Instead of simply recounting my adventures, I’m going to try and write some entries that are a bit more analytical and not just about me. I’m in academic withdrawal right now, so this is my coping strategy. Unfortunately, Peace Corps censors what I can and can’t write, so I can’t be completely honest. If you find these posts boring and verbose, you can always skip down to the next sub-topic, as I’ll try to include the typical journal sort of entry as well.
Nations Without States
I’ll preface this post by saying that I just read an article in Foreign Affairs (thanks Dad) by Jerry Muller called “The Clash of Peoples.” Essentially, Muller’s argument is that the violence of World War II ethnically homogenized states within Europe (especially Western Europe). Through emigration and genocide, each European state developed its own ethnic identity. Muller argues that this homogeneity is the reason for the peace on the continent in the past 60 years. Then Muller says that this time of peace and prosperity will be threatened in the near future by immigrant communities (from Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa, etc), which will degrade this vital homogeneity. I found the article to be simplistic and kind of obvious. Immigration from the Middle East and Africa into Europe is going to cause ethnic tension? Really? Nonetheless, it got me thinking about ethnic heterogeneity within a state and what it means. In the States, we sort of take it for granted and don’t (or at least I don’t) think of the United States as having multiple “nations.” But it’s interesting and important elsewhere.
For the non-political scientists, let me quickly define my terms. In Benedict Anderson’s words, a nation is an “imagined community.” Basically a group of people that feel a common connection based upon ethnicity, language, religion, culture, history or whatever. A state is the actual governmental structure and institutions. There are many places in the world where multiple nations (united groups of people) exist within a single state.
As many of you know, before I came to Morocco I spent three months in Spain. Towards the end of my time in Spain, I spent about a week in the Basque country in the North of the country and five days in Catalonia. When I was in Barcelona (Catalonia), I saw a huge Catalonia independence parade. Some people in Catalonia feel that they have a distinct history and culture from the rest of Spain and that, because of this unique identity, they deserve their own governmental institutions; they deserve their own state.
In the Basque country, there is a similar sentiment. Although the movement is not as likely to succeed in the Basque country, it is still very strong. I was fortunate enough to spend much of my time with a Basque family who were very open about their feelings on Basque identity.
The Basque people have recorded history that dates back to somewhere around 1000 A.D. Prior to the Castillan Empire (what we think of as Spanish); the Basque people developed their own governmental structures. They have unique history, culture, traditions and language. One note on the language: it’s actually the oldest language in Europe and is completely distinct from Spanish. Sometime ago (don’t really know when and can’t Wikipedia it right now) the Basques were conquered by the Castillans. The Castillan Empire became what we know to day as Spain.
When I was staying with the Basque family, they took me to a Basque history museum. The museum (coincidentally, it was located in Guernica, the site of Nazi WWII air raids and the subject of Picasso’s famous painting) was situated on the site of the first meeting of Basque leaders of different clans. They met regularly under an Oak tree, which is preserved. Within the museum, there are many examples of Basque culture from sports to music to dancing. The message of the museum is obvious: we formed our own government and culture 1000 years ago – we’re not Spanish.
I realize this is dragging on, so I’ll move on and try to be more succinct. Here in Morocco, there is a similar situation. The Amazigh (commonly known as Berbers) people have been here for thousands of years. They’ve persisted despite invasions by the Phoenicians, the Romans, the Arabs, the French and others. Like the Basque people, they have a unique culture, history and language. Like the Basque people, they are ruled by people of a different ethnic heritage. Yet there are many differences between the two situations.
