Monday, 30 June 2014

Working at a Spanish school

The main thing I noticed about the Spanish education system from my school is that, like many other aspects of Spain, it seems a lot more relaxed than the UK. For example, if the teacher was a few minutes late it wasn't a big problem and the teachers did't always seem to mind spontaneous lessons. This can be a good thing because then the lesson isn't so restricted and students can express themselves in different ways. On the other hand, if lessons often have the same or no structure it can be boring for the students.

Exams were also more relaxed. I remember when I was at school we had to go to the sports hall to sit our exams. For me that was all very efficient, but perhaps too efficient, because it did waste of lot of time. In the classes I was in, the students stayed in the classroom to sit their exams. All students had individual desks, so it was easy to organise the classroom so it was suitable to sit an exam. This does save a lot of time and resources. However, from what I understood in Spanish, some of the students in some classes copied from the text book or each other during exams. This didn't really surprise me, because they had their bags under their desks, their coats on the back of their chairs and with the exception of me and the teacher (who sometimes sat at the desk marking), no invigilator.

The school day in Spain is shorter than the UK, starting around 9am and finishing around 2:30pm. The break in my school was 30 minutes between 11:20 and 11:50, during which time the students would probably have a small snack and drink, then have lunch at home after school. These shorter days are understandable because in the warmer months the heat starts to get uncomfortable at around 1pm, which isn't particularly pleasant when you're stuck in a stuffy classroom.

Some classes are also quite big. I think the biggest one in which I taught was 36 people. Sometimes it was so crowded that I couldn't reach the black board. I have no idea how one teacher manages to deal with them alone. On the other hand, some of the smaller classes were sometimes as small as 15 students. To me it would make sense to move some students from the larger classes into the smaller ones, but I don't know all the facts and I'm sure there's a good reason for the way in which the classes are organised.

Foreign languages are much more integrated into the students' learning in Spain. The school was multilingual and many lessons were focused on English. I also taught English in drama classes and when I looked into some other classes I could see that many different lessons were taught in English. I think it’s fantastic that students have the opportunity to put their language skills to practice; I wish I could have been able to do that. The level of English that some of the older students could speak really was outstanding and put my Spanish speaking ability to shame. In the UK I suppose we are lucky, because English is considered one of the main international languages so learning foreign languages is not as vital for us. However, I don't think that is an excuse not to make an effort to learn another language. I've noticed that the UK is often more intolerant than other countries when it comes to foreign languages and cultures and especially immigration. 

Once somebody has experienced another culture through travelling I think they become much more tolerant. By this I mean properly travelling, not just sitting on a beach somewhere exotic or visiting Disney World. I mean meeting local people, trying local food, experiencing local customs and events and making a bit of an effort to learn the language. Until we have done so, I do not feel that we have the right to judge immigrants, asylum seekers or people who can't speak English or have a foreign accent. Have you any idea how difficult it is to perfect the accent of another language? It would probably take a lifetime.

After speaking to some teachers, I heard stories of misbehaviour, which is probably inevitable at most secondary schools. Some students who had very high levels of bad behaviour were suspended, during which they could either stay at home or have support sessions from different teachers at the school. I think the latter is a good way of dealing with bad behaviour, because it gives the student the chance to reform. When I was at school I can't remember students being given such opportunities to reform, they were only punished through detention, suspension at home or permanent expulsion from the school. Another interesting notion I was informed about was that sometimes when there is one student with particularly bad behaviour, they can be swapped with another school. However, one teacher told me that this often results in the school receiving a student with even worse behaviour than the previous one!

Sometimes the relaxed atmosphere at school seemed to lead to disorganisation. I hadn't had much contact with the school before I arrived, which wasn't particularly reassuring. They also couldn't seem to decide what to do with me. I was rarely asked to work the full 12 hours per week that I was supposed to work, which seemed a bit of a waste, especially as there was another English Language Assistant in my school. I spent my first week in English classes where I introduced myself and the students asked me questions. After that I was transferred to the Social Science classes for the next 3 months, which meant that I didn't follow up with the classes from the first week. The Social Science lessons were taught in Spanish, but the students had text books in English. Sometimes communication between the teacher and I was difficult, because she couldn't speak any English and she had a really strong accent from Andalusia (a region from southern Spain), which I struggled to understand. I wasn't properly introduced to the new Social Science classes and I think this was confusing for both me and the students. Because of this, as well as school trips, public holidays and cancelled classes, I didn't have the opportunity to get to know students as much as I had hoped. As an English Language Assistant, I was expecting to be in English lessons, but found myself trying and failing to teach Geography, History and Drama, all of which I know very little about, at least in the context which I was teaching them.

