Confessions of An Unschooling Hypocrite

I have been wanting my kids to learn Arabic since before they were born, of course. And since the first child’s birth I was irritated for nearly a decade (maybe more) that this acquisition wasn’t happening naturally via my husband speaking to them in Arabic. It seemed like he just wouldn’t do it,  though he could. It took me very many years to understand that he is not a native speaker. Yes, yes- he learned Arabic in school and can read, write, and speak it, but it is his second (or third language) so it does not come naturally to him, just as German, Spanish and French (languages I have somewhat acquired) do not come naturally to me. He did teach the kids how to read Arabic phonetically and got a bit into grammar stuffs with #1 and #2, but when I finally caught onto to the non-native speaker problem I began hiring tutors, which got them much further in the acquisition process. Doesn’t sound exactly like unschooling philosophy, does it? Then this week my eldest son vehemently refused to continue with his Arabic instruction.

While the Arabic tutor worked with my second son, I nagged, begged, threatened and attempted to bribe the heel-dragger, while being awash with a sweeping myriad of emotions all connected with a resounding feeling of failure. He simply wouldn’t do it. Later, he would explain that he “just prefers self-taught learning,” like he is doing with his Latin studies. That sounds like unschooling doesn’t it?

But before he inadvertently helped me to recommit to our unschooling ideals, I had another thought. All this time I have been wanting for my children to learn Arabic, knowing that it will be beneficial to their deen, but for myself I had a dozen or so excuses about not having time to learn Arabic over the last 16 years or so of being Muslim. Um, yeah. So those recently opened slots our Arabic tutor has on Wednesday and Saturday- they’re mine.

لديك فكرة جيدة!

The Hijrah Diaries Into The High Atlas III

Brooke Benoit returns to her long running series about gracelessly adjusting to living in Morocco – this time in a rural village in the High Atlas mountains.

Boy atop a mountain from SISTERS Magazine Dec 2012 issue

Day 46
The landlord brought the water bill over to the husband today and hubby says that the guy was “very shocked” by our excessive water usage. I was so upset by this. It has truly been amazing to see firsthand just how much water we use in our household. For the first few weeks up here, without the water heater, we had to heat water by the potfulls every time we needed it for washing dishes, clothes and bodies. This gave us an opportunity to really see exactly how much water we are using- and wasting! Though we tried to be creative, there was very little we could do with rinse/grey water other than dump it. If I ever a garden again, insha Allah, I want to have a little tank under the kitchen sink (maybe the bathroom too) to catch rinse water for reusing in the garden.

I think that where we have failed up here is in our clothes washing. Even though I have completely reassessed my idea of what exactly are “dirty clothes,” we still used a lot – apparently more than anyone ever in the 4,000 year history of the village – of water to wash our clothes. I mostly blame the teenager who would try to hose off his clothes to a near state of clean with the shower head. We are all hoping to get a washer machine in the next few weeks, as the kids have been helping with the laundry and the husband has been doing a lot of it. I know machines use less water than handwashing, but since nearly all the other women in the village wash in the river, I’m afraid my landlord may be only slightly less freaked-out next billing cycle.

Day 60
One of my worst I’m-a-monster-city-slicker nightmares came true today. I was left with the task of burning the trash while hubby is back in the city. Though several of my neighbours burn trash right in front of their homes, we were told to do our burning far from houses, which after having toxic burning trash stench fill my home in Casablanca – I can appreciate that suggestion. I had to get the kids to haul the trash up the mountain, then buy petrol from the little hanout during one of the small windows when he is open and rush up the mountain to build my bonfire while the baby is sleeping or otherwise happily preoccupied. I looked out the window to check the kids’ progress and had a good, hearty laugh seeing my 10 year old son carrying bulging plastic bags up the hill while wearing pink kitchen gloves, which is actually a habit their father instilled in the kids for when they do the dishes, but sure – blame the bourgeois-kid-making on the mother. So, they got the trash out and I called to my eldest to run out and get the petrol as the guy was open – and then he suddenly closed, then he opened a few minutes later and seemed to not have petrol or any idea what son was saying and he closed again. Great. Now cats and wild dogs would surely find some smell of interest to warrant tearing through my trash and spreading it across the mostly pristine valley, which is what I am really worried about and why I wanted to do this in one fell swoop. But I couldn’t have foreseen what our nine year old neighbour was about to do… Ignoring the pleas of my son, the boy tore into every single one of our tightly tied up dozen or so small plastic bags and sifted through the entire contents of each, spreading the trash all over the burn site.
The horror! Quickly I realised there wasn’t anything overly embarrassing in there other than a few too many cellophane treat wrappers. But why would he do this?! My son suspects that he was scavenging for something valuable or reusable as many of the local kids make innovative toys with scraps and trash remnants. I was oddly proud to hear that he found nothing of value or interest among our trash – this means we are doing well to reuse everything reusable.

And I’m realising – once again – that while I work myself into a frenzy worrying about things – I really have no control. Now I have to ‘jab‘ up and go figure out where the husband bought that petrol from and pull my evil disposable nappies out of the thorn bushes.

