For my third trip to Morocco I was honored to have a part in the first AMI Primary course to be given in this part of the world. This is something that I have dreamed about for years, to be part of Montessori teacher training for children from age 2.5 to 6 where I could share what I learned in my very first course at The Maria Montessori Institute (MMI: See more here Montessori ) in London, England almost 50 years ago. I wanted to do this in a place where I can be 100% behind the efforts of the people who are bringing AMI Montessori to their country. Morocco is this place. A dream come true.
On the first day the students, the director of Training Lhamo Pemba, and I were hosted at the home of the parents of Aicha Sajid for a delicious traditional French-Moroccan breakfast and then we headed south for 4 days to experience some of this ancient civilization before we settled down to work. This trip was a generous gift of our hosts and none of us will forget it—the wild argon trees with goats climbing to reach the leaves, the walls of ancient cities, the art, the food, the beauty, and the music. It was a unique and valuable beginning of a course as we were able to spend precious time getting to know each other and hearing the variety of stories about what brought each of us together in this place and time, sharing the belief that it is through gentle support of the potential of the very youngest that there is a chance to reveal the very best in humans, for the sake of these individuals and with hope for the future of the world.
The students came from several countries, Australia, China, Mongolia, Congo, Martinique, Morocco, and the United States, all to receive this Montessori teacher training.
Because it is almost time for Ramadan, the 40-day fast that is one of the 5 pillars of Islam, my hosts parents invited me to stay in a room in their beautiful garden so I could join the family each night for Iftar or the breaking of the fast. Here is a picture of the garden and my room.
During the entire month of Ramadan, Muslims fast every day from dawn to sunset. It is meant to be a time of spiritual discipline — of deep contemplation of one’s relationship with God. I joined in the fast; but for me not eating anything between sunrise and sunset was just a small reminder of how it must feel for so many people in the world today who actually experience hunger every day of their lives. And I was one of the fortunate, having a delicious meal to look forward to each day after sunset. The experience was confusing, thought-provoking, and valuable. I am still processing it.
For more about Ramadan click here: Ramadan
Each night some of the members of the extended family and I gathered at around 7:30 PM (the time changing a few minutes each night) to await the evening call to prayer heard from several directions of the city, only then beginning to eat.
The meal began the same every night. One soft-boiled egg sprinkled with salt and cumin, dates and nuts (both delicious in Morocco), and special honey and sesame seed sweets served only at this time of the year. A soup accompanied these, usually the traditional “Harira” made of lentils and chickpeas, spices, and vegetables and meat. The family very graciously always provided vegetarian versions of the soup and everything else just for me.
The second course is “salad” which is a broad term to cover a variety of delicious vegetable dishes, little meat or vegetable pastries, and sometimes fish.
The third course is the famous “tagine” which refers to both the mean/vegetable dish and the special pot it is slowly cooked in over hot coals. Click: Tagine
Sometimes the meal was served in the home of a relative so because of Ramadan, and being invited to tea, I was able to see some of the most beautiful architecture I have ever seen in my life. Here you can see the mural on the wall of a woman who loves India, and the hand-painted ceiling of the grand dame of the family.
I was little worried about leaving my considerable work at home to be in Morocco for almost three months so I took along a very tiny watercolor set and two small watercolor blocks. Stealing moments from the 24/7 work on the course I finally was able to do a “study” of a piece of art a friend had shared with me that I had stored on my computer. She had photographed the original, a little known work created by the Japanese artist Tsuguhara Foujita, in Paris. It has been a long time since I worked in watercolor and ink and it was challenging and enjoyable.
Neyla is the daughter of my friend Aicha Sajid, who pulled all of this together, and I have gotten to know her and her brother Nacer very well since we traveled together on my first trip to Morocco. They and their friends often visited me after school to play music, read, sometimes work on math, or just talk about life. One day I asked Neyla to recite some of the prayers of the Koran she was learning. Here is a video of just a few of her words.
I think you can see why the experience inspired me to do a watercolor and ink drawing of her. I also painted one of her brother Nacer and gave them both to their grandparents as a thank you gift for hosting me. I think they are both on my facebook page “The Art of Susan Mayclin Stephenson”
One of the subjects I lectured on during the course was physics. This has been a great love of mine, perhaps because of my physicist father who was interested in how everything works and, even many years ago, in non-coal based energy, including solar! I was thrilled to find that physics was part of the curriculum on my first Montessori training course in London in 1970. Because I loved this subject, so have all of my students over the years. And I hope also the students in the course in Morocco will learn to love it. It seems so in the picture above.
