On the one hand…

•February 15, 2012 • Leave a Comment

February 15, 2012

It seems like a certain mark of success to be able to say that my closest friends here in Morocco are mostly Moroccan locals, not American PCVs. I spend significantly more time with Moroccans than Americans and I feel about as well integrated into my community as I could hope.

But on the other hand, it’s kind of a sad fact that I don’t have great connections to the people around me who grew up with the same native language and culture as I did. Even given the similarities between us, there’s a wide gap that seems impossible to cross. I’ve tried, but with my time here coming to a close, I don’t feel like I’ll ever have much success.

I miss my old Americans, the PCVs from my group, who somehow seemed to care more about other people and share a higher level of commitment and interest.

As a side note, today I heard one PCV say to another, “That cat was his [another PCV’s] closest friend in Morocco that wasn’t an American.” I mean, my cat used to be like my little sister, so that’s one thing… but why do so many PCVs have to make distinctions that implicitly put down Moroccans? What’s the point of the addition of “that wasn’t an American”? With certain people, it seems to be a pathological sort of habit. It’s almost like they can’t not say something negative about the locals.


A tangle of languages

•February 3, 2012 • Leave a Comment

February 3, 2012

Take a minute to imagine that your childhood went a little like this…

You start out your life with your parents speaking only English to you, and to anyone for that matter. Because that’s the only language they know. They never really went to school.

You get a decent start on English, learning from your parents, extended family, and household visitors, and even the occasional English language cartoon that pops up on the television. The rest of the cartoons and programs you see on the TV are in a mix of other languages that you only ever hear coming out of the box, so you probably don’t grasp them too well, but just maybe you pick up a thing or two.

By the time you can communicate as clearly in English as another kid, around four or five years of age, you start going to preschool (if your parents can afford it). All the sudden you start learning not one, or two, but THREE new languages on top of English. The teacher starts to talk to you and direct you in Spanish, while you study French AND Italian. Spanish is what the powerful ethnic group in your country speaks, so you better learn it. French is what the government and newspapers work in, while Italian is the language of business, commerce, economics, and higher education. If you want to get anywhere in your life, you have to become a real polyglot.

So your parents can only communicate to you in English, but your teacher runs you through the loops on French and Italian lessons while all of her non-lesson-specific communication is in Spanish.

And that continues from the time you’re four or five until you end your schooling, which could be anywhere from the age of 12 and up. If you actually do go to university, you’d better get a strong grip on all of those languages…

The reality seems to be, though, that the majority of people who have to tackle that many languages from the very beginning of their schooling end up not being really stellar at a single one of them. And here I suppose I can really only talk about my personal observations in my corner of rural Morocco.

One example really stands out to me. Hanging out one day with the nursing staff at the clinic in my market town, I watched as five Moroccans stood over an official form trying to decide the correct way to express a sentence in Modern Standard Arabic. It looked like a fairly routine form. I’m not sure if they were looking for a certain word or a bit of grammar, but I think it was a word.

To be sure English speakers often find themselves struggling for the right way to express something. But in America we don’t really have the issue of struggling to express ourselves in a second language, which just happens to be the official language of the country. (Native Spanish speakers might have issues, but English isn’t an officially sanctioned national language, just the de facto one.)

Anyway, I just think it’s fascinating. And it’s so far from the average white American’s experience, this tangle of languages. So many Americans huff and puff about the intrusion and inclusion of Spanish… when the study and use of multiple languages are simply facts in the lives of so many other people around the world.

I thought to myself, in the beginning, how awesome it is for kids to be studying so many languages! Only a lucky few in America ever study another language before their teenage years. What a great help it must be…

I’ve had a surprising number of Moroccans describe the situation as more of a handicap, though. They’re the ones who pointed out to me that the multidirectional bombardment can really stunt one’s ability in any single second language.

