It has been so wonderful to come back to Asni again - my fifth visit! You never know quite what to expect but this time I arrived on the last day of the holidays so the house was very quiet with just Khadija and Naima, the cleaning lady. It appeared that Ella, the current volunteer was back in the UK with a really bad stomach upset so I took her place for the first few days which was lovely as she had organised the girls into a proper timetable so I was able to do some real English teaching from the word go - always a delight.
It was also great to meet Karima, the volunteer coordinator at long last and to see Sonia, the fundraiser again. They are both very enthusiastic and lovely with the girls. They even organised a party for all the EFA Lycee girls where there was a lot of enthusiastic dancing, singing and drumming and eating of cake, as well as much hilarity at my attempts at dancing. Apparently I really don't wiggle my hips or shoulders enough! We also had a visit to the hammam so my skin was scrubbed smooth.
Once Ella came back I moved down to Dar Asni 2, the other house in Asni for the girls at the Lycee. I had initially been a little apprehensive about this as I always feel so at home with Khadija in Dar Asni 3 but I needn't have worried! Even at the party a few days before a gang of Asni 2 girls had surrounded me asking when I was going to come to their house and the wooing process continued when I arrived - I was given the official tour followed by Moroccan pancakes and REAL honey and then shown my bedroom with the unheard of luxuries of no roommate, a carpet, desk, cupboard and bedside lamp. The only downside was that it is directly off the girls' study room and very close to the kitchen so it is NOT quiet in the evening as the girls do their homework until after 11pm. But on the other hand it is warm and that counts for a lot in November in the High Atlas! At least that goes in some way to make up for the apparent lack of hot water; showering in the morning is not a pleasant experience.
Aicha, the housemother is one of the warmest people I know and she is so concerned that everything is OK for me, that I have slept well and that I have all the food I want. We've also had some really interesting chats over meals.
There are loads of photos around the houses of Harry and Meghan's visit which has certainly raised the profile of EFA. I've been thinking about all that and what really strikes me is how lucky I am to be a volunteer and how unlucky they are to be members of the royal family! It has been so good to have the chance to have real conversations with the girls. Some of them have been really moving. Last night I was chatting to a girl who lives so far from Asni that she has to get up at 3am first to walk 3km, then get the school transport and finally a taxi to Asni on a Monday morning. Her mother has died so she lives with her aunts. Her one big ambition is to visit London and she had tears in her eyes when I replied to her question of which countries I had visited. We are just so privileged in Europe in the way that we can travel freely and cheaply. I suggested that she should try to get a job as an air steward but I fear that is a life that is beyond the conception of a girl from a remote village in the High Atlas. Another girl said that her ambition is to climb Mount Everest. At least she wants to be a mountain guide so that is a good start, (and she speaks excellent English).
Other girls have described the hardships they have faced in the state boarding houses where they have been beaten and one girl described it as merely somewhere that you eat and sleep, nothing more. Thank goodness for EFA.
As ever I just can't get over how they live so happily together and frequently describe each other as sisters. They share clothes, help each other with homework and are unfailingly cheerful. As soon as all the soda had been drunk and the cake eaten at the party several of the girls started clearing away and washing up without any prompting, (and in the dark as there was a power cut). It is completely natural for them to describe the main thing they do at the weekend as helping their mothers with cooking, cleaning and looking after their younger brothers and sisters. They really do have such a strong sense of community and family that is very much at odds with the value we in the so-called developed west place on the individual and personal fulfilment. We have lot to learn.
I watched the beautiful film that has been made about EFA which features two girls who I have helped in the past as well as two of the housemothers. It is so moving to see where these girls have got to and the barriers they have overcome. Khadija and Khaoula, the assistant housemother were in tears at the end.
And finally I have been really impressed by the strength of their faith. When talking about family Saida, one girl said that 'After her God her family was the most important thing for her'. How many British teenagers would say that? I have had some really interesting conversations with Aicha about Islam and I was struck by the similarities between Islam and Christianity. She talked about how we must really love others and how we need God as we can't do things in our own strength. Life is not always easy but we need a strong faith to support us through the difficult times. She is very observant and regularly gets up at 6.30 for the first call to prayer. I was present at the Thursday evening chanting of the Koran in the house and they sang it so beautifully and hauntingly. This afternoon I was walking up the hill behind the house and on my descent saw a man quietly praying beside a rock looking eastwards towards the ridge of mountains. What a wonderful place to pray and I am just so thankful to be here. I just wish I could share it in real life with more of my family and friends!