Swapping Nouktas in the Desert.

Noukta, Darija word for joke

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My first joke was a tale I borrowed from Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. I was probably 7 or 8 and I was so ridiculously good at recounting it that my mom would make me tell it to adults at parties. Maybe you know the story? Five Bloody Fingers? If you don’t, it’s a doozy of a fireside yarn, and like any good southern storyteller, I performed it with so much flare that it eventually became my own. You see, I come from a long line of folks on both sides who know that jokes are essential commodities in just about any situation. Both my grandfathers had hundreds of jokes and riddles up their sleeves. And, when I was as a kid my dad even gave me a book called Get Thee to a Punnery – though perhaps the hilarity of the title was somewhat lost on me at the time. Most of you know all this, though, since you’ve likely groaned a time or two in my general direction. So it should be no surprise that one of the first words I’ve learned on this adventure is Noukta, the Darija word for joke. Moroccans, as it turns out, are hilarious jokesters and natural storytellers.

On our ETA trip to the Sahara, we heard a handful of riddles in lots of scenarios, from the barefoot Berber boys who led us through the dunes, to the guy we met in a drum circle, who said his name was one year long.

Here’s an example:

How do you get a camel into a refrigerator?

Open the door. Walk the camel in. Close the door.

(though, our narrator added this alternative punchline: wait till the end of Ramadan, then leave a plate of food in the fridge and the camel will walk in by himself).

And don’t forget the follow up: The lion – the king of the jungle – had a party and all the animals came but one. Which one abstained?

The camel, obviously, because he was stuck in the fridge.

So far I’ve noticed that people in this country enjoy finessing a story or a joke as much as I do, and they love to laugh. Which is good since I believe that laughing – at myself, at the world, and with other people – is one of my most basic needs. After all, laughter humanizes us, no matter what culture or country we call our own and it exists outside the confines of spoken or written language. Yusef, our very old 4×4 driver, who you can see happily dancing in one of the photos above, didn’t speak English at all. Still, we managed to communicate and laugh together during our trip. The Mohammeds — both our guide and our driver, who work at our language school — were all smiles, all the time. And somehow, those small moments will be as memorable and wonderful as sleeping under the stars in the middle of sand dunes, watching the sunrise from atop a camel, wandering through an oasis, discovering fresh air and green trees in Ifrane, or any of the other activities from a weekend spent driving through the varied terrain of this incredible country.


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Categories: fulbright, Morocco | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

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One thought on “Swapping Nouktas in the Desert.

  1. helen

    Erin, this is awesome.

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