It’s been a while but I’m back with another TEFL Tip Tuesday. This post was inspired by a recent Q&A we held at the language centre I work in. It was for new teachers arriving in Myanmar and teaching English for the first time, we were asked to give them one piece of advice about the job and well, without even hesitating I said “Your first day will most likely be a complete disaster, but that’s half the fun!” and speaking from personal experience it’s the most honest advice I could give!
Whether you have previous teaching experience or not, chances are your first lesson as a ESL teacher is going to be a complete disaster. Yes, I said disaster and yes you’ll probably agree with me about ten minutes into your first day that absolutely nothing you planned is…well… going to plan!
Let’s rewind a little bit here. Back to before you’ve even walked into that classroom; because I imagine if you are reading this it is because you are looking for advice for your first day on the job and therefore, have not even stepped into a classroom unassisted yet. More likely than not you’ve just completed some kind of course in ESL/TEFL/TESOL (whatever acronym they slapped on your certificate) and although it may feel like a blur of irregular verbs and classroom management techniques, you’d be surprised how much of this TEFL stuff is now second nature to you. This stuff is in your brain now. For better or for worse you are a qualified, certified English teacher. All that’s left to do is get that first, actual, real life lesson out of the way.
Let me be the first to tell you, that though it will probably go down in history as one of the most chaotic and or awkward hours of your life it will also be the first story you tell anyone back home when they ask you about your TEFL experience. It’s one of those funny in hindsight kind of experiences and as with any first, it is completely unavoidable.
So, let’s get it over with!
Your first day; you’re bright eyed and bushy tailed, eager to get into that classroom and show those tiny humans (or possibly fully grown adults depending on how you get placed) your plethora of knowledge of the English language. Only one problem though… this classroom does not have a computer, nor does it have a HDMI cable so that carefully put together introduction slide show you prepared is gone, out the window, useless!! OK, ok just stay calm and ignore the fact they’re all staring at you expecting greatness, like you’re Captain America and the fate of the universe rests solely in your trembling, sweaty hands. Improvise, the limit does not exist when it comes to the possibilities of a board and some chalk. Any lesson can be converted from powerpoint presentation to chalkboard masterpiece with enough energy and imagination.
Before you know it the hour’s up and it’s onto lesson two and then just like that you’ve somehow stumbled your way through an entire day of teaching (your first day of teaching!!!) with only a few sticky fingers and a scattering of biscuit crumbs in your hair. Did 90% of what you had planned end up on the cutting-room floor? Probably. Did you have to use brain muscles you didn’t even know existed when one particularly mischievous teenager pointed to THAT word in the dictionary and asked you to explain it, even though he knows perfectly well what it means!? Well, yes but it’s nothing a trained professional like you can’t handle. And, did any student for one second suspect that you were kind of winging it for half, if not all, of the lesson? Nope! They had no idea. Believe me when I say they are much more interested in having a good time and learning something new than they are in whether or not your lesson plan has been followed to the exact second. As long as you open with something fun, use a bit of magician’s deception (read: big hand movements and distraction tactics) when things go slightly pear shaped, improvise your way around faulty technology or just plain non-existent technology and end your lesson on a memorable note then you did a pretty good job from where I’m standing. It may feel like a disaster in the moment but really the only person thinking that is you and when it’s all over that first lesson will be a cherished memory and one hell of a story.
Your first day of teaching will probably be a disaster, that’s ok! Trust me, if it went 100% perfectly then you’d have a hard time keeping up with yourself for the rest of the semester. Some people will definitely take to the role more naturally than others, it’s just the luck of the draw, but no one in the history of the world has had a perfect first day on the job. I really do believe that the more disasters you encounter early on, the better teacher you become. It’s not just your students that should be learning in the classroom, your teaching technique and style will have to evolve and adapt with each new challenge that is thrown your way. No two days are ever the same and in my opinion it’s the best part of the job! Throw predictability out of the window, you’re a TEFL teacher now!
