Recently I was contacted by a young student in our valley who prepares a case study on cross-cultural encounters. He asked me the following questions on living as a foreigner amongst Berbers.
Since many of you were asking some of the same things, I’d like to share my answers with you:
How did you learn about Islam?
during a 6-month-work experience in Marrakech I learned with my Moroccan colleagues. I fasted with them during Ramadan, I read Quran and discussed all questions with them. More details see here.
What was your image about Islam before?
mixed, full of prejudices and misunderstandings, mostly misogynist.
Did Moroccan people help you understand Islam?
yes, because a lot of common-life issues here are religious-related.
but also I found out that I often already knew more, mashaallah, because I am able to read and inform myself, which is not the case for most local women who still are mostly illiterate and unfortunately only know what others tell them.
To what extent Islam makes the interaction between you and locals successful?
Islam was the main reason why I was able to integrate so quick here, subhanallah.
Islam was the bridge, the base that made an approach much easier. through Islam we share the same basic beliefs and essentially the same goal and meanings of life, that unites the local people and me, alhamdulillah.
After converting to Islam, do you still stick to some aspects of German culture?
Surely I do not celebrate Christmas or birthdays, nor do I eat pork or drink beer ;)) but yes, I still keep many rituals, habits, behaviors, values, virtues and manners that are not contrary to Islam.
For example the way how I keep our home, how I work and organize things, how I prepare food, how I communicate, sometimes even the way how I feel or understand things are rooted in my German-upbringing.
I think we cannot quit this, the way we grew up is instilled in us. That’s not bad, it also has very positive sides: it encourages the cross-cultural exchange and widens the horizons of all people involved, especially in marriage and family life.
What things do you bring from German culture?
Mostly food, eating habits and favorites;
but also some manners and typical German virtues like: correctness, diligence, reliability, accuracy, organization, tidiness, creativity and entrepreneurial thinking.
Does the coming of tourists improve local Moroccan’s understanding of different cultures? if yes, how?
Yes, each meeting widens the horizons of both sides. to make knowledge of the unknown helps to reduce fear and hatred, that’s a great thing to establish tolerance and peace. but for this, people really need to meet, to be together, to work together, even to talk to each other (if possible), not just superficially.
Does tourism promote cross-cultural exchange in the High Atlas valley you live in?
Absolutely yes. people meet and get to know each other through tourism.
And if it is a sustainable tourism, that’s really a good thing; if it is balanced, slow and really allows respectful meetings between people there are many benefits for both sides, the visitors and the locals.
I see it in our school, how good it is to welcome guests, to bring them in contact with pupils and locals, so that both sides learn from each other. These meeting really are gifts and help to build bridges of peace and friendship.
How did the Berber language Tamazight help you understand the culture?
if you understand a language, you understand the culture – but it took me very long to learn Berber, so in the beginning I had to make knowledge of the culture even without the language, which was quiet difficult and led to some loneliness and the feeling of not really being connected. The locals and I communicated a lot with signs and with the help of people who translated.
But now that I understand the language much better, I feel more integrated and less dependent on a translator. Now there are less misunderstandings and I can really communicate and get in contact directly with the women, which is great thing and leads to totally new encounters, alhamdulillah.
Before you learnt Tamazight, what were the difficulties you had in understanding the local culture?
Many misunderstandings, missing of details and fineness; sometimes even feeling alone and outsider.
But I always knew nice people who spoke French or English, and also my husband and his family helped me a lot to understand the culture, sometimes with hands and feet, and always with a lot of love and tolerance.
Also through my children I learnt and still learn a lot. And in general people were always very nice, helpful and respectful with me. alhamdulillah.
I think this is the secret: both sides need to be empathetic, very open and forgiving and both sides need to show respect and tolerance, then it is absolutely possible to get to know each other, to live together and to enrich each other.
Thank you and salam aleikoum!