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9/9/9 …a few minor RE-adjustments…

[By the way, note the extreme coolness of the date. :D ]

When you join Peace Corps, they mail you a little booklet called “A Few Minor Adjustments.” It’s meant to ease culture shock by giving you a sense of some of the changes you can expect to encounter when leaving the first world for the developing world. I only read the first few pages, because, honestly, it freaked me out.

But today marks my return to Morocco after a 10-day hiatus. After a week and a half in the first world – Sunday afternoon through Wednesday [this] morning – I’ve found myself tripping a couple times as I try to find my feet again.

Example: Money math

Morocco – at least, this Berberiffic part of Morocco – is perfect for mathematicians. Prices are routinely given in rials, which are worth 1/20 of a dirham. It’d be like quoting American prices in nickels. Can you imagine getting a soup-and-sandwich at Panera (née St. Louis Bread Company) or Cosi and being told, “That’ll run you a hundred and twenty nickels. Do you have exact change?” But that’s what happened to me. After breaking fast at my favorite restaurant in SouqTown, I walked up to the counter, and after the usual greetings, was told that I owed seb3in (70) plus something-he-mumbled-and-I-didn’t-catch, which add up to myaoasherin.

And thus began my comedy of errors.

First off, I thought he said myaoarb3in. Which is 140, as opposed the 120 he’d actually quoted me.

Then, I forgot how to do rials-to-dirhams conversions. I haven’t had to consciously think about it in so long that I actually forgot how. I stood there with my change purse out and tried to figure out how much 140 was in dirhams.

…and concluded that it was 14. I divided by 10 instead of 20. I have no idea why.

So I pull out the 10-spot first, then start counting through my ones. He says, “Do you have exact change?” Because of course, he knows that I owe 6 dirhams, so he figures I must be looking for six ones. I still believe that I owe 14 dirhams, so count out 4 ones and put them down next to the ten.

He looks at the change, looks at me, and then – as helpful as ever – says, “You need to add some more.”

I look down at the pile of change, realize that I must have done the math wrong, and conclude that I owe him 16 dirhams. But I only had 14.5 in my little change purse, as a result of a pre-dinner splurge, so now I feel bad.

I pull out the last little half-dirham and hastily say, “I can go back, get more, and return.”

He looks at me with something like pity.

“It’s only one hundred and twenty,” he says again, slowly. He pushes my 4.5 dirhams back across the counter.

At this point, I’m completely lost.

I give up on the Tam and start talking out loud, to myself, in English. “Myaoasherin. Mya-o-asherin. That’s one-twenty. One hundred and twenty. Which is six dirhams.”

My compassionate friend nods and echoes, “Sta dirham.”

He pulls two two-dirham coins out of the drawer and adds them to the 4.5 he has already pushed my way.

I look at the 8.5 dirhams in my hand, finally figure out what had happened, and decide that since we currently have an interested audience of a half dozen Moroccans, I might as well play up the street theater. I clap a hand to my forehead and exclaim (in Tam), “I went to America for a week and forgot everything! Everything!” I get a round of chuckles and take my curtain call, ducking out the door with a quick “Thanks!” to my excessively honest buddy.

Example 2: Ramadan greetings.

After that debacle, I returned to my hotel. The guy-on-duty had changed while I was out, so the new one motioned me over. We went through the usual greetings, and then – “Did you drink soup yet?” he asked me. I blinked at him. I’d been expecting something about my recent trip, or else something more generic, like “Did you break fast yet?” It took me a beat to remember first, that yes, “drink” is the verb used for the consumption of soup, and yes, taharirt, Ramadan soup, is nearly universal as the fast-breaking-food, so he’d effectively asked me if I’d broken fast, just not in the way I’d expected. Fortunately, it was only a second before I was able to answer, “Yes, I drank.” Our conversation moved onto more immediate topics – he didn’t know what room I was in, because the previous guy hadn’t communicated it to him – but as I walked up the stairs to my room, I wondered what more foibles lay in my path… I readjust to my adopted country.

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