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Introducing Ait Bougamez, Chouaib, and a Vlog

About two weeks ago now, we left our second and final homestay to begin our final month of travels in Morocco. Departures are always bittersweet. We spend weeks living with families, integrating ourselves within small communities, and then we leave to explore new cities, towns, and spaces where we again feel like unknown foreigners. Its sad to leave these families that have welcomed us into their lives, and it’s excited to move forward to new places and experiences waiting for us.

To give a bit of background, we first spent time in the village of TImmit, in Ait Bougamez, last year. Ait Bougamez is a valley in the High Atlas mountains, whose economy is largely centered around agriculture, and the communities are Amazigh. While some community members speak Arabic, most people speak mainly (or only) Tashelhit, a dialect of the Amazigh language. We were invited by two Peace Corps volunteers, Alena and Hunter, to come and spend a week doing activities in the valley, and were connected to two of their counterparts, Khalid and Moha, to help us facilitate activities. Khalid and Moha were both college graduates who were trying to find work, and so were able to spend the week with us. They facilitated meetings, activities, and explorations in the valley. We went on hikes throughout the apple and walnut orchards, met with the English club (started by Hunter and Alena), picked apples, met with local rug-weaving and couscous making co-ops, and had meals and large amounts of tea with families in the community.

Moha is a silly human, always smiling, making jokes, and making sure that everyone is having a good time and feeling good. He has a large presence, and is constantly moving – he pops in and out of the group, the Gite (our local accommodations, a part of our other friend Youcef’s house that he rents out to tourists and trekkers), and is tough to put a finger on sometimes, but he is highly respected in the community, and is there for us when we need him. Khalid, on the other hand, is quiet and soft spoken, and has been teaching himself english for the past year or so. His english is incredible given the circumstances, and Khalid is constantly working to improve by engaging with our group and students. He wants to get to know everyone, and his main motivation is to have new experiences and to learn. Khalid sees interacting with Dragons groups as an opportunity to better his english, learn about other cultures, and make new friends. He is one of the more genuine humans you might meet, and we’re always grateful for his jokes, the new english slang that he’s working to implement, and his help facilitating our encounters and engagement with the local community.

Over the past year I’ve personally spent a cumulative month and a half in this community, over four separate visits, welcomed both as a Dragons instructor, as well as by myself, with great kindness and generosity. Over the summer, I spent Eid el-Kebir in Bougamez with Khalid’s family, Alena and Hunter, and Moha. The holiday begins with the slaughtering of a sheep (or two, or three, depending on the families circumstances), and proceeds over the next week with uncountable meals centered around the meat of the slaughtered sheep. The week is spent with community – our days were filled by walking from house to house to share tea and food, and to relax in the abundance of these things that are not usually a daily indulgence. While I was explicitly invited by Khalid to pass the holidays with him and his family, I was warmly welcomed by many other families, without question, to participate, eat, and share in the community. It’s an experience quite different than we expect and grow up with in many communities in America – instead of being questioned upon entering a house (in America I would expect at least a ‘who are you? welcome! where do you come from? what are you doing here? how are you enjoying your experience?’), I was greeted as a known entity and given no special treatment.

I think this represents a mode of hospitality that seems foreign to many of us who grew up in the United States, but its representative of much of what we experience when visiting small villages like that of Timmit. The students come to know it through their homestay experiences, and while difficult at first, or uncomfortable, they learn from it other modes of making and maintaining community and relationships. In these experiences, we are welcomed quietly. In other words, we are given space to share in communal activities like drinking tea, sharing food, and spending quiet time together, and are not made to feel as though our presence is unusual or different than the norm. While we might be used to a different mode of ‘getting to know you’, the act of sharing spaces and sitting together is a different type of experience and a different mode of relating to people who we don’t know. It can be hard at times, but over time it becomes comfortable, like coming home.

This fall, our two friends, Khalid and Moha, became teachers. We’re very excited for them. Moha is teaching at the Ecole Vivant (mentioned in previous yaks), and Khalid is teaching at a small public school in a very remote village – to get there, he is dropped off by a ‘transport’ (large vans, seating maybe 12-18 people, that transport people throughout the valley) and has to walk about 30 minutes up a mountain. Given the new situation, we asked our friends in the valley if there was anyone that they might recommend to help us with language and facilitation during our homestay this year. Enter Chouaib. Chouaib is from a nearby village, and currently lives in a small city called Azilal. There he works with youth in the city. He’s a good friend of our contacts in the valley, and after speaking with him about our program and plans for the homestay, we decided to have him come and join us in Timmit.

Chouaib is hilarious, and always come in on the emotional check-in scale at a 9 (10 representing your feeling the most amazing you’ve ever felt, in your entire life). Chouaib’s check-in is no joke – he is perhaps the most upbeat person I’ve ever met. Like Khalid and Moha, he’s motivated to build relationships both within his community and outside of it, and has been working with Peace Corps volunteers on community programming (and on his english, which is excellent). Chouaib is also an ardent VLOG-er, and is well known in Azilal because of his vlogging (video-blogging). Because Khalid and Moha are now working, Chouaib was our main interpreter throughout our stay in Bougamez, and worked incredibly hard to make sure that students were having great experiences with their families, and were able to communicate any needs that they had (we instructors are able to communicate with most community members, but its important to have someone from the community to facilitate these interactions –  people feel more comfortable and able to express their needs when speaking to a community member).

A few days into our time in Bougamez we learned of Chouaib’s vlogging, and we knew immediately that we needed him to make a vlog about our time in Bougamez and some of the activities we were doing. Chouaib, ever ready to jump into new experiences and take on new projects, was excited about the idea instantly. Because we were quite busy during our stay, Chouaib decided to focus on a couple of experiences for the Vlog. He made sure to balance Arabic, Tashelhit, and English, and put together a pretty great video, that we’re excited to share with you all (with his permission of course).

I write this from Zagora, a small city on the edge of the desert. We’ll spend a few nights camping amongst the dunes over the weekend, and then head west with the students in charge, as the Student Expedition Phase begins. We’re all excited for the final weeks of program, and enjoying our ability to look back on past experiences as we move forward towards the finish line.

We hope you enjoy the video.

All best,

Kevin.