Kenza Elazkem

Kenza Elazkem was born and raised in Marrakech, Morocco. She later moved to the United States to finish high school and pursue a degree in Political Science at the University of Texas in San Antonio. During her undergraduate studies, she participated in an exchange program at Hanyang University in Seoul, South Korea. Kenza's interest for development started then. After completing her degree, Kenza joined the Carter Center for an internship in the field of democracy and election observation. She is currently pursuing a dual master's degree in International and Sustainable development between Hankuk University for Foreign Studies in South Korea, and the United Nations University for Peace in Costa Rica. Kenza taught English at a rural primary school in Costa Rica and also joined a women's Capoeira collective. She is eager to learn more about the world and enjoys cooking, traveling and sharing. After the fellowship, she wrote: "The best aspect of the fellowship was to see the process of carpet making and sharing meals with the women's families. Through the fellowship, I have learned the NGO jargon in Arabic. I am also more aware of my surroundings and pay more attention to detail now." Contact:

The Insider/Outsider: what it is like to be a native in the field

05 Jul

So my first week went well but also slow. I arrived to Ain Leuh on a Tuesday and found an adequate room at a hostel in town. By the time I arrived to the cooperative’s local, only few women were there working. I met with Khadija Aabdi, the president of the cooperative who welcomed me with one of my favorite meals: fried spiced sardines. I couldn’t have asked for better. We talked a little bit and she informed me that Wednesdays are off days as the weekly market takes place just outside of the village and all the women go there to do there shopping, she also told me that Fridays are days off. And there goes my first Kenza-f’Douar moment: but weekends are Saturday and Sunday??!!! Then I thought to myself: that’s no big deal, if I have to get something done in the city, I can use those days without taking off from my work with the cooperative? Problem solved.


On Wednesday, I went to the market with Khadija and met another one of the women, Hachmia. We went shopping for wool for the cooperative and also for their weekly grocery list. I had not been to a weekly market in the country side for so long and it was refreshing to see that they are still happening around the country side of Morocco. The women’s grocery list was extensive as Ramadan was around the corner. Ramadan was actually the next day. In Morocco, Ramadan is announced the night before it starts and we follow the tradition of watching the moon. So when I went down to the cooperative on Thursday, none of the women were there as they were all busy preparing the specialties of Ramadan served at sunset to break the fast. This when I realized that it is expected from them to be housewives first before being income earners. I also remembered the wise words of the Advocacy Project director, Iain Guest, “You’re going to want to hit the ground running, but you will see that it is a little more complicated once you’re there”. And so Friday was a day off and we agreed to finally hold our first meeting on Saturday.

The first meeting went smoothly. This is when I became aware of my insider/outsider paradox. When I met Silvia, the fellow from last year, she told me that none of the women spoke Tamazight and the young ones were even proud not to speak it. Tamazight is the language of Amazigh people, the native people of Morocco. However, when I held the first meeting, I quickly noticed that besides Darija, the Moroccan Arabic dialect, the women also spoke Tamazight. And when I asked, they said only a few of them did not speak it but they all at least understood it. We held the meeting in Darija but whenever the women wanted to say something without me understanding, they spoke in Tamazight.

Amazigh. Now the insider part of me knew what language was spoken at any given moment but the outsider part of me did not understand one of those languages. My tamazight is very weak and being from a different region, I noticed that even the sentence structure is different even when some words are still the same. The women also laughed at my Marrakchi accent and thought it was cute that I did not call them directly by their names but preceded each name with the honorary “Lalla”. I had no idea that in other regions people did not use it when addressing each other.

There were also other regional differences that I noticed such as the order in which the Ftour, Ramadan evening meal to break the fast, is served. In Ain Leuh, the Harira, Moroccan soup, is served at the end while in Marrakech, it is served first. The first time I was invited at Khadija’s house, I just assumed there was no Harira and like that because it is not my favorite. And then they served it, I was already more than full but I could not refuse it as it is rude to do so. I still forget every single time but I’m getting slowly used to the pace of life here, to the different dialect and customs.

Did I mention that every time I ask about a store, I say ‘epicerie’, which here is strictly used for liquor stores and ‘hanout’ is the word used for regular food stores, I get a shocked look? How can she be asking about alcohol, and even worse during Ramadan?!!! Oops! That’s just the word we use in Marrakech, sorry.

Posted By Kenza Elazkem

Posted Jul 5th, 2015

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