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November 15, 2008 Berber Yoga

Today, my friend “Jamila” tried to teach a yoga lesson to some Berber women in her village. This was the first time she’d gathered this group together. They’re hoping to be given money to build a neddi, a women’s building, where they can make clothes to sell. They were quite impressively on-target throughout the session, repeatedly asking the PCVs for money for the neddi. Jamila kept reminding them that these foreigners were *not* the source of funding – a group in “Springfield” will hopefully be providing it in a few months – but that the purpose of today was to help them with the back pain many of them experience as a result of carrying 5-50 pounds of children and/or produce on their backs every day.

So the PCVs modeled the poses and described them in Tamazight. The Berber ladies, understandably confused by the crazy tarumin (foreign girls) moving their bodies in bizarre ways, reacted in different ways. Some claimed they were too old, and just sat out. One said she was sick, and lay down for the whole session. About 4 remained upright and attentive. Two actually did the yoga poses diligently, with varying degrees of success. The other two decided that we were doing something that looked like what they’d seen Jean Claude Van Damme do in a movie (I’m guessing it was Tai Chi), and so decided to engage in kickboxing/wrestling/kung fu.

At one point, a Volunteer found herself lifted off the ground in a wrestling hold. At another, while on her back and holding her knees to her chest, a Volunteer heard a woman shout, “Oh, soccer! I love soccer!” just before stepping on her and then grabbing her arm and dragging her across the floor. “Goal!” A little later, a Volunteer and a Berber got into a contest to see who could get their legs the furthest over their heads.

Things got a bit out of hand…

Upon reflection, the Volunteers concluded that Berber females have so little unstructured time – essentially none – from childhood onwards (I’ve seen five-year-old girls washing dishes and sweeping floors) that this window of opportunity, featuring tarumin who were using their bodies in odd ways, gave them an unprecedented outlet for a physical freedom. Never having had this kind of freedom, they'd also never learned how to school themselves to manage it responsibly...with the result that several of the women simply devolved into giggly, goofy girls.

Some haiku that emerged from the debriefing conversation:

Giggly Berber girl
Thinks Yoga is Kung Fu. Oops.
Airborne instructor …

Ball pose, hence korra. (soccer)
Berber lady steps on me.
How to score a goal?

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