Sunday, November 6, 2011

Before school starts,

kids gather to play in the parched and vacant school yard.  The boys run around chasing each other.  The girls gather in clumps talking and playing little games.  At 9:00am the teachers arrive and open their classroom doors.  In single file lines, the children enter and find their seats, ready to learn. 

Like in Bouayache, it is common for rural villages to have an elementary school.  But for students to continue on to Middle or High School they must travel to a city.  Depending on the region, children may have a far distance to go.  For the students of Bouayache, this means traveling to Midelt.  

If attending Middle or High School, students from rural towns must live in dormitories. Many families qualify for free student housing based on household income level.  To be approved for this, the town’s Prayer Leader must approve the official paperwork. Without this subsidy, many students would be unable to afford schooling. 

In some areas, it is still common to have dormitories for boys, but not for girls.  WIthout these dorms, in many cases, girls must give up their educations.  However, new government initiatives are working to make female education a priority.  Building new girl’s dormitories is a large part of that.  Luckily, in Midelt, there are dormitories for girls and boys, at the middle and the high schools.

While it may be available, it does not necessarily guarantee students will continue on after elementary school.  Children are often seen as more valuable in the home. Even with financial assistance, it is expensive to have a child, or children, living away from home.  While schooling is seen as a benefit, it does not necessarily guarantee a job outside of farming or family business.  Therefore, some families elect to discontinue education after elementary school. 

In Bouayach, the elementary school is in the middle of town, right next to the Mosque.  Like all government buildings, it is a dark pink color.  Five small rooms stand in a row, looking out on the grey school yard.  The walls are made of cement bricks and the roofs are sheets of galvanized iron.  There are four small windows at the top of the front wall. Each of these buildings acts as a classroom.  However, only four are currently in use.  At the end of the school yard is another building, similar in construction, but with a small walled in compound at the entrance.  This is the principals office. 

Monday through Saturday the school is open from 9am until noon.  The teachers and principal live in Midelt.  Every morning, they carpool to Bouayache and park under the only tree near the school.  If a teacher is sick or takes the day off, then the students of that grade take the day off too.  There are no substitutes.

While there are only four teachers, the school accepts students from first through fifth grade.  Fourth and fifth grade is taught together.  Each classroom is equipped with a chalk board, tables, benches, a limited set of classroom textbooks and a computer.  There is no internet, but it is a great tool for the teachers and the kids.

For schools that qualify, there is a government program that provides a free lunch for students.  This is a tool to encourage and improve attendance.  It also acts as an incentive for parents to send their kids to school.  The school is able to employ one woman to make the lunch.  

Every morning she bakes 20 loaves of Moroccan bread.  Each loaf is large, round and baked until it is perfectly crisp.  After it cools, it is cut into triangular slices, much like a pie or a pizza.  Traditionally, bread is baked, every morning, outside in clay ovens.    However, with so much bread needed for the school, a large propane fueled oven is used.  This allows four loaves to bake at once, rather than just one at a time. 

Three days a week, she makes a large pot of lentils, white beans in red sauce or fava beans. Those mornings, she sorts and sifts through those legumes, picking out troublesome little stones.  On days without hot food, the kids get a wedge of laughing cow cheese to go with their bread. 

Every morning, I go to the house of the woman in charge of lunch.  I sit on a stool and watch her make loaf after loaf.  Sometimes she makes special fry bread for her and I, which we eat while keeping watch over the oven.  Mid-morning, a neighbor comes to make bread in the clay oven outside.  Her two year old son and I play while she is busy tending to the bread.  Last week we made drums out of laughing cow cheese containers and had a dance party.

At noon, I get sent to the school with the loaves.  There, I cut the bread and straighten up the tables and benches.  While I work, a group of four little girls play around the classroom.  Sometimes, I take a break and we play hide and go seek.  Soon after, the woman arrives with the pot of legumes and a supply of aluminums plates and spoons.  After she shoos the girls outside, we get set up and wait for the students to arrive.

The students pile into the room, cramming themselves onto the wooden benches.  The littlest kids yell and wave their hands, fighting for extra attention.  Their little plastic backpacks are so large on their shoulders, the little ones seem to disappear!  The older kids whisper and stare, trying to be cool.  By this time, all of the staff persons have left, but one.  The remaining teacher helps keep order outside and organizes students into lines by grade.  There they stand, anxiously awaiting their turn.

Most days, three older girls help give out snack.  They ladle a scoop of lentils or beans onto an aluminum plate to give each child, along with a triangle of bread.  Sometimes kids will make sandwiches out of their snacks.  Others use the spoons and eat the bread separately. 

Each grade has about five minutes to get a plate, a slice of bread, eat and get out the door.  There has to be a fast turn around because there are many kids and only 20 plates.  As soon as a child has finished, his or her plate is scooped up and refilled to be passed onto another child.  Sanitary, it is not, but it does keep the lunch line moving quickly.  Once finished, kids file outside where some kids stay and play soccer or tag in the school yard.  Most walk onwards, in small groups, towards their homes. 

By the time all 100 plus kids have eaten and left, everything is covered in remnants of that days meal. Tables are washed and the floor is swept.  Any legumes or bread crumbs from the tables and floor are brushed into a bowl.  Later, this will be fed to the chickens.  The plates and spoons are collected in a green plastic tub and washed.  If there are any leftovers, they are distributed to nearby families.

I usually leave the school with food stains down my front and an entourage of kids escorting me home.  It is not a bad way to spend the day!   

all of my lunch lady love love love,


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