Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Summer slowdown.

Well, we’re deep into the summer doldrums here in the village. Looks like the dar chebab will be closed all summer, as is the women’s center. In this heat, people just don’t go out during the day if they can help it. It’s only been in the high 90s so far, for the most part; as people here love to remind me, machft walu mazal: I haven’t seen anything yet.

Accepting that it’s not my fault nothing’s going on, that indeed it’s out of my control, has been a struggle. But I’m learning to adjust to having even more free time than is usual for me here. Trying to write more, trying to practice my yoga more, trying to arrange an August vacation to a yoga/meditation/reiki retreat in Spain.

I’m also trying to accept that my every interaction is some kind of progress.

Take this afternoon, for example: I agreed to meet a possible counterpart at the appliance repair shop where he works. Ayoub also leads a local theater troupe, and we’ve been talking about ways to create some theater activities at the dar chebab. I had some trepidations about hanging out in such a male-centric environment, but Ayoub has a well-deserved reputation for being nishan – straight, a good, honest young man – and I got a great deal out of the hour I spent sitting among ailing refrigerators. Not only did he teach me an intricate new method of making mint tea, he told me about some women’s organizations in Taroudant, the nearest city, that might be able to help me organize some educational sessions when the women’s center does reopen this fall. I learned about some girls in a village not too far away who could use some positive activities. And we agreed to launch a schedule of theater and music events this fall, when the dar chebab – inchallah! – is open again. Frankly, a lot of networking got done in one afternoon.

On my way to meet Ayoub, I was accosted by a brazen gang of elementary-age boys, all clamoring to be the most brazen in daring to converse with me, all rushing to hide behind each other the second I met their gaze and answered their questions. Typical boys of that age, trying so hard to be naughty but frankly unable to hide their ebullient goodheartedness behind dimpled laughter.

Later, walking home, I made my usual rounds of “Salam, labas 3lik?” (“Hello, how are you?”) with women and kids I meet in the street. Sometimes people, especially women from the country, look at me suspiciously; more often, I get the reward of a broad smile, a handshake followed by a kiss of the fingertips, and enthusiastic inquiries after myself and my family. I carry those moments with me all day.

As I rounded the corner into my neighborhood on this afternoon, laden with a bag of vegetables and a round of bread, I heard giggles and “Allo, Becki!” Three elementary-age girls came bounding out of a courtyard to greet me, a toddler sister trailing behind. After kissing each others’ cheeks, we just kind of stood there for a few moments. We still don’t have much to say to each other, beyond: “What are you doing this summer?” “Walu” (nothing), but they always seem as happy to see me as I am to be called out. As I said goodbye and headed off again, I heard one of them say, in practiced English: “I love you, Becki, very much.” I know the limitations of such a statement, but how can you not tear up hearing that, so far from home?

Having no work to rush off to, no lessons to plan, frees me in my mind to spend more time simply being with people. Yesterday I went to my host family’s for lunch. I spent a couple of hours sitting on the ground with Rakya, cleaning wheat –sifting through it, looking for rocks and dirt. That's all we did, just sift wheat and talk. I didn't feel like rushing off; I had nowhere else I had to be. I learned some new vocabulary. Lunch meant the homemade flat wheat bread I love so much, freshly baked on a charcoal fire on the roof, still warm when we sat down to eat. And then, when everyone else laid down for their post-lunch nap, I didn't feel at all uncomfortable lying down alongside them. It felt communal. I slept.

Speaking of sleep, I’m finally sleeping in a big-girl bed! It was delivered on the Fourth of July. Just two twin-size frames with slats, shoved together under a thin foam mattress, but you have no idea how happy it makes me after camping out in my living room these past six months or so. That Independence Day evening, I fell asleep not to blasts of neighborhood fireworks, but to the rhythmic drumming of a wedding ceremony just outside my front door. I couldn’t have felt more at home.

Other recent news.

1. One of my favorite students passed the final exam that meant her graduation from high school. She sent the good news in a text message: “hi becki I am somaia how are you. Im sucssed in bacalorea.” Somaia worked so hard in English, as in all her subjects. Many students drop out of high school before reaching bac level; of those who stuck it out this year, only 27 percent passed the bac exam. With more than 60 percent of Morocco’s females still illiterate, Soumaia shines as a local role model; I hope this means she’ll continue her education at the university level.

(A girl in Rabat earned the nation’s highest baccalaureate score. In this interview, she encourages other girls to stay in school and work hard to better their futures.)

2. In local elections last month, two women won seats at the belladia, equivalent to a city council. One is a local nurse with whom I hope to coordinate some health classes at the women’s center this fall. There’ve never been women on the council before; a nationwide drive to recruit more females to office earmarked 12 percent of local seats for women.

Thanks to those quotas, women have made political inroads across the country. Marrakech has its first female mayor in history; a young woman in Tata province, south of here, is the youngest person ever elected in the country.

If you want to read more about the recent elections and what they mean for democracy in a Muslim country, here’s a good article on And here’s some inspiring news about women and government in other Muslim countries.

Quotes of the day.

“When you have compassion in your heart, you will suffer much less.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

“There’s an intrinsic value in doing something without being the best at it.” – Susie Gephardt (don’t ask me who she is, but I love the quote)

The only people who find what they are looking for in life are the fault finders. – Foster's Law (via Miz K)

"The most wasted of all days is one without laughter." – e.e. cummings (via Joy)

Currently reading: “Long Quiet Highway: Waking Up in America,” Natalie Goldberg

Currently listening to: A variety of legitimate free downloads from the Team Love Library.

Currently loving: The rice-stuffed, cheese-topped, broiled tomatoes I made for dinner.

More house photos.

1 comment:

Krista said...

Lovely, lovely post. So nice to hear relaxation in your words. Super cute little cacti too!