For more TEFL tips check out on of my previous posts:
Welcome back to TEFL Tip Tuesday! This week I’ve been experimenting in my classroom and it has completely changed the way I think about teaching. These posts usually come from something I learned last semester and now use in class but if there is one thing I know about life, it’s that you never stop learning new things. So this TEFL tip is almost as new for me as it is for you!
I have this habit of getting stuck in a rut, scared to try new things in case it doesn’t work out and disrupts my safe little bubble that I have created for myself. Now I know what you’re thinking, I moved to a completely new country by myself into a job I had no practical experience in, doesn’t exactly sound like the kind of person who is scared to try new things does it?! Well that’s just it, with me I’m either in my safe little bubble or I’m making a drastic change to my life or the way I do things. Recently I’ve been a bit bored when teaching my classes; besides my one grade two class I’ve used the same format in my lessons for almost a year and, well, it was time for a change! It’s not that the classes themselves are boring, in fact depending on the topic I can get some very entertaining answers, but I wanted to find a way for my students to practice their English that wasn’t just a question and answer session with the person next to them. This is what led me to this week’s lesson plan.
All my classrooms have exactly the same layout; about fifty students at square desks, split into seven rows, squeezed into a medium sized square room. This was the box I needed to think outside of. I was taught the PPP structure of lesson planning in both of my TEFL courses and I really do believe in it but it can be difficult to get such a large class to participate in a communicative production activity that isn’t centred around them sitting at their desks. Add to that the fact that my school has strong focus of textbook led lessons, the thought of doing any kind of activity that involves rearranging the classroom has always slightly worried me. So, naturally, I decided to dive right into the deep end and do a lesson on directions that had the students practically turn their classroom upside down. I first split the class into two teams. Three people from each team created a maze and five people from each team were blindfolded and directed through the maze by the rest of the class using the new target language. The first team to navigate all five people through the maze were the winners.
Now, I’m not recommending that you start with something as drastic as turning your classroom into a maze but I am suggesting that you think about how you can use the classroom differently. How can you engage your students in a new and exciting way? I made the game a bit mysterious by sending the five students from each team out of the classroom before I explained what was happening, this made the students who remained in the classroom feel like they were in on a secret and therefore more engaged when I explained to them that they were going to create a maze out of desks and chairs. The students outside of the classroom found the mystery exciting and were eager to impress their classmates and win the race through the maze. This got the whole class working together (with a few exceptions that tried to sabotage their own teammates, but there will always be at least one troublemaker when you teach over one thousand kids) and made them excited to use the English they already knew as well as the new language they learned at the start of the lesson.
The most important thing that I learned this week is that although thinking outside the box can be scary and the results can be uncertain, it is so worth the risk! I’ve always found that using games and fun activities works best in my classrooms but now I know that I can take it to the next level and I encourage you to do the same!
For more TEFL tips why not check out one of these posts?
Teaching English: just when you think you’ve got it, you lose it and just when you think you’ve lost it, you crack it again.
My first day of teaching I realized I had lost my USB stick somewhere between getting on the plane in London and arriving at my placement school. As a result I gave my first three lessons by placing my laptop screen under a projector which was set up by a six-year-old! Good start… A quick trip to the computer shop at lunch time for a brand new USB stick and the problem was sorted, until the computer in the next class room didn’t work and this time we had no projector! Time for a bit of blackboard improvisation and a few games (there maybe about forty Chinese children who now think that Scotland’s flag is pink).
The first week I focused on introducing myself, explaining where Scotland is and showing the kids some Scottish wildlife. Being placed in a southern province meant that my pictures of the snow back home left each class gasping in amazement. I also decided to teach them about the Loch Ness Monster which meant I got to enjoy their take on the Scottish myth in the medium of crayon and felt tip pen (I was even lucky enough to have been gifted some to decorate my bedroom wall with). I have to say though some of the kids are extremely talented at drawing, especially considering they are all between the ages of six to eight years old!
In the first week of teaching I was introduced as “The New Beautiful Foreign Teacher” in at least two of my classes, which made me want to turn around and run out of the room. Especially when it is followed by 40 small children giving me a round of applause (if you are anywhere near as socially awkward as I am then you will understand why)!
