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June 13, 2008 TiHibubin

Tamazight, aka the Berber dialect I’m learning, has lots of words that are fun to say. One of my favorites is “TiHibubin”, pronounced more or less like Tee-(exhale)-ee-boob-een. The (exhale), transliterated with a capital-H, is more or less the sound you make when you’re fogging your glasses to wipe them off, or maybe huffing with frustration. There’s just the audible puff of air.

Anyway, “TiHibubin” are spots on the skin. Any kind. Moles, freckles, zits, you name it. And I’ve got billions of them. (Mostly freckles.) Today, I was visiting my cousin’s house, and was (of course) invited to tea. So I drank tea, ate bread, ate a cookie, and did my best to make conversation with everyone there.

While we chatted, a grandmotherly woman struck up a conversation with me. She has come over to our house many times, to check on MaHallu. She’s called “Doctora”, meaning female doctor, and she was there for the delivery of my two host brothers. Since I’ve never learned her name, I think of her as Lalla Doctora – Lady Doctor (with “Lady” in the British sense, since it is used as a title of respect in Morocco). Lalla Doctora pointed to my freckly hand, and said, “Hey, I have those, too!” She stretched out her hand to show what I think are age spots. “What are they?”

I gave the answer I’d learned during training: “TiHibubin!”, and got gales of laughter.

Apparently, since freckles are unusual in Morocco, the word usually means zits. I decided to ignore the laughter and pushed up my sleeve to show my freckle-drenched arm. “See, I have many of them!”

“What causes them?” pressed Lalla Doctora. What followed was a difficult conversation about melanin. I wouldn’t have attempted it if N**, my cousin who speaks a little English, hadn’t been there to bail us both out of difficult points. “Everyone has color in them. In some people, it all comes up to the top: black people. In me, it comes up in spots.” I was fairly proud of myself for getting all that out.

I don’t know if Lalla Doctora understood me or not, though, because then she changed the subject….to helping me on my plant project! She had promised, a couple weeks ago, to teach me about plants if I my language skills got better. Apparently, they’ve improved enough that she was willing to try.

Actually, more likely, she wanted to take advantage of N** being there as a potential translator.

Regardless, she gave me insight into two of the locally grown plants that are used for medicinal purposes. Lhumdullah! Also, this meant that N** learned what I was up to – it hadn’t occurred to me to talk to her about it – and she has offered to help more! :D

In fact, not an hour later, she saw me filling out the paperwork that I’m supposed to complete for each plant, and she answered some questions that I’d forgotten to ask Lalla Doctora, like when the plants are cultivated. A couple hours later, after lunch, she brought me some rosemary – aseer – and helped me fill out the form for it, too. Yeah! Tangible progress on my work! And a helper who’s also a friend! Lhumdullah!!

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