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10/23 The Dumma

A month or two ago, during our period of heavy rains, I found myself walking across town, swinging my umbrella on its short looped cord. A little boy came up to me.

"Dumma!" he said, pointing to the umbrella.

I'd never learned the word for "umbrella", and was happy to rectify that. I hunkered down to his level. "This is a 'dumma'?" I asked, for clarification. He just pointed again, and repeated the word.

"In English, it's an 'umbrella'," I explained, continuing to swing it between us. "In Tamazight, it's a 'dumma', and in French it's a 'parapluie'," I said, the word floating up to me from the depths of middle school French class.

He reached for it. "Dumma!" he said, this time almost angrily.

I repeated my short language lesson.

And he repeated himself one more time, this time speaking slowly: "Dunn-ma."

And then I got it.

He wasn't giving me the word for umbrella. This wasn't a language moment. He was saying - mis-pronouncing - "Donne-moi," the French equivalent to "Gimme." I suppose my middle school French teacher would have pointed out that he'd left out the definite article: "Give it to me" should be "Donne-le-moi." But we have gimme and apparently, in Moroccan French, they have donnemoi.

I laughed, scolded him gently, pointed out that it was *my* umbrella, not *his*, and that I intended for it to stay that way, and then stood back up and continued on my way across town.

So there, friends, is an illustration of begging in Morocco. There's no associated shame, as some middle-class Americans might imagine. Just an expectation that anyone with fair skin has more than they need, and should cheerfully hand it off whenever requested.

It's very different from American materialism. Americans always want more things, it sometimes seems, but it's never enough. Americans have created an entire consumer culture out of the idea that if you buy enough things, you'll achieve ... peace. Nirvana. Happiness. Contentment. And so there's marketing, and advertising, and suggesting, all to create the illusion that if you buy *this* thing, it'll satisfy your inner craving. And yet it never does. It never can, really, because what we crave isn't anything material.

Here in Morocco, or more accurately, here in Berberville, I don't see that inner craving. That anxiety so familiar in America, the desperate need to do more, buy more, try more, in hopes of achieving ... whatever it is you want.

Some foreigners see the cheerful begging - the constant stream of "Give me a dirham!" or "Give me candy!" that children babble in butchered French - and conclude that Moroccans are greedy.

I disagree. There's an innocence to the desire that reminds me of crows reaching for car keys. Sure, it's shiny, it'd be nice to have. Can I have it? It bears no resemblance to the driving American acquisitiveness that feels like greed to me.

PS: Later that day, I told my sitemate the story. I didn't get far before she said, "No, wait, the word for umbrella isn't dumma, it's mddla." I grinned and told her the punchline was coming. But at least now I know what to ask for if I'm caught out in the next round of fall rains...or are we heading straight for late fall snows?

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