Language, Part juj

There’s a word in Darija. It means “to collect”.


This word is pronounced jm3 (how do I pronounce 3?), and it’s written جمع.

I chose this particular word to illustrate a very common pattern in the language here. Many times, if you take a verb and add some extra sounds to the front, back, and/or in the middle, you end up with words that have a connotation related to the original verb.

Maybe that’s a little confusing. Let’s listen to jm3 and some of its related words:

  • to collect/gather (verb stem): jm3
  • mosque (where people collect to pray): j-jam3
  • association (a collection of people doing something similar): jm3iya
  • university (where people collect to study): jami3a
  • municipality (a government building that oversees people): jama3a
  • Friday (the main prayer day at the mosque): jumu3a
  • group (a collection of people): mjmu3a
  • total (the collection of all prices): mjmu3
  • the name of some girls: Jma3

If we really think about this pattern, we realize that it isn’t especially unique to Darija. We have such patterns in English, too. Look at the verb “to employ”. We have employer, employee, employment, employable, and employability that are all related to it.

So this concept isn’t a new one for me. However, these patterns do make learning the language a bit tougher.

Someone else: “Meet me in front of the mosque.”

Me: “The university? We have a university here?”

Someone else: “No, the mosque.”

Me: “Which association?”

Someone else: “No, the mosque!”

Me: “Oh, in front of the municipality.”

Someone else: “NO, THE MOSQUE!”

Me: “Okay, the mosque, I get it! Sorry.”

There’s another layer I don’t think I’ve yet mentioned fully in my blog. In my site many people speak an Amazigh dialect called Tamazight. There are many dialects of the overarching Tamazight language in Morocco which can be separated into three dialects: Tamazight (called “shilha” in my site, it is spoken generally in the east and southeast of the country), Tashel7it (in the south and southwest), and Tarafit (in the northern mountains).

Eventually I will learn the Tamazight dialect in order to integrate further into my community. Fortunately, my work here doesn’t absolutely require it. Until I start learning Tamazight to communicate with some of the older – sometimes illiterate – people in my community, I can focus my studies on Darija.

My language goal in Darija is to become “advanced low” by the end of this year. This shouldn’t prove too difficult because I achieved “intermediate middle” during my language placement interview. My Tamazight goal is to be “intermediate low” by the end of my Peace Corps service. And my French goal is to be “novice high” by the end of my service.

On Sunday, My Bike was Stolen

Here’s what I know:

  • On Sunday morning I awoke in anticipation of visiting another volunteer in a site two hours from mine. The plan was to watch a documentary she made with one of her counterparts and give them some notes.
  • I walked toward the taxi stand but, on the way, I remembered I needed to briefly visit the gendarme. I am still in the midst of applying for my Moroccan ID, and I needed to give them original copies of some documents.
  • I returned home to get my bike and then rode it to the gendarme.
  • Having missed the 10am bus and not wanting to be any later, I left my bike at the taxi stand and took a taxi. I fully intended to return in five or six hours, and I had previously left my bike unlocked in some places for longer than that without any issue.
  • By the time the other volunteer and I began watching the documentary, the last taxi returning to my site had gone. I stayed the night there, worrying that my bike would be stolen.
  • The next morning, after eating delicious banana and strawberry pancakes, I returned home and was completely unsurprised to find my bike was no longer at the taxi stand.

I explained the situation to the police and one officer took an informal statement. He told me to come back the next morning to check if they found anything, or if the situation would be taken to the chief (with whom I have a positive relationship). Other than the police, I notified a couple used bike shops, the curti (taxi stand facilitator), and several of my friends and students.

Lo and behold! While I was walking toward the police station the following morning, the curti stopped me and told me the other curti had seen a newer bike left at the station and took it to his house for safekeeping. It was mine!


This situation got me thinking about the system of law and order in Morocco, or at least the institutions of authority in my site. I am still confused about which authority does what, and their jurisdictions… all I know for sure is that I should never be unsafe in my site.

First, at the lowest level, is my muqaddem. He is essentially the warden of my neighborhood. This man, Mustapha, dresses in plain clothes, a fact that made it difficult to find him once I was told I needed to give him a passport copy. Fortunately, he found me one day and, after some confusion on my part of why this man needed my phone number, I realized he is the muqaddem. If I understand correctly, I am to call him if there are any issues in my neighborhood.

Next is the qaid. I have no idea what its jurisdiction is, or if I ever need to communicate with it. Some volunteers, particularly those in very rural sites, only have qaids as authority figures; my guess, then, is that they are responsible for specific villages.

Then we have the gendarmes. I dealt and am dealing with the gendarmes while working on my ID application because I began the process when I lived with my host family, whose house is in their jurisdiction. Though I now live in the police’s boundaries, I still need to finish the ID process with the gendarmes.

Finally, we have the police. Whenever I leave my site or have other volunteers visiting me, I am to notify them. I am also to go to them for any safety concerns or typical crimes (such as bike theft). Fortunately I am on very good terms with the police chief who has been very patient throughout the ID application process.

Legal living.

I mentioned the Moroccan ID above. Because my initial stay in Morocco was limited to 90 days and later extended to six months without residency, I have to eventually get an ID known as a carte de sejour. Many times when attempting official things like reporting the bike theft and trying to get WiFi (still, I don’t have it), I am asked for my carte. I have to tell them I don’t have it yet before I show them my passport.

Other than official conversations, I’ve had a few chats with students or friends about living in Morocco. And without fail they eventually ask how they can move to the United States. I think a lot of the time they ask simply for comparison purposes rather than actually wanting to move, but everyone has a different motivation.

I end up telling them that it is very hard to gain residency in the United States, particularly for Arabs and/or Muslims. This has been true for some time but is especially true in the current American political environment. I try to emphasize that my residency in Morocco has been relatively simple primarily because of Peace Corps’ reputation and relationship with the Moroccan government. That’s true – if I tried to live in Morocco without Peace Corps’ help, it would be much more difficult.

Still, it is undeniable that it will be much harder for a Moroccan 24-year-old person to move to America than it is for this American to live in Morocco.