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3/11/10 Smallboy (and yes, that’s one word)

Among PCVs in my region, “smallboy” has become a verb.

Webster’s might define it as follows:

to smallboy: to send a small male child in search of whatever is desired: food, beverage, another person, etc.

Up here in my mountain village – and in the villages of my friends throughout Morocco – girls are nearly always either in school or at home, but boys are generally only home for meals. If they’re not in school – which they aren’t for half the day, thanks to the crazy school schedule the French left behind as a legacy of colonization – they’re running around town.

Literally running, for the most part. Teenage boys and men will stroll, saunter, walk, stride, or mosey, but young boys are nearly always hustling somewhere.

If you see one dashing by, you can grab him (verbally, usually, but physically works, too) and ask him to run any errand for you, and he nearly always will. Give him 5 dh and ask him to get you a soda. Give him 1dh and ask him to scrounge up a loaf of bread. Ask him to find somebody for you. Whatever. I don’t use the smallboy network too much, but it’s never failed me when I have, and friends who make more use of it than I do, positively swear by it.

The other day, I was supposed to meet with several men at 8:30, in the office of a Very Important Person.. I didn’t show up till 8:45am, and was still the first one there (to the VIP’s surprise, though after reminding him, he did recall that there was supposed to be a meeting). Ten awkward minutes later, I stepped out to try to round up some of the others.

I went to the café one owns, and where he therefore spends most of his time. The door stood bolted shut. I grimaced for a minute, then looked around. A nearby shop was open, so I asked that shopkeeper if he knew where his neighbor was.

“He hasn’t been around yet this morning. He’s probably up at his house, up there,” he said, gesturing.

I twisted my lips and said, “Hmm.” The thought of wandering in that direction, asking various folks to point me to his house, seemed decidedly unappealing.

“Want to smallboy it?” he offered. (Literally, he said, “Do you want a small boy?”)

I grinned. “Yeah, maybe.” I held up my phone to see if I could call him instead, but it had no signal, for the nth hour in a row.

“Yeah, there’s no rizzo,” he said, nodding at my reception-less phone, “but the smallboy network is still dependable.”

I grinned again. Unfortunately, no children happened to be on the street just then. I’m guessing that the half who weren’t currently in school were still home, getting breakfast.

Fortunately, my missing compatriot chose that moment to walk up, and we headed off to our meeting. Moments later, the VIP pulled a small boy out of his classroom to send him scampering off in search of the other meeting attendees.

It’s a proverb for the 21st century: Msh ur illi rizzo, st3ml l-rizzo n l-3ail. If there’s no cellphone network coverage, use the smallboy network.


  1. Do you think the term "small boy" comes from the PCVs south of Morocco? I think I heard the term first from friends out of Mauritania.

    Then again, it doesnt take a whole big stretch from what it was, to the word to describe it.

  2. Innocent A Blogged
    Read your recent blog, Small Boy, and see you are a short timer. I know it is a time of mixed emotions, there is always so much you wanted to accomplish, and time has a way of slipping by.
    I admire your powers of observation and your ability to translate what you see into writing. Here is a web site run by an RPCV for writers.
    You probably are familiar with it already, if not, check it out. A large number of returned Peace Corps volunteers have written books about their overseas experiences and I think you could pull information from your blogs, and mind, to write another good one. I hope so. If you do, put me on your mailing list and I will buy a copy, hopefully autographed.
    Soon you will join the ranks of 190,000 Americans who have walked the walk and you surely can talk the talk after your two years.
    Rutgers University is putting up a plaque to honor Colombia I, my group, since they were the first to field a Peace Corps training group in June of 1961. We hope to have the first Deputy Director for Peace Corps, Bill Moyers, to be a speaker at the dedication ceremony. He spoke at the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Peace Corps at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, where my father and mother are interred.
    You will soon join the ranks of the RPCVs. The speech he gave that day will now also include you as a RPCV. I will send separately to adhere to word restriction.
    Let me know what you think your achievements have been . . . I know there will be many things you hoped to do that time didn't allow. We all had that sentiment.
    Have to run to an Irish Food Wine tasting. I am baking a loaf of Irish soda-bread as I type this. Envy me.

    Best wishes,

    Miguel Lanigan
    RPCV Colombia I 1961-63
    Ps I am sending you Moyers speech as a separate item.

  3. Memorial Service at Arlington National Cemeter
    Speech given by Bill Moyers on the occasion of the
    25th anniversary of the Peace Corps. He was the first
    deputy director of the Peace Corps.

    The white marble amphitheater on a hill overlooking
    Arlington National Cemetery was circled with fluttering
    American flags. The scene was set under a cloudless blue
    sky that Sunday morning as the Volunteers arrived from
    their Walk from the Lincoln Memorial for the service at
    the cemetery.
    They came on foot, in wheelchairs and with canes. They
    came in suits or jeans, in tee-shirts and shorts or Peace
    Corps' own wrap skirts. They came with children in their
    arms or parents' and grandparents' hands clasped in their own.
    Thousands of returned Volunteers and their families,
    foreign dignitaries and government officials filled the amphitheater
    with reverence and bowed heads.
    And they listened. They heard a university choir and a
    children's chorus singing of peace and love. They heard
    words of hope, peace and dedication from representatives
    of many religions.
    And they watched.. . trying to hold back the tears as
    families received a single yellow rose in memoriam for the
    199 Peace Corps Volunteers who died while in service.
    And then they sang. They sang, "Let there be peace on
    earth, and let it begin with me."

  4. @Scotty - I know the Mauritanians use it too, but I have no idea how far the concept of smallboying reaches, let alone who used it first.

    @Miguel - Thanks! For the Moyers speech and for your kind words about my writing! :)


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