Think local. Act global. Learn more about the Peace Corps

5.14.2008

4/28 My craft-astic first full day in Berberville

In response to requests, I'll no longer be faking the dates. Sorry for making it hard to find the new material. I'll just put the dates in the header line, like above.

I have a name! :) Last night, Ama and her neighbor and I had a conversation about it. I explained that I wanted a name from the Qur’an. Ama said that there are many, and rattled some off. One that caught my ear was Kawtar, which was the name of one of my favorite people in my first host village…so now, that’s my name. :) I’m happy.

After breakfast this morning, I helped Ama prepare imshli (lunch)*. I managed to peel one potato while she peeled the other six and sliced the tomatoes. Sigh. I’m trying. Afterwards, two neighbors came and helped Ama set up the warp for her loom. That was pretty amazing to watch; these techniques have probably been around for as long as weaving has, which is thousands of years. I also played with my little sister, who I won over last night. :) While we ate candy and played “count the fingers”, Ama drove three iron rods into the courtyard, and wound a thread in a figure-eight pattern around them. The other two women had separate strings coming up along the two outermost rods, which was knotted into the weft at each turn. I don’t think I’m describing it clearly, but it was fascinating to watch. I had to leave before they finished, so I didn’t see how they transferred it from the courtyard to the loom in the living room. All I know is that by the time I got home, about ten hours later, Ama had woven (weaved?) about a foot of a tazerbit (tapestry/rug). Oh, and this wasn’t weaving like with a shuttle that is thrown back and forth. These are knotted tazerbits, much like the famed Persian rugs. Each row consists of hundreds of individually tied knots, and the cloth pieces are then cut after each knot is tied, leaving about an inch of fringe. It'll be a shag rug, sort of, when it's finished.

At 10, I was supposed to meet with my site-mate, whose adopted name is “Fatima”, to meet with the school director, the gendarmes, the teachers, the postmaster, etc. But there was a change of plan. Her coop was bringing a new neighborhood into their fold, and the first step was distributing materials to them. So I shot a text message to “Zahra”, the PCV who I’m replacing, to ask her to tell Ama that I wouldn’t be home for lunch.

I have to say, I never imagined that dropping off supplies would be a nine-hour operation. We showed up, had tea, separated ~10 kilos of powdered dye (2 kg each of 5 different colors) into 50 single-serving mikka bags per color, then grouped them so that each of the 50 women would get a bag containing each of the five colors. That’s 300 mikka bags altogether, each filled by hand. Many hands make lighter the work, but it was still time-consuming. Once we had the 50 dye bags, 49 bagged skeins of white yarn and 48 skeins of red yarn (big oops by whoever provided the yarn!), we broke for lunch and siestas. The other association who wanted to take part in the distribution said they’d arrive before lunch. At 3pm, when they still hadn’t appeared, we transported everything to the school for distribution. The association members showed up at 5. Then we began sorting the hundreds of interested people, getting them signed up, distributing the materials one at a time… I took pictures.

Somewhere in there, mostly out of boredom, I played my pied piper card. I ended up with over 30 girls and about a dozen boys crowded around me. It’s nice to know I haven’t lost my touch with kids, but it was a little (OK, a lot) overwhelming. Here’s hoping I can roll that into a huge Environmental Education club at the school. I’m still not used to being a celebrity. Our gaggle back at our first host town has (for the most part) died down to the two core boys, Ali’s sons. I’d forgotten how easily foreign strangers draw a crowd. Once we’d finished the work, I told “Fatima”, “I’m officially overwhelmed.” She laughed, “You’re officially beloved.”

Oh, and apparently, teenage boys worldwide have a naughty phase they need to work through. They were asking me inappropriate questions (along the lines of “What would you like me to do to you?”), probably guessing from my repeated “Ur fhmgh, samHi” (I don’t understand, sorry), that I’d have kept smiling at them. And indeed, I didn’t understand what they were asking – but fortunately, Fatima did, and she told me to say wallu (nothing). When that stopped working, I tried seer (go away, but in the wrong language – whoops!) and Hshuma (shame on you), and finally fst (be quiet). Fst turned out to be the most effective.

Anyway, we did finally finish up, have a final cup of tea, and get home.

*Astute readers may recall that the word for lunch was imkli. Here in the northern half of the country, k’s are pronounced as sh’s. And g’s are prounced as j’s, and r’s as l’s. These are minor differences – except for the k-sh one – but it’s enough to make it hard to understand even the words I have mastered.

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Think local. Act global. Learn more about the Peace Corps