Monday, May 12, 2008

The Agni Bunch

I just got back from my last week of CBT (Community Based Training). We have one more week of training in Ouarzazate and, inchallah, I swear in as a Peace Corps Volunteer on the 19th.

The Agni Bunch

The name of my CBT family is Agni. After two months with them, I still don’t completely understand how all of the people are related, but I’ve mostly got it figured out.
The patriarch of the family is Ali. He owns the teleboutique in the town; everyone in the family defers to him. One of his sister’s and two of his brothers live with us. He is married to Khadija and they have 11 children. Some of the children (maybe 6) live in the house and the rest work or study in big cities (Marakesh, Casablanca, K’lah Mgouna and Rabat). The children who work in big cities send money home and come back for holidays and at random times. For instance, Ibraihm came back from Marakesh this past week just to spend time with the family. One of the brothers works in Casablanca, but his wife and kid (the super cute kid in a previous post) live with the family. The teenage children go to school in K’lah Mgouna (17 km away) and come home for the weekends.
One of Ali’s brothers is married and lives with us. He and his family comprise the second family unit in the house. In addition to that, there are a few young (16-20 years old) people who live in the house. Their parents live in Casablanca or Rabat. I’m not sure, but my guess is that their parents are brothers or sisters of Ali or Khadija.
There is some differentiation between the families. The older members of Ali’s family all eat at the head table and sometimes there will be a small, special meal that only they eat (I’m always included in those meals). Generally, they also have nicer stuff. However, for the most part, you really can’t tell who belongs to what family. The little kids call all of the women “mom” and everyone takes care of everyone. Even people that are unrelated show up at the house and hang out for a few days.
What I’m trying to get across is that there is a different conception of family in Morocco. Family is larger, more inclusive, and more fluid, which made it easier for me to become a part of the family. To them, I am Sma3eel Agni. They were still treating me differently than other members of the family, mostly by giving me more and better food, but I really did feel like a member of the family. One time the little kid called me “aromani” (foreigner) and everyone yelled at him. When I left, everyone was pretty sad and a few tears were shed. They want me to come back in shar timiniya (literally month 8, August) because that’s harvest season. Apparently everyone in the extended family will come back from their jobs in big cities for the whole month – I’m guessing that there will be somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 or 50 people in the house. And I fully intend to come back. The Agnis were really great to me and I miss them already.

Khenifra Province

After I swear in as a PCV, I will go to my site in Khenifra Province. There are some poor places in Morocco, but Khenifra is one of the poorest. It’s gotten a lot of attention recently because a few years ago there was a humanitarian disaster in a community called Anfugo. Apparently twenty to thirty kids died during the winter because a) it’s cold and b) communities get snowed so there is no access to the outside world. Anfugo is actually not too far away from my site (~50 km).
The disaster in Anfugo got the King’s attention and there is government money coming into the area now. The governor of the province and the ministry of health deleguĂ© (my boss) were fired a few months ago because they were corrupt. Hopefully the new ones will do a better job. One nice thing that they’re doing for the new volunteers in the region is giving us a weeklong training session in the provincial capital (Khenifra) on the health situation. As a volunteer from a foreign country, it’s a good sign because it makes me feel like we are wanted and it makes me feel like real work is expected of us.
There are already signs of change in the area. The road to my town is currently being paved so, inchallah, my village will not have any access issues in the winter. Also, the sbitar (health clinic) in my community was given extra staff in the winter. I’m hoping that this extra attention to the region will make it easier for me to get resources for projects.
What else? Well, Khenifra is known as one of the most intensely Amazigh (Berber) regions. When the French invaded Morocco, the people of Khenifra fought fiercely and were some of the last to be conquered. From what I hear, the intense Berber pride remains today. What I have noticed is that people are always happy to learn that I’m learning Tamazight instead of Arabic. In fact, I was talking in a group of men in my village, which included some men from out of town. One of the men was a policeman from Rabat who didn’t speak any Tamazight. Everyone else in the group was getting on his case when I started speaking Tamazight saying, “The American knows Tamazight, but you don’t even know it. Why don’t you learn it like the American?” Hopefully the Amazigh pride issue will be something that I learn more about as I get to know people in my community better.

Well that’s it for now. It’s hard to believe, but training is nearly done – it doesn’t feel like three months in country.

CBT Valley

Other end of valley

Family pics


Mark said...

The third picture down – family lined up on two sides with courtyard on the right – is a spectacular picture. Love it.

Patricia said...

Hi Sma3een: Colton gave me your blog address so I could follow your adventures. I've finally caught up with the posts and have really enjoyed them. What a fabulous and valuable experience! It's one thing to visit a country and a very different thing to live and work there for 2 years, especially in such a small community. Over the past several years, I've had a couple friends and a family member do stints in the Peace Corps, but this was before the amazing internet, so I didn't experience their tours like this. Blogs are wonderous things. I'm so glad you're taking the time to jot all your thoughts, impressions, and experiences down so those of us in the U.S. can enjoy this adventure vicariously, thank you! I'm looking forward to your future scribblings and pictures. Cheers from Seattle! Patti