My example above is quite similar to the reality that I see here with my host family in Morocco. I just changed the languages around. Here, many children speak Tashlheit (Tamazight/Berber) with their families. That is their mother tongue. Their teachers often speak to them in Moroccan Arabic, a dialect quite far removed from the Modern Standard Arabic that is Morocco’s official national language, the language of the government and newspapers. French is the language of business, medical topics, and higher education.

Tashlheit includes a fair amount of Moroccan Arabic vocabulary, simply conjugated and adjusted to the Berber language, but it is its own separate language. Moroccan Arabic includes a higher percentage of Modern Standard Arabic vocabulary, but the grammar is very different. MS Arabic is a tricky beast for anyone to learn. French is its own language, of course, very different from any of the others in vocabulary and grammar and just about any other aspect.

The past few days I’ve been trying to get my first grade host brother to study with me. Both of his parents are illiterate, so they can’t help with his exercises. His aunt knows how to read, but even though she lives at the house, she’s not around a whole lot. I enjoy studying with him. Partially because it helps me brush up on my Arabic, but also because it seems so important to a kid’s learning to have someone show interest and encouragement. I’ve seen other families in town, or in other places in Morocco, where the parents are literate and help their students review. What a difference it must make. I feel like I have at least a touch of new understanding for the obstacles people have to overcome to be the first educated generation in their families…

The end of an era

•December 14, 2011 • Leave a Comment

December 14, 2011

Tonight was the first time I noticed my little host brother Anwar actually saying my name right. He still said it in his cute little boy voice, but he can officially pronounce “Hind” now. No more “Lahan!” and no more “Hin!” Now just plain old “Hind!”

He made up for this development by saying repeatedly, “Foof, Hind, foof!” Meaning: “Shoof, Hind, shoof!” Translation: “Look, Hind, look!” Talk about cute.

How to make a tooth/mouth model

•October 14, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Pictures of the tooth/mouth model my friends Amber and Sean made and gave to me. Materials are half-liter milk boxes, drink bottles, cardboard, string, duct tape, white paint, and butcher paper (folded and colored pink with marker or paint).

Advice from Fauve:

1. Put holes in the bottles (to attach them to the cardboard) BEFORE you paint them.

Wake up and fix your attitude

•September 8, 2011 • Leave a Comment

September 8, 2011

Say to yourself:

Peace Corps is NOT “two years out of my life.”

Peace Corps IS “my life for two years.”

PCVs who stay focused on the idea that their Peace Corps service is just a step between one thing and another, like college and a “real” job, tend to find themselves counting down the days until their COS date. It seems like most of the ones I encounter who cling to this mindset fail to get the most out of this amazing opportunity to experience a different life. Their attitude inhibits their happiness and their chances for fulfillment. While they complain about not getting much for their “sacrifice” of two years out of their lives, their negativity blocks them from everything they could gain.

Like people always say, you get out of anything what you put into it.

I know I’m lucky in my home and my community. But I also know that at least half of my happiness, if not more, is a direct result of my attitude. And I’m tired of listening to other PCVs complain about things that they could fix with a bit of effort.

Think about why you are where you are.

What do you want to get out of the opportunity to be where you are?

Once you have your goals, work for them. You know, a little elbow grease.

Keep in mind that wherever you are, whether America or some tiny place abroad, you will face challenges and you will find opportunities. Hopefully you’re willing to face those challenges, learn from them, and seize the opportunities in front of you. Even work at creating some opportunities while you’re at it. I find that opportunities for work, cultural experiences, or any number of random things spring up just about every time I walk out my front door. Sometimes that’s all it takes, getting out and talking to people with an open mind and a positive attitude.

Lesson Learned: Practice makes perfect, or at least decent

•September 2, 2011 • 1 Comment

September 2, 2011

I’ve learned time and again here, as I seem to forget after each time that I learn it, that what seems like I’ll never ever Ever in a million years be able to do, the first time I try it, I can usually end up doing pretty well if I give it time and practice. Maybe a simple lesson that I should have learned a while ago, but better late than never, yak?

