I went over to lunch at my host family's house today, as I do most Fridays.
Baba is out of town, showing the mountain nomads to a tourist, so Ama has been rattling around the house alone for a few days. (Well, she still has two pre-adolescent boys, a 2nd grade girl, and an infant, but she hasn't had any *adult* company in a while.) So she was eager to talk.
I learned all kinds of interesting things.
For one, the gigantic mountain of ifsi I'd noticed in the courtyard had been brought down by her cousin, who lives in her home village, a bumpy dirt-road trek about 20km off the main drag. He'd brought it in his transport-the-tourists oversized-Jeep-like-truck, which is why the mountain of ifsi reached up to the top of the (one-story) house. I estimated that it would have taken four or five donkeyloads to transport that much ifsi without the truck.
I also noticed just how *big* the shrubs were. I'm used to seeing ifsi used as a whisk broom, because it's the right size, plus it's the only use for the prickly bush during warm weather. (In cold weather, of course, it's used to supplement the expensive firewood purchased from wood poachers who in turn steal it from distant National Parks. They bribe the forest guardians to allow them to poach the wood; the higher the bribes, the more expensive the wood to my friends and neighbors. This is reason #13 as to Why Kauthar Doesn't Have A Wood Stove, But Endures The Smelly Butagaz Stove Instead.)
So from whisk-broom-sized ifsi to shrubs a solid meter in diameter...I wondered if it was actually the same species.
Up in Ama's village, there are few people and lots of mountainside, where the ifsi grows.
Here in Berberville, there are *lots* of people and the ifsi only grows out by the lake and in the cemetery, so every year, the women gather pretty much every last twig. During the spring and summer, it regrows from its stubborn roots, but gets only a foot or less in diameter before fall returns and the women come back with their scythes.
Think about the difference in volume between a one-foot sphere (not that the bushes are perfectly spherical, but it's close enough for the thought experiment) and a meter-diameter sphere. Volume goes up with the *cube* of the radius, so these remote-village-ifsi are *enormously* larger than the little bitty ones I'm used to.
Tonight, when we're all sitting around the stove, waiting for the henna to dry on our hands, I'll talk to Ama and my siblings about the implications of this. The relationship between the over-harvested ifsi and its ever-shrinking size, plus what that means for soil quality and erosion. Of course, words like "erosion" and "resource management" only exist in Arabic and French, not Tamazight, so I'm going to have to think about how to phrase it in ways that will make sense to my illiterate-but-highly-intelligent host mother.
Other highlights from lunch:
* The king is coming! The king is coming! Sometime after l-3id. [[This makes the *ninth* time people have told me this in the past 20 months. I'll believe it when I see his motorcade roll into town, and not before.]]
* My little brother interrogated the entire neighborhood to find out who had picked up my cell phone after it fell out of my pocket. ("It belongs to our tarumit!") Only after he offered a cash reward did the finder speak up, and even then he wanted to keep it. Apparently, my brother and the other kid got into a fight over it, with the result that when I returned from my recent trip to Rabat, the other kid came up to me on the street and said, "Hey, I found your phone! Come over to my house and drink tea and I'll give it to you!" I thanked him profusely, but didn't offer cash, which is why Ama was now explaining to me that I'd need to make my little bro's promise good. Which I'll do tomorrow, when I stop into that household on my round of 3id visits.
* She asked after my entire extended family, knowing that in my travels, I'd've had the chance to reach out to them on Skype. She has a phenomenal memory - I suppose you'd *have* to, if you have no way to record information for later recall - and often asks follow-up questions to anecdotes I've told her weeks or months before.
* Ama knows just how quickly the next six months will pass, and how soon I'll be gone. She grew up with four sisters, but they've all scattered; she doesn't have any family of "her own" in Berberville, she said, except me, so she'll be very sad when I leave. The silver lining that she keeps reminding herself of: Someday, I'll return with my husband and cute children - one boy, one girl. I always answer inshallah or msh irra arrbi (as God wills or if God wants it) , but I know how much it would mean to her. And I do certainly plan to come back to Berberville someday. Spouse and kids? Yeeeeah, we'll see about that.
* She's been under the weather for the past few days, so hasn't been able to make the holiday cookies that she's known for (and that are expected fare, come the morning of the 3id). So when I presented her with a box of fancy cookies from Souqtown, she was tremendously relieved. When I told her that I planned to spend the afternoon baking more, she got even happier.
* She offered to let me take a shower in their guesthouse. (The main house doesn't have running water at all, let alone a shower room.) I countered with spending the night - if that was OK. I'd been waiting for her to invite me, but I guess I was too emphatic at the last 3id, and made her think I didn't want to. When I asked if I could stay over, she lit up.
So we parted with me promising to return around sunset, cookies and shower stuff and fancy-clothes-for-tomorrow in hand.
Which means I'd better start packing...
3 months ago