Just Hangin’ Out
In two previous blog entries, I’ve passionately defended the amount of work that Moroccan men do, at least the men in my community. And I’ll stand by it; living in an agricultural community means you have to work hard. But I want to clarify one thing: women do work harder. They work in the fields and in the house. And always with a child on their backs. I have extra respect for women during Ramadan – cooking all that delicious food while you’re fasting cannot be easy.
So, the men work hard, but they do have down time. In fact, it’s a lot of down time. Some men spend most of their down time in their house, watching TV or just hanging out. Some men play cards or another game called fili. Others walk around. But the majority of men just sit around in the middle of town and hang out. There are about five hangout places in my town and at least one of them will have men hanging out at some point from sun up to sun down. It’s not hard to find a conversation.
My village has about 450 people in it, about half of them men. While the women are often from other villages, the men were almost all born in my village. So the men have known each other their whole lives. For a long time my question was: when you’re hanging out with the same people for several hours a day everyday for your whole life, what the hell do you talk about? It’s a hard question for me to answer because it’s difficult for me to understand conversations between other people. They speak faster, they mumble more, and they don’t stop to clarify my questions. Also, if I lose the thread of the conversation, it’s almost impossible to understand without context. So, before, I often just dazed out when people were having a conversation I wasn’t involved in. It was too hard for me to understand.
But today I was hanging out with a bunch of guys and they got tired of talking to me (there are only so many times they can ask me about Barack Obama) and started their own conversation. And I mostly understood it! At first they talked about the prices of things in the weekly market. They beat this topic to death. One guy repeated the price of dates about ten or fifteen times. Not exaggerating. Then they started talking about some guy who they all sort of knew who had recently died. He had some kind of handicap and they spent a lot of time talking about that. They would talk about how he died, where he was from, his family etc. Then just as the conversation was dying out, someone else would join the group and they would go through the whole thing again with the new guy.
I haven’t really talked about this topic yet, but hanging out in this setting is how I spend a lot of my time. This is the vast majority of my “work” right now. There’s not really a whole lot to say about it; we’re just sitting around, talking. Sometimes they talk to me, but sometimes they go off onto conversations like this. It can be pretty dull at times, but now that I’m understanding better it’s more interesting.
This I believe…
Some of my nearby volunteer friends and I have started a “creative writing society.” Our first assignment was to write an essay entitled “This I Believe.” The topic was inspired by an NPR segment. Here is my essay:
I believe in the earth, the moon, the sun, and the stars. The natural world is my sanctuary and it is the greatest, most awesome power that I know or can imagine. When I climb a mountain on a clear day and I’ve sweated through my shirt and the wind is whipping around me and I can see for miles in every direction, I believe. When the skies darken with clouds and the heavens unleash gigantic drops of rain and thunder reverberates through the air and the rivers and creaks run over, I believe. When the waves roll through my body and my lips taste the salt of the sea and my skin turns red and burns, I believe. When the sun sets below the horizon of corn and soybeans and clouds turn red, purple, orange, blue and purple, I believe. When the winter sky drops a foot of snow on the land and the cold feels its way slowly through my clothes and my snot freezes and I have to keep moving to stay warm, I believe. I often forget the power of the natural world and am always thankful to be reminded.
I also believe in and am astounded by the power of the human brain. I do not believe in a soul or any other manifestation of the immaterial within the human body, or anywhere else for that matter. I do not believe in life after death. Human consciousness is what fascinates me. Although we may feel like the pilot of a human ship, carefully guiding our actions through daily life, our brains and our thoughts are nothing more than neurons firing. Instincts and reactions are the real guiding force behind what we do and how we act. We’re much less in control than we think we are. But our consciousness fools us into believing that we have complete control, which is an empowering illusion.
Although this conception of human thought and identity is perhaps cold and lacking sentimentality or feeling, I believe strongly in human connection; I believe it is the most important part of my existence. I believe in love and friendship and empathy and connection between people. I believe in talking and listening and sharing and honest, soul-bearing experiences that help us understand each other. I believe that people express their love, feelings, and affection in a myriad of ways, but not nearly frequently enough. I know because I am guilty of this. I miss my mother and father and sister and family and friends back home because the connections I have with them make my life full. I look forward to the moments when I feel connected to them across the Atlantic Ocean through letters, emails, phone calls, or a chance event that reminds me of them. Yet while I miss those important people in my life that are not around me, I feel blessed to have the opportunity to form new connections with new people from new places and backgrounds and experiences.
Now that I’m recovered from my illness, I’m enjoying Ramadan a lot more, although I’m still tired a lot of the time. I have my television set up in my house. The news on the TV now is the hurricane hitting Texas; I wonder how that is impacting people back home. School is about to start in my village. The teachers came back from their summer vacations and I broke fast with them. Hopefully I will be working and teaching with them soon.
I’ve been feeling extra accepted by my community recently. Maybe it’s my improving language skills, maybe it’s because I’m fasting for Ramadan, or maybe it’s just been long enough that people are liking me more. People tell me: “you are a part of the community now. You can break fast at anyone’s house you like. Everyone in town likes you and thinks you are good.” People talk about my language ability when I’m around and they say things like, “he doesn’t always understand, but if you stop and explain it to him, he will understand. He knows Tamazight. His words are good.” I’ve also heard people say that I am the truth and that my words are the truth. I’ve been craving this kind of acceptance as long as I’ve been here and it feels really good to get it. There’s still a long way to go, but I’m happy with the progress that I’ve made so far. Hope all is well in the States.