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2/20/09 The Tarumit Show

A few of you have mentioned, via email or chats, that my relentless positivity might not be giving the whole story.

I freely confess that I've tried to keep the tone of the blog positive. I like dwelling on the good things in life, and focusing on what I have to be grateful for. It keeps me a happy person. :)

But my friends have pointed out that if I'm trying to give an honest portrayal of my life as a PCV, especially for potential future PCVs, it's only right to talk about the negative sides of the experience, too.

Today, I'm going to address what one of you referred to as "how they treat you as an outsider". I call it "The Tarumit Show." [Update: My friend Maggie discusses the same phenomenon here.]

Arumi means outsider or foreigner. My tutor swears up and down that it's not pejorative, but simply descriptive. There are different theories as to its etymology. Some say that it's from Roman, referring to conquering tribes from two thousand years ago. Others claim that it refers to Roman Catholics, and by extension all Europeans. Others say that it has the same root as Romani, also known as Gypsy, and refers to travelers, as outsiders encountering Berbers always would have been.

Whatever its origin, it is used by Berbers to refer to non-Moroccans, especially those of us with fair skin. (Sadly, they have different terms they use for dark-skinned outsiders, and they're less kind than foreigner.) Like all Tamazight words, it is conjugated. An arumi is a foreign man. Arumin are foreign men, or a mixed-gender group of foreigners. Tarumit is a foreign female (girl or woman). Tarumin is the female plural form.

Despite my nine months living here in Berberville, I still hear "Tarumit!" every time I walk through town, let alone when I walk through the much larger SouqTown. I usually ignore it. Some days I make it a "teachable moment" and explain that I'm no longer an outsider, because I live here. If I'm visiting a school, I laugh and tell the kids that my name isn't tarumit, it's Kawtar. They're usually so shocked that I have an Arabic name (from the Qur'an) that they're stunned into silence.

I get stared at a lot, too. At first I perceived it as vaguely threatening. In America, "personal space" is not only physical but "attention-al": staring at someone, giving them your undivided attention, is an invasion of that space and is usually overtly hostile.

Here, it's not.

I get watched because I'm different. To a community that, prior to this generation with its advent of TV and paved roads, hadn't changed much in ten thousand years, newcomers are news. Here in Berberville, Berber cultural patterns are so ingrained as to be instinctive. And then along comes a pale-skinned foreigner who doesn't follow the patterns, or at least not with the unconscious grace of those who have done them for a lifetime. She's different. And that makes her interesting.

I get watched with the dispassionate attention of people watching TV, which is why I think of it as "The Tarumit Show". The viewers are my neighbors and the strangers I encounter on the street or in my travels.

Today on "The
Tarumit Show", watch as the tarumit blows her nose *into a small white object* and then *pockets* the object. What is she doing with it? Do arumin use their mucus for some bizarre purpose? Watch and discuss!

Tune in tomorrow, when the
tarumit will read a book for hours while bouncing along a mountain road. She travels and she *doesn't* *get* *sick*. Everyone knows that females get sick in moving vehicles; that's why we have plastic bags on hand, for the inevitable vomit. But the tarumit never uses one! Watch and see if you can figure out why!

Here's a classic episode: the
tarumit buys a tank of butane gas and carries it home in her hands, not strapped to her back with a sheet. She's done this half a dozen times before, but it never gets old!


Another side effect of having pale skin is that everyone assumes I'm French and therefore speak French. Given France's decades of influence and colonization, it's not surprising that many Moroccans, especially in rural areas, believe that all arumin are French-speakers. As it happens, I do speak French, which makes it less annoying for me than for the majority of my PCV friends, who know no more than "Bonjour" and "Ca va?", which we hear every day. Every. Single. Day.

When I travel, I'll sometimes chat with the other passengers in the taxi or tranzit, but I'll more often read - it makes the long trips go by faster. But whenever I say something, even if it's just greeting the driver (since all the drivers are old friends at this point!), I hear whispers of, "Ooh, she speaks Tamazight!" On cheerful days, I take this as a compliment, and feel grateful that I can dispel rumors about foreigners who only ever speak their own oddly-accented French. On challenging days, I'm tempted to shout, "Of course I speak Tam! I live here! What do you expect??" I haven't done it yet, but I've come close.

I've never received outright mistreatment. I've never been insulted or assaulted.** I just get watched. I understand why, and rarely let it bother me, but sometimes it ... wears on me. I find myself wishing that I could do something as simple as pick up groceries without having to endure the passive stares of a dozen or two people. It makes me less likely to visit the big souqs, either here or in SouqTown. It's like being pelted with oatmeal flakes. It's not painful or scarring, but I do wish it would stop.

I keep telling myself that the longer I'm here, and the more I interact with people, the fewer shouts of "Tarumit!" I'll hear. But interacting with people means exposing myself to the "Tarumit!"cries. Some days I just hang out at home, and leave The Tarumit Show to its reruns, aka people swapping stories about me over cups of tea.

But here's the silver lining that anyone who knows me, knows that I'll look for on every cloud: One day, on a crowded tranzit, someone asked, "What's with the tarumit?" Another voice - I couldn't even tell who, because of the crowding - indignantly responded, "She's not a tarumit, she's one of ours." I wore a grin for a long, long time. :D

**OK, once, while I was traveling, some kids threw rocks at me. Pebbles, really. But they were pretty obviously just looking for attention, not trying to hurt me. Nonetheless, I do need to add a caveat to that statement. While I haven't been mugged, beaten, kicked, or otherwise physically assaulted, the sexual harassment in Morocco is both severe and pervasive.

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