Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Finding an Apartment in Morocco for Dummies







1. Begin by asking everyone you know who they know who has apartments for rent (because, of course, life is all about who you know. Especially true in Morocco)
2. Spend a few hours (all-told, a few days) on marocannonces.com, searching the craigslist-esque site for suitable places.
3. Make a million phone calls in as many awkward, stilted languages you know to simsars. Simsars are middlemen/real estate agents…basically well-connected folk who will be happy to show you around, for a price (usually the first month’s rent if you find a place).
4. Take weekend trips from your current city of residence to Rabat, in order to find a place before you have to move out of your old apartment.
5. Get your hopes up.
6. Have that option fall through.
7. Repeat steps 5 & 6 a few times.
8. Move out of previous apartment. Sleep on the floor of saintly friends’ houses.
9. Make a brief trip back to the United States for some emergency medical care. Regroup.
10. Return to Morocco, prepared to settle for the only crappy place in your price range.
11. Make a lot of dinners for the friends who are letting you stay at their house. (thanks again, Sam and Rod!). I repeat: life is all about who you know.
12. Attempt to get some research done in the midst of your house hunt. Have house showings in between research interviews. Often get phone numbers confused. Accidentally ask the head of Morocco’s Human Rights Council if he has a studio for rent in the medina.
13. Have Moroccan friends help you look for places…but then have them only take you to extremely nice (read: expensive) places because they think it’s the only respectable neighborhood for a single American woman to live. But thanks anyway.
14. Most likely repeat step 7.
15. At wit’s end, spend a day fasting and praying for a miracle.
16. Voila! Go see the very last place before settling for something out of your price range. As the door opens, watch the Apartment Miracle unfold.

And here she is: beachfront view off the balcony. Sizeable kitchen. Mostly furnished. Warm & inviting. AUTOMATIC hot water!
It’s an Apartment Miracle, and you’re all invited. Dar darek. My house is your house.


Photo captions:
1. My library and, yes indeed, that is a fountain!
2. My weeny bathroom, which turns into an indoor pool every time I shower, because the shower curtain is too short.
3. Bedroom/sitting room/office. The couch folds down into a bed.
4. Dining room. On the left is my bedroom. On the right is my kitchen.
5 & 6. Sunset views from my balcony
7. I eat breakfast overlooking the Atlantic ocean every morning
8. The magic hour
9. Of course it wouldn't truly be Morcco without a political riot down the street. I was yelled at by a gendarme shortly after this photo was taken.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Nothing but Roses: Communal Reparations Programs in Ouarzazate Province

According to Morocco's Equity and Reconciliation Commission (IER), “It is, in fact, well-established that a great number of citizens were victims of abduction, detention, torture, and assassination either because they were affiliated with a political group or a Resistance Movement group, or because they were considered traitors and collaborators.”* Political prisoners were incarcerated for years, and sometimes decades, in detention centers located mostly in very remote regions of the country. A major work of the IER has been to investigate cases of prisoners who were forcibly disappeared and arbitrarily detained in these prisons, often without trial or any recourse to justice.

The existence of these prisons did not only affect detainees and their families, but also the communities in which they were located. Because of the extrajuridicial nature of the incarcerations, the government had reason to keep these locations secret. Thus, the villages, cities, and regions received little to no government investment during the Years of Lead. Roads and buildings deteriorated. Potable drinking water sources were rare. Few schools or medical facilities were established. Illiteracy soared. There is even one village I know of where, after a bridge was washed away during flooding, the entire village was cut off from access to the nearest city, leaving the villagers ignored by the government and stranded for weeks.