I really struggled in these classes because I don't have any Geography or Drama qualifications.  During most Geography lessons the teacher either asked me to read one paragraph and explain the vocabulary to the students or didn't ask me to do anything at all. At first this was really embarrassing because I didn't know most of the geographical vocabulary in English or Spanish and the students laughed at me when I couldn't define a word. After that I decided to teach myself from the Geography book in my free time in order to teach the students, which seemed a bit pointless, especially if the teacher didn't ask me to do anything during a lesson. I later found out that the Geography teacher who I was working with was temporary, which is probably why she didn't seem to know what to do with me in her classes. After a new Social Science teacher who taught in English and Spanish was hired, my timetable was then changed back to English classes for the last 5 months, at which point I couldn't remember which class was which and if I had met them before. This whole ordeal seemed like an awful waste of my time, the Spanish government's money and the school's resources. I often wondered whether it was really worth me flying from the other side of Europe, when I didn't seem to contribute much to the teaching.

Some of the many timetables that I had didn't include the class or room numbers and I was left wondering around the school trying to find the class, or I went to ask at reception. I tried to ask what to prepare for each class in advance, otherwise I was sometimes asked to prepare something vague the night before or sometimes even on the spot. I spent days trying to think up lessons for the little information given to me and occasional sleepless nights worrying about them. When I was asked to plan a class, sometimes teachers reorganised the class and didn't use my plan, or if I wasn't asked to prepare something, the teachers sometimes asked for my plan was at the beginning of the class.

I often felt like I was more of an annoyance than an assistant. Sometimes I did a few activities in a class with the support of the teacher, which was the kind of thing I was expecting to do. Other teachers either asked me manage the whole class, which was stressful and overwhelming at times or didn't ask me do much at all, which was pointless and boring. Sometimes I felt like I should work with initiative, but other times I felt like this might seem like I'm trying to take over the class. The fact that many teachers had requested for me to attend a specific class and didn't ask me to do anything in the lesson or acted like I was an inconvenience is beyond my comprehension. Teachers didn't always let me know their plans for the lesson in advance, which was incredibly annoying when I got to an early morning class, only to discover that there was an exam/ the teacher was absent/ I wasn't needed for the class. I understand the teachers were busy, but just because I had a lot of free time didn't mean I had no life of my own. Although a difference in culture may have been the reason behind many of the difficulties I faced, there is no excuse for a lack of respect. I often travelled between Thursday and Sunday (my days off) and coming to school knowing I could have left/returned a day earlier/later was so frustrating. Most of Melilla's residents seem to have or at least use a car and I don't think people even considered that it took me an hour to walk to the school and back, which was especially difficult with my foot injury. I don't think it should have been my responsibility to work out if I was supposed to be at school or not every single day. Despite this, there was one teacher who went out of her
 way to be friendly and helpful, showed me around the city, invited me to a meal at my house and introduced me to her family. I will always be grateful for this and I hope one day I will be able to return the favour. She made ​​the experience bearable, otherwise I think I would have just given up.

I felt really shy in the beginning and because of all the awkward situations I never really overcame this or felt fully comfortable in the school. I usually arrived to lessons on time and waited outside the classrooms because I didn't know what to do in the class alone, I didn't want to seem like I was trying to take over the class and I didn't want to deal with any problems in the class whilst alone. I felt like an idiot and some teachers didn't seem to take me seriously. Most teachers told the students that I couldn't speak any Spanish. While this was good for the students' learning, the students didn't take me seriously either and teaching on my own became impossible.  They often spoke about me in Spanish and I found it amusing when they were surprised and embarrassed after they eventually realised I could understand. Once I sat behind a student on a flight, during which they were talking about me in a rude way in Spanish. Finally, some students heard me speaking Spanish with a teacher, and then started a rumour around the school and after that teaching became a bit easier. However, if students weren't paying attention to me, I would try talking to them in Spanish, and they would often laugh at my accent (even though lots of them have really awful English accents and I didn't laugh). It just felt like I couldn't do anything right.

