Communication. At least that’s what Google translate tells me that’s how it’s spelled, and I can’t confirm now with the man I met in the street who taught me this word. Being here, I’ve realized how amazing communication is. My Arabic and French are pretty rough, so I can’t often have full-blown conversations with anyone but I have gotten really good at charades. I’m so comforted by even Spanish, which I can very minimally understand, and words on buildings that use the same alphabet as English. (Thank you French colonialism.)
I’ve also learned how to say “I’m happy to meet you” in Tamazight, the language of the indigenous population, which a fascinating facet of communication all on its own. The language of Tamazight (which has 3 dialects in Morocco) has only recently been recognized as an official language by the 2011 constitution. And Tamazight has been historically an oral language, with no written form. But now that Tamazight is an official language of Morocco, it’s had to be transcribed and taught in schools. But how do you write down an oral language? How do you teach a standard form of a language that has three dialects? It’s interesting to learn about, because Tamazight uses its own alphabet, and furthermore, most native speakers can’t even understand the “standard” and “official” version.
Being here has given me a greater appreciation for people and connection and communication. These things are wonderful back home, but it is in moments of deep loneliness, feelings of being different, and disappointment that I am renewed by the people here. Whether that be miming to my host mom that I love her cooking, or meeting students and talking to them about Islam, I know I couldn’t go through this experience without the kindness of new Moroccan people and my classmates. I’ve also realized that there is a commonality and communion that can exist between people despite language barriers and cultural differences. I can’t communicate verbally with the Amazigh musicians or tourists from Italy, but that doesn’t mean we can’t dance to Berber music together.
I’ve also begun to think about miscommunication. My classmates and I discussed how strange it is that we have formed a community so quickly, yet we don’t feel this same sense of comfort and safety with loved ones from back home, that we aren’t that homesick. And maybe it’s partially because digital communication is always flawed. But why is it that there are people I have known for years who have never shared with me their honest and vulnerable ideas about religion, yet I can have hours long conversations about God with complete strangers? I really believe that connections can form between any two persons. I just don’t always know how to bridge the gap.
Sometimes miscommunication is deeper than language barriers and cultural differences. If I can feel community with the local women at the hammam through only the sharing of soap and water and taking turns scrubbing, connection should always be possible, because it’s so simple. But maybe not everyone wants to bare it all, physically or emotionally, myself included. And instead we clothe ourselves with anger, retreat, or indifference. Communication and connection is easy and wonderful, but also requires a kind of naked vulnerability, and that is terrifying. I will try to be better at communicating, both by perfecting my French, Arabic, and miming, but also by trying to share my thoughts and feelings with compassion, patience, and honesty.