Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Casablanca American School, Morocco

The librarian who brought me to the United Nations International School in Hanoi, Vietnam in 2016, Julie Conroy, kindly referred me to the new librarian of this school, Heidi Hendry. (Heidi's family had been at UNIS when I was there, and I met her husband and kids, but apparently not her.)


The majority of the student population is Moroccan. They are an exuberant bunch. Lots of hugs from elementary kids—and some local staff. Even the warm-hearted man who drove me from the airport to the hotel, the hotel to the train station, etc., but who spoke little English, embraced me at one point. I think Moroccans pride themselves on being welcoming, though I feel the people of most countries I've visited were similar (if not as huggy).



About a month before I arrived in Morocco, the king decided to do away with Daylight Savings Time—and announced it only a day or so before it was set to start. When I was picked up each morning at 7:15 am, it was dark. In fact, when I started my first session of each day at 8 am, it was still dark.

One student who was especially taken by my presentations was a middle schooler whose family had moved to Morocco from China a year earlier; he took the name Mike. He came with no English. Not only did Mike now speak English fairly well, he was not remotely shy. During his writing workshop, he took notes in both English and Chinese, asked questions, and came up to me after to ask for a signature; he also said he wanted to have a conversation with me the next day. 

The school screened Batman & Bill on Wednesday afternoon for grades 4-8 and their families. Mike came with his parents, who spoke little English. His mom had made me a modest yet lovely banner. I'm told it says "Batman (Bianfu Xia) and Bill (Bi er)" in modern Chinese script (simplified characters). The vertical column on the left is the artist's name and the date, followed by her chop in red.



The library collection includes a few rare first editions.


Heidi has a team of student volunteers, each of whom curate a shelf each week and can win an award for it.


Though many schools would like to post a sign like this (aimed at the parents), this is the only one I've seen that has followed through.


Another sign you typically don't see in schools without a significant Muslim population:


(I saw a similar sign in Malaysia.)

More than 20 years ago, the school would host an authors' festival and bring in four at a time. At one point, they hosted Norman Bridwell, creator of Clifford the Big Red Dog. He left sketches behind.



The lower school had a "design your classroom door" contest and despite my lack of training in that regard, I was honored to be named one of the judges. Two groups won first place (one for each floor of the lower school) and both reacted so cutely. Upon hearing her class won, one kindergartner shouted "I'm telling my mom!" 

 Not one of the winners, but cool.


Another piece of art I was gifted (from a gifted fourth grader):


Heidi and her supremely kind assistant, Bouchra:


Heidi and her fun family:


Our daughters are the same age and already connected on Instagram. 

Thank you, Heidi, for being so thorough, so accommodating, so protective. As is said in the movie named for your current city, this looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

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