One of my favourite parts of the job so far is how every day I am greeted with consistently enthusiastic “hello”s, hugs and high-fives. Some of the children have also figured out that my favourite animal is a Panda. This means that “Panda” is shouted almost instantly every time we play Pictionary, every circle is a Panda in their eyes! My name has proved a struggle for some of the kids and so to about half of my 800 students I am known as “LeeLee”, which I have decided is close enough…
We were lucky at our school, we got to pick what grade we wanted to teach. As a result, I am teaching 1st grade, which is nothing but endless fun, games and colouring. The good thing about 1st grade is, because they are so young, as long as you are animated and lively enough they won’t notice it you suddenly have to improvise for the last ten minutes of the class because you got through your lesson plan in record time! So far I have played “Who Stole My Pencil”, “Heads Down, Thumbs Up” and a new version of “I Spy” that I have recently invented; it involves a class room full of small children running at me with various objects of a whatever colour “I Spy” in order to high-five me first and win a point for their team (because you try explaining how to play “I Spy” to 40 children who speak almost no English).
So far, I am absolutely loving teaching English! The kids are incredible, the school is beautiful and I have already been for lunch with my Grade One Contact and Mandarin Teacher at her home here in Sanxiang, cooked by her lovely mother who looks after the children in their dorms at night. I’m not even a month in yet but I know this is going to be a hard place to leave when it comes to July! As they say, find a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.
It’s 12am, it’s pitch black, all you can hear is the sound of your own heart beat and someone being sick a few steps in front of you. It’s cold, it’s windy and all you have is a head torch to guide your way. It’s summit night on Kilimanjaro and it’s about to be the hardest night of your life!
I had such high hopes for this blog post, I was going to write notes from each day, record everything, do a video diary. By the time I got to camp on day one all I wanted to do was eat my popcorn, sip my tea, locate the nearest toilet, curl up in my sleeping bag and pass out! (Which is exactly what I did.)
Don’t get me wrong I didn’t for a second think that climbing the highest free standing mountain in the world was going to be easy, in fact a small part of me was convinced I couldn’t do it but I just told that part to go to hell and kept pushing on. The thing I found both this year and with Toubkal last year was that it didn’t seem to matter how physically fit you were if you weren’t determined to make it to the top. It was mind over matter with me, my body wanted to give up, it was falling asleep as I walked but my head wasn’t going to let that happen.
This is my Kilimanjaro experience (as well as I can remember) it day to day over the six days it took to complete the biggest challenge of my life!
Day one started at the Machame gate 1640m above sea level, it was a bit of a gloomy day so we didn’t get to see the whole mountain before the climb (probably for the best to be honest…) It was like walking right into the Jungle Book, hanging vines and stone steps all the way to camp. I was glad of the cloud cover if the sun had been out in full force the heat and humidity would have been unbearable. It was quite pleasant walk to Machame camp stopping for a lunch of chicken and chips under the trees about half way. A couple of times I felt I was going to tumble back down the path, my awful balance and walking poles being attached to my back pack were not helpful, but there was always someone behind me to give me that slight push I needed to correct myself.
At camp we met our porters who showed us to our tents (I’m just going to say now that my porter was the best human being I have ever met and I owe him so much because he pretty much did everything for me, including putting aftersun on my very burnt hands, and I love him). We were shown the mess tent and given a briefing for the next day and then it was straight to bed for me because it got unbelievably cold as soon as the sun went down!
Day two the sun was out and we raced the clouds up the mountain. I thought they were going to catch up with us but we stayed ahead of them until they couldn’t climb any higher. I found this day one of the hardest because we had to walk all the way to camp before lunch and it felt like a life time! I also dropped half of my NAKED Banana Crunch bar at our second snack stop and it was heart breaking. Staying at the back allowed for a lot more conversation though I felt like I got to know some of my Brunel team mates a lot better on day two.
Everyone told me about how beautiful the stars look from Kilimanjaro before I went but I can’t say I really saw them properly until summit night. They were there, I was just absolutely exhausted every night when we got to camp that I went to bed straight after dinner and looking up while walking in between 20 something tents is not advisable. A few people stayed up to watch the stars and came back to me with tales of shooting stars and the milky way but I just couldn’t keep myself awake to watch with them.