In this picture you see the first slide of a PowerPoint I prepared showing how the experience of physics begins early in life. The students in the picture come from a variety of backgrounds—a “Montessori Mama” separating sand and iron filings; Aicha (who studied computer science at Brown University the same years as our son Michael) and Leila, an artist, are completing the electric circuit; the student experimenting with a candle with limited air was a child advocate lawyer who realized that one must begin earlier in life to truly help children.
They all seem to be enjoying physics.
Botany was another subjects of my lectures and the exploration of leaf shapes and attachments to a stem was rich indeed as I was able to deliver that lecture, followed by a long period of research by the students, in the lovely Sajid garden. The second picture here shows the excitement of two of the students when a few days later I discovered and took into class an example of “whorled” leaf attachment to the stem.
Of course I was thrilled to be able to deliver the lecture on art, and to provide what was supposed to be a short art workshop but turned out to be a whole day. When lunch was announced none of the students even looked up from their work. And again at the end of the day no one was especially eager to stop creating and discovering. I had wanted them to see what it feels like to be deeply engrossed and concentrating on a project requiring the mind and the hands working together, moving in new ways with paper and scissors and glue and colored pencils and paint, combining them in an open-ended variety. The only requirement was that they use all of the materials (drawing, painting, print-making, cutting, gluing) and that they draw or paint at least one bird, and at least 5 flags.
This last requirement was to show the students that they can indeed draw and paint. Part of their “general knowledge” work back at home between the 2018 and 2019 blocks of the course will be filling in their knowledge gaps that we all have in preparation for working with children.
We all worked, under the direction of Lhamo, to create a beautiful primary class environment for the students to be able to carry out the many hours of practice on the materials in preparation for oral and written exams next year. An important part of a Montessori environment is art on the walls hung at the level of the child’s eyes. We had 10 frames and I was more than happy to fill some of them of images of my own art.
Twice we were treated by Aicha and her co-worked Leila Ouarrak Sfez, to a meal at an elegant French restaurant, “Le Relais de Paris”. When I ordered “profiteroles” the first time I was expecting one small one on a plate as the course of all meals are much smaller outside the USA. Imagine the shock when I was served a pile of profiteroles served with ice cream and chocolate sauce. I was not the only one. And, yes, we had the same desert the second time, but ordered less food for the meal to save room.
As I think back on this experience I realize how fortunate I have been to be able to work with Lhamo, and to get to know a very special group of talented, hardworking and passionate women who are taking the Montessori course, the two women who are translating the course into French and Chinese, and the teachers and staff at Ecole Montessori Casablanca who helped us so much.
But I also now have other very dear friends in this part of the world, all from the home where I lived for two months.
Every year during Ramadan the king of Morocco invites scholars of Islam from around the world to deliver inspiring lectures on Islam. My host, Mohamed Sajid, as minister of culture for Morocco, is invited to attend. At each of these ten lectures the guests are presented with a beautiful piece of Arabic script in gold lettering to memorialize each of the talks. Mohamed kindly presented me with several of these documents. An American-Moroccan scholar from the University of Chicago delivered the lecture commemorated here.
I often shared meals with Mohamed’s wife, my dear friend Hanane, a Medical doctor who works as a volunteer for whomever needs her, and her son the artist Hamza. They taught me much about their country and their lives. And I now know more about soccer and the World Cup than I ever though possible.
Never will I forget this family and all of the others who contributed to my wonderful stay in Casablanca, Omar, Latifa, and especially Medeni and Hakima who never gave up trying to teach me Arabic and Berber!
When I realized that the work load for the course (as I was writing and delivering lectures along with all of the regular course assistant work) left me no time for my regular work as a Montessori consultant, writer, and a multitude of other tasks I work on when at home, so I was forced to finish my lectures in a little over two months and return to California.
But this experience convinced me of the value of the Montessori primary culture work that were the basis of my lectures—physics, botany, zoology, geography, history, music, and art. Over the last 50 years I have shared this information in many countries, speaking and writing. And often I have been asked to write a book on the subject. So now it is official.
Hopefully in the next year there will be a book with the picture above on the cover. This painting of my youngest grandchild examining a flower with a magnifying glass is not yet finished, but I think it captures the essence of the projected book. Stay tuned . . .
Finally some of my prints and paintings are now available to purchase via the Internet. I updated this page before leaving for Morocco but only recently posted it. You can see more at this link: Susan’s art
Just as I was gathering photos (I wish I could have posted 100!) for this blog post, news arrived that the translation of The Joyful Child: Montessori, Global Wisdom for Birth to Three will soon be available in the Romanian language so I might be back in that hemisphere of the planet earth sooner than I thought for a book signing.