Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Imik s imik

My favorite phrase at the moment is imik s imik. I like its sound (ee-MICK-see-mick), and also its meaning – “little by little.” My host family taught it to me the first night I was here, and it’s been my by-word ever since. It was a generous and encouraging comment on their part that this person sitting in front them, unable to speak or understand much of anything, would eventually get it. Most of our early conversations ended that way – imiksimik – and a lot of them still do.

That is not to say I have not made progress. I have, for sure. Last Sunday, for example, our CBT group made an outing to Hadida, a picturesque village about 40 minutes away, then came back through Qalaa, our souq (market) town and did some shopping. That evening, for homework, I wrote about a half page in Tamazight describing the day. One of my host brothers read it aloud to the family. They understood it and gave me a little ovation. Another of my host brothers asked me to write his name in Arabic script (he was skeptical that I could). I did, and then had to write the names of four others. And lately some of them have been asking me the English word for something in Tamazight – a definite sign that my vocabulary is growing.

Our main objective at this point is what Peace Corps calls “integration,” i.e., making ourselves functional and comfortable in our new communities. Language is the most important aspect of that, but it can be accomplished in other ways, too. My most important tools so far have been a sense of humor and not taking myself too seriously. My family and I laugh a lot and have developed a genuine affection for each other.

Another critical factor in my progress has been our CBT group – the four other volunteers and our instructor, Said. We’ve been together for about two and a half weeks now and have really begun to bond. This is an intense experience (the Peace Corps slogan is “The hardest job you’ll ever love”). I’m grateful that, even though I’m three times the age of the others, I feel like I fit right in. Does that say something about my immaturity, or their maturity? They are definitely an amazing, talented group of people. And good humored, too. We laugh a lot in training, mostly at ourselves. One of the keys to making progress in another language and culture is being willing to make mistakes, which we do in spades. That leads me to probably my second most favorite phrase – mashi mushkil – no problem.

You’ll hear more about my CBT mates - Ryan, Lyndsey, Nicole, Emma, and Said – and my host family in future posts. For now, I’ve included a few photos showing a few ways in which I’ve been “integrating” – imik s imik – so far. I'm having trouble uploading my photos at the moment, so I'll give you little captions right here:

The top photo is a view from the roof of our training house over the fields adjacent to the town. In the distance you can see our souk town and beyond that, in the haze, the mountains. On a clear day you can see that they are snow capped. We've had rain only one day since we arrived, but we had a bad wind storm on Monday that knocked out the power for almost a full day.

The second photo is me, dressed in traditional garb, for a wedding. That is my house on the right side of the photo. On the third day we were here, all of us were invited to the wedding of my host family's niece. My host father lent me a tajlabit (the hooded robe), an aznar (the red cloak), and wrapped my head in tahramt (the yellow cloth). The women in our group all had their hands decorated with henna. The hands you see in the third photo are of one of my host sisters, with an especially fine design.

The fourth photo is of our CBT group, minus one, taken on the foot bridge that crosses the river that flows by our town and supplies water to irrigate our fields.

And the last photo is of me getting my first haircut in Morocco. As Zizi, one of my CBT mates said just about the time this photo was shot, "Uh oh, you're not going to have any hair left," one of the risks of going to a barber in a foreign language. Oh, well, I'll save on haircuts this way.

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