Day Three was acclimatisation day, we climbed high until lunch time and then back down to sleep low giving our bodies a chance to get used to a thinner atmosphere at higher altitudes. The climb to lunch was hard, breaks were very welcome, but I did not feel any symptoms of altitude sickness and made it to the Lava Tower in the first half of the team. After lunch I decided to stay back with the team members who were suffering from altitude sickness to make sure everyone was doing ok and to provide my encouragement. This was going very well until about ten minutes before camp when out of nowhere altitude sickness hit me and the entire contents of my stomach emptied onto the side of the trail. It completely knocked me for six. I felt dizzy, weak and wasn’t entirely convinced I wash finished throwing my guts up. My head guide, James, had to hold me up for the short distance to camp, my vision was blurry and I don’t really remember getting to the check in point. All I remember thinking was how impressed I was with the members of my team who had been dealing with this all day, I felt absolutely horrendous and could only imagine what it must be like to experience altitude sickness from the morning knowing how far away camp was! When I finally got to camp all I wanted to do was go to sleep but I knew that would just make me feel worse so I made myself go to the mess tent for popcorn and a hot cup of tea, followed by a handful of pain killers and a lot of water. Within the hour I felt absolutely fine again.
Day Four we tackled the Barranco wall. This steep ridge was an almost vertical scramble on which I ripped my nana’s walking trousers she had lent me, almost had my hand pulled off by the guides (they did not know about my dodgy wrist) who yanked us up that wall like their lives depended on it and saw the most spectacular view from above the clouds. This was actually the fun part of the day because they then made us walk down a valley, back up a valley, down another valley and finally back up a valley and into camp. What’s wrong with bridges Kilimanjaro?? I have never wanted to pee more in my life than the last twenty minutes of that day and I was so relieved (in more ways than one) to see a toilet block just out side of camp, there was no way I would have made it through check in without an accident occurring!
We had made it to base camp! There wasn’t exactly much time to celebrate though, we were to leave again at midnight for summit so it was dinner, toilet and bed! Having said that dinner was still an emotional meal; a couple of my team were very upset because they did not believe they could make it to the summit! I had full belief in every member of my team and to see them so upset made me completely break down into what was the first of many tears in the 24 hours that followed.
Sometimes in life you believe you have been super sneaky and no one could possibly know what you are up to! I tried to organise a surprise for my team along with the team leader from Brunel by contacting the teams loved ones asking for a letter of encouragement to read before summit night. I would like to think that most of the team were completely clueless but one member of RGU had asked me on several occasions if I was organising said surprise. Getting more and more frustrated at this members willingness to spoil the surprise for himself when he finally called me over after all the letters had been handed out I thought it was to gloat that he knew what was going on the whole time and I hadn’t surprised him one bit only to be handed a letter from my own loved ones and have to return to my seat feeling bad for all the times I told him to let it go! My letter is pictured below and while most of the team were sitting in their seats crying I couldn’t help but laugh at my mum’s favourite story of me and my stubborn ways!
So here we were, summit night, with two to three hours sleep my nervous chatter had already set in, I had one mouthful of “breakfast” and thought I was going to see it again almost immediately, the cold was unbelievable, the sky was glittering with star light and my water bladder had already frozen solid. For most of the climb I focused on Mars, it was usually directly in front of me and distracted me from the tiny head torch lights in the distance that reminded me of just how far we had still to climb. My day bag was taken off me by a guide almost straight way so I could focus solely on where to put my feet. This guide (who fell over once and scared the absolute living hell out of me, if he had fallen over then all I could think was that there was absolutely no hope for me and my clumsy self!) stayed with me the whole way to the summit and for the life of me I couldn’t pin down his name. I know I would never have reached the peak if it wasn’t for him, shear determination and a packet of Haribo Tangfastics that I had saved specifically for that night.