Like I said, the Basque language is completely different from Spanish. However, the Amazigh people use many Arabic (and French) words in their vocabulary. Most evident to someone who barely speaks the language are the greetings and god phrases, which are peppered with the same “salaam walakums, bi heirs, and bismillahs” that you hear throughout the Arab world. Much of the everyday vocabulary, particularly food, is also the same. One interesting side note: although it is not commonly used, there is a unique Tamazight (the language of the Amazigh people) alphabet. Tamazight is almost entirely a spoken language and even in places where Tamazight is the primary language, you won’t find any signs in the Tamazight alphabet. However, there is a sort of Amazigh pride movement that tries to increase awareness of Amazigh uniqueness by teaching the Tamazight alphabet.
Another important difference is the Amazigh attitude towards the Moroccan state. Nearly every household that I enter has a picture of the King. The King visited the small village that I visited this past weekend and apparently everyone waited hours for a glimpse of his motorcade as he drove by. As far as I can tell in my one month in Morocco, there is no Amazigh independence movement. This is a stark contrast to the independence movement within the Basque country, made notorious by ETA.
One final difference is the concentration of the indigenous population. In Spain, the Basque people virtually all live in one province (as far as I know). In Morocco, however, the Amazigh people live throughout the country. Although there are higher concentrations in the rural mountain and desert areas, many live and work in the big cities as well. I can’t cite this statistic and it might be completely wrong, but someone told me that 80% of Moroccans have some Amazigh heritage, due to this diffusion of the people throughout the country. Perhaps this lack of concentration is one explanation for the different attitudes towards the state between the Basque and Amazigh peoples.
That’s all I’ve got for now – I’m not going to draw any conclusions. In fact, I’d probably be in trouble with the Peace Corps if I did. I wanted to layout this parallel because I find it interesting and hopefully informative. The issue of national identity and representation within the state has always been important, but perhaps more so now. Will interaction between different nations within the same state cause conflict? What lessons can we learn from success stories of different ethnic groups living within the same state? If this topic interests you, feel free to respond and ask questions. I’m sure I got some things wrong; so don’t be afraid to correct me. Finally, I want to say that my experiences in the Basque country and in Morocco are very limited, so I’m by no means an expert and my opinions are subject to change.
One Month Down, Only 26 To Go (But Who’s Counting?)
Everyone in my training stage keeps saying, “I can’t believe we’ve been here for only a month – it feels like five months.” I have to keep quiet when I hear this because, for me, the time has been flying by. We’re busy all the time and constantly having new experiences, so I don’t understand where they’re coming from.
For example, the past few days I’ve been on “field trip.” With two other trainees, I spent four days with a PC volunteer named Aaron. I’m not supposed to say exactly where we were, but we were about 1.5 hours west and south of the city of Tata. If you find this area on the map, you may notice that IT’S IN THE DESERT. It’s also very close to the Algerian border. Unsurprisingly, it was hot. We saw a thermometer that read 38 degrees Celsius, which translates to around 100 degrees Fahrenheit. And that was on March 27th. Aaron, who has been in his site for about 10 months now, told us that last summer the daytime temperature in July and August would get up to 140 and sometimes 150 degrees. Insane. And they have legit sandstorms there, where everyone just stays in their house for the whole day because you can’t go out.
Before I go any further, many thanks to Aaron for being a good host.
It was really good to go out and get an idea of the sort of work that I’ll be doing once I swear in. Aaron is also a health education volunteer and his main project thus far has been getting a well dug and the water piped into his village. As you might imagine, there is water “issue” at his site. Aaron didn’t do any work on the well while we were there, but he did run a dental hygiene training for 10-12 year olds. The combination of sugary tea and little teeth brushing leads to dental problems for many rural Moroccans, so dental hygiene is a big issue.
Another nice part about the visit was getting to see Aaron interact with his community. First, he’s able to interact because his language is good, which is encouraging. Also, he’s made many strong connections within his community and people genuinely like and respect him. So it was good to see that it is possible to be an effective volunteer.
That’s enough for now. I’ll be amazed if anyone even made it this far. Hope all is well back home and I can’t believe I’m missing March Madness. I think UNC is my pick. Also, I finally started taking pictures. I’ll get around to posting them at some point.