Citizens came to believe that they were being collectively punished by their own government, for a crime they had not committed: the crime of concealing human rights abuses. This is why the IER has decided to take a “communal reparations approach” in the equity and reconciliation process. Entire communities in 11 different regions can now benefit from government investment and development projects conceived by local organizations themselves. Here’s how it works:

1. Representatives from the Advisory Council on Human Rights (CCDH) visit communities where former detention centers are located, or regions that saw political unrest, and thus are considered “victimized communities”. Representatives explain that these communities are eligible for reparations programs

2. Communities work together to set up their own local organizations, which poll the residents in order to diagnose the most pressing needs/demands.** Then these orgs come up with proposals for specific development projects, including budget and timeline. Most projects are mandated for about 4 years.

3. Once projects are approved, then funds, resources and personnel are disbursed to the community to manage the projects. Reps from CCDH follow up and offer support, and reps from local organizations are invited to various training workshops held around the country.

So what exactly are these reparations projects and how do they help heal the nation from four decades of human rights abuses?

Recently I took a trip to the province of Ouarzazate to find out.

After 12-hour train and bus rides, I arrived late at Hotel Zahir. What it lacked in comfort, it made up for with the friendly staff, who took pity on me as a woman traveling alone to such a remote city. At first, they thought I was part of a movie being filmed in the region (Ouarzazate is known as the “Hollywood of Morocco”, with films such as Babel, Kingdom of Heaven, Gladiator, and Lawrence of Arabia having been shot at the very legit film studios inside the city.) But no, I explained. I’m just here to do some research.

What are you researching?

Oh, you know…human rights.

Human rights?

Yeah, like…the prisons here and stuff.

Oh. Be careful.






Standing in the date palm field which has become a symbol

of peace and reconciliation to the people of Tinghrir.

The next morning had me up bright and early to meet my guides and companions J and Mohammed Elhoukari, a representative from CCDH Ouarzazate. That first day, M. Elhoukari drove us to various cities and villages which have started development projects under the auspices of the CCDH’s Reparations Program, as well as international donors. He explained that out of 38 proposed projects, 10 were selected in the Ouarzazate province.

Some of these projects include building preschools, cultural activities & centers & libraries, promotion of rural women (professional and literacy), agriculture, potable water, health programs, promotion of eco tourism, artisan expositions, sanitation services, bakeries and weaving workshops to teach skills, libraries, and civic education. We first visited the 625-person village of Askoura, where a former Kasbah had been a secret detention center from 1984-1990. Their irrigation and water project takes a brilliant “participative approach”. In addition to donations from other financial partners, each family is asked to contribute a small sum (about 50 dirham per family = $6.50), so that they feel included in this process, with an investment in its success.

Visiting Askoura's community association AATDC

We also visited a fascinating project in Tinghrir, which had been the location of an anti-government rebellion in 1973. 500 families share plots on 80 hectares of land, where they work together to irrigate and cultivate date palms for commercial agriculture. The CCDH and the Fonds Catalian d’Espagne have donated 150 date palms, at about 35 Euro per palm, which will eventually yield over 16,000 palms. Think: microenterprise + sustainable agriculture + community participation + government reconciliation and reparation = how to heal a community!

In the Zagora province, community members chose to take a gendered approach. Because many men left the province (out of fear of government crackdowns) and many youth immigrated to larger cities (because of the lack of economic and social opportunities), much of the burden of daily life fell on women. Consequently, women have been recognized as bearing much of the weight of the Years of Lead. Illiteracy amongst women in these regions is as high as 80%, women’s health services are feeble, and domestic violence has been exposed as a serious issue. After running a diagnosis of the local needs, the Réseau association Zagora pour la démocratie et le development (RAZDED) created a “multi-functioning space for the empowerment of women” and a “Centre d’Ecoute”. At this center, women come in for legal advice and counseling. Their representative told me that 253 cases of domestic violence have been brought since 2005. While this might not be a high number relatively speaking, the cases are increasing every year, which, while exposing a serious issue, speaks to the fact that women in the community are more willing to step forward and tell their stories than ever before. Slowly the bar is being raised for feminine empowerment, and the center hopes to write a book of legal counsel for women in the future.

