Over the last ten years, since living in this happy valley, I went through different stages of social integration, alhamdulillah.
The first year here we lived in a small room with my father in law. I found myself, as the only stranger/foreigner, in the middle of Berbers in the midst of a little Berber village.
To live amongst the local people, sharing their simple lifestyle and doing like them, helped me enormously to integrate into society and to learn the language, the habits and the do’s and don’ts.
I was in contact with the people all the time, but to make friends and to get in deeper contact with the women outside our household was quiet hard. The language was a barrier and with my background, my education and experiences, I felt quite different.
Most of the women had never been out of the valley or to bigger cities, most of them could not read or write. But they seemed fulfilled with their duties and were masters of their craft in the kitchen and with the animals.
During the first months I always thought that, if I would like to fully integrate here, I would have to be like them, to dress like them and to do like them. But I soon understood that this wouldn’t be possible and would not help. I felt that I can learn much of them, but I also felt that I have some things to give, inchaallah. Instead of proving being able to bake soft bread as round as the sun, I did better concentrating on the special things I personally hd to share with them.
Deep respect, real interest and constant exchange became the keys for my growing relationships. Not trying to make the other like me, but to be open, to serve, to share and to learn each one of the other enriched all of us, alhamdulillah.
Our same Islamic faith, the shared belief in Allah and doing prayers together often helped to establish confidence and to keep connected on a higher level, subhanallah.
I learned how to make couscous, they learned how to bake chocolate cake.
I got to know how to cut hay, they learned how to brush teeth…
A wonderful way of mutual learning began.
And it didn’t took long until some of the young girls of our village asked me if I had an idea how they could work together and earn some money. The idea of a wool felting group grew and together we learned different techniques.
Uniting our different skills enabled us to create wonderful things:
their knowledge of the wool-working-process from the sheep to the soft fiber and my knowing of internet-use for inspiration and ideas;
their experience in dyeing wool and my ability to read, try, learn and teach the felting technique;
their traditional and pure feeling for simple patterns and my feeling for modern design and arts – all of this together gave birth to wonderful moments of getting to know each other, to grow together and to create beautiful things which we could sell to tourists so the girls could make some money. A women’s felting group was born and two years we regularly met and worked together (Here I sometimes wrote about it on this blog).
Then the girls grew older, some married, some left the valley and God had other plans for each one of us. My family and I were then very occupied with the new school and other things and for some years the felting group wasn’t active. Through the école vivante new cross-cultural exchange and my integration into the local society continued in different ways, but the key to real and deep encounters always was and still is by do something meaningful, by sharing, by giving and being open to the other, by respect of the differences between us and by focusing on what unites us and what we have in common.