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Etched on Me

Sep 4

Written by:
9/4/2010 1:54 PM  RssIcon

 Etched on Me by Elizabeth Greenman

It is interesting to live and adjust to a place that you would never have imagined living in before. Things that would have seemed taboo or exotic have become normal and the only thing acceptable. I have lived in the Moroccan country side for almost two years. I speak the local dialect fluently and understand a lot of things about the culture that I would have probably never understood had I not been living in the midst of the people. When I walk out the door I automatically dress in a skirt, a long sleeved shirt and a head scarf. Anything else would feel uncomfortable to me, sort of as if I was wearing only underclothes.
 
When I meet someone on the road, I no longer have to make the effort to figure out what I should say because I know it by heart and conversation comes easily. "Peace be upon you, how are things, are they well? How is your family, and your children? How is your health? and your work?, may God provide, may he grant you blessing. Good to see you too, God help you, bye bye, until next time." If I see someone that is a little more of an acquaintance, I know I will be invited over for tea or asked why I haven't gone sooner. I will say that I have had things to do but that I hope to soon if God wills, inchallah.
 
There are people that have earned my trust and love, and I have also learned who the ones are that I should avoid. I have learned that being a young single woman has a limited circle of direct influence in the tamazirt (berber country side). Since I am living alone and am not from here, it is also a strange thing that people wonder about. Many women my age are either married or are taking care of their parents and a household, helping raise nieces and nephews, hoping that their husband to be will come soon looking for their hand in marriage. One thing that has helped is having a surrogate family and adopting them as my own. It helps people somewhat place me in the social structure of their lives. They call me their daughter and vouch for me in this complicated social web. When I go to weddings or other social events, I go with the women of this household. They introduce me as their sister and daughter.
 
The people that trust them trust me more easily because they know I have a close relationship with them. At the same time, people who look down on them or are not close, keep their distance. I have been knit into the social structure and am, in a way, part of them. I have had a difficult time doing what my fellow young ladies in tamazirt (country) don’t do. I don’t enjoy going to the market, where I am the only woman most of the time. It has been interesting to see the development of the closeness in my inner circles. In the beginning both I and the people I spend most of my time with saw only the differences, but little by little we learned to love those and accept them in one another. I haven't assimilated fully, because that wasn’t my goal in coming here, but I have taken the time to let myself become known as a fellow human being from another culture.
 
There are things that people had to accept about me, things I couldn’t change while being here. One of my goals in being here has been to adjust to a degree in which I would seem familiar and to build relationships in which it would also be necessary for both sides to accept and learn about differences. Instead of meeting the most people possible, I decided when I came here that my social circle would be small so that I could spend more time and develop deeper relationships with them. I can say they are like family to me. The bridges have been built and some barriers accepted. I also believe that not all barriers are visible. I will never know what it's like to grow up in the tamazirt and have it be the only place known to me my whole life. No one in tamazirt will know what it has been like to live my life either, and then come into their world and adjust to certain expectations while accepting I can never fulfill others. 
 
There have been many conversations about where I come from and the differences between it and the tamazirt. Health beliefs and practices have been discussed, being that my mother here is a traditional medicine woman. She uses herbal ingredients, incense, and burning as cures for any illness. It is interesting to see how she approaches western medicine. In the whole time that I have lived here I don’t think she or her husband have been to the local clinic. She was upset when her daughter in law had a C-section at a clinic in the city, saying that she knew how to birth that difficult birth naturally. As a health volunteer I enjoy talking to her and having conversations about our different experiences with health practices. I have "dropped" ideas to her that she has accepted and she has told me to do things that I have also tried, within reason. I refuse to be burned on my stomach for abdominal cramps. She also at times has said its OK for her to share a cup when she is sick, because it is God's will if the disease passes, if not- it wont. I have talked about treating water that has come into the cistern after a strong rain and have been told it doesn’t need to be treated because it is God's water. I did find a way around that by telling a certain family member to suggest it and they then treated their water since the advice came from within the family. 
 
I am in awe at how they can cure animals and take a cow that is on its death bed and revive it so that its stronger that it was before. One time the donkey had been refusing to eat for more than a day. My father said he knew what he would do. I went with him. He tied a small stick into the donkey's mouth so that it couldn’t close. He then poked the top of the donkey's mouth with a sharp wire and let it bleed. He milked the blood out with his hands, while the donkey struggled little to get away. He then asked me to bring the salt. He took salt in his hands and salted the donkey's mouth to help the wound close. Later that same day, the donkey was eating. He chuckled when I mentioned my surprise and said he is a doctor of animals. 
 
I have had many herbal teas here that have helped my stomach pain or a cold, but have also been able to talk about taking care of teeth. My host mom brushes her dentures everyday with a toothbrush now. When my nephew came from the US to visit with his mom and my own father, they happily boiled water for him, to prevent him from getting sick from the water. I think we have influenced each other on many other levels also. Some things that I knew before coming here have deepened and others have birthed.I am Mariam now. Will I ever go back to who I was before? I believe not. 
 
There are experiences and people in our lives that mark us and shape us, so that we are so changed, it would be unimaginable to go back to who we were. I will carry what I have lived here wherever I go, from here onward. I am sure there are things that I don’t even realize have influenced me. But whoever I meet in the future outside of the tamazirt will see the mark it has left, realize it or not. I think it will always be hard to eat alone in the future, buy bread of which I do not know the origin or use barley flower of which I do not know the harvesters. It will be difficult to wear shoes on a carpet, or walk into a room without acknowledging everyone there. There are words in tashelheit I will always want to find in English and will end up bewildered for a lack there of. All of this is etched on me, like a tattoo scarred by fire or even like growing a new appendage. When I am far again I will feel its absence as such. They say when people loose a leg, it is extremely grievous, they sometimes forget that it is gone until they look at the empty place and stump as reality hits them aggressively. They feel an itch or an ache only to realize the foot is not there to scratch or the hand to squeeze for relief of having a cramp. I am bewildered to realize some of what will be gone, and the memory of a reality that will be behind, gone, a temporary past life. Who will I be when I return to the Americas, and who will understand?

1 comment(s) so far...


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Re: Etched on Me

Insightful and moving. What a rare treat to be able to experience another culture so fully. Thank you.

By Chris on   11/5/2010 9:31 AM

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