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1/29 25 Random Things About Berberville, Part I

There's a meme going around, where people post 25 factoids/hobbies/whatever about themselves. I thought I'd post one for my village. :) Also, since I haven't had access to blogspot in over a week - the posts have been emailed to a friend, who's been putting them up for me - I wanted to get back into the swing with a nice, newsy, informative post. :) I'll try to mix the formal factoids with more flavorful stuff.

1. We have a sbitar, a hospital/clinic. It provides a safe and clean place to take care of birthing mothers, minor injuries, and run-of-the-mill illnesses. The staff includes a doctor and several nurses, who rotate in and out over time.

2. We're famous for our lakes. So much so that to elaborate would be to erase the anonymity with which I've shielded Berberville thus far. But trust me, they're awesome.

3. Berberville is quite possibly the coldest site that Peace Corps uses. I'm not positive this is true, but I haven't found anyone else who's had ice indoors, let alone repeatedly. Of course, that's also because most people in cold sites live in mud houses, which don't get as cold as cement houses do. I'm thinking of upgrading my thermometer to one that can track temperature over time, so as to create a climatological record for Berberville. "Bloody cold" isn't very precise, after all. :)

4. The Caid for the region lives here. A caid is an executive-branch official, outranking the moqaddim, which every village (or three) has, but reporting the the governor, who's responsible for the whole province. Our caidat, the fancy building where he works, perches on top of the hill south of downtown.

5. Most Berbervill-ians live in the valley or on the mountain north of downtown. My host family is in the latter group, in a house as remote from downtown as they could arrange. Ama and Baba had been living right on the main street, and Ama worried about having young children in such a high-traffic area. Now, they're in a house perched halfway up the mountain, at almost exactly the same elevation as the caidat. If Batman shot one of his grappling hooks from the window in my old bedroom to the Caid's office, he could sail across the entire village. :)

6. Berberville has several outlying douars, or suburbs (more or less). These tiny villages - is there a word for something smaller than a village? Maybe "hamlet"? - OK, these hamlets contain only houses, so their residents come to Berberville for all their needs.

7. We have a courthouse, complete with a judge, to attend to the legal needs of the region. I don't know what sorts of cases usually come before the court, but I do know that my Xalti got a ruling forcing her ex-husband to pay her alimony and child support, under the mudawana, the family law code, also known as the new protections for women's rights.

8. We have many cafes, restaurants, hotels, and shops, because of the tourist trade. I only patronize them when other Volunteers are with me. It's Hshuma - shameful, inappropriate - for a woman to go to a cafe or a restaurant in general. People mostly exempt me from that, because of my tarumit - foreign girl - status. But since I live and work here, I try never to play the tarumit card.

9. Why do we get so many tourists? Because of our lakes, a major ecotourist destination, and our festival. We hold a major festival every summer, like many of the larger Moroccan cities do. I don't know if any other villages our size hold a festival, but they might.

10. Berberville hosts the gendararie for the region. This houses the gendarmes, the rural police. (Urban police are called bolis.) Both words come from the French. They colonized Morocco briefly, and held a heavy presence for a much longer span, before being thrown out about half a century ago.

11. You can see the French influence everywhere, in the school calendar, the structures of the ministries, and most obviously in language: it is taught in school from 3rd grade onwards. Throughout primary school and up until the end of secondary school, half the classes are conducted in French, half in Arabic. When you hit the tertiary level, at one of the universities, all of the courses are in French, and French expatriates fill the faculties.

12. Berberville has a large and lovely mosque, located right next to the souq. The call to prayer rings out from its minaret five times a day.

13. Souq? Yes, I said souq. Though I take the trip to "SouqTown" every week or so to pick up supplies, Berberville does, in fact, host its own souq. This is a cross between a farmer's market, a flea market, and a mall. Souq happens every Friday and Saturday in the center of town, and in fact probably defines downtown. The word souq means both the markets themselves and the place where the markets take place - I'll try not to be confusing, but that's what happens with versatile languages like Berber and Arabic. For that matter, souq also means "I bought", but I promise not to use it with that definition!

14. Because Berberville nestles into a valley, surrounded by mountains on all sides, flat land commands a premium. Farmers cultivate all of the flat land along the rivers (we have two), and the buildings take the steeper areas.

15. In order to create a "market square", as Americans or Brits might call it, they terraced the lower, shallower slopes of the mountain. Souq has three tiers (terraces). At the bottom, closest to downtown, you find the dry goods, spices, and kitchenwares. On the middle level, clothing vendors set up shop, selling imports, second hand clothes, and anything else conceivable. Leather jackets? North Face parkas? Bathrobes designed to be worn as outerwear? I've seen them all. Selection changes week to week, though, so stay alert. The top level holds the food. It remains half-full all week long, lhumdullah, so I always have a selection of produce available to me. But on souq day, it fills to overflowing with grains, more produce, chickens, etc. There's an additional level, yet higher up the mountain, behind the courthouse (which overlooks the food court, you might say). It holds Live Animal Souq. If you want to buy a sheep, goat, or (rarely) a mule, this is where you come.

More to follow...

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