It wasn't my responsibility to teach a whole class, discipline the class or mark essays and exams, as stated in the paperwork I was given by the British Council, but the school didn't seem to regard that. Some problems arose during the times when I was left teaching classes alone and this is probably why the rules are put in place. Several months before the end of my assistantship I was asked to do some marking. I said I don't think I'm really supposed to be doing that, but I was told it was acceptable because there was a marking key, which is fair enough. I was given marking to do in my free hours, which in all fairness were pretty awkward and boring anyway, but I still felt like I was being taken advantage of. More teachers then saw that I was doing marking, so I was given more marking and even essays and exams, which obviously didn't have a key. Despite this I tried to make the most of the opportunity. After my second week in Melilla, I had already planned and taught a class alone. I was very nervous, but many students seemed to enjoy my classes and participated well. Other classes were a complete nightmare, would not be quiet and laughed and shouted at me in the streets. One time a class was being rude to me and the teacher actually laughed about it!

However, I enjoyed preparing lessons and tried to make them fun. I liked to make my own worksheets and a teacher said that she had been training teachers for 6 years and had never seen anyone do this. Before Christmas I made mince pies for all my classes and English teachers and brought magazines, newspapers and food from England. Unfortunately I didn't use everything that I had brought with me because I was never asked to prepare a lesson of my choice and my resources didn't always fit the lesson I was asked to prepare. I think if the teachers had known what I had brought from England and knew about my degree I could have offered some really interesting subject specific lessons.

Towards the end the teachers seemed to grow tired of my presence: most of my classes were cancelled and my hours gradually decreased to almost nothing. It got to the point where I was just counting down the days until it was all over. I can't comprehend why some teachers who have studied English language and culture didn't seem to want to take an interest in a native such as myself. I text some of them and asked to meet up out of school, so it's not like I didn't try, but most of them ignored my messages. Sometimes they walked past me on the street and completely blanked me. Occasionally I was invited to social events, but I could see that it was half-hearted and the invitation was rarely followed up, which seems common in Spanish culture. I understand that it must be frustrating to have someone inexperienced in the school and to receive new assistants each year. However, if I had been in an atmosphere where I would have felt able to be myself, I think I could have gotten on really well with some teachers and been a good teacher myself. I feel that this would have been possible if I had gotten to know the students and teachers on a personal level early on, but this was prevented by my change of timetables. The case was usually the same for my private English lessons, so in the end I gave up trying to find more. It was bad enough being messed about at work, let alone in my free time and I felt that it wasn't always worth the extra money. People didn't always consider the time I spent walking to and from classes and if I included this time in my wages, I ended up being paid less than when I was working in the fast food industry, which was really insulting. I know that I definitely wasn't the only assistant who had these negative experiences and Melilla wasn't the only region that they were experienced in. However, I felt very envious of my friends who were also English Language Assistants elsewhere in Spain, who had been welcomed and appreciated from the very beginning until the end. I resent the negative experience that I had in my school, especially because it has put me off learning Spanish, living in Spain and becoming a teacher, but I won't write off the idea completely just because of one negative experience.

I also think that people assumed that I can't speak much Spanish. The reality is that I could barely understand English in corridors full of shouting children, let alone Spanish. I can actually speak Spanish quite well as soon as I feel comfortable somewhere. Sometimes I even find it difficult to make conversation in English in an uncomfortable situation. I just didn't feel comfortable in the school and I felt like could barely speak a word of Spanish, even though the sentences I wanted to say were organised perfectly in my head. In the English Language Assistant induction session in Madrid, I overheard some assistants claiming that other assistants weren't qualified enough. My interpretation of that was that some people thought that others' levels of Spanish weren't high enough and I want to point out that speaking Spanish isn't actually part of the job description. During the induction sessions some previous assistants said they had worked without any knowledge of the language of the country they went to (although I wouldn't recommend that).

During my last weeks Maria was visiting and I thought it would be interesting for some students to listen to her talk about her Erasmus year in Chester and learning English as a second language. I was really worried that the school wouldn't be welcoming, but to my surprise they were. When she was in school with me it was the best week I had there and the students were really attentive. In some of my last classes the teacher allowed the students to ask me questions before I left. I was asked questions like "How old are you?" and "Do you have brothers and sisters?” To me it seemed crazy that they were asking these kind of questions in my final class. It would have made much more sense for them to have had the opportunity to ask them at the beginning. Anyway, in the end two classes signed a big card with goodbye messages for me and one student gave me a handmade bracelet, which were really sweet. I don't want this post to give the impression that my experience was completely awful, because I did have a few good times at the school, such as sharing a Christmas cracker, mince pies and Christmas puddings with my classes and my Halloween lessons. My experienced seemed to be at its best in November and December and appeared to go downhill the following year. I think it could have been a lot different if I had integrated into the school community, which would have required a little more effort and communication from both the teachers and myself.

