Peace Corps Part deux: Moroccan Nights

Mandatory Disclaimer: The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or people, the Mauritanian government or people, or the Peace Corps.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

As American as Celine Dion

As a very American looking American living abroad people often immediately ask me where I am from. This is then followed by a question or a comment to their friends about their first impression of America. Sometimes this first comment is about politics or America’s role in the world, sometimes it is to ask if we drink tea or not in America but usually people’s first instinct is to ask me about Justin Timberlake or Celine Dion. It is especially amusing to me that the biggest supporters of Justin Timberlake, the Back Street Boyz and friends are teenaged or 20-something boys. The same boys who in America would be listening to death metal and disrespecting authority.

People’s perspectives of Americans are based on both television and the little that they interact with actual Americans. Americans travelling through Morocco have several objects that are unique to them. The number one prize of course goes to the Nalgene water bottle but following close behind is the frisbee. While Americans might think of baseball or apple pie as symbols of American and might not have any idea what a frisbee is Moroccans immediately identified the frisbee as an American game. After a game of catch with a fellow volunteer who came into my town for an errand I was walking through town with a frisbee and I was expecting to be met with surprise or at least lack of recognition. Instead everyone seemed to know what a frisbee was and while I doubt the accuracy of the average Moroccans upwind hammers they all seemed to have a general idea of how to throw a frisbee. I think a lot of this comes from the nature of people that travel through Morocco and Taroudant specifically. While Taroudant definitely sees its fair share of busloads of Middle-aged French and German tourists a good percentage of tourists in Morocco are of the frisbee carrying hippie type. Just enough hopefully to change the image of America from Justin Timberlake and Celine Dion (who is Canadian by the way) to my favorite disc-shaped object.

Yesterday Moroccans and their brothers throughout the Islamic world celebrated aid il-kbir. The holiday commemorates Abrahams devotion and his willingness to sacrifice his son Issac before a ram was put in Issac’s place. If you think that story sounds familiar you are right. The holy books of Abraham’s three sons share a similar narrative as well as many similar moral lessons. To remember this story everyone slaughters and eats a ram. Think Thanksgiving only imagine that the turkey is a ram and that the ram lives on your roof for the week before he is eaten. The atmosphere throughout the city was crazy last week as all of my fellow urbanites rushed around to buy, transport, and house their sheep. Kids rushed around with carts deliverying sheep to people’s houses and the weekly market last Sunday contained enough sheep to make the biggest American ‘Animal feeding operation’ look puny as everyone from the surrounding countryside brought in their animals to sell.

In the past year and a half a lot of embarrassing things have happened to me but I am not sure if any of them have been more embarrassing than what happened to me during my last session with my Arabic tutor. My tutor who speaks excellent English was describing to me in Arabic A Moroccans sheep cooking method. He mentioned a word in Arabic that I didn’t know so I asked him to clarify in English and he said that it was a ‘hearth’. I racked my brain to think of what a hearth was and came up empty. As I was thinking he spelled the word out on my paper-- h-e-a-r-t-h-- because he thought that he might have been pronouncing the word incorrectly. I told him that yes he was pronouncing the word correctly it is just that his English was better than mine. Note for the record that English is my tutors 5th language and that a hearth is a type of oven used to cook meat.


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