How we became The DateKeepers
About two hundred million years ago, late in the Triassic Period of the Mesozoic Era, the land masses known today as the Americas and Africa diverged. Most of the Appalachian Mountains stayed in North America, but several fragments broke away and ended up scattered across the Old World. The southernmost splinter became the Atlas Mountains of Morocco.
Mekiya was born and raised in Asheville, North Carolina. Itto’s birthplace was a rural, semi-nomadic settlement deep in the Middle Atlas Mountains. We first met in Arkansas in 2017, but several more years passed before we discovered that we're from the same mountains, and have been all along.
In Tamazight, Itto’s mother-tongue, it’s often said that “Stories move the mountains.” We both believe in the potential of narrative to transform minds and lives, and we’re committed to telling the kinds of stories that traditional media tend to pass over: those of real people grappling with real challenges and limitations while striving to realize their potential and make contributions to the world, sometimes finding solutions, sometimes not, but remaining relentless in their drive to better their own and others' lives.
DateKeepers Media is an international platform for sharing such stories and showcasing much-needed reasons for hope, not with one-dimensional inspiration porn, but with nuanced stories that shed light on people who are solving real problems and making real progress against serious odds. You’ll find an eclectic collection of profiles, essays, op-eds and commentaries, research-based articles, investigative reporting, and more—and hopefully, buried in all that mess, you’ll find whatever you happen to need.
In Tamazight, “tini” means date (as in the fruit) and “ou” means “owner” or “keeper.” Hence, the “Outinis” are “date keepers.”
Itto’s name comes from a Tamazight freedom fighter, Itto Laarbi, who fought the French in the late 19th century. Laarbi was a sentry and a spy. When she wasn’t busy infiltrating enemy ranks, she would stake out a hilltop position and scan the surrounding territory, making use of her notorious visual acuity to determine whether enemy troops were approaching. Though Itto Outini’s eyes are made of plastic, she identifies with her namesake’s intelligence, leadership and communication skills, and overall perceptual acuity.
Mekiya’s name has a humbler origin. His mother invented it one day while sitting on a rock—which is almost like a hilltop—in Raleigh, North Carolina and decided that she liked how it sounded. (In case you’re wondering, it rhymes with Papaya.) He’s grateful that she went with “Mekiya” and not with the runner-up, Dill, jointly inspired by her recent discovery of the herb dill and her reading of To Kill a Mockingbird. This, coupled with the fact that she and her husband were considering changing their last names to “Dude” at around the same time, could’ve led to a catastrophic outcome.
In the end, the surname that Mekiya took—his “maiden” name—was not Dude, but Walters. This name was his mother’s. She and his father both decided to keep their own last names after getting married in Missouri on Halloween of 1992, dressed as ducks (duck + duck = pair’o’ducks). When Mekiya was born, they agreed that since his mother had done most of the biological work of creating him, he might as well take her name as well.
Thirty years later, Itto and Mekiya got married, also in Missouri, though not dressed as ducks. A few weeks later, Mekiya changed his surname to Outini. He thinks his new name has a nice ring, though he remains bemused to have moved to the state of Missouri (MO) and acquired the initials MO just a few months later.
In Tamazight, “tini” refers to a fruit, but in English, “date” has a dual meaning. This homonym is serendipitous, for we’re datekeepers in both senses of the word: we maintain a stash of medjools in the fridge, but we also keep our calendars stocked and our clocks close at hand. Time is often on our minds, not just because we’re always meeting folks in different time zones, but also because it’s the most precious thing that we have, and the thing that we give to each other.
What’s more, our stories wouldn’t have been possible at any other time in human history. Much of what Itto’s achieved has required technologies that didn’t exist even twenty-five years ago. Professional and social opportunities for blind people, women especially, were mere fictions in previous centuries. A great deal of social, cultural, and technological infrastructure had to emerge before we even had the chance to meet each other, coming as we do from different continents and cultures. That we’re married is historically remarkable, and that Itto’s the breadwinner breaks all the rules that the world’s observed for millennia.
It’s easy, given all the crises playing out around the world, to fall into despair and techno-pessimism. We hope that our stories can serve as a counterweight, offering up a bit of hope and a reminder that things could be worse, that they recently were, and also that they can get better with effort, with resilience, with planning, with time, and with love.