Due to the rather lengthy nature of this story, which I feel compelled to retell in all its glory, I will split it into two posts.
There are many common phrases in Morocco used to express those ambiguous feelings that so often plague us. For instance, if someone asks you if you’ll be in class tomorrow, you can say mumkin (maybe) or if something bad happens, you might say resignedly, ma sha’ Allah (whatever God wills). But by far the most common phrase uttered in Morocco is in sha’ Allah. This all-purpose phrase translates literally to if God wills but can more practically be defined as definitely, maybe, possibly, unlikely, fat chance, or when-hell-freezes-over.
Confusing? Hey, this is language baby. And what do the sociolinguists tell us about language? It’s all about context.
For instance, the context of the conversation and cultural setting should have put me on my guard tonight, but I was so caught up in the thrill of having a real live conversation in Darija (Moroccan Arabic) that I forgot to pay attention to the signs. How important is context, you might ask? Well, let’s just say that there are about thirty people in Rabat, Morocco who believe that I am a self-professed convert to Islam.
Yeah… About that context bit…
This semester I’m interning with Maison de l’Avenir (House of the Future), which is a non-profit organization providing housing to families of children with cancer. Twice a week, I and another student take a cab from school to a small, unassuming house near the local hospital. Our duties, loosely defined at best, seem to be “entertain the kids, preserve the peace, and avoid bodily injuries.”
We’d managed pretty well so far. Sure, there’re been difficult moments, such as when my fellow intern was nearly beaten to death by a hyperactive five-year-old with anger issues, or the moments when every loose object in the room is simultaneously flying through the air and they all seem to be aimed at someone’s head. And there are equally inspiring moments, such as watching a tiny girl with one amputated leg and hair just coming back as she maneuvers expertly on her crutches. And it get’s crazy; there are often different kids and sometimes the small play room is jam packed with twenty to twenty-five children.
Add onto this the simple fact that we don’t really have a language in common, and you’ve got a recipe for shall we say, interesting times. In this situation, context plays a crucial role. Within two days there, I had deduced shut up, stop it, it’s broken, give me that, I don’t like you, and go away. You can imagine the contexts in which I learned those phrases.
Despite all, things seemed to be under (relative) control tonight. Then rather suddenly the whole game changed…