Local representatives also recognized that the younger generations are growing up with a lack of juridical culture (knowledge of their rights and duties as citizens), a lack of knowledge of local history and violations, and a lack of familiarity with the constitution. This is due, in part, to the disenchantment (and sometimes fear) of their parents and grandparents towards government. However, without informed, participative citizenry, the country risks falling into dictatorship. A project to reinforce citizenship and human rights trained 60 teachers to give interactive workshops at 3 different schools (in Agdz, Zagora, and Tagounit). 66 students, ages 13-16, were chosen to attend 2-day workshops to learn about human rights, child rights, and citizenship. The Years of Lead were explained in context, culminating with a field trip to Agdz prison. One of the most laudable ideas of this project is the fact that human rights and citizenship are so strongly linked. Youth are not only informed about local and national politics, they are encouraged to think critically and participate. This is a giant step for a government that was at one time an island unto itself, ruling above the heads of any of its citizens. This reinforces the idea that I have learned through my research throughout the world that the root of transition begins with education of children. Period.


Two of the most famous prison sites are found at Kalaat M’Gouna and Agdz. Because of the harsh prison conditions, 32 prisoners died at Agdz, then after the remaining detainees were transferred to Kalaat M’Gouna, another 16 died before the prison was shut down in 1991. Prisoners were routinely subject to torture and put in solitary confinement for up to months at a time. These are also two of the most beautiful regions I’ve ever visited in Morocco, known for their wild roses (whose famous essence is used in the perfumes of Yves Saint Laurent and Givenchy). When former King Hassan II was questioned by a journalist about the existence of the secret sites, he famously responded, “There is nothing in Kalaat M’Gouna but the roses.”***

Kalaat M'Gouna sits atop a hill above the town, forever a testament to horrors that occurred and hope that is possible.

The day before I arrived, the prison at Kalaat M’Gouna was visited by Mohammed Nadrani, a former detainee famous for his drawings and art depicting his years at the site. When he arrived at the prefect’s office, he recognized one of the police officers as his former prison warden. The space between them was electrified as they stood looking at each other, described Elhoukari, as they both had just a moment to decide how to write the end of their personal political histories. They decided in a split second to opt for release over continued enslavement to bitterness and they hugged and cried right there in the office.

I spoke with representatives at Agdz and asked why they didn’t just choose to destroy the prison, whose halls are full of ghosts of horrific memories. The response was mutli-faceted. The community certainly discussed it, but decided not to raze the detention center, first, so that the new generation would know what happened there. There will be no subtlety in the retelling of the country’s narrative. Community leaders are not interested in sugar-coating the past and asking people to forgive and forget. No, as Elhoukari said, « La mémoire doit rester devant nous pour que ca ne passe encore. » (Memory must stay before us, so that it does not happen again). Also, Agdz hopes to draw international attention to the Memory Site, to keep the plight of political prisoners on the international human rights agenda (probably also one of the reasons why they welcomed me so warmly).

Nadrani started drawing in prison, as a form of catharsis. His pictures were published in a book entitled Les Sarcophages du Complexe (2005)

Above all, the community hopes to use the former secret prison as an open space for community. That which was once closed and taboo will be transformed into a space of light and human development. This is a metaphor for the entire IER process. This is what equity and reconciliation is all about: not sweeping the brutal past under the rug, but instead bringing it into the light and transforming it into something meaningful, useful, and helpful. Communities that were marginalized come together for creative collective solutions.

Most interesting to me were the “Projects of Memory”, which had are designed to keep history alive though what Elhoukari called “Positive Memory”. Instead of blaming perpetrators or inciting anger and bitterness towards the government, these communities seek to honor the legacies of victims and strengthen civil society. One project includes painting a mural depicting the history of the region; the good, the bad, and the ugly. The most important projects, in my opinion, deal with transforming former detention centers into “Positive Memory Sites”, museums, and cultural centers; public spaces where free expression is no longer taboo. Cultural, educational and economic activities will be held inside the centers, as a strong statement that these communities are forging on, not ashamed of what happened, and no longer afraid. “We should not forget what happened here,” Elhoukari told me, “Memory and transformation lead to ‘positive preservation’.”