Sometimes I enjoyed teaching and I felt like I'd like to be a teacher and other times I've felt annoyed and wonder what the point of me even being there was. In my second year at university I started getting grey hairs (!), which I think are due to dyeing and straightening my hair so many times and possibly stress. This year I have so many that I can't even pull them all out anymore! I think my hardships were partially due to the lack of hospitality of the school. However, I'm sure it's equally frustrating for them to have someone new with little experience. I was really shy and awkward and I don't doubt that this sometimes came across as rude to them, even though that wasn't my intention. I'm not sure if this year has encouraged or discouraged me to consider a career as a teacher. I definitely don't like being an assistant, but perhaps I would enjoy being an actual teacher. Even though it had its ups and downs, I think the experience was definitely character building and I've learnt a lot. In all of the many jobs I've had I've always been the underdog, which unfortunately has given others the ability to disrespect me and take advantage of me. I hope that one day I can have a higher position and if I do, I hope the way in which I treat my employees will not depend on their position, age or nationality.

I felt that Erasmus and the British Council were very effective and supportive. However, I feel that the disorganisation of the Spanish Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport and my host organisation and their lack of communication with the intermediary organisations has caused me many problems. I think the Spanish Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport should give clearer instructions to the host organisations on how to deal with English Language Assistants. My experience was dependent on the attitude of the host organisation and unfortunately it was not as good as I had expected. There should be greater communication between the host, home and intermediary organisations to assess my welfare. I felt unhappy in my host organisation and I can't think of many occasions when I was even asked how I was getting on by anybody, especially because I didn't have a mentor teacher. These days I don't listen to music that often, but I almost always listened to music whilst travelling to and from the school just to clear my head from imagining what the day would bring and reflecting on what had happened. Even now, I struggle to reflect on my year abroad positively due to my experience at the school. Sometimes I regret choosing to work at the school, but earning money as well as having my university bursary, Erasmus grant, student loan and the money I saved up from working two jobs last summer have enabled me to do all the travelling that I have shared on this blog and plan to do over the summer .Hopefully the Social Science department now has their English teaching organised and the school's next English Language Assistant won't be as messed about as I was. In all fairness, I probably should have stood up for myself more than I did. However, it was worth putting up with it for all that time because I got a really good grade thanks to my employer evaluation. I guess that just demonstrates the school's real lack of awareness of my struggles and that their expectations were probably for me to just get my head down and get on with things without complaining so that they can maintain the grant that I imagine they receive for taking on English Language Assistants. I am writing this on my blog now because I think the organisations involved should know about my experience and endeavour to make improvements. 

Thursday, 26 June 2014

English as a foreign language (EFL) lesson resources

These are for all you assistants who are sat twiddling your thumbs because you've been asked to prepare a whole lesson on a really obscure topic you know nothing about, or are wondering why you've travelled from the other side of Europe to teach students who don't pay attention to what you spent ages preparing. Below are some lesson plans, worksheets and presentations that I made. Feel free to download and use them at your leisure for teaching purposes. The timing, organisation and relevance of the resources are explained in the lesson plans.

English culture lesson plan
English culture in the media sheet

English culture in the media

English literature lesson plan

English literature sheet
English literature crossword
English literature crossword answers

English literature class game

Halloween lesson plan
Halloween sheet
Halloween crossword
Halloween crossword answers
Halloween bingo

Christmas lesson plan

Christmas quiz
Christmas quiz answers
Christingle sheet

New Year lesson plan

New Year sheet

Sports lesson plan

Inventions lesson plan

Mobile phones quiz

Mobile phones quiz answers

Dilemmas lesson plan

Dilemma story
What kind of person are you quiz

Sales shopping lesson plan
Sales shopping
Sales shopping answers

Accents answers

Recycling class game

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas questions
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas answers

English culture presentation
English culture presentation notes
English culture presentation activities
English culture presentation activities answers

At the shop dialogue
At the train station dialogue

How to create a successful business presentation
This was for one of those classes that I was asked to prepare but never asked to conduct so it hasn't been tried and tested.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Visiting Casablanca, Rabat, Marrakech and the Sahara desert

Over the past month I have been travelling around Morocco. My friend Fatima arrived on 4th and I spent a few days showing her around the city, going to Melilla la Vieja (the old town), visiting Museo Etnográfico de las Culturas Amazigh y Sefardí and Museo de Arqueología e Historia de Melilla (Ethnographic Museum of Cultures and Sephardic Amazigh and Museum of Archaeology and History of Melilla), cafes and ice cream parlours, the beach bar, sunbathing and swimming in the sea. Fatima is Muslim so we went to a service in the central mosque, which was a really interesting experience. There are yellow buoys that are quite far out in the sea and it was my aim to swim to it and back before I went, which Fatima did. When Maria was here she bought me a rubber ring and a ball, so we had fun with those as well.