I almost gave up on several occasions, absolute exhaustion and fear threatened to overcome me at any moment. Every time we stopped for a break I thought I was going to fall asleep. When James said it was time to move again tears came from nowhere, but he grabbed one arm and my guide grabbed the other and hoisted me to my feet, up we went higher and higher until we started to see the sunrise over the clouds so far below us. That was the moment I knew I could do it, my phone had died from the cold so I had no idea what time it was but when I saw the sunrise below and Stella point above and beyond that Uhuru Peak I knew I was almost there, to give up now seemed as impossible as the whole climb had felt 6 hours before and I pushed myself that last hour and a half, to the Summit of the worlds highest free standing mountain.
I didn’t summit with anyone but my guide, I was about ten minutes behind the first group from my team to summit. When I got to the rest of the team I was swallowed whole by a group hug and burst into yet more tears at the sight of my team mates tears. Then there was the queueing for photographs (other groups had summited at the same time as us), the realisation that my camera had died from the cold, losing the friendly square that a kind man had given me for good luck on the bus to London, my phone getting a second wind and switching back on for photos at the summit and finally a member of my team collapsing from hypothermia in his legs*. This all happened in about 30 minutes and then it was back down the mountain.
Heading down was arguably harder than the way up. Firstly the ground was no longer frozen so it was like walking down the biggest sand dune you have ever seen in your life, secondly it was about eight in the morning and I had had about two hours sleep and thirdly there was no motivation left in my entire body. I’d made it to the top, I was done, I just wanted to curl up on a rock and go to sleep. This was not helped by the fact that every couple of meters I would fall on my back and lie there like an overturned beetle until the James caught up with me again and put me back on me feet. By about the fifth fall I told him I was staying put and he would have to drag me down because I refused to fall over again. So that is essentially what he did after I had one more cry, this time asking for my mum and pizza. He took my bag on his back, threatened to piggy back me down the mountain, took my hand and led me down the sand dune of death with complete ease despite his allergy to dust (wise career choice there…). When we reached solid ground I got a complete second wind and marched of into the distance only to be met with yet another impossible downward climb and had to sit for about 20 minutes for someone with a bit more technical skill to show me the correct path.
Finally, after what felt like a life time, I made it back to base camp. I was met by my porter who gave me the biggest hug and a cup of pineapple juice which lasted all of five seconds. He led me back to my tent, took my boots off for me, ran to fill my water bottle up, gave me a well deserved fist bump and zipped me into my tent. I should have had a nap here, I was exhausted so it should have been easy but I just couldn’t fall asleep! I spent the rest of the time we had at base camp packing as best I could with my sunburnt hands, eventually admitting defeat I had to get someone to help me stuff my sleeping bag back into it’s compartment.
We had lunch and then set off again down the mountain. I think we had been walking all of two minutes when I had to stop. I couldn’t breath properly, my vision was blurry and I was about 90% sure I was going to be sick. I was right. Up came my lunch, up came my pineapple juice, up came my Tangfastics and, you guessed it, out came the tears. Altitude sickness is not a fun thing, why it only happened to my on the decent I do not know but I am very glad that it didn’t happen before then because I don’t think I would have managed to summit if it had. Instead of the four hours it should have taken me to get down to the last camp of the trek it took more like six and it was pitch black by the time I arrived. My porter, being the absolute amazing human that he is, guided me to my tent, took my boots off for me and even offered to take my dinner to the tent. I refused this last offer as food was about the last thing I wanted. I struggled into my sleeping bag, closed my eyes and passed out till morning.
The last day was definitely the easiest but it also felt like a never ending trail of trees upon trees. I was impatient to get down but also very aware of how slippery the ground was and if I was to go to fast the likely hood of me ending up on my backside was very high. When we finally made it to the bottom there was an enormous sense of relief. I signed out, took of some layers, found my porter and that was it finally over. This is where my porter very kindly put aftersun on my hands for me and took my day pack off my back. He even carried it all the way onto the bus for me. The final day was a good day for chatting and reflecting on the day before. For myself it still sort of feels like a dream, I know it happened but there was such a big build up to that day and then for it all to be over already is just surreal. This was by far the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life, there is no way I would have made it with out the support of my team, my family, my friends and the amazing guides and porters.
