the Chinoi in Essa

Posted in Uncategorized by Diana on June 13, 2010

…so you know the Chinoi in Essa.

– local in the Essa medina describing me (the “Chinoi”) to a fellow PCV in the Essa province

Yes, that’s how the locals describe me in Essa. Apparently, I am that famous. I didn’t even have to do much work to gain my celebrity status. PCVs all acquire this recognition, but, as an ethnic-American, I think there’s an added dimension to mine.

Most of the time, when I’m on a mission, I walk through the medina not bothering to stop until I reach my destination.

When I have errands that require me to stop at a tahanut (store) or I want to pick up a bite at a café/restaurant, I strike up small talk with the vendors. I don’t mind doing that since each one is an opportunity to speak in Tashleheit (Tash). In fact, my PCV province-mates commented on that about me – I’m always willing to take time and talk with the vendors. 🙂

Locals are usually friendly and extremely receptive to a taromeit (foreigner) speaking the native tongue. They are the ones who I repeat business with. Others, i.e., those vendors who over-eagerly shout phrases like “Chinoi”,  “Japon”, “kunichiwa” at me, don’t get any of my business. Not only is it rude and (culturally-)inappropriate, but it’s annoying. After all, I do “wear” my identity permanently and it’s not like I’m trying to hide it with products like whitening powder or double-eyelid surgery so there’s no need to remind of who I am or what I look like on a regular basis, thank you. Besides, even back in the US, it annoyed me when vendors would watch me like a hound.

To be fair, there are people who are so nice and appreciative of my ability (and willingness) to learn the local Berber language that they’ll invite you for tea. Darija is the national language. As such, people from the bled (village) work in the medina, but not everyone in the medina understands the Berber dialect.

There are also people who are plain ol’ helpful because I am a taromeit who doesn’t speak the language well. They take the time to walk me to my desired destination and make sure I meet with the right person. This happened during Ouarzazat – I walked into a tahanut because I couldn’t find the hardware store. The butahanut (store owner) asked a customer to watch his shop and walked me to the hardware store further down the block.

The brightness of my celebrity stardom wanes with each kilometer closer to my final site, lHamdullah. I’m flattered by it but at the same time, it’s nice to not have to explain who I am and what I’m doing in Morocco every five steps.

At the next village over, which is a transit hub and has a cyber café, my mystery bubble decreases in size. Some people (i.e., the kurti (taxi stand man), a few taxi drivers, and a bu-café (café owner)) know me, while others don’t. On non-soq (open market) days, I can walk through the main road and hear a few whispers but not be bothered. . On soq days, people come in from surrounding villages to get their shopping done. As such, there’s a sizeable mystery bubble surrounding me when I walk through town. People may stop and stare.

Then there’s my final site, where people know (more or less) who I am and what I’m doing here. Or, at the very least, they know I’m here for two years.


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