Central mosque

Panoramic shot from Melilla la Vieja

Jellyfish remains!

As I have been to Fes so many times and didn't particularly enjoy the last time, I said that we can go to any city (within reason) except Fes or Meknes. I really wanted to go to the west coast where some of the biggest cities are, so we decided to spend 2 days in Casablanca and 1 day in Rabat. I was really keen to buy tickets for the train hotel, as I had been on the 6 hour train journey to and from Fes 8 times and I preferred to sleep rather than sit through that again. For a slightly more expensive price of 450 dirham (£35, but still not that expensive in European terms) we got a single from Nador to Rabat (I didn't want to go from Beni Nsar, just over the border, because it doesn't have a ticket office and I was unsure about buying the bed (couchette) tickets).

We left at 19:25 and arrived in Casablanca (Casa Voyageurs) at 6:15. I liked the train hotel because they gave us a pack of things we might need, knocked on door to wake us up and brought us pastries, tea and coffee for breakfast. When we arrived obviously it was quite early and most things were closed. We sat at a cafe and contemplated what we would do for the day and ended up getting on the tram in what we hoped was the right direction. I had never been on a tram except for those ones at some airports, so it was a nice experience for me. I had done some research beforehand, so I had some idea of where the hotel (Hôtel Central) was and the things we could do. However, we got a bit confused because our hotel was inside the medina. We got off at Place des Nations Unies and didn't realise that our hotel was close-by on the other side of the medina. We then got back on the tram and headed towards the beach. We got on the wrong side of the tram and Fatima warned me that you can't run across the track, but I was ignorant and thought it wouldn't matter so much in Morocco, as the transport safety regulations hardly seem strict. I ran across and Fatima was right, because I got told off.

The train's survival pack!

Old medina clock tower

Eventually we made it to the beach, although the tram was quite slow. One trip only cost 7 dirham (50p). I felt bad because I suggested that we go to the beach and Fatima had to carry her heavy bag around all morning. We went onto the beach and Fatima went horseback riding for 10 dirham (70p). We walked down the beach and there was some kind of clean up, which Morocco really needs to be honest. It is a beautiful country but it has a really bad litter problem! There was some kind of festival going on for the volunteers and some people were playing drums. We sat by the beach and ate our packed lunch before walking back in the same direction. Fatima noticed a surf school at the beach. I had always wanted to try surfing, but had never had the opportunity or it had been too expensive. We went to ask about the price and it was 100 dirham (£7) for 90 minutes. The coach made a few inappropriate comments, I was wearing a beige wetsuit that made me look a lot like the Michelin man, I didn't manage to kneel, let alone stand up and I choked on sea water a few times but other than that it was great and a thrilling experience! 

We then went in search of the famous Hassan II Mosque, the largest in Morocco and 7th largest in the world. After Fatima asking several people for directions, searching for a bus and failing and getting in a taxi, we finally found it. I have to say it was the biggest and most impressive mosque we had ever seen. It was 120 dirham (£9) to enter, which was pretty expensive, but worth it. Unfortunately we were running late so missed a large part of the tour and the tour guide rapidly spewed out loads of almost incomprehensible facts when Fatima asked him to bring us up to speed at the end. I wasn't too bothered about the facts anyway, as admiring the architecture itself was enough for me.

After that we were pretty exhausted, so we got a taxi and finally found the hotel, had a rest and went to have dinner at a posh restaurant. We went to a cafe/bar (alcohol is prohibited by Islam, as is pork, so both are difficult to find in Morocco) and I had some Moroccan tea and my first taste of shisha, which only cost about £4! I had apple flavour and it made me very happy and sleepy. Fatima told me sometimes they put cannabis in it, so I may have smoked some, but I wasn't aware of it! It's safe to say I slept very well that night!

