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Many of us taught English for the first time.
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The youth and adults alike were eager to learn and apply their new knowledge.
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Seeing them challenge themselves while having fun was immensely inspiring.
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One week of teaching down… two years to go!

I chose to teach music theory for a couple key reasons other than my passion for and background in music. First, there is interest. One day I asked Majid, my LCF, about music education in Morocco. He told me that many Moroccans don’t know the theory behind the music they play, despite inherent rhythmic talent around the country. Because music is an integral part of the culture, he said Moroccans would be extremely interested in learning theory. His thoughts were echoed by a few other of my closest Moroccan friends, including one of my host brothers.

Second, music seems to be one of the main reasons I was selected for PC. Four of the eight regional managers, one of whom will be my main point of contact throughout my service, came to Tiflet during training to interview each of us about our final sites.

We spoke for nearly 20 minutes about my skills, interests, and preferences. While I expressed no preference about my site, we did discuss my film and music backgrounds in depth. The managers seemed very interested in projects I had brainstormed and even gave me ideas of possible projects. They absolutely strive to place volunteers in sites where we can use our skills while also meeting the needs and wants of the communities.

(cover image and video by Andreina Santamaria, aka Jamila)

A Tale of Two Corps

It was 9 a.m. in Ravenswood, West Virginia. The weather was comfortably warm, certainly more tolerable than that of the previous five weeks. Sporadic clouds overhead. Only fifty percent humidity.

Near me was Ravenswood High School’s football stadium, proudly projecting its red devil mascot to the Mormon and Presbyterian churches across the street. Directly ahead of me were fifteen high school and college students arranged in two rows: the front five stood behind marimbas and the back eight stood behind two synthesizers, a xylophone, a glockenspiel, and four vibraphones. On the ends were two auxiliary percussion players with all sorts of miscellaneous percussion instruments. The male students were shirtless, the female students wore sports bras. They were all tan and slathered with sunscreen.

Presently, we were in the middle of a four-hour rehearsal.

“Let’s move on to Bridges,” I said, feeling unusually awake and authoritative this morning. My drumsticks were splintering from constantly clicking tempo during warmups. “What are some things to watch out for?”

“Matching mallet heights,” Jake responded. He was one of the marimba players.

“Low wrists,” Jil, vibraphone.

“Play together,” Ryan, marimba.

“Look and listen in,” Olivia, marimba.

“Edges versus centers,” Mira, vibraphone.

“Body shift versus push-pull,” Tina, marimba.*

I continued. “Yep, all good answers. Let’s do this!” And then I turned on the metronome. Tina tapped off, and they all began playing.

At this point of the summer, I didn’t need to fully concentrate on their warmups; they had been playing these exercises for months and they generally knew how to fix their own technique issues. As I, shirtless and feeling a bit of a sunburn, sipped from my water bottle, an old Crown Victoria pulled up and a man rolled the window down.

The man was on the heavy side like most of Ravenswood. Balding. Advanced in age. Slightly reminiscent of Larry David.

“Where are y’all from?” He didn’t sound like Larry David. Or, if Larry David had an Appalachian accent, maybe they’d sound similar.

I smiled and replied, “We’re from Seattle. We’re a drum and bugle corps called the Seattle Cascades.”

“What’s that?”

“Basically we’re a professional marching band without all the wimpy instruments,” I joked, knowing full well I was bashing my years of playing saxophone.

“Well,” the man said with a sigh, “y’all sound great. My wife and I have heard you and we’re just amazed.” I smiled again as he asked, “Do you have any performances for the public?”

“Yes, we just competed in Charleston last night. We’ll be in Allentown on Friday, and we have world championships in Indianapolis on the eleventh.”

The man thought for a moment. “Hm. I’ll talk with my wife. Maybe we’ll head there for the weekend.” And with that, I thanked him and recommended that he browse Drum Corps International’s website. He then drove away.

* My other front ensemble members: Matt, marimba; Mel and Cassandra, vibraphones; Alex, xylophone; Kira, glockenspiel; Will and Eli, synthesizers; Tyler and Adam, auxiliary percussion.


Part I. Drum Corps

Those dedicated – and dare I say, crazy – enough to teach or march in drum corps face unique challenges. They rehearse twelve hours every day of the week, sleep on gym floors, and compete against other drum corps across the United States all summer. They battle thunderstorms, high humidity, and mental and physical fatigue.

It’s a strange subculture of the music world, but it makes people better musicians and better people. Performers without exception develop stronger senses of teamwork, humility, and dedication; they become better at problem solving; they gain greater confidence in their bodies, their musicality, and their ability to interact with others.

My responsibilities as the Cascades’ front ensemble instructor boiled down to enhancing these professional skills through music and technique. Because front ensemble members in all corps do not move around the field during performances, their music is particularly demanding, requiring all sorts of detailed technical skills. I hardly have the patience to describe it all here (and it would be boring to read anyway), so I have included below a video by Vic Firth, one of Cascades’ percussion sponsors, to illustrate such skills.


Part II. How Children Succeed

I read many books on my Kindle while on drum corps summer tour. Aside from watching movies, there wasn’t much more to do on extended bus rides from city to city, state to state.

One of the more recent books was How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough. He compiles many studies on child and teenage development into a narrative of, well, how children succeed or fail as they age. Tough essentially looks at the institutions and ideas in place in childhood and how that affects people later in life.

The study Tough analyzes that I found most intriguing involved rats. (I hope I remember it correctly.) Newborn rats that were nurtured and licked by their mothers when they were nervous performed more confidently in later tests than newborns ignored by their mothers. The baby rats, once older, were placed in an unfamiliar wooden circle with food in the center. The non-nurtured rats spent a lot of time pressed up against the border and took much longer to reach the center of the circle than did the nurtured rats. Once the non-nurtured rats found the food, they spent an average of thirty seconds eating and returned to the border, while the nurtured rats spent an average of two minutes eating.

The results were consistent even when the scientists placed newborn rats with non-biological mothers. As long as they were nurtured by a mother figure, rats were more confident later in life.

Humans have been proven, in other long-term tests, to produce similar results. Because my front ensemble members are in high school or college, they have already gone through most of their personality development. But what How Children Succeed has made me believe more strongly than ever before is that personality and the capacity for skill building are malleable. In fact, my front ensemble were far more mature, more humble, and more willing to problem solve compared to the beginning of tour two months before.

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My front ensemble (minus Cassandra) and me after one of the final shows of the season. (Photo credit: Josh Clements)

Part III. Peace Corps

I’ve noticed there comes a point when – after working with any group of young people off and on for a year – a shift happens. It’s a transition from one mentality to another. In the case of teaching the Cascades front ensemble, it was a change from consistent supervision on my part to members’ self-awareness, self-critique, and self-confidence that what they were doing was correct. Ideally, I shouldn’t have had to point out individual musical or technical issues at all.

What I’m trying to illustrate with this post is that I’m more comfortable than ever in youth skill development. I will have the responsibility throughout my Peace Corps service to foster in my Moroccan youth community a culture of self-awareness, self-improvement, and self-confidence. It undoubtedly will take time; if my time with the Cascades is any indication, a year could pass before the shift. What will be a barrier, however, is my unfamiliarity with the language and culture.

I hope to put aside my own wants to respond to youth needs in my future community, to develop sustainable skill development programs that will last long after I return to the United States, to be a positive role model, and, especially, to involve parents and the community in the development of their children. Most of all I look forward to the challenge of the next twenty-seven months.