I took on this challenge partly to prove to myself that it was possible (partly because a certain RAG chair who shall remain nameless convinced me it was a good idea) and also to raise awareness for an amazing charity who do work all around the world. If you would like to donate to Childreach International you can still do so on my fundraising page linked below.
*this team member is absolutely fine and still has full use of both of his legs. The guides acted amazingly and got him down to base camp quickly and safely and part from feeling a little bit silly for not listening to the head guide about wearing more layers no harm was done.
For the past year I have been fundraising in order to take part in Childreach International’s Summit to Sea Challenge. This involved me climbing Mount Toubkal and trekking along the Moroccan coast line in every weather condition imaginable. Instead of writing a day by day blog of my experience in Morocco, like I did with the Big Build, I have decided to share with you my top ten tips for tackling the highest mountain in North Africa.
10. My first tip is you will see bugs, they aren’t everywhere on the mountain but they will sneak up on you when you least expect it! I found an ant in the squat toilet, after I had been!! A reminder to all arachnophobes out there “the spiders in Morocco don’t bite”. I for one am terrified of spiders and this was proven to everyone in base camp on summit morning when three of them decided to invade my tent as we were preparing to leave. Much to the guides amusement I screamed bloody murder and ran from my tent hyperventilating, crying, the works. The guides will then try to show you the spiders after they have removed them and this will send you into another fit of screams and them into a fit of laughter!
9. Next have fun and don’t take it to seriously. If you make it to the summit then fantastic well done you did it! But if you don’t it is not the end of the world you made a pretty good crack at it. There were times when I thought there was no way I was getting to the top but what kept me going was the two people I was with at the end, Scott and Carol, knew how to have a laugh. The distraction combined with the team spirit we had is what got us all up that mountain. I was determined to make it but I also knew that there was no way I was going to make it to the top if I thought about how much I couldn’t breath, instead I focused on the very strange conversations we ended up having (must have been the altitude.)
8. Leading on from that; also be prepared to cry! It might be a lot it might be a little but it will probably happen at some point on the mountain. My time came at the most unexpected moment for me, we had to jump across a river. This sounds easy enough but when you have already been going for about 9 hours and you have fallen at least ten times during that time, jumping over a river from one rain soaked slippery boulder and landing on another rain soaked slippery boulder seems like an impossible task. I ended up holding up the entire group by about five minutes I was so determined I was going in the river not over it, but when these moments hit you have to just keep going because otherwise I would still be half way up that mountain, alone!
7. Pack for all weather. The first day of trekking in the mountains will be hot, the second day it will hailstone so hard you will be left with multiple bruises (ok this isn’t a guarantee but still be prepared, they hurt like hell) and the third day you will go from being to hot to to cold every five minutes as you climb to the summit. Buy a proper fleece for summit day, take your down jacket but a fleece is top of my list. For one thing it is more breathable than a down jacket so this makes the climb so much easier. I am not for a minute saying that you do not need a down jacket because trust me you do. It gets pretty cold at night, also if you have just been hailstoned on and your waterproof jacket is out of commission while it dries you will be so glad to have it. Also if you are on the summit for more than about twenty minutes you will start to feel the cold and it will come in very handy then.
6. Be prepared to do very unusual things. For example; you will get up at ridiculous o’clock on summit day because breakfast is at half two in the morning, oh and did we mention you are going to be climbing in the dark? Head torches on everyone! Also our guides preferred method of getting down the mountain was to sit on our backsides and slide down in the snow, if you have had no experience in snow sports then it can be very difficult to steer in this mode of transport and you are very likely to crash. I crashed five times in total, three of those were into other people! Another strange experience has to be going to the toilet on the side of a mountain, sometimes you are lucky and you will find a nice secluded area in which to go about your business, other times you will not be so lucky and random American climbers will try to make conversation with you.