I wish I could hold up individuals like Elhoukari and Nadrani and his prison guard the women of Zagora and the students in the Human Rights Clubs. I wish I could bring them on stage in front of our leaders who are making wars and punishing communities for the sins of extremists. I wish I could bring them in front of the cynics who say that development and peace aren’t possible because hatred is too ingrained and solutions are best from the top-down. I wish I could line these humble souls up on a stage and tell the world, “Look! Here are living examples from quiet, forgotten villages and towns who are doing REAL WORK to heal themselves and their communities!” They’ve let go of bitterness, and in exchange have picked up books and shovels and hammers and nails and paintbrushes and hope.

The world may never know about these freedom fighters. I didn’t until just a few weeks ago. To be honest, it is easy to become disenchanted and angry when dealing with human rights issues every day. And I cannot mention this history without mentioning those political prisoners who are still locked up in sites around the country. But meeting these individuals has restored my faith in the human spirit, and even (dare I say?) in the work of the Moroccan government. Healing the scars of the Years of Lead is not easy, not going to satisfy everyone, and not nearly finished. However, I applaud the government for the work done in these communities. Now, instead of secrets and scars, just roses.


*Kingdom of Morocco Equity and Reconciliation Commission. Final Report Volume 2: Establishing Truth and Responsibility Regarding Human Rights Violations. P. 44. Published by Le Conseil Consultatif des Droits de l’Homme. Rabat, Morocco.

**This is the most important step towards addressing problems, the CCDH representative told me: “When managing reparations programs, it is most important to do a diagnostic of the community’s needs. In one community, we were offering education and electricity and water…but our diagnostic showed that the community’s #1 desire was for a cell phone network. After that, we were truly able to connect with them.” Reinforces the classic idea that healing always starts with listening!

***In another interview towards the end of his life, Hassan II admitted his knowledge of the secret prisons, but diplomatically avoided assuming responsibility or apology.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

World leaders attend funeral of Moroccan King Hassan II. Stay for the couscous.

Jon Stewart reports King Hassan II's death.

Hilarity.

What the Heck and I DOING Here?

This is the moment you’ve all been waiting for: an explanation of the research that has me in Morocco for 1.5 years. And you thought I’d NEVER get to this! Disclaimer, though: once I start talking about the topics of human rights and transitional justice in Morocco, it’s hard for me to stop.

Contemporary Moroccan History 101
After Morocco’s independence in 1956, a constitutional monarchy was established, but King Hassan II’s subsequent rule (1961-1999) was characterized by the repression of human rights. Tactics including arbitrary detention, forced disappearances, torture, inhumane treatment, and the repression of fundamental liberties were used against those who dared to oppose the regime. It was not until the end of the Cold War that the monarch began to change his policy and slowly soften his dealings with political opponents.
After Hassan’s death in 1999, his son and successor, King Mohammed VI, prioritized the amelioration of human rights by focusing on liberalizing measures including by ordering an Equity and Reconciliation Commission to investigate what has been called “The Years of Lead”. On his January 7, 2004 Throne Day Speech, King Mohammed VI ordered the Instance d’Equite et Reconciliation (IER or المصالحة و الإنصاف هيئة) to “uphold human rights as a culture and as an attitude” . I am in Morocco because of the IER.

The reign current King Mohammed VI is characterised by a liberalisation which stands in stark contrast to that of his late father, Hassan II. One young Moroccan man on the train summed up popular sentiment to me: "We see the King as our cool older brother, not like his grumpy old father."