My banjo lessons are a perfect example of this. I can’t count how many lessons my teacher has introduced a new bit of music or a new technique that made me think, “I’ll never be able to get my fingers to move like THAT! And that fast? No way, José!” But with time, and the bit of practice that I manage to convince myself to do, I manage to get things down. I’ve come from not being able to strum the strings to save my life to playing decently for a tarumit who never touched a stringed instrument before.

Today this lesson finally seemed to click for me. I just might have learned it for good, I think, I hope. As my teacher taught me the opening lines to the song Agass (Izenzaren Igout Abdel-Hadi), I realized my hand is just a little too short to run from C# up to E without accidently hitting C on the way. That simply won’t do, he pointed out. Rather than think, “How in the world am I going to work this one out?” I told myself that with a little work at home, I’ll land this trick like I’ve landed so many others over my two years and change of studying the Berber banjo. And I know I will. Avoiding the sense of frustration didn’t take any effort, which is quite a development for me.

One more lesson that I’m thankful to have learned on this adventure…

Bound to be a cow

•August 24, 2011 • Leave a Comment

August 24, 2011

Old Ijjou stopped me on my way to my host family’s house today. She told me to sit with her since we hadn’t chatted in a long time, so I found a spot next to her on her doorstep and listened for a while. It’s always enjoyable to listen to her colorful language, or rather, to watch her colorful hand motions as I can’t understand her old fashioned Tashlheit very well. The motions she makes with her hands to emphasize her points are typically quite clear, however.

Today’s lesson was, as usual, about how I need to skr zamaninu, do/make my time by getting married and having kids before it’s too late. But she added a few extra points today to drive home her message. I can’t understand a lot of what she says, but a few points I got no problem.

1. A girl who doesn’t tskr zaman-ns, do her time, get married and have kids, tga zund tafunast, ends up like a cow (here she made a dopey sort of face and made some indescribable noises to imitate a cow-girl).

2. If a girl gets to be as old as her (Ijjou is, the story goes, about 105 years old, and I’d just about believe it), and doesn’t have kids, no one will be around to take care of her. She won’t have work or food or a place to stay.

Around this point in the lesson, Ijjou’s daughter-in-law entered the conversation briefly. The old woman exclaimed to her quite forcefully, “ar-t saqraH, ar-t saqraH” — “I’m teaching her, I’m teaching her!” The daughter-in-law moved on with her work and we continued with our lesson.

3. Finally, the key point she made, was the difference between the “love” of a man and the love of one’s children. She said, “A man will leave you (verb unclear, but that’s the gist). He’s only interested in your knees and your vagina.” Here, she didn’t say knees or vagina, but she patted herself while saying “this and this.” In the local context and language, “knees” would mean work and “vagina” would mean, well, sex. “But your kids,” she said, “they love you for this,” and patted her chest. They won’t abandon you because they love you for your heart and who you are — their mother.

After she shared these bits of wisdom with me, she followed up with a hearty “wakhay babak!” (Basically, “you better watch out, your dad is gonna get you!”, said most often to little kids who aren’t doing as they should.) She repeated several times, even raising her cane from under her feet and wagging it over my head, telling me she’d beat me if I didn’t skr zamaninu.

As for a bit of analysis on her main points… I’m not exactly sure what she meant by Point #1. Maybe that a girl (as an unmarried woman of any age is called her) who doesn’t have kids will be a bit aimless in life?

Point #2 is pretty darn likely to come true here in rural Morocco. Women in the rural areas depend quite a lot on their relatives. That’s not to say there aren’t any opportunities for them without the help of male relatives, and what opportunities there are are increasing slowly but surely. Life can be hard here for anyone, male or female, who doesn’t have others in their life.

I don’t have a lot to say on Point #3. It could be true anywhere, for anyone, I suppose. I thought it was interesting that she included in today’s lesson.

For me, I imagine I’ll see how Point #1 plays out. Thankfully I believe I have more ahead of me than a cow-like existence, even without children or a man. That being said, I’ll still enjoy the next lesson old Ijjou wants to give me.