The next day we headed to the Morocco mall, the largest shopping centre in Africa, as a girl at the surf school had suggested it to Fatima. It was full of expensive western designer shops, but we mainly went because it has an aquarium where a lift goes through it. However, sadly the aquarium was closed so we enjoyed a crepe and browsed the shops that were way out of our price range. In Morocco, everybody assumes you're really wealthy if you're a tourist, but the reality is that some of the Moroccan artisans probably earn even more than my immediate family does. It seems like they have this unrealistic perception of Europe as a land of perfection, which it most certainly isn't. We then went for a long walk back along the beach and came across a small village on some rocks. 

We had a walk through the medina and then went back to the hotel and Fatima wanted to go to a Hamman (a Turkish bath) because she has a bad back. We went on a really long taxi ride, which was scary because the driver didn't know where it was and was using his phone whilst driving. Most taxi rides in Morocco are a bit unnerving, especially when they try and cram in about 7 people. Eventually we found it and I was hoping for a pedicure because my foot has had problems since I worked at Wetherspoon last summer (I need to go to the doctor when I get home), but they weren't doing them at that time. I didn't really like the idea of being naked and having a full body massage, so I decided to sit this one out, but Fatima said it was a really interesting and strange experience and that she felt very cleansed. Fatima is from Gambia and spoke the same language as the many Senegalese immigrants in Casablanca, so we ended up eating at a Senegalese restaurant in the evening.

The next day we left the hotel, caught the tram back to the station and headed to Rabat for the day. The train journey was only about an hour and cost 35 dirham (£2.50). I had also researched Rabat and had some maps saved on my phone. That, along with Fatima's confidence approaching people meant we were able to navigate our way around quite well. We had a quick lunch in a cafe and headed towards the medina, which was quite small and modern. Casablanca was more of a business town and wasn't that touristy and Rabat was even less touristy because it is the capital and has a lot of embassies.

Moroccan parliament

We were looking for a cafe near the beach that Wikitravel recommended (I started using it this year for researching what to do in the cities I went to) and we ended up at Kasbah of the Udayas, an old fortress. There we met a guide who showed us around. The kasbah had blue walls and the views were stunning. The day was warm, but the sky was quite cloudy and grey, so my photos aren't as good as they could have been on another day. He took us to see women making Berber rugs (which I have seen several times now!). We finally found the cafe where we had some shockingly expensive pastries for 35 dirham (£2.50, a lot of money by Moroccan standards). I'm pretty sure I've been in a bakery before where you can get them for 5 dirham (35p)!

The guide then offered to take us on a '10 minute' walk to the Hassan Tower, the minaret of an incomplete mosque. This ended up taking something like 30 minutes. My feet had been hurting before the tour, but at this point they felt crippled and I felt like I might pass out from the heat. We saw the Hassan mosque and the Mausoleum of Mohammed V, which contains the tombs of the Moroccan king and his two sons, late King Hassan II and Prince Abdallah. The guide told us that most things with a Moroccan flag on are probably something political. A man wearing some kind of traditional outfit offered us water, which he poured from camel leather bags into brass cups. I was parched so I had some. Fatima loved it, but I just thought it tasted like old water!

Hassan mosque

Hassan Tower

Mausoleum of Mohammed V

The guide then took us back to the train station and on the way we came across a cathedral, which surprised me because Morocco is a Muslim country. We enjoyed a meal in a posh restaurant (by Moroccan standards, a meal that costs £8 is probably posh!) and free wifi in a cafe before admiring the beautiful sunset and catching the 20:48 train back to Beni Nsar port. The 6 hour train journey to that I had been on to Fes was nothing compared to the journeys to Casablanca and Marrakech! However, having a comfortable bed in a private cabin and good company to enjoy it with made all the difference. It was kind of like a sleepover!

Cathédrale Saint-Pierre

Fatima left in the morning on 12th June and Jess arrived in the evening the next day, so I had 2 days to recuperate. However, my bad foot was in a really bad state and I was worried about walking. Jess and I had been researching and booked a 2 day and 1 night desert tour from Marrakech online. I had a few days chilling with Jess and we caught the 19:43 train on 15th, with the beds as I had done the week before. As the journey was longer, we paid 530 dirham (£37) this time. The train hotel supervisor even recognised me from the previous week and probably thought I was completely crazy! Unfortunately, we had to change at Casablanca at 6:15 to get the 6:50 train which was supposed to reach Marrakech at 10:00. However, it was delayed and we didn't arrive in Marrakech until about 10:30. The company with whom we had booked the tour had agreed to meet us at the train station at 10:00 and take us to our hotel. I felt bad that we were late and I was worried that they wouldn't turn up, but a man called Abdul did.

