I had an interesting opportunity this past week. During our last break while coming back from a trip to Esswara I met a Berber professor of linguistics and English on the train ride up, who invited me to come to a conference on women's rights where he would be sharing a paper on how the Berber language inherently discriminates against women. Bonus, one of my personal heros, Fatima Mernissi, would be speaking there at the conference- she's one of the top living feminists, and the most famous Moroccan feminist.
So I went up there this past Saturday to the conference, and didn't get to hear Mernissi, as it turns out she wasn't speaking there. But I had some interesting experiences along the way.
I met my friend there at a bar, where he was drinking with some other professors. They kept on asking me why I wasn't drinking with them. I told them out of respect for the beliefs of those in this country. They said, "But we are Muslims, and we're drinking." I was however feeling sick from something flue-like, and so begged off early, and went to the hotel.
The next morning I found out he had been drinking until 230 that morning, and had about 12 beers. He had also already been sick, but now had a chronic hangover. This is relatively unusual among the intelligencia in this country, and drinking is still considered something shameful. As we arrived for the conference at 9 in the morning, 3 of his students came up to him, very eager to see him. He appeared suprised that they were there, although they had been waiting since 8, since that's when the class with him begins! He at that point told them that he wouldn't be able to meet with them (as the rest of the class of 20 students came up), as he was sick, and he had a conference that day, and was very tired.
Here's the thing. They weren't put out at all! They expressed sympathy for him, though he they had been waiting for class for an hour, and his breath still smelled of alcohol. Then, they said they had tried to come to the conference to hear his paper the day before, but couldn't find it. He said dismissively that it was full anyway. The students said they understood, and profusely thanked him.
Then...they showed up for the 2nd day of the conference! And there was room in the hall. And during the break they gathered around him to pester him with questions. They totally love their professor, and the subject, and it was just amazing to see how it seemed he could do no wrong in their eyes! I was amazed at what a beautiful relationship he had with his students, despite doing a number of things in his first year teaching that would easily have had me losing my job.
I learned a couple interesting things at the conference- but only a couple, as most of the papers were in French, or in classical Arabic. One was a new way to say someone is insane- he cut the rope- qta' Hddr. Second was a discussion on "wooli, wooli", a phrase I've heard female students used before. Turns out that it can only be used by women (men saying it sound gay), and is the diminutive form of the river of hell, used to mean that this situation is as bad as being in that river! It is part of the way the Moroccan language infantizes women, by allowing them alone to use many different words in the diminutive form, as in baby talk, so that they sound like young children.