Limitations of this blog
A few conversations I’ve had recently made me realize that I’m probably failing to relate a complete picture of my community and of Morocco with this blog. The problem is that there are so many parts of life here that I take for granted. Because I take these things for granted I make the assumption that everyone knows about them, and so they go unsaid. It’s difficult to put yourself in the pre-Morocco mindset and thus difficult to communicate to someone who doesn’t have the same mental starting point as you.
I think these assumptions and the miscommunication that results is the source of one of the frequent complaints that Peace Corps volunteers make: people back home just don’t care. PCVs often say that their family and friends aren’t interested in or can’t discuss the issues that are important to them. I don’t think it’s a problem of interest (at least with my family/friends), but just that there is a mental disconnect. It’s impossible to communicate things that have become so basic to my everyday life because I am hardly aware of them myself.
A conversation I had on the phone the other day reinforced this idea. There were two topics in particular that made me realize the difficulty of communication. First was religion. I was trying to communicate the conversations that I’ve had with people about religion here. The caller was asking me how I managed to talk about my views on religion, which are not exactly orthodox, in such a conservative society. And I realized I had failed to communicate a basic aspect of talking about religion with people here: I cannot have honest conversations about religion here. Generally speaking, people in my community only know one way of spiritual belief. It’s more than just not questioning their own beliefs; most have never thought about people who have different beliefs and what those beliefs might be like. When I tell most people that I believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that I pray twice a day (instead of five), that what I say when I pray is not exactly the same as what they say, that my religion says it’s OK to eat pork, that I don’t face Mecca when I pray, and etc etc etc, these ideas are new to them. These ways of practicing belief are already so heretical that I would never try to explain the nuance (and far greater heresy) in my belief. Mostly, people are so busy trying to convert me that they hardly listen to what I say about religion. For them, there is only one way of believing.
The second topic in the telephone conversation was about women. I believe the caller asked if I had any female friends. There isn’t even a word for a platonic female friend in Tamazight. All nouns are gendered: they all inherently describe the gender of the noun. When someone says the word “friend” they either say “amdukkal” (male friend) or “tamdukkal” (female friend). If a man says he has a “tamdukkal” that means that he is having sexual relations with that girl (which, by the way, is completely inappropriate). And vice versa for a woman talking about an “amdukkal.” When I talk to my community about my female friends in the Peace Corps, I either call them “amdukkal” (which is incorrect, but appropriate) or I say “tamdukkal,” but immediately qualify that by saying I’m not having sex with them. When I tell people here that I have female friends that I’m not having sex with it is a new idea for most people.
My best/only native female friend here is my host mom. That’s only appropriate because people think of her as my mom. (But it’s still weird that I talk to her; most boys don’t talk to their mothers). There are a couple of girls whom I’ve spoken to, but only ever in a larger group that included my host mom. When I go to the health center or local school for work and talk at length with the female nurses/teachers (who are from bigger cities and more liberal) about work, people think that I’m courting them. Why else would I be talking to them?
These are topics that I’d like to explore in greater detail at some point, but for now I’m just using them to illustrate the depth of the cultural differences. The differences are so basic and engrained in society and how I think about my community that I might not think of them. I don’t bring up this point to complain or bemoan the fact, but simply to try and improve my own communication. Most volunteers see the communication breakdown as being the fault of the people at home, but I think it’s the volunteers who have shifted paradigms without realizing it.
It’s getting cold here! I’m going to buy a wood stove to heat my home, along with more a warm traditional Moroccan item of clothing called a jellaba (Arabic) or takabut (Tamazight). During the summer, the weather and wind all came from the West, but now that the seasons are changing, it comes from the South. Snow is on the tops of the nearby mountains and two days ago we had some earlier morning snow/sleet/hail/rain that turned the ground white for an hour or two.
I’ve been doing lots of oral hygiene education – more on that in my next post. I’m also busy organizing the midwife training, which starts on the 20th of this month. Thanks to everyone who gave money. You’ve made a huge difference in a lot of people’s lives. There will be a post about the training once it’s finished, two weeks from now. I’ve been healthy for more than a month now, which is a wonderful feeling. The presidential election is in three weeks or so. I believe Obama will win, but only if all of you vote! I wonder how many of you reading are McCain supporters. I’ve been watching the news about the financial meltdown back home. It seems like a good time to be abroad. Hope all is well.