He drove us to Hotel Aday, which was conveniently in the centre of the medina, although down a small side street that even Abdul found difficult to find. We paid for half of the desert tour as a deposit and he left. I have to admit I was a little nervous about whether he would reappear for the tour the next day so I took a photo of the number plate of the car. This wasn't personal, but you have to be careful in Morocco because a lot of people try to scam tourists.  We went to explore the medina and Place Jemaâ El-Fna, the famous square in the middle. I hadn't had the energy to research much about it, but I think we were both tired anyway. We found a tour bus, but it was around £10 for the whole day, so we just took the map and decided to walk about ourselves and see where we ended up.

We visited Bahia Palace, which cost 10 dirham (70p) and wasn't really a palace, but gardens and nice architecture. Then we spent ages trying to find El Badi, a ruined palace, until we ended up talking to a local who told us most of the attractions had now closed for the day. However, we did find Bab Agnaou, one of the nineteen gates of Marrakech. We ended up relaxing in some gardens near the Koutoubia Mosque before we decided to go back to the hotel and have an early night. Unfortunately our room was right next to reception, which was really noisy, so we didn't get to sleep as early as we had hoped. However, the twin room only cost us 7 euros (£5.60) each and the rest of the hotel was decent, so I can hardly complain!

Place Jemaâ El-Fna


Bahia Palace

Bahia Palace

Bab Agnaou

Koutoubia Mosque

Place Jemaâ El-Fna

The next day we got up at 7:00 because Abdul was supposed to be collecting us at 7:30. As he was bit late I was worried he wouldn't turn up, but everything was ok in the end. We started our long trip towards Zagora in a private jeep type car, which was very spacious and comfortable. We went through the Atlas and High Atlas mountain range and the views were spectacular. We made many stops to take some photos, grab a mint tea and avoid people who were persistently trying to sell us things. Abdul had an iPod and we listened to music whilst driving - he was very good at choosing music which complemented the mood and scenery!

Berber village

Our first main stop was Aït Benhaddou, a fortified city and UNESCO World Heritage Site famous for its kasbahs (Islamic villages with a fortress), at which many films have been shot. We explored for a few hours and didn't get a tour guide because our funds were running a bit low. My feet were still hurting and it was a scorching 35 degrees, so I'm glad were didn't walk for too long, because that was about as much as I could take. Actually we spent a lot of the tour inside the car, but I didn't mind because I could still take photos, admire the view and rest my poor foot, which had now developed new blisters on top of old blisters. I think I need to invest in a good pair of walking shoes at some point in the near future!

As we continued driving towards the desert, it became hotter and it was interesting to see the gradual transition as the vegetation disappeared. We went straight through the city of Zagora and Abdul dropped us off at the outskirts with some other tourists at about 19:00. We then got on the camels for a 90 minute trek into the desert and Abdul stayed in a hotel in Zagora. Getting on the camel was easy because they bend down at the knees so you don't have to climb up. However, they get up and down by moving either their front or back legs first, so at some point you'll be hanging diagonally! It was also quite scary going up and down hills, especially as camels seem a lot higher than horses. I really liked my camel because it seemed quite peaceful and looked at the camera curiously whenever I took a photo. However, the same could not be said for Jess' camel, who kept trying to run and turn around and as I was behind my camel had to do emergency stops. Mine had to be put in front because hers was misbehaving!

We arrived at the dunes at about 20:30. For some reason I was expecting a pop up tent and sleeping bag, but we had our own tent with sturdy frames and even beds inside them! Each tent had 4 beds, but we had one tent to ourself. After witnessing the sunset and talking to other people from France, Ecuador, the UK and Ireland it was time for dinner. Tables and chairs were set up in one of the tents and we were served soup, tagine and fruit. It seemed very strange to have this kind of luxury in the desert. After dinner the locals played us some music with drums and singing and some people danced around the camp fire. The stars were very clear and I saw 3 shootings stars, which was the first time I had ever seen one! We went to bed at about 23:00 because we had an early morning the next day.

We woke up at about 6:00 to see the sunrise, which was stunning. We then had bread, butter and mint tea for breakfast before camel trekking back to Zagora to meet Abdul. When we approached the camels, all of them were on their knees except mine, which was lying on its side. At first I thought it was dead, but then it got up so I guess it was just having a nice rest. I was concerned about the treatment of the camels before we went, but they seem to have had plenty of time to rest, they looked well-fed and groomed and if one of them was having some kind of problem, the drivers rearranged the order to make it more comfortable for them, for example when Jess' camel misbehaved. After all that time of camel trekking, my thighs were hurting considerably, which made it even more difficult to walk without looking stupid!