Day 65
When we first attempted to move to Morocco a decade ago, I very much wanted to simply recreate my US lifestyle in the North African Mediterranean. In Casablanca that was easy enough to do. The few things I missed from the US were mostly food items, and with a little extra work I could I whip up nearly any of those dishes in my Casa kitchen. Before we moved out here to the sticks, I noticed myself doing that same thing again, I was hoarding up every possible thing that I was worried that I would want or need – new shoes, craft supplies, kitchen wares, hair accessories, specialty foods and homeopathic remedies – all these things that are not immediately available on the mountain, but surely my husband or someone could drag them in if we really, really needed them. As I was wondering around another Casa niche shopping district trying to remember what wasn’t on my list, (as there is always something else needed isn’t there?) I finally became aware of my behaviour, immediately stopped shopping and went home. I decided to “just make do” – to truly let go of stuff and just bring in what I could, not worrying about the rest – it would come if we truly needed it.

I began to hope that moving out here to the sticks would help me reevaluate some of my not-so-good dunya habits, such as my materialism as well as my eco practices. If my neighbour can make do without so much that I think is necessary, maybe I could rethink my needs. Maybe we cut our lifestyle down by force, since there really isn’t that much retail and entertainment-for-purchase to do out here, and then slowly we could decide where and if we want to build our… spending, really – it’s mostly about spending and now I have a chance to really see what it is that I value and to prioritise that.

Day 73
Two months in and The Eldest child is finally trying out this hiking bit. Yesterday we all went for a walk and he decided to climb up the foothills and check out a cave. We could barely see the dot of his red T-shirt as he neared the cave and then seemed to quickly descend back towards us. Turns out it’s some old man’s house! There were a few sheep on the ‘roof’ of it and a low rock building to the side. The old man was headed further up the hill to where a few other animals were. Of course now we are totally obsessed with why and how this man lives up there. Is he that poor or does he chooses to live in a cave? Where is his family and what happened that he is now living like that?

A general curiosity in hiking and discovery seems to have been piqued and The Eldest jaunted off after Fajr this morning with a pack full of snacks and the camera. I fully admit to being mildly jealous at my not being able to just go climb a mountain whenever I want, but then again – it’s no longer about me, at least not entirely.

Day 74
That old man on the mountain- found out that’s a shepherd’s daytime rest stop – not his home! This is exactly why I didn’t want to come for just a week or even a month. I want for my children (and myself) to have ample opportunity to really explore Allah’s I creation – to “get to know” each other and lots of goodness in between. As we watch tourists hike through town, (and I read their often cringeworthy blog and travel accounts) I become more aware of how travelling through can mostly just reinforce predisposed ideas. I imagine the story that we could have been spun about that mean old man, rejected by his family and left to fend for himself on the hillside. I’m becoming more aware of mine and our biases around class, gender and race, and I’m feeling that the local pace, which we are still acclimating to, is much more accommodating to explore and rectify these biases – insha Allah. And what a bonus that the backdrop for our “studies” is so magnificent.

Day 89
Hubby keeps asking me if I want to go back to the city, as if I will suddenly change my mind. Things are getting easier and my self-doubts are waning. As he was walking out the door for Thur, he asked for the second or third time today if I am “ready to go back” and then added that the landlord wants us to sign a contract if we plan to stay for a full year. Apparently the homeowner usually stores apples in this house during the winter and wants to be sure he isn’t displacing his harvest for nothing. “Sign it!” I called out to the husband. I am committed. And although I have said that I don’t want to think past one year, today I did walk over to see a little farm that is for sale. Just a little walk, just a little farm, just a little thought.


Living in the High Atlas mountains with her husband and six home-educated children, Brooke Benoit is (mostly) savouring living in a community where hands-on and doing from scratch are the norm.

40 Nights of Unadulterated Love Notes

Today was our first real snow, sledding worthy. I have been looking forward to the colder weather and being able to turn away from the beautiful great outdoors and work on various projects. Of course I had hoped to do some things with the kids, but like I said- sledding weather- so we shall see if they turn to the craft table anytime soon. But as for me, I did NaNo this year and it got me hooked on doing some time-framed or similarly structured projects. I am forever deferring projects- no time, no time- but somehow I pushed through and stuck to 30 days of noveling- though I didn’t finish and wasn’t able to dedicate an hour or more to writing every day- but I did stick it out and got a nice chunk done. And this time-framed/self-inflicted deadline seems to work for a few friends, so- I’m hooked. Actually I’m doing two projects simultaneously…

Or is that three? I have long wanted to learn Arabic and for almost as long I have wanted to learn the 99 names of Allah (SWT). My first project is to familiarize myself with the Arabic alphabet by writing out the 99 names in Arabic. Easy enough, insha Allah, I’m just writing out 3 or 4 names in English and Arabic for a few minutes every day.

The other project stemmed from a friend’s poem which had a sweet little bit in it about love notes under pillows. I haven’t done much handwritten correspondence in a decade, though I used to do quite a bit, so I thought that might be fun to do that thing so many people suggest to keep the marriage jumping or whatever it is they say, by writing and tucking away some little love notes. But then I thought better to write them to myself…

The first one, for tonight, is about breastfeeding, which I’m doing right now. If some less personal notes come about, maybe I will share them, otherwise I’m onto 40 Nights of Love Notes under my own pillow and the 99 Names of Allah while the kids are soaking through there mittens.

Happy Creating!