PLATTSBURGH — Aziza Lemnaouar dispelled stereotypes of Arabic women the moment she walked into Beekmantown Central School.Her head wasn't hidden behind a hijab, and her clothes weren't loose fitting to hide the shape of her body.Aziza is educated, stylish and outspoken, a stark contrast to the image that pops into many Americans' minds when they think of Islamic women.But assumptions don't surprise the veteran teacher, who is visiting on a Fulbright Fellowship from Morocco, a country in North Africa that is somewhat bigger than California and has a population of more than 33 million.
"In the U.S., it seems to be all American channels, and all they broadcast is American news, but, in Morocco, the news is in many different languages, and we know so many different things about different parts of the world."Aziza has spent the past 17 years teaching English in the Moroccan public school system and applied for a Fulbright Fellowship to experience America firsthand and with hopes of correcting stereotypes about Islam and Morocco."I feel I have succeeded, to some extent."When asked since coming here if Moroccans hate Americans, Aziza explains that "Morocco is a peaceful nation that prides itself on diversity, and Islam is a religion based on tolerance."The constitutional monarchy, which in 1777 was the first nation to recognize the independence of the United States, hosts many ethnic groups. Foreigners live there peacefully, she said. While Arabic is the official language and most Moroccans are Sunni Muslims, the country has many different neighborhoods, including Jewish and Spanish.
But Aziza had her own stereotypes of America and its people."I thought in the United States people speak so many languages."In Morocco, French, English and classical Arabic are taught to students in the early grades, with more languages offered as they approach their teenage years.Public schools and universities are free in Morocco, though many people, particularly girls in rural areas, do not attend school. And earning a degree doesn't guarantee a job, as the overall unemployment rate is higher than 12 percent and more than 20 percent of Moroccans live under the poverty line."Here, when you study, it is easier to meet your objectives," Aziza said. "The more you study, the better job you get."American people are very optimistic about the future."
Aziza was shocked by the size of libraries in American schools and that classrooms have computers with Internet access."There are so many things Morocco does not have."And with class sizes of between 30 to 40 students, teaching is difficult in Morocco."It all comes back to poverty," Aziza said.Still, she enjoys teaching in Morocco and positively impacting students' lives.To this day, Aziza fondly remembers an American teacher she had in high school who was a friend and mother to her.
Aziza doesn't notice many differences between children in America and Morocco; both play sports and enjoy spending time with friends. But Moroccan children do not disobey their parents, and girls cannot spend nights out.Children in Morocco are considered good luck, representing joy and happiness. If you are married, Aziza said, you have children, and they remain with their families until their own weddings.Women work full time in Morocco, though when they come home they are responsible for the cooking, cleaning and child-rearing."Most husbands don't really assist with domestic chores."Moroccans don't worry as much about being on time, she said."American people are very time-oriented. They value time and are so practical. Everything is prepared and arranged, and there is no last minute, no place for chance."