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1/30 25 Random Things About Berberville, Part II

25 Things, cont...

16. Schools. Berberville has a mdrasa, which contrary to popular belief does NOT mean a fundamentalist training camp, but simply means school. Primary school, more specifically, including grades 1-5. Middle school covers grades 6-9, and is known by the french name college. (An accent grave belongs over the middle e, but I can't get blogspot to put it there, sorry.) High school also goes by the French name, lycee (again, please forgive the missing accent), and covers grades 10-12. At the completion of lycee, students sit for their bac, or baccalaureate exam. Very few rural students ever go to university, so "getting your bac", as they say, brings high accolades and great respect.

17. Pre-school. This exists in Berberville, but has for only a few years now. Folks call it a neddi, rhymes with )heady, which word also describes a women's center. Berberville does not yet have one of those, but if we get one, this might get confusing.

18. We do have a women's co-op; they weave rugs, handbags, breadcovers, pillowcases, and nearly anything else you can make on a loom, then sell them at festivals and fairs across Morocco. It used to have almost 50 members, but due to recent drama, its numbers have plummeted to about 5. My sitemate "Fatima" works with this co-op.

19. The moussem, our summer festival, includes a gigantic souq. At this market, you can buy everything from silver jewelry to horses and camels to artisanal crafts (like those produced by the women's co-op) to organically farmed honey to...pretty much anything under the sun. There are also informational booths, distributing information about SIDA, the environment, handwashing, anti-smoking, women's rights... Any official jam3a, or NGO, can get a booth (tent space, actually) from which to hawk their message.

20. Berber culture. I dubbed my mountain village "Berberville" both to protect its anonymity and because the name fits: we're the center of Amazigh culture. (There are three groups of Berbers in Morocco, distinguished by their dialects: Tarifit, in the Rif region of the north; Tamazight, the language of the Amazigh - my people; and Tasuseit, spoken in the Suss region down south. All the dialects are collectively referred to as Tashelheit, from the Arabic word Shilha.) Our Amazigh heritage is why we host the moussem. Our deep isolation - even with the recently paved roads, we're hours from the nearest big town or major road, and before that, it was at least a full day's travel to get to any other town - has protected this culture for millenia. You see it especially in the women, who still tattoo their chins with the designating marks for their tribes, and who wear the ahandir capes that they've woven for countless generations.

21. Berber's rapid development creates odd juxtapositions: tattooed women in ahandirs cross paths with men in leather jackets; shepherds lead flocks to pasture while texting on their cell phones; souq sells teapots made in China next to herbs grown 100 meters away. The government paved the road out to SouqTown only 10 years ago; they paved the road to the nearest town North about two years ago; the road to the nearest city South remains a dirt pist, impassable for much of the year thanks spring and autumn flooding and winter snows.

22. We have one of the best legends in Morocco - a real Romeo and Juliet tale - but I'll save that for a future post.

23. Berberville got phones eight or nine years ago, once the Maroc Telecom trucks could make it out on the freshly paved roads. Cell phones trickled in about the same time as they did in the US, leapfrogging over the more-expensive landlines. Interesting note - cell phone contracts are rare here. Everyone buys cards - what we'd call "prepaid calling cards" in the US - to "recharge" their cell phones, then uses the phone until they "run out of minutes". Cell phones can accept calls for up to six months after they've been "recharged", whether or not they have money left, so it's not uncommon for people to use their phones only for incoming calls.

24. As all regular readers of my blog know, Berberville has a post office, known as the bosta. Home delivery of mail doesn't exist in the bled (rural areas). If you want your mail, go to your PO Box and pick it up. Everyone pays for their PO Boxes (boites postales or BP, again from the French) on a calendar-year schedule. Since Health and Environment sector PCVs are on a May - May calendar, not January - December, we traditionally hand boxes down from one PCV to the next. I got mine from "Zahra", the previous Environment volunteer, and didn't pay a dime until a few weeks ago. When I leave, the new Volunteer will get seven free months in her turn.

25. I can't possibly list 25 things about Berberville without talking about the Berberville citizens, my friends and neighbors, some of the most generous people I've ever met. Moroccans are renowned for their friendliness and openness. I've learned a slightly more nuanced reality - invites for tea come readily, but work collaboration requires deeper trust - but the fundamental truth remains the same. I'm honored and grateful to work and live with these wonderful people. :)

Thanks for reading about my fabulous village!

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