My camel having a rest (not dead)!

We left Zagora at 8:00 and drove back the same way we had came, which wasn't particularly interesting. However, it was a good opportunity to rest and sleep, although I felt like I might miss something whilst sleeping. I'm not scared of heights, but I'm scared of being on the edge of something high if it doesn't feel particularly safe, which could be said for the roads going through the mountains and the Moroccan style of driving. On the way we didn't stop at Ouarzazate, so we did on the way back. Ouarzazate is is a noted film-making location (for example, Gladiator was filmed there) and has film studios. We a few rest stops and I was surprised that many places, even cafes and restaurants, charged people a small amount to use the toilets. I had never seen this in Morocco, so perhaps this is just something aimed at 'wealthy' tourists. The price for most toilets was 1 dirham (7p) so it's not exactly worth complaining about. We arrived at Marrakech station at 17:00, giving us a few hours before our train departed. The desert trip cost us 180 euros (£145) each, which was a considerable amount of money, especially after the hotel owner said we could have got one for cheaper. However, it was really nice to have a private car (we kept seeing the other tourists on the way back and the huge buses didn't look like much fun), it was reassuring to book online in advance and Abdul was really knowledgeable, so I'd say that it was worth it.

Unfortunately I hadn't been so attentive when planning the train journey back and there was no carriage with beds. We decided to get first class instead, which at 358 dirham (£25) saved us some money, but it was quite noisy and cramped so we didn't get much sleep. I felt especially bad for Jess, because we arrived back in Melilla on 19th at 11:00 and her flight was at 19:00 and she didn't get back until the early hours of the next day. I feel like I have seen most of the main cities in Morocco now and I think it will be a while before I consider going back again!

I really enjoyed travelling with Fatima and Jess. I feel so lucky to have friends who wanted to come and visit me and I feel that I've grown closer to them both. Everybody is different, but I feel like we have many similarities when we travel. None of us really like using our time and money to buy loads of souvenirs. Both Fatima and Jess are also very patient and understand that when travelling, it is inevitable that things sometimes go wrong. They also enjoy being spontaneous as well. I love to be spontaneous but I like to plan a few things so that I don't miss out on what's important. They were both also very flexible and considerate of my opinions and my suffering foot. I'm happy that I've found some travelling buddies, because sometimes I feel like I'm the only person around that has loads of wanderlust! Recently I've felt that studying has taken over my life and that I don't have many hobbies. It's now that I've realised that travelling is my hobby! It's what I work towards and save my money for.

On Saturday night it was the gay pride. I was expecting there to be a big march, but it was just a small show that went on for a couple of hours. On Monday night it was las Hogueras de San Juan (The Bonfires of Saint John), which is basically like a big bonfire night. There was an incredible structure (which I stupidly didn't take a decent photo of before it was burnt) on the beach. I had no idea what was going on until I was wondering down the promenade and saw the emergency services and the roads being closed! It gets burnt at midnight, at which point a firework display starts. I was lucky enough to witness this from the balcony of another English teacher's flat, which was close to the beach. Traditionally, you write bad memories down on paper and burn them (which we did do) and then jump over bonfires and run into the ocean for good luck (which we didn't do). In most of the big Spanish cities there's a huge party, but in Melilla it isn't so big. I'm glad that I've been around to experience most of the main Spanish festivals. June has probably been my best and busiest month and I can't believe it's gone so quickly!

Before burning

During burning


Recently the weather has been a bit stormy, but I really enjoy it because it reminds me of England. I actually kind of miss the rain, although I probably won't say that when I get back! Last month the flat flooded due to some problem upstairs. Water was running down the stairs, into the flat and onto the street, it was crazy! Some neighbours across the road helped us to clean it all up, so I went over to give them a belated box of chocolates to show my appreciation of their help, as most people would do in that situation. The water flow has been a bit strange since, but it still works fine. That's sorted and I've also cleaned the whole flat and finished packing, as next Monday I'm flying back to England, which I'm really looking forward to, although I think it will be quite strange. Now I have the rest of the week to relax, spend time at the beach and say goodbye to people. Last night my friend Ana made a really nice vegetarian meal and I'm sure I'll get up to some other antics over the weekend.