There are five pillars of Islam, that are considered to be obligatory by Muslims to lead a good life. As mentioned in a previous post, one of these is fasting… it’s Ramadan, right? Since Ramadan is also a time to focus on Islam, the five pillars receive more focus and almost take on greater importance. One of the other pillars is giving charity to the poor, and it surely receives more attention this month.
As we walk around the streets there are more dirt streaked faces awaiting us to ask for money. Children in tattered clothing follow us through the produce market with old plastic bags held in reaching arms, hoping that something will be added to the nothingness inside (it seems that they’re hoping I’ll buy an extra onion or tomato to drop in the bag). We pass a man on the street corner and his eyes follow us before asking for food.
This is one of the hard parts of this job and our lives. We are volunteers, and thus don’t have a lot of money. We are here to teach skills, not to distribute charity. We aren’t “rich” tourists on vacation. We stand out in our community and are recognized. This means that if we do give something we’re kind of undermining our own work, creating the expectation that “the Americans” are good for a free handout (we aren’t: I think we make about $6/day). Keep in mind, I’m not saying that all Moroccans view us this way, it’s a small minority that stands out.
When confronted with these situations we use one of the phrases that we were taught by our darija teacher several months ago, “Llah yshl”. At this point, I’ve forgotten the exact translation, but it’s what you say to someone begging for food, money, or whatever. It’s along the lines of, “Allah help you” or “May God make your life easier”. Sometimes the response is, “Amin” (Arabic for amen) while other times the response is to keep following us for a half block before giving up.
Not trying to make this sad or depressing, but it is a part of our current living situation. On a lighter note: There is another situation that arises frequently during Ramadan… The musical beggars. Groups of men roam around town with drums and an instrument that sounds a little like a cross between a clarinet and an oboe. They play music outside your house, your window, or your door (often quite loudly, I’ll add) and wait for you to come give them a donation. It seems to me a little like a bribe to get them to go away, but that is certainly not how Moroccans view it. They dutifully grab their wallet or purse, fish out some change and drop it out the window to one of the men. Here’s video of the ones in front of our home. (No, we didn’t give money and no they didn’t stay camped outside our door waiting for any)