5. Take snack bars. This is especially important if you have any allergies like myself because you will find that although the guides do a fantastic job of catering for us awkward coeliacs, the lack of fibre in your diet will leave you feeling tired and very hungry! Even if you don’t suffer from any allergies I would still take things to snack on during the day. Snacking isn’t really a thing in Morocco, they will occasionally pass around a bag of nuts and biscuit type things, but apart from this the only time you will eat will be set meal times. Times between meals can vary depending on how fast your group is moving and also how far the guides want you to trek for each day. There are stops along the way on the first part of the mountain where chocolate and fizzy juice can be purchased but these won’t keep you going for long and on summit day there will be no shops. I took a veriety of different snacks but my life saver was definitely “Trek Cocoa Oat Flapjack” they fill you up and taste amazing all at the same time and an added bonus, they are gluten free!
4. Talk to the guides. Ask them questions about the mountain, about the culture and about themselves. They have a lot to say and you can learn so much more about the country from someone who lives their than you ever can from a travel guide book. Also our guides were fantastic, they were up for a laugh and they valued the advantages of sticking together as a team.They know the mountain like nothing else and are also very capable of rescuing you if you slide half way down a vertical slope, after flying of a makeshift slide and are clinging on for dear life thinking “this is how I die!” (yes this did actually happen, sorry Nana.)
3. Take a camelback!! They might be expensive but they are completely worth it and 100 times better than any water bottle could ever be. Trust me I learnt this the hard way, I ended up borrowing a friend’s camelback on summit day because she had injured her foot and it saved my life! The water bottle I had taken with me may have looked practical and fancy in the store with it’s fold away feature and large capacity but it was the most impractical thing I have ever purchased. Nowhere in my bag could store it with out either the issue of easy access or just the fact that it fell out every two minutes! Save yourself so much hassle go out and buy a camelback, like right now!
2. Take walking poles!!! I can not stress this enough, if this is the first mountain you have ever climbed then take walking poles, if you have weak knees then take walking poles, if you are of medium fitness (as the itinerary suggests you should be but really you need to be super fit) then take walking poles! My walking poles are my best friends now, they helped me scramble up impossible looking paths and helped me keep my balance on paths so thin they were probably built for ants!
1. Finally, celebrate!! You climbed a mountain, you made it to the summit! You might not remember most of it because you were to busy focussing on putting one foot in front of the other and not falling and remembering to breath, but you did it. At the top you will see the other Atlas mountains which surround the highest peak of Mount Toubkal, you will be above the clouds. If you are scared of heights I advise you not to look down at this point, if you are scared of heights what on earth are you doing climbing a mountain in the first place you eejit?! When you get to the bottom, look back up, you were up there, you made it, celebrate!
Our last day in the village of Marigha. We felt so welcomed and accepted by the people in the village that it made us sad to think we had to leave. I know that we will all miss the children so much. In terms of building work we were back to sand chaining and shovelling. We wrote our names in chalk, along with the footballer names the children had given us, on the walls that we plastered the day before. Just like that it was lunch time.
There was so much going on after lunch; parachute games, frisbees, skipping, chase and ball games. Just before dinner we had a game of football with the older boys in the village. I think it is safe to say football is not really my game, although I did manage to tackle someone with only minor injuries. Then they put me in goals… bad idea, I prefer to run away from the ball rather than dive in front of it.
After dinner we went to the house next door where they had prepared some cous cous, some people tried their luck at eating it traditionally by making it into a ball and just eating it off your hand. Unfortunately I am allergic to cous cous but it was really old fun to watch everyone trying to through handfuls of it into there mouths.
We then went back up to our house where the villagers were waiting for us to show us some traditional drums and dancing. It was an amazing experience to be involved in the dancing and some sort of take on the conga in which I ended up piggybacking one of the younger boys because he couldn’t reach my shoulders!
So this concludes my Moroccan Adventure. It was one of the most amazing experiences and I feel so privileged to have been a part of it. In the speeches that were given that night the village council told us how grateful they were for what we had done for them but I want to just say that I am grateful to everyone involved in making this project happen, to the village for taking us in and trusting us to build such an important feature in their community and to friends I made along the way.
Plastering walls in Morocco essentially consists of throwing cement at walls. We spent the day being taught the technique that means the cement actually sticks to the wall; this does not mean that the cement actually stuck to the wall.
