Peace Corps Part deux: Moroccan Nights

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A kingdom far, far away

The other day, I gave a talk to a group of college students studying abroad in Europe and visiting Morocco for a short time. They were an interesting audience because they were new to Morocco. They were clearly an active, intelligent group who had already learned a lot about Morocco and made plenty of interesting obeservations, however they were still in the honeymoon phase enjoying the novelty of Morocco. This contrasts with almost everyone else who I interact with on a daily basis who is either Moroccan or a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) who has been living in Morocco for enough time for the novelty to wear off. After six months a lot of thing that have become normal to me were surprising to these students. After the talk the organizer, an ex-PCV herself, mentioned to me that, " it sounds narcissistic but speaking about Peace Corps to this group makes you realize how cool of an experience Peace Corps actually is."

One of the first questions was, "do you hang out with locals," " how do you meet them." I laughed and replied that living in Taroudant I spend all day interacting with Moroccans, everyone from the Director of the Youth Center where I work, to the guys I play soccer with, to the guy who sells me bread are Moroccan. The question reminded me how lucky I am to have the opportunity to interact with people from another culture on an hourly basis. PCV's often take for granted how easy it is for us to meet Moroccans and we are routinely invited to people's homes for tea or meals. Granted, the excitement often wears off after the 100th cup of tea or the 300th time we have to affirm the greatness of Moroccan tea. It's true, the tea is great, but exclaiming it's virtues four times a day for six months becomes repetitive.

I told them a story about a time in Mauritania when I spent four days at a wedding en brosse (in the middle of nowhere). They asked what I did with myself, a question that could be asked of nearly any four day period of my Peace Corps service. I replied that we played checkers in the sand using dried camel droppings vs. small sticks instead of the usual American style of red vs. black. This seemed to me like a logical way of playing in the desert, far away from the nearest Walmart, but judging by their reactions it sounds to the American ear like an unusual way of playing.

One person asked, "why wouldn't you do Peace Corps forever?" "If you like cross-cultural interactions so much why not just do it forever." Well, I don't think my mother would be happy about that. One of the things that I have learned while living abroad is how distinctly American I am. Spending time with people who have had completely different life experiences than mine, they have never watched Nickelodeon or played little league baseball, and I have never killed my own sheep, makes me appreciate my own culture and how deeply it is ingrained in me. Cross-cultural experiences are fascinating, but at some point we are all most comfortable living amongst people who grew up in the same culture that we did.

Keeping with the theme of narcissism, their questions made me appreciate how much I have learned about Morocco in in these six months. One person asked, "I heard we shouldn't use the word "Berber," is this true?" Berbers are the indigenous people to Morocco and still make up a significant portion of the population although they prefer to be called "Amazigh." I have had many conversations with Moroccans of varying opinions about a plethora of issues related to Amazight culture, including how they should be refered to, and while I don't claim to know nearly as much about any of the issues as the least-interested Moroccan, this question made me feel knowledgeable about Morocco.

On a random side-note, while watching Shrek the other day, I realized that Morocco is in fact a "Kingdom, far, far away." The King of Morocco is a real King with plenty of political power and while the donkeys here don't talk, however they do grunt a lot, Morocco does have its own type of magic.