Language, Part wa7d

1 wa7d, 2 juj, 3 tlata, 4 rb3a, 5 khmsa, 6 stta, 7 sb3a, 8 tmnya, 9 ts3ud, 10 3shra

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Darija & Technology

Darija is a purely verbal language. You can write its words in Arabic script, but due to the variance in pronunciation, one person may spell a word different than another. What complicates Darija even further is the factor of technology. Cell phone use is increasing throughout many parts of the world, and I haven’t seen anyone in Morocco – save some older community members – without a cell phone.

Phone keyboards, however, are often limited to the Latin alphabet. To compensate for this, Moroccans write words in Latin script that more or less represent what they sound like in Darija. They know Latin sounds likely from the French they studied in secondary school.

We now must take into account the Arabic sounds that don’t exist in the Latin alphabet:

Arabic character: ض
Transcription character: D
Sound: like English “d” but with greater tension in the tongue and throat

Arabic character: ص
Transcription character:
S
Sound: like English “s” but with greater tension in the tongue and throat

Arabic character: ط
Transcription character:
T
Sound: 
like English “t” but with greater tension in the tongue and throat

Arabic character: ق
Transcription character:
q
Sound: 
like English “k” but pronounced further back in the throat

Arabic character: خ
Transcription character:
kh
Sound: 
like the “ch” in the German “Bach”; some people use this sound to say yech!

Arabic character: غ
Transcription character:
gh
Sound: 
like the “kh” sound above, but pronounced using your voice box; similar to the French “r”

Arabic character: ح
Transcription character:
7
Sound: 
like English “h”, except pronounced deep in the throat as a loud raspy whisper

Arabic character: ع
Transcription character:
3
Sound: 
approximated by pronouncing the “a” in “fat” with the tongue against the bottom of the mouth and from as deep in the throat as possible

(source: Peace Corps Morocco, Moroccan Arabic textbook)

Moroccans use the transcription characters to represent the non-Latin-alphabet sounds. PC Morocco’s language model has evolved to better reflect this new cultural norm. As I understand it, the staj before mine didn’t use “q” or “7” or “3”. They used other letters until it became apparent Moroccans were using “q” and “7” and “3” on their cell phones. PC Morocco then changed its Darija textbook for my staj.

Note: PC Morocco uses a transcription approach to Darija, meaning we trainees follow the cell phone standard and use the Latin alphabet. I will mostly write Darija words in this alphabet, though I may accompany some words with the Arabic script.


Community-Based Training (CBT)

Six days a week you can find my five group mates and me in our Language and Cultural Facilitator’s (LCF’s) rented apartment. In the mornings Majid walks us through language lessons, some of the most recent being about possessive pronouns and conjugating the verb “to want”. Interspersed in the lessons is new vocabulary that we practice out loud, one at a time, to take with us to our host families and neighborhoods.

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Sometimes we have classes on the roof.

The lessons expand upon the Darija textbook. I like to read a little bit ahead, making it only slightly simpler to understand during the next day’s class. I also have begun a flashcard regimen that I review every night with my 8-year-old host sister. She’s learning English while I learn Darija, and we both enjoy helping each other.

Language classes are just one part of CBT. Afternoons are devoted to culture lessons and Arabic script. The former prevents us from making poor cultural mistakes – like hugging a member of the opposite sex in public – and helps us understand/participate in the culture further – like the opportunity to fast during Ramadan. The latter helps make life easier; after all, how will I know how to report my location in the case of emergency if I can’t read road signs? Or know what’s a hammam and what’s a dar chebab?

That is Majid’s job in a nutshell: teach six wide-eyed Americans Darija and how to exist positively in Moroccan culture. A third aspect of his job, though unofficial, is being our friend. He is only a year older than me and he has many of the same interests as all of us in his group. We have all visited a few cafes during culture sessions where we were free to ask questions and shoot the breeze. Though he’s still somewhat shy, I think he’ll become a close friend by the end of CBT.

Bad Dreams

Two suitcases and a backpack lie open before me. I look over the piles of clothes, video and audio equipment, electronics, linens, and home decorations that I somehow have to pack into the three bags. Sigh. I can do it. In no time I fill the bags to the brim and zip, clasp, and lock them shut.

Fast forward a few days and I’m no longer in my Portland, Oregon room. My plane has just touched down in Casablanca, Morocco, and the other volunteers and I are approaching our shuttle. But before we reach it, a Peace Corps staff member takes one of my suitcases and says it will be returned to me in three months. WHAT. I have things I need in there – a power adapter, bed sheets, underwear. He can’t just take them away from me!

And then I wake up. I’m not in Casablanca; I am in a cold sweat at my sister’s house in Atlanta. The overhead fan freezes my sweat as I get my bearings. It’s still the middle of the night… it’s still August, one month from departure. I fall back asleep.

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I don’t have any image to actually show my dreams, so… (source)

The next night brings another bad dream.

There are only four friends milling about my Portland kitchen, but there should be fifteen. Uneaten hamburgers cool on the counter. Warm soda goes flat. Whatever. While we watch some DVD, I drift to sleep and wake instantly in a different place… it appears to be a beach-side cabin. But I can’t find my four friends anywhere, not on the couches around me like they should be, and not anywhere else in the house. They’ve disappeared.

I wake up for real in Atlanta. What’s the deal?

Normally I don’t remember my dreams. The times I do, they tend to be short and vague, and I hardly recall details. But clearly the past two nights were different. I only assume it has something to do with my impending move to Morocco.

My first dream happened the night after a conference call with my staj and PC Morocco staff. The staff addressed many questions my staj had about logistics for both getting to the country and what we are doing once we get there. For example, what phone plan we’ll have, how we’re going to open Moroccan bank accounts, and the like.

Some of the more relevant points for this blog post are as follows:

  • Staging (one-day PC orientation) will happen in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on September 19th.
  • I have booked my flight from Portland to Philadelphia for September 18th and will have a reserved room at a Marriott hotel for the nights of the 18th and 19th.
  • On September 20th my staj will catch buses to JFK Airport in New York.
  • We have a direct flight from JFK to Casablanca. Once there, PC Morocco staff will take one of our two larger suitcases and store it in the PC warehouse in Rabat. I will not have access to this second bag until after three months of training, hence my first bad dream.
  • Pre-Service Training (PST) will last eleven weeks and is broken down approximately like this:
    • Week 1: We will stay in a hotel in Rabat.
    • Week 2-6: All of my staj will go to our hub site of (UNESCO heritage site) Meknes. We will break into groups of four or five trainees based on familiarity with Arabic. Every trainee will stay with a host family and continue language, cross-cultural, and technical training in our small groups.
    • Week 7: Each trainee will learn where we will serve for the next two years, and then we will visit our permanent site for a week.
    • Weeks 8-11: We will all return to Meknes to debrief about our assigned site and to continue training. Some of us will need to learn another language in addition to Darija (Moroccan Arabic), depending on site requirements.

So I’ve described how my first dream came to be. My second bad dream has nothing to do with the conference call or PC emails. It’s just that, once I booked my flight from Portland to Philadelphia, I solidified my send-off party date.

After solidifying the date, one of my friends from Los Angeles – who was also one of my roommates during college – RSVP’d saying she could attend the party. I was very surprised that she’d be able to get the weekend off work, but it turns out she only RSVP’d to say she’d be there in spirit. Thanks, Camille. 🙂

And that’s why I had the second bad dream. I really, really, really hope my local friends aren’t there only in spirit!