The IER was mandated to assess, investigate, arbitrate and make recommendations concerning the gross human rights violations that occurred between 1956 and 1999. Sixteen commissioners were appointed, along with a staff that conducted field investigations, collected testimonies, held nationally-televised hearings, visited former detention sites, and gathered and analyzed records of disappearances across the nation, from April 12, 2004 to November 30, 2005. In total, the Commission received 20,046 petitions for individual reparations. After determining the cases within its jurisdiction, 16,861 files were examined. Finally, after investigation and deliberation on each individual dossier, it was determined that 6385 were eligible to receive financial compensation, 1499 were eligible for alternative reparations, and 1895 qualified for a combination of the two. The remaining 7082 files were dismissed, rejected, incomplete, or classified.
The IER’s Final Report suggested recommendations and reparations to be managed by Morocco’s Advisory Council for Human Rights (CCDH). Recommendations encompass four main areas:
  1. the establishment of truth
  2. individual reparations
  3. community reparations
  4. legislative and institutional reforms
Pragmatic steps were taken in the areas of financial compensation, medical and psychological rehabilitation, and social reinsertion, as well as with diverse development projects that span from women’s literacy programs to communal agriculture initiatives to citizenship and democracy education.
As of January 2010, The CCDH declared that individual recommendations had been completed on all but 66 files. Work is underway on communal reparations programs in 11 regions across the country. In contrast, governmental reform has been slow, and debates on how to establish truth of past violations continue.

Victims and their families had the opportunity to testify at public auditions held across the country. Photos: www.ier.ma


My Questions
2010 will signal the 5-year anniversary of the closing of the IER. Though the Commission’s work is astounding in terms of speed and efficiency relative to other truth commissions around the world (there have been about 20 commissions since post-apartheid South Africa set the precedence in 1995), there is still much work to be done. Many international and domestic human rights organizations both within and outside of Morocco are overseeing the follow-up of reparations programs and reforms, but it is not my aim to critique the government’s performance as such. Instead, I seek to find out how equity, reconciliation, and justice occur in Morocco, with all its cultural nuances, roadblocks, and triumphs. I want to find out what means to promote democracy within an Arab-Islamic monarchy. Is Morocco truly heading towards “democratic transition”? Beyond this, I desire to discover what it means for Moroccan communities to be healed.
I am investigating fields including civil law, Shar’ia jurisprudence, Berber customs, State-society relations within monarchy, gender and power dynamics, history and memory archives, education, prison literature and self-expression. The ultimate goal is to understand the structure and functioning of the IER within Morocco’s political and cultural context, in order to gain clarity on how it may be used as a model for other Arab/Muslim nations in their own periods of transitional justice.
My hypothesis at this juncture asserts that the IER has not fit into a “one size fits all” model of transitional justice, which has grown in popularity since the success of South Africa’s example. Instead it has been heavily influenced by specific elements of Moroccan culture, particularly by women’s movements, Islam, the constitutional monarchy, and pressure from human rights organizations. In response, Moroccan culture has been molded by democratization and liberalization ushered in via this instrument of transitional justice.

My Methods
I have broken down my research into themes, which I am researching individually in order to gain a broad understanding of the context and functioning of the IER. First, I seek to better understand the background of the Years of Lead through historical research. Next, I am learning about truth commissions from ICTJ resources. I am particularly interested in the specificities of the Moroccan model- its structure and functioning and quantitative results. Furthermore, my work includes research into Moroccan politics, which encompasses international humanitarian law, French jurisprudence, Shari’a, Berber customary law, and civil law. Within each political sphere, I am researching the concepts of justice, equity, reconciliation, and memory. Finally, I am following up each of the four areas of reparations programs to see the unique and creative ways that Morocco deals with the establishment of truth, individual reparations, community reparation, and legislative and institutional reforms.
The next phase of my research focuses on analysis of the IER’s unique aspects, which differentiate it from other truth commissions, such as its community and gendered reparations approaches. This will illuminate how this particular Commission interfaces with the culture surrounding it, including the ways it is constrained by the political system, or bolstered by emerging human rights movements. In addition, it is important to analyze Islam’s role in Morocco’s human rights movement, despite (or because of) the IER’s secular nature.
In order to gain an understanding of the IER from within I have been interviewing scholars and professors, representatives of human rights organizations (both official and non-governmental, national and international), IER commissioners, and victims. I had the unique opportunity to visit some former secret detention centers and communal reparations programs including the infamous Agdz and Kalaat M’Gouna prisons (which I will blog about soon!).

