Thursday, April 24, 2008

Su Attayj, Tsh Arom and Gender According to the PC

Su Attayj, Tsh Arom! (Drink Tea, Eat Bread!)

Peace be upon you. Is everything well? I am well, thanks to God.
“Su attayj” and “tsh arom” are the four words that I hear more than any other from my host family, God bless them. When I’m at their house, I eat constantly, as God has provided for us. Breakfast is at 7 and it consists of bread, jam, olive oil, coffee and/or tea and this soup called askif, which is a delicious barley-based concoction. I go to school and we have a snack break at 10 o’clock where we get bread, jam, olive oil, and tea. Lunch is around 12:30 and is normally the best meal of the day, thanks to God. There’s a more variety at lunch, and my favorite dish is a tajine with some potatoes, carrots, zucchini and apricots. Four o’clock rolls around and we get served more bread, tea, and some peanuts.
We get out of language class at around 6:30 or 7 and I go home and hang out with my host family. I normally chill with my host mom, may God bless her parents, and she always serves me tea and maybe some eggs or lentils (accompanied by bread, of course). There’s another pre-dinner serving of tea at around 9 o’clock, God providing. Dinner is almost always couscous, topped with unripened figs, green beans, and some meat. The most typical meat that we get is this cow stomach/intestine, which is not my favorite. Dinner’s normally accompanied by this really sour buttermilk, which they call aro. The first time I had it I really didn’t like it, but it’s grown on me. We normally have a fresh fruit desert: oranges, melons, apples, or bananas.
The point I’m trying to get across is that my host family, may God help them, feeds me a lot. I’m always full, but there’s always more food in front of me. I’m getting better at declining food, but my host mom, God bless her, always guilts me when I turn stuff down. It’s definitely a point of pride for my family to feed me well; they tell me that I’m eating better than the volunteers in other houses.
Another issue is the tea. Moroccan tea is extremely sweet and caffeinated. Constant tea breaks are a part of the culture, which leads to some dental hygiene issues. Another problem is that it really affects my energy level. Some days I can feel myself crashing half an hour after drinking tea. So I need to get better at turning it down, God willing.

Gender and Morocco, According to the Peace Corps

We get a lot of “cross cultural” sessions during training where Peace Corps staff (who are Moroccan), tell us about what to expect from Moroccan culture. For some reason, the staff exaggerates some of the negative aspects of the culture, specifically gender roles.
For instance, we were told that Moroccan girls in the countryside would be very lucky to go to school past elementary school. Since small towns frequently don’t have a middle school or high school in them, advancing a kid past elementary school means putting him/her up another village, which is costly. So families tend to only spend money on boys. But a girl in my family, who is about 14, lives with her aunt in the nearby city so that she can go to school. Also, one of my host sisters is studying at the university in Rabat.
We were also told that girls would never be allowed to support the family by earning money in a paid job. Supposedly it’s some sort of pride thing on the part of the males: that they must be the breadwinners in the house. It also has to do with not allowing the women any independence. However, three of my host sisters work in big cities: two in Casablanca and one in Marrakech. They send money home to support the family. Also, my other host sisters who are living at home help run the family business: a teleboutique.
Peace Corps staff aren’t the only ones who exaggerate gender differences. A favorite refrain among volunteers is that Moroccan men don’t do any work. The women work in the fields and take care of the household while the men just sit around. It’s definitely true that there are some older men who don’t do much. They sit at the wall of waloo (wall of nothing) and just hang out.
On the other hand, there are men who do a lot of work. Five of the men in my family are living in Casablanca and Marrakech, working and sending money home. Men that don’t go work in the big city are often day laborers. They go to the closest big city everyday and do construction or other manual labor jobs. But from listening to volunteers, you would think that the men do nothing. One girl in my training group is especially vocal about how her host family does nothing. It’s true that her Dad sits around for most of the day. But what she doesn’t notice is that three of her host brothers go to K’lah everyday and work in construction.
So we hear a lot of these false generalizations about Morocco. I’m not trying to say that Morocco is a place of gender equality – it’s not. All the women in my family wear the headscarf and show deference to the men. And there’s no denying that they do work hard. But why do staff and volunteers exaggerate the gender inequalities? I think that there is a desire to paint a picture of Morocco as a backwards country. Maybe (and I’m guessing here) by thinking of Morocco as a broken country, volunteers legitimize their two-year commitment to trying to fix it.

Update and Pics
I just got back from another week with my host family. I’m getting a little more comfortable with the language, which means I’m able to have less superficial interactions with the family. They’re great.
The other big news is that we find out our site (where we’ll be living and working for the next two years) tomorrow, which is pretty exciting. Then on Saturday we go and have a week long visit at our site. I’ll write another entry before I go.

Cutest Kid Ever? If only he didnt sneeze and cough all over me.

My training group in native garb.

Town river valley and two brothers.


Franny said...

DUNCAAAAAAAAAAN. i miss you. i havent sent you the messages yet but i got the envelope so im one step closer! ill write another letter and put it in there before i send it. sounds like youre having a great time and your host family is amazing. thats awesome. um, well, i have to go. but first, i wanted to let you know that i sat on a bush today accidently and it scratched my butt and now it hurts to sit down.

Franny said...

oh, and i have the worst sunburn of my life.

Christopher said...

Salaam salaam Dunc. I noticed you say "inshallah" a lot when you refer to your host family. Is your family trying to convert you to Islam? Just an observation.