Visiting an Amazigh Family

I had the unique opportunity to share lunch with an Amazigh family in the outskirts of Sidi Ifni in the Ait Baamrane area near the Dar Si Hmad fog project site.

Muhammed and Rashid were both poor, unemployed, Amazigh farmers who eagerly awaited our arrival in the Dar Si Hmad white land rover. The village where they live has approximately 50 people and from my understanding, their family has lived in the same house for generations. Inside I encountered an atrium with a surprisingly well kept garden. Crossing the garden I entered a long room with the floor covered in carpets and and the baseboard lined with pillows.

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Souad posing in the atrium

The setup was incredibly reminiscent of the Amazigh camp in the Sahara desert where we spent one night. In the camp, carpets lined the floor in the same fashion as in the long room in Muhammed’s house. The carpets gave a unique feel to the room, I am not sure how to describe it, but it felt sort of like an escape from the streamlined, simplicity in design that characterizes “modernity.” It was rustic and colorful.

 

Following tradition, we sat on the floor and as Mohammed and his father prepared the mint tea, I proceeded to interview Rashid. At first I was surprised to learn that he had family in Holland and France, which seemed much less surprising when Kris explained to me that the number one source of income in Morocco is remittances.

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The room in Muhammed’s house where we had lunch

Just like in the Dominican Republic I thought. In that similarly sun bathed country, families work to send one member to the US where he may find a better job and send money back home. Furthermore, the families hope that this one member will eventually become a US citizen because in doing so, he is granted the right to request that members of the family are allowed into the US to accompany him. You’d be surprised to see how many Dominicans are US citizens. In my opinion it’s very clever of the Dominicans, but at the same time it seems sort of sad how they escape their country. Often it seems that these people are willing to give up their identity as Dominicans in order to achieve economic stability. Anyways, who I am to judge them? I grew up travelling around the world, attending the best schools in every country, I currently study in the United States and for tuition I pay more than most people will ever have in their lives. My opinion on anyone who is below my socioeconomic status will always be biased because I simply do not understand their struggle. I would be lying if I said that I truly did. I can judge their willingness to give up their culture, their identity, their homes, but I don’t even understand my own identity. I can’t relate more to Argentina than I can to the Dominican Republic or Peru. At the moment, I find myself in a sort of limbo. I am a global citizen, I suppose.

Anyways, I was happy to hear that Rashid wanted his children to learn Tachelhit first. In fact he shared the opinion of his brother, Muhammed, who told me: “We value the Tachelhit dialect because it is our mother tongue. Our ancestors spoke it and we will continue the tradition.” At the same time, both Rashid and Muhammed understood that Tachelhit would not grant their children access to many opportunities, which is why they both though that their children should learn English and French. Muhammed went as far as suggesting that his children should choose to learn Mandarin because China is an economic power on the rise. The two Amazigh in the middle of nowhere showed a greater understanding of the role of language in life than college students from Al Akhawayn University who only took into consideration the economic advantages.

This came as a shock to me because even I had to first write a research paper to really appreciate the humanistic values of language over the economic. Up to this point in my life I intended to learn both Portuguese and French just so that I could work anywhere in the Americas. I did not value the languages for their ability to allow me to connect with people around the world. I  was only interested in the economic advantages that came with languages.

I would have imagined that given their isolation, neither Muhammed nor Rashid would really care for foreign languages and much less for international economics. The key here is that physical isolation does not really mean anything anymore because everyone is connected via the internet. I had 4G on top of a dune in the Sahara (Granted this wasn’t too far into the Sahara) meaning that anyone with a phone in Morocco can be just as aware of what is happening in the world as me in my dorm in WPI. Think about this: Muhammed has 2000+ friends in Facebook. Remember where he lives? Of course, he probably doesn’t know half of his Facebook friends, but that is not the point. With one of these things:

 

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Nokia 215 costs $29 and runs both Facebook and Twitter

He is part of the “global society.”

I wonder, however, if that may have a negative impact on his life. The benefits are all very clear: He can inform himself, establish relationships around the world, grow tolerant of other people’s opinions and cultures, etc… What about the dependence on social media to communicate with local friends? What about learning of the extremely decadent life style of the western riches? Would he pity his current state? I trust that he would not find his situation shameful and that he would be proud of his family, his heritage, and he would somehow appreciate the beauty of a simpler life free of the obsessions that money brings. But part of me is afraid that this would not be true and that he would one day say enough and leave everything behind, move to the city and pursue those same obsessions that the western media seems to promote. Although, that may be hard for him since he barely finished secondary school. He could however, push his children away from the countryside, away from the traditions, and into the city.

So the problem that Morocco now faces is how to defend its culture from conforming to the ideals that other more imposing cultures like the US promote through media. How to keep culture and traditions as people shift from family values to materialistic values. I think that it might have been interesting to research the impact on social media on the Amazigh and their culture.

 

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