The moment all of us have been waiting for this first week occurred about 10:00 this morning when we found out what our language assignment and training village would be.
I’m in a group with four other volunteers. We’ll be living and studying in a little town about an hour and a half northeast of here. Our LCF, Said (Sah-yeed), got us started right away with a little bit of “survival” Tam. We’ll be driving to our village in a “grand taxi” starting at 9:00 tomorrow morning and our host families will meet us at the training house.
My host family is headed by a dagger maker – you read that right – I’m sure I’ll have more to tell you about that later. Also in the house are his wife, seven children, all over the age of 20, and an eight-year old neice. And me, of course. I’m going to need to learn a whole lot more “survival Tam” on the drive up, I can tell you that!
You notice I’ve been circumspect in my discussion of my assignment. Peace Corps asks us not to reveal our exact locations or to use people’s full names in our blogs which, as you know, are available to anyone poking around the Internet, so that’s the way it will be. In snail mail and other private communications I’ll be able to be more forthcoming.
I have to tell you a great story before I close.
We were given a half day off today. I’m learning that what that means is not really time off but what Peace Corps calls SDL – self-directed learning. I worked most of the afternoon on repacking my bags and still have a pile of stuff to read that I haven’t even touched. But I did go for a walk with a friend named Stan. We climbed a hill above the square where our hotel is located to get a view of the city.
A little boy about five approached us and said, “Bonjour monsieur.” Moroccans’ first assumption when seeing a westerner is that they’re French, so this little guy was trying out his French on me. I answered “Bonjour,” and then said “s-salaamu ‘alaykum” (hello) to him. He looked surprised that I spoke Arabic and got shy. “Wa ‘alaykum s-salaam,” he replied looking down at the ground. “La bas?” (are you fine?) I asked. “La bas.” He replied, his head sinking further, but with a smile on his mouth.
Stan and I walked on up the hill. On our way back, my little friend was standing in the road. “Shnu smitk?” (what’s your name?) I asked. “Mohammed” he replied, but that was a bit too much for him, and he turned to walk away. “Smiti Jim,” (My name is Jim) I called after him. But he went off and huddled with an older boy about ten, wearing a soccer jersey.
Stan and I continued our walk back to the hotel. A little later in the day, I was crossing the square in front of the hotel, and someone shouted, “Hey, Jim!” It was the boy in the soccer shirt. I went over to him greeted him in Arabic and asked him his name. He told me. I made the polite replies and walked away. I knew I wanted to tell someone about this but realized I’d already forgotten his name, so I went back and asked him to repeat it. We again parted, but I forgot a common courtesy, l-hamdullah (thanks be to God). He said it, coaching me, Then I repeated it. “Bravo!” he said.
It was my first unscripted conversation in Arabic. And that “bravo” made my day