My Answers (up to this point)
Responses to my research questions have been educative, eye-opening, frustrating, and even sometimes quite shocking. My time is simply too short to be able to do in-depth study on each topic, so my research is pointedly focused on the interface of Moroccan politics, culture, and the follow-up of the IER. I have identified four main areas that make the IER unique:
  1. First, it is the first and only truth commission to-date established in an Arab/Muslim nation. Although the Commission itself had a secular flavor, Islam is still a very real part of its functioning, as King Mohammed VI declared it to be based on “Islamic ideals, which advocate tolerance and forgiveness”, and with some reparations programs being managed by religious communities.
  2. Second, the IER is the first truth commission to be established without a regime change, as the monarchical line has continued throughout the “Years of Lead” to the present. This has posed particular problems in terms of impunity for government officials and begs the question of whether or not Morocco is indeed making a democratic transition.
  3. Third, the IER’s Reparations Committee chose to take a community reparations approach, wherein entire villages, cities, and regions have benefited from development projects. This speaks to the government’s willingness to expose its former tactics of marginalization towards regions that housed secret detention centers or saw public displays of political unrest.
  4. Fourth, the IER recognized that women often bear both direct and indirect consequences of human rights violations, thus a strong gendered approach was incorporated into the reparation policy. This means that women as individuals have received greater financial compensation, and that many development projects focus on women’s quality of life.
Personal testimonies from archival research and literature reviews, as well as individual interviews I have conducted have demonstrated just how oppressive the “Years of Lead” really were. Secret prisons were constructed in remote parts of the country, housing political prisoners for years, and in some cases, decades (For a dramatic description of this, read Stolen Lives by Malika Oufkir, or the graphic novel They Starve Rats, Don’t They? [On Affame Bien des Rats! in French] by Abdelaziz Mouride). Unspeakable acts of torture and brutality were used to silence political opposition. Entire regions of the country (particularly in the South) were left abandoned for decades, without any infrastructure development. Most alarming, many Moroccans lost faith in or grew to fear their own government, leading to a serious decline in civic involvement.
Abdelaziz Mouride recorded his experiences as a
prisoner in Casablanca's infamous Derb Moulay Cherif
prison in his graphic novel On Affame Bien des Rats!

Thankfully, however, political leaders have publically recognized these facts, and the IER is just one of the ways that the regime is attempting to reconcile Citizen with State. I have found that there is a culture of human rights built around Equity and Reconciliation in Morocco, as evidenced by the proliferation of prison literature and art, as well as the proliferation of diverse human rights NGOs within the nation. The Ministry of Education is also working to incorporate the history of the "Years of Lead" and human rights into national history books and university curricula. Just like former World War II concentration camps, Morocco is wrestling with current debates on how to deal with testimonial archives and former detention centers by transforming them into spaces of positive memory.

On the other hand…
However, despite the accolades for the IER’s Reparations programs, public criticism continues to be strong. Criticisms include the delay in reparation efforts, ongoing governmental censure of the press, and the lack of appeal mechanisms for victims to challenge decisions in their cases. Despite recommendations from the ICTJ and IER itself, there has been a lack of institutional and legal reforms- including within the prison and judicial systems- which would safeguard against repetition of wrongs. In addition, the issue of human rights abuse targeting Sahrawis has not been addressed and continues to be taboo. Most striking is the ongoing impunity for perpetrators of abuse, as victims were not permitted to name their abusers in their official testimonies. The Moroccan commission has emphasized equity and reconciliation instead of truth, to the detriment of the victims. If no one is tried, can true justice be rendered?

