Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Past Week Reaffirmed My Decision to Join the Peace Corps and Communication Breakdown

The Past Week Reaffirmed My Decision to Join the Peace Corps

I just got back from my CBT (Community Based Training) and it was a great week. The town we stayed in was a small village near Klah (not sure of the transliteration). It is right next to a river, so it is primarily an agricultural community. It’s up in the mountains; it’s breathtakingly beautiful and its climate is much cooler than that of Ouarzazate. I haven’t seen much of Morocco yet, but it’s the best I’ve seen so far. Wow. We got to do a little exploring in the surrounding area and it was great. Unfortunately, I haven’t taken a single picture since I’ve gotten to Morocco, but I promise to change that soon.
First, I’ve got to mention my host family. They were amazing and generous. I think about 15 people live in the compound on a regular basis, but because of the holiday (Eid) and some other circumstances that I’ll get into later, somewhere around 25 or 30 people were staying there for the week. My “host mom and dad” are about the same age as my parents and they are the central figures of the family. Their children and grandchildren live there as well.
My host brother has been ill for a couple months now. He spent a month in a hospital in Marakech, which gives an indication of the severity of the illness. He doesn’t normally live with my family, but he was home while I was there because he is recovering and feeling much better. His wife and children were staying in the compound as well. Other family members had come home to spend time with him and celebrate his recovery.
Thursday (the 20th) was a holiday to celebrate the birth of the Prophet. According to the Peace Corps people, it is a relatively muted holiday as the day also recognizes the Prophet’s death. Nonetheless, it was a large celebration at my house. On Thursday we slaughtered two sheep in preparation for the coming feasts. No one worked that day, but spent the time preparing for the evening. At around 3-4 pm, my family invited all of the women of the village over for tea, couscous, and meat. They wanted to give thanks to God for the recovery of their son and feeding the whole village was their way of doing that. I didn’t know so many people would be there, so it was a little surprising when I walked into the family courtyard to see over 100 women sitting and eating.
The next day we invited all the men of the village to our house to continue the celebration. By the way, this way of giving thanks to God is known as sadaqa. While this celebration was concurrent with Eid, I think that most of the celebration was about sadaqa and not Eid. Normally when people have parties and invite others over for food, not everyone is invited and the invitees bring presents for thanks. But because it was sadaqa, no one brings any presents; it’s all about the family providing for the village. The men’s celebration started later than the women’s: around 9 o’clock. There were three or four rooms full of men and they put me into the room with mostly older men and a man whom I presume to be the Imam. We were served tea and chatted; intermittently the Imam would lead recitations of the Qu’ran. I really liked the chanting: several men were singing and there was a harmony part. After we ate some amazing food, the Imam gave a sermon. Then, later in the night we went outside under the nearly full moon, and there were more recitations.
I didn’t pick up much of the Imam’s sermon, but I did hear the words for health clinic several times. It’s just speculation that is guided by my own fears and prejudices, but my guess is that the Imam was saying that God is to thank for my brother’s recovery and not modern medicine. The Peace Corps people have been warning us that we’ll encounter such attitudes, so I’m probably overly sensitive to it. Whether or not I understood the Imam correctly, it is an issue that will impact me directly as a health volunteer.
In summary, it was a great week. There are many young kids in my family and I spent a lot of time with them. Physical affection between adults and children is much more common in Morocco than in the States and it was a nice change. Even though my communication skills aren’t very good yet, I was still able to interact with the kids and have fun with them. I brought a soccer ball and that won them over from the start. We don’t go back to our CBTs for almost two weeks and I’m really looking forward to it.

Communication Breakdown (It’s always the same)
Alright, enough positivity (is that word?) for one post. So this past fall I was in Spain for a while and part of the time I was in an environment where I had to communicate in Spanish. It was difficult and mentally exhausting. I missed important parts of conversation and I felt a little out of the loop.
However, compared to Morocco, Spain was a walk in the park. I studied Classical Arabic (Fuswa) for one year and it was very difficult. I learned a lot about the structure of the language and the grammar rules, but the sounds are so different that I wasn’t really able to communicate effectively after a year of study. Before I came to Morocco, I started studying Moroccan Arabic (Darija), which is significantly different from Fuswa. We did about a week of intensive Darija in Morocco and it was a tough transition. There are a lot of similarities…and a lot of differences. I felt like I was starting to get into Darija and figure it out a little bit, but then I got placed into a Tamazight site.
With only one session on Tamazight language under our belts, they sent us out too the CBTs. It was difficult. I couldn’t really communicate verbally, other than greetings. My family was very understanding about how hard it was for me and tried to help me a lot with the language, but it’s frustrating to not be able to participate in any conversations (outside of class during the day) for a whole week.
On top of that, my CBT group got a little unlucky. Our LCF (Language and Cultural Facilitator, who is basically in charge of all of our training while at CBT) was not very good. Apparently he was having a difficult time sleeping and so he had no energy during the day. For the first few days, we moved at a very slow pace and I don’t think I got much out of it. On Wednesday (we arrived on Sunday), he quit the job and so they sent someone else out to our site. Fatima, who is an administrator now, but was formerly an LCF, came to run our training. She was very good and I learned a lot from the sessions that she led, but it was only two days since we had Thursday off for Eid. So our group is behind on language, which sucks. They’re going to give us extra tutoring while we are in Ouarzazate, so hopefully we can catch up. We’ll have a different LCF when we go back.
I want to be good at Tamazight by the time our training is up. At our swearing in ceremony, someone from each language group (Darija, Tamazight, and Tashelheit) gives a speech….in that language. I want to be good enough at Tamazight to give that speech. Inshallah (god willing).

Well that’s it for now. This was a hastily written post with a lot of information, so I hope it’s coherent. I had a great time and, after two weeks of sitting in classrooms, it was good to get out and interact with Moroccans for a change. Salaam.

To Alex, Ive been playing lots of soccer, everyone here plays. To Adam, yes, its amazing. I can use my French from time to time, even in the small villages. There were two people in my family who spoke a little.


Alex said...

Sounds amazing, man! It appears you landed a sweet family, too. Good luck with learning the language.

Mark said...

Duncan, This is exciting, Duncan. You are going to be in the Moroccan culture in a way that few get to be. I am thrilled to share that through your posts. (I hope that you will be able to share some pictures, too, although I understand that being there – rather than taking pictures of being there – is your first priority.) Dad

Mark said...

Duncan, P.S. please send my regards to your host family. I am so pleased to learn that they are so welcoming and helpful to you. Dad