Language, Part juj

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

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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.

3 Things That Woke Me Up Before My Alarm

Fun fact: The earliest call to prayer happens before sunrise and is the only one of the five that includes the words “Prayer is better than sleep.”

5:40 AM. Call to prayer.

Much like how church bells signal the beginning of a service, Islam has a call to prayer called adhan. A muezzin recites the adhan – often over loudspeakers – five times a day from the minaret of the mosque. The logic behind this is that minarets are typically one of the tallest structures in a city or town, so everyone will hear it and be reminded to pray. The adhan itself is a brief summary of the Muslim faith; it includes the takbir (“God is great”) and the shahada (“there is no god but God, and Muhammad is his messenger”).

Of course, as in many religions, there is theory and there is practice. Though prayers are mandatory five times a day, I have never seen a Moroccan recite prayers immediately following every adhan, neither in public nor in private. It is possible that many men do visit the mosque each time as the koran demands, but clearly many are not doing so. That said, Islam permits people to skip prayers if they absolutely cannot perform them, as long as they make up for it later in the day.

I think I have only slept through this call to prayer once or twice in my first two months here, particularly because I can hear three calls to prayer from my room.


6:30 AM. My host brother’s alarm.

My host family lives in a two-story townhouse above a one-story apartment. My host mom and three host sisters sleep on the top floor as does my younger host brother. I sleep on the lower level in my own room, and my older brother sleeps in the salon next to my room. Because the entrance to both my room and the salon are curtains, I hear his alarm go off every morning at 6:30. Mine is set for 7:30.

The catch? He is a very heavy sleeper. I’m not. And I’m lazy in the mornings. So when his alarm goes off, I don’t go over to turn it off. I just deal with it for about 20 minutes until, without fail, my oldest host sister screams his name from above in order to wake him.
In conversations with other PC trainees, there seems to be a common theme in our host families. The men typically bring in the money while the women tend to spend the money. In this way, the women (in my family, my oldest sister) prioritize purchases and determine what is best for the family. My older sisters control meal times, they keep the house clean, and they make sure both my working brothers wake up in time for work.


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7:07 AM. Chickens.

There are two chickens in my house. My oldest sister calls them “monsieur” and “madame”, which we both find hilarious. What I don’t find as hilarious is how loud they get in the mornings. They stay in their cage (read: a box with a grill on top) at night, and they really want out as soon as the sun starts peeking under the front door. Their clucks echo up the stone-and-drywall-lined staircase, under the lower floor’s door, and through my bedroom curtain.

Chickens are relatively cheap (I hear you can buy one for 50 dirhams, roughly $5), and eggs can get relatively expensive, so it makes sense for families to own one or two. I don’t yet understand why my family owns a rooster and a hen, but at the very least we get a few eggs a week from “madame”. Perhaps my family sells chicks but it isn’t yet mating season. If any of my readers know anything about chicken breeding, feel free to weigh in on this topic in the comments section.