A Typical Conversation
When I meet a new person and we strike up a conversation, it tends to follow a predictable pattern. Here is a rough translation.
Me: Salaam u walakum
“George:” Walakum salaam
Me: How are you?
“Harry:” Good. You?
Me: I’m good
S: Is everything good?
Me: It’s good, thanks to God
H: Thanks to God. Is it well?
Me: It’s well, thanks to God. Are you good?
G: I’m good
S: Do you know Tashelheit (Berber)?
Me: I know a little. It’s difficult
H: It isn’t hard
S: Yes it is
G: It’s very hard. Blah blah blah blah.
Me: I don’t understand
H: You don’t know anything
Me: I know a little
S: He knows a little
G: He knows
H: Blah blah blah blah blah
Me: I don’t understand
G: Blah blah blah blah
Me: I don’t understand
S: (Making praying motion) Do you pray?
Me: I pray
S: Say this, “(recites the phrase that converts the speaker to Islam)”
Me: I have my own religion
H: Blah blah blah blah
H: Come to the mosque
Me: No. I am not a Muslim. I have my own religion.
S: Say this, “(recites the phrase that is the way of converting to Islam)”
Me: No. I have my own religion. I pray in my room, not in a mosque.
G: What religion?
G: I don’t understand
Me: It is the same religion as the French
H: What are you doing here?
Me: I work for the department of health. I work in the health clinic in _______.
S: You’re a doctor?
Me: No. I am a teacher of health. I teach health. (except I always mispronounce the word for health and have to repeat it a few times before they understand).
G: Are you married?
G: Do you have a wife in America?
Me: I don’t know. Because
H: You should get a Moroccan wife. My daughter/sister/cousin/friend is available (woman offered to me may or may not be present).
Me: I don’t know. I don’t want one
G: You should get a Moroccan wife
Me: I don’t want one
S: Why not? You should get married
Me: Because I don’t want one
Me: I don’t know. I have no money. I have to work a lot
G: Oh. Blah blah blah blah
Me: What? I don’t understand
S: Blah blah blah blah
H: I told you he doesn’t understand anything
S: How much money do you have?
Me: Oh. I don’t want to say.
S: Tell us
Me: Because I don’t want to. It’s not a lot.
H: How much?
Me: I’m not saying
H: Come have tea with us….
Conversation continues over tea, following a similar line of questioning
So that’s pretty much what I talk about these days. Other popular topics include: President Bush (Bad), Hilary Clinton (did you know she was born in Morocco?), do I like Morocco? (Yes), Berber vs. Arabic (Berber is better), how much does stuff cost in America (a lot), and can I take someone to America with me when I go (No, costs too much).
The last topic reminds me of a sort of depressing part of this job. My job description says that part of the reason I’m here is to improve the lives of Moroccans by improving the Moroccan health system. But the thing is that a lot of Moroccans I’ve met don’t want to be in Morocco. In many parts of the country (including Khenifra, where I am), there aren’t a lot of ways to earn money. So people travel to the big cities and other countries for a large part of the year.
On Sunday, most of the working age men in my town are going to Spain. They say they don’t know where they’re going or what work they’re going to do, but that they’ll be there for probably six months. They’ll earn money there and send it back home. And like I mentioned, lots of people ask if I can help get them a visa to America. Which means that no matter how much the health system improves, if nothing else changes, there are still going to be a lot people earning their living outside of the country. It also sucks, by the way, that all the men my age are leaving. It’s pretty much impossible to be friends with women here without stirring up controversy, which leaves children and older men as my friends until November or December.
But it’s not all bad. In fact, I really like it here. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I’m responsible for villages very far from when I live. Today I walked to one that is maybe 17 km away. It was an amazing, gorgeous walk and I can’t wait to do more exploring. Along the way, people invited me to have tea with them and when I got there I had multiple invitations for lunch. There, I also met the teacher of the local school, who is my age and speaks French. I’ve met other teachers in other schools and they all are excited to try out their French on me (even though they speak it much better than I do). I’m sure that I will be friends with the teachers.
It’s also really exciting to think about all of the potential projects that I can do. However, this early on, I really can’t do anything because I need to get a better understanding of the situation in the community. I’m actually very excited to do the needs assessment of the community, which involves going door to door doing interviews. I’m sure that it will be pretty uncomfortable at times, but it’s going to be very helpful.
That’s it for now. Tomorrow I go to the provincial capital to have a meeting with the head of the Ministry of Health in Khenifra. Hopefully will learn lots. I hope all is well back home.