The title of this entry is “my name is Malika”, which is the name given to me by my host family in my CBT site. I think I’ll keep it!
I got back yesterday from my first CBT (Community Based Training) week. I lived with a Berber family in a small village in the Atlas mountains there and studied Tamazight. It is a really difficult language. It’s actually called Tashelheet in my community, which is actually another Berber language, but the lines aren’t very clear. The dialects are fluid, and borrow words from each other as well as Arabic, Spanish and French. Vocabulary varies even between neighboring villages! So the Tamazight I am learning now may not even be exactly the language spoken in my final site. This is probably the most challenging and rewarding aspect of Peace Corps training.
My family was very patient with my feeble attempts at language, fortunately! For the most part I followed around my host-grandmother (MaHlo). She’s a tough lady. We went to the fields to cut clover for the animals and fed and watered her cow, donkey, chickens and goats.
The village itself is beautiful. There is only one paved road that goes through, and one phone. The sky is perfectly clear at night. All the houses are clay and it is situated up in the mountains next to a river with fertile fields lining it. The people of the village grow walnuts, almonds, olives, and roses. The famous festival of the roses is coming up in a couple of months and I’m really excited that we will get to be there for it!
The day we arrived, another trainee’s host brother died. So there was a lot of commotion in the village about that. The next day, another sick brother returned from the hospital, so there was a two day feast to celebrate, complete with the slaughtering of two sheep. The it was the Aeid for the prophet Mohammed’s birthday, so family in other cities all came home. This was when I discovered that there are at least 24 people in my host family who come and go from the house! Meanwhile, our LCF (language teacher) was sick, and ended up quitting. So we had an interim teacher from Rabat.
I started to get a feel for the kinds of health issues I’ll be facing as a health volunteer. There are a lot of dental problems in the village because the local free clinic doesn’t have a dentist and the private clinics are very expensive. As for sanitation, hand-washing here is treated very differently; it is more ceremonial than practical. Soap is used only after the last meal of the day, not before eating – unlike in America, where we do the opposite. Cups are communal, which could easily spread sickness through a family.
What particularly interests me is nutrition. There is no shortage of food here, the question is whether people have a balanced diet. The bulk of the diet is bread because it is filling. There is no distinction here between being “well-fed” and “nourished”. Vegetables are varied and easily available, but they are always peeled and overcooked so very little nutritional value is left. Sugar is also a HUGE part of the diet – I was drinking up to 8 cups of sugary tea a day! I was told that tea is good for you because it gives you energy… which is half true. It does give you a pretty intense sugar high! I have to wonder if that quantity of sugar has caused any health problems.
The challenge for a volunteer is to draw the line between not criticizing cultural practices, but also presenting information about preventive medicine, nutrition and sanitation. I certainly have my work cut out for me.