Notwithstanding these critiques, I have learned about the triumph of the human spirit in the face of injustice. There is nothing more impressive than the compassion and optimism that exudes from individuals who have been victims of the most heinous abuse. It has been humbling to work with these people and to learn from their life experiences.
I believe in the importance of this research because, as Amnesty International declared in its January 2010 report, the IER’s work is unprecedented in the Arab world in acknowledging responsibility for grave human rights violations and in seeking to provide redress for many victims. Though far from perfect, the IER is a model that can be used to address oppression and democratization, and to potentially bring reconciliation between State and citizen. I look forward to exploring my hypotheses with greater depth, to discover other uniquely Moroccan elements of transitional justice.

…so there you have it. The official explanation of my life and work for the next year.
I am living the dream.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Shnu the Feck Do You Say.....

February brought the end of my language study at the Arabic Language Institute in Fes (ALIF). For the first 5.5 months in Morocco, I was actually on a separate grant from the Fulbright, called the Critical Language Enhancement Award (CLEA), also administered by the Institute of International Education (IIE) through the State Department (SD…okay, I just wanted to make more acronyms). The purpose of the CLEA is to encourage and facilitate the learning of “critically needed languages”, according to the State Dept, including Mandarin Chinese, Hindi, and Arabic. This grant is also supposed to supplement my research, which will, in theory, be conducted partially in Arabic.

Because I have some background in Arabic and it is pretty central to my research (many official government documents and archived testimonies are written in Arabic), I won the CLEA award in conjunction with the Fulbright. This means that the first 5.5 months were to be dedicated entirely to learning the language(s) and Moroccan culture.

For the first 6 weeks in country, some of us Fulbrighters studied the Moroccan dialect, known as “Darija”. Though it has its roots in Modern Standard Arabic (also known as “FusHa”), it is a COMPLETELY different language. In fact, native Arabic speakers make fun of Moroccan Arabic for being so completely different than any other regional dialect. Darija mixes Arabic, French, and Berber.

I guess I should back up. I’m no linguist, but the general story is as follows: Before the Arab traders brought their language, religion, and culture to North Africa in the 7th century, Berber culture dominated. There were 3 major tribes across Morocco: Tamazight, Tachelhit, and Tarafit, each with their own language. Since the arrival of Islam (with Arabic as its holy language) and later with French colonization, Berbers have become marginalized. This means that languages have evolved and melded to produce totally new languages, rooted in ancient history. I am learning 2 such languages in Morocco.

First, Darija, which most Moroccans use in their everyday lives. It’s such a fun language, using the sound “shhhh” or the word “meshy” to negate sentences, the word “Shnu?” to ask “what?”, and the phrase “La Bes?” (literally, “No problems?”) to say hello. I enjoy learning this language immensely, and enjoy getting a kick out of Moroccans once they are shocked to discover that a white American can communicate with them in their own language. At the very least, it helps me get a better price at the market, and at most has helped me make some great Moroccan friends who don’t speak anything but Darija.

ALIF classrooms are in a beautiful, ancient restored riad in Fes.

Next, I have spent the last 5 months studying Modern Standard Arabic (FusHa), which I also studied in college. Not gonna lie, when I took my CLEA placement exam, I discovered that I had pretty much lost all that I had learned, and could not even come up with answers to the most basic questions. Because each country across the Arab world pretty much operates in its own dialect, someone somewhere decided it would be a good idea to create a standard Arabic which would be used in all official documents, on TV and Radio and Newsprint, and in books. Thus, FusHa was born, and thus I need it for my research. Nobody speaks FusHa on the street, though all high schoolers are required to learn it. I find it more difficult than Darija, because of all the complex grammar rules and exact pronunciation.