The children were waiting outside the house wanting to play after we finished building, so played music on our phones and had a dance off which was hilariously fun. I was attacked by tiny children wanting to play catch (they wanted me to chase them and then tickle them pretty much), by the time I got to tea I was absolutely exhausted from the heat.
After dinner we all sat in our “Scottish Room” and ate our junk food and chatted for ages; which made it really difficult to get to sleep when everybody left…
I think the villagers were becoming more used to us being there, we had a bigger audience at the build site and even a couple of the local girls came out to see what we were doing. One of the the girls wanted to give us a hand with the building, she must have been about thirteen or fourteen, so she joined our sand chain.
We played outside the house again after lunch and the girls joined in as well, up until then it had only been boys that had wanted to play, but now the girls were playing with the parachute and the football and duck duck goose. I discovered that duck duck goose can actually be a very dangerous game if you play it in the mountains, as I dramatically slid into my spot while being chased by a 7 year old around the circle. My legs (which were already covered in bruises from the buckets) were now cover in scratches from my ankle to my knee.
We met out side out house at four o’clock so that our guides could take us to visit the local salt mines and for a hike around the village. We walked down to the mines and they explained to us how the salt water is taken up from the wells in buckets and put into the reservoir, it is then let into large, shallow, concrete squares on the ground and left to dry out for three days in the sun. Then the salt is bagged and taken to the local markets for sale.
From the mines we walked up behind the village to where the castle was and started our mini hike from there. We walked all along back of the village and up onto the foothills of the mountains above. Some of the older children joined us, they seemed to have no problem with the steep slopes or the heat as they ran ahead of us. The views were incredible. We could see the whole village from the highest point on our walk.
We were so exhausted from our hike and the heat of the day. After tea we went to the local shop and bought a bottle of ice cold Pepsi each which was a perfect way to end our day…
The site had gained an audience, the children came to watch us build and some even wanted to help. They had also brought a tiny little kitten with them which was just adorable.
We were making more sand chains but because I was on a slight slope I kept managing to batter my legs with the full bucket of sand and ended up with a leg covered in bruises.
We took the parachute out after lunch again for the children to play with because they absolutely loved it. They had the kitten with them again,we soon discovered that they did not think of the kitten as a living thing, I think they just thought of it as a toy. I was really impressed with how quickly they picked up that we didn’t like how they were handled the kitten and started to treat it nicely.
When got beck to the building site at half four some one had written on the wall outside of the education centre: “Big Build 2014 Marigha, Childreach International, Big Build Morocco, Thank You” and then a drawing of a chef…
A lot of sand chaining happened today (pretty much we lined up and passed buckets of sand down the chain and then the empty buckets back up the chain). Some people were also continuing with cement mixing and wall building. I have to say that chains really are the most efficient way of moving heavy things about that I have ever seen. I think this method should be used a lot more than it is being used now. It definitely taught me about team work and how important communication with in it (I’ll be using that lines in future interview *winky face*).
Between Lunch and tea we got to meet some of the children from the village, we took the parachute out that Imogen had brought with her and taught them some games. We also taught them the “Hokey Kokey” and “If You’re Happy and You Know It”. They sang us the National Anthem of Morocco, a song about a cat who had his piece of fat stolen by a dog and then they started singing Shakira’s 2010 world cup song “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa) much to our surprise, off course we joined in and they seemed equally surprised. It was a great moment
We really wanted them to do some dancing but they were to shy because some of the older boys were watching, so we decided to do the Macarena and Abdul got them all to join in which was so much fun, even though we didn’t know the words at all! After a long discussion with the group one of the yonder boys ran off , when we asked why he had run away they told us he had gone to get a drum. The boys then started singing with a beat from the drum and also a squashed, empty Pringles can that was rhythmically being hit on a stone by one of the children. It was amazing to listen to and very hard not to dance to.
It was great to finally meet the children who were going to be using the education centre once it was complete. I think it definitely showed me that all the stress from fundraising and saving and organising transport down to London was worth every single minute of the time I had put into it…