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In which I sing the praises of my mudir

Admittedly, I don't often praise my local counterparts. Usually, getting them to work effectively with me is like getting blood out of a stone. For the moment, though, let's focus on what my mudir is like on a personal level.

We have a wonderful relationship. He has many names for me, including, "l3awni" (an old-fashioned Moroccan name, meaning "my helper"), "father Eugene," "my uncle," "Aristotle," and, since I've stopped shaving, "Barbarossa." He often tells me that he thinks of me as his son (he has no children).

We have a half a dozen different kinds of handshakes and fist-bumps, and he likes to deploy them at random in order to confuse me, which makes me laugh despite myself.

Mostafa likes to bring me things. If I call in sick, he is known to walk across town bearing a pot of soup and medicine (sometimes western medicine, sometimes traditional). Sometimes at the end of class, he'll usher me into his office, where he will stick a loaf of home-made bread or a sack of fruit into my backpack.

He patiently helps with my Darija. If I mis-use a word, he not only corrects me, but launches into a veritable lecture, detailing the situations in which the incorrect word would have been appropriate, drawing connections between related names or words which I may have already learned. When misunderstood, he repeats himself without a hint of irritation.

One of his favorite things is idioms, and he could chat for hours about french and arabic idioms and joke phrases. For my part, I like to bring him some unusual English idioms, like, "There is more than one way to skin a cat." He really gets a kick out of those.

Most importantly, Mostafa understands that life in a foreign country is difficult for us volunteers. He sympathizes with my struggles, listening politely when I feel the need to rail against the peace corps or other Moroccans and their ways. It's obvious that he puts effort into understanding my situation with compassion.

His wife is a tremendous woman, and when the two of them have me over as their guest, they are always generous and accommodating to the nth degree. I often leave their house with a box full of Moroccan sweets, a loaf of bread, several bags of spices, or a kilo of butter.

He is much more open-minded than other Moroccans I've met, and I've felt comfortable telling him about things I'd never tell other Moroccans: that I drink, for instance, or that I have no religion. I'll expand a bit on this in my next post, about critical thinking in Morocco.

Mudirs are one of the chief stressors volunteers experience, and though mine is not always there for me at work (literally - he often doesn't show up), I know I can always count on him to be there for me when I'm depressed or in need of a healthy, home-cooked meal. Indeed, I don't know many volunteers who personally enjoy their mudir as much as I enjoy mine.

I often say to him, "Mostafa, ila ma-knti-sh, ma-knt-sh baqi f-laounate" - "If it weren't for you, I wouldn't still be in Laounate." And that's the truth.

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