If you know me, you know that one of my favorite things in the world is studying languages. My Arabic classes were only made more fun by my classmates, which included Caitlyn, my roommate, and Jesse, a former “Oregon Marine”. Good times had by all. We had class together 20 hours a week, 5-days per week. And I have to admit, there were some days that all I’d do besides go to class was Arabic homework. They worked us hard, but the caliber of instruction at ALIF was world-class and professional, modeled after American university language classes. I have to say I was quite pleased with my time there, and would recommend it to anyone looking for an Arabic language school. (Also, I would highly recommend the little café in the corner of the ALIF courtyard. Abdelrahman’s Chocolate Chaud is still the best I’ve ever tasted in my life. )

Alas, at the conclusion of my language study, I was required to take a follow-up exam, to check my progress. Let me tell you, it was like it wasn’t even me talking! Not only was I able to understand complex questions (“How do you get to the nearest market?”, “How has education changed in the past 25 years?”, “What do you hope to be doing 20 years from now?”), but I was able to answer semi-intelligently and with an ease that even surprised myself! I guess I DID learn something! The only drawback is that I keep mixing up Darija and FusHa words, which is normal in Moroccan speech, but only confused the evaluator. According to the US Department of State’s Language Evaluation Service, I am officially an “Advanced High” Arabic speaker. Wahoo!

Jesse and I, studious as can be, dressed in our Friday Finest

Besides Darija and FusHa, I have been speaking more French. As a former French colony, most Moroccans with at least a little formal education are able to understand French. I have studied French ever since middle school, and because I used it so much in Senegal, I have little to no problem communicating in it, even in very official settings (including as a translator for the State Department’s Human Rights Attaché in Morocco…story to follow later). I’m trying NOT to use it as much as possible, in order to ameliorate my Arabic(s).

Once I get settled in Rabat, I am going to continue to pursue language study, but I haven’t decided yet which would be more useful, Darija or FusHa. Any suggestions?


And now, for your amusement, here is a Mini Moroccan Languages Dictionary:

Darija FusHa French English

1. Salaam Aleykum! 1. Salaam Aleykum! 1. Bonjour! 1. Hello!

2. La Bes? 2. Kayf al-hal? 2. Ca va? 2. How are you?

3. Shnuuuu? 3. Metha? 3. Quoi? 3. What?

4. Yuagibny beled dielek, wa heta raiis dielna daba! 4. Uhibu beleduka, wa raiisna yuhibuhu aydan! 4. J’aime beaucoup votre pays, meme que notre president actuel! 4. I love your country, as does our current president!

5. Kundun hetha kefta diel laham auteny doods. 5. Athun an hetha kefta al-laham auteny al-dood fii botony. 5. Je pense que cette kefta m’a donne des vers. 5. I think that meat kefta gave me worms.

6. Hetha galy bizzef! Ana meshy Sauudia! 6. Hetha galy jidan! Ana laysa Sauudia! 6. Ca c’est trop cher! Je ne suis pas Sauudia! 6. That’s too expensive! What do you think I am, Saudi Arabian?

7. Eindek. Rajul diely houa fromage kibeer fi al-jaysh. 7. Eindek. Zowjy houa daubit kabeer fi al-jaysh. 7. Faites attention. Mon mari est un officier important dans l’armee. 7. Be careful. My husband is an important officer in the army.

8. Yumkinany an shoof rikbatayn dielik. Hashuma!! 8. Ustatia an erah rikbatayik. Haram!! 8. Je peut voir votre rotules. Honte sur vous!! 8. I can see your kneecaps. Shame on you!

9.Mara-mara, yeshoor bi al-looz. Mara-mara la. 9. Ahiyanan kunta teshoor bi al-jooz. Ahiyanan la. 9. Parfois vous vous sentez comme un ecrou. Parfois pas. 9. Sometimes you feel like a nut. Sometimes you don’t.

10. Tuajibuny, azizy. 10. Uhebuka, habibi. 10. Je t’aime, mon cheri. 10. I love you, darling.