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O Fim duma Viagem

Are You My Mother?

MOROCCO | Wednesday, 11 June 2014 | Views [392]

The next day, my roommate and I woke up in time to be showered, dressed, packed, and leaving for breakfast by 9:00. We came to find that everyone else had beaten us to the breakfast room, though not by too much. (We were supposed to leave at 9:30.)

Breakfast was bread, coffee, and orange juice. We'd been warned at dinner last night that all Moroccan meals had bread, and breakfast certainly confirmed that. There were croissants, a bread roll, and another kind of bread that seemed like it would make crumbs everywhere if I tried to eat it. I ate the first plain, the second with jam provided, and left the third on the plate rather than testing how messy it was.


After that we all went to our rooms to get our bags and head down. We were on the first floor, which in any American hotel would mean no stairs. In most European hotels it would mean up one flight of stairs. In our hotel, it meant up two flights of stairs (the aforementioned area I went to read was the .5th floor.)


My dislike of elevators isn't always a driving force. Given the choice between carrying a heavy suitcase down (or up) two flights of stairs, I'll usually take the elevator. However when the elevator is a small, creaking box that can carry at most two people and luggage and there are six people who need to go down, stairs starts to seem a happy alternative.


I worked my way down one flight and was halfway down another when I heard someone coming up. That someone turned out to be the bellman, who took my suitcase and the suitcase of Megan and walked down the stairs as if they didn't each carry seven week's worth of stuff.


He returned to the first floor and brought down more suitcases, followed by less-burdened students. Turns out the elevator wasn't working, so I for once taking the stairs had proved a smart decision.


We went from the hotel to the home of one of the host families. There we got a quick tour of a traditional Moroccan house and learned about things like the care that they put into guest bedrooms and why we should always remove our shoes before entering a carpeted area.


The house turned out to belong to Erika's host family. Her host mother brought out cookies and a juice involving strawberries, or watermelon, or both. (My first instincts were watermelon, but it had the small seeds of strawberries..) In any case, it was tasty, refreshing, and not heavily sweetened.


The rest of us waited for our host families to arrive.


Although Moroccans are very hospitable, they do not race to answer the doorbell. At one point Nistrine and Erika's host mom were talking, and the doorbell rang. Five students looked at each other with faces that said “that could be my host family! I wonder what they're like?” Meanwhile, Erika's mother leisurely finished her conversation with Nistrine before getting up to answer the door. I noticed a similar thing with my own host family later.


So Moroccans came in and sat down. Abir, my sixteen-year-old sister and the only person in my host family to speak English, came to pick me up, and after a short conversation, off we went. Well, a short conversation and a gift of fire extinguishers and smoke detectors. Apparently it was a requirement for the IES center in Chicago for host families that needed fulfilling. I made and then had to explain (to the other American students) a joke about Chicago being particularly sensitive to fire concerns. (I understand the fire extinguisher, but I doubt families have actually installed the smoke detector properly, so I'm not sure how much good that does.)


We only had to walk down half a street and we were at the door for the house, so it was an easy walk with the suitcase. Going up the flight of stairs that immediately greeted me wasn't as nice, but once that was done I could leave it behind for almost seven weeks, so it really wasn't bad.


The first person in the house to greet me was another girl who seemed to be about my age and immediately gave me kisses on the cheek the Moroccan way. This turned out to be Saeeda, a friend of Abir. She didn't speak English, but she did speak French very well.


We went up anther flight of stairs to the kitchen, where my host mother was. She hugged me. “La bas?”




She's asking how you are,” Abir translated.


OK, great. How did I respond? “La bas?” Maybe it was like responding to ca va? (It turned out it was, but that response only works if you can make the response a statement, not another question.)


Saeeda went down with a tray of tea, and after a bit Abir and I also went downstairs, though we were empty-handed. Saeeda returned after a bit with more food. Then we sat down to eat.


Lunch was a thin fried dough. On top of it we could put some combination of peanut butter, spreadable cheese like the kind airlines will sometimes give you, jelly, and oil. My imitation of the people on the flight over proved handy, since there was no way I would have guessed the proper way to eat those was to roll them up along the shorter side and bite from there.


Mange, mange.” Saeeda urged, putting another piece of bread on my plate.


Jbett,” Abir said, then explained to me that meant “I'm full.” It was kind of irresponsible of the IES staff not to teach us that before sending us to the host family.


I unpacked my big suitcase, which I'm sure will come as a shock to some people, and then Saeeda said she was going to buy a new head scarf, and asked if I wanted to join her. I did, so I stepped out onto the street.


Basically, take a right out of my house, then a left onto a side street, another right walk a block or two, and there's a bustling market area. Saeeda took my elbow and guided me through a dizzying variety of stalls. I tried to drink it all in, but mostly took note of the things required to bring me back to the house and the store where I'd glimpsed some yarn.


I'm not sure what made the particular head-scarf seller that Saeeda was walking towards so special,, but after walking past several head-scarf sellers we reached the right one. She browsed around a bit and I took advantage of being able to look around without losing her.


She asked for my advice several times. I'm bad enough at giving an opinion on dresses or shoes or other clothing items I wear. When it came to advising which head scarf to buy, I was useless.


She bought two (not the blue one I'd said I'd liked), and some coverings for the hair, and then we were once more weaving through crowds in search of some unknown location. She stopped into s store where the front counter had thread and a store where the front counter had beads mostly strung onto a belt and talked with the shopkeepers of each before walking away.


Then she stopped in the store that sold yarn. I could see it on the shelves behind . But the only words I could read were the names of the yarn. There were numbers followed by Arabic letters that could have meant anything from “dirhams” to “anyone who can read this sign gets an automatic fifty percent discount.” It was a mild form of torture.


That store didn't have whatever it was Saeeda was looking for either, so we went back to the house for lunch.


Yep, turns out that that other meal we'd had was more of a pre-dinner. This was the real thing. Everyone in the family (and I include Saeeda in that because she was almost always around) was there. There was a chicken and bread and lateer on there was fruit.


For the most part there was a lot of Arabic conversation that I just tuned out of. At one point my host mother started talking about her perspective on how our prior phone conversations had gone. Abir translated the first sentence “She says you tried to call her, and she had no idea what she was saying” but left me to guess the meaning of the second part, which had a lot of dramatic hand motions and gestures.


Kuli, kuli, kuli,” my host mother kept insisting.




Jbetta?” More Arabic I couldn't understand.


Apparently saying “I'm full” only applies to one part of the meal. I still needed to try a piece of watermelon. And a strawberry. And a cherry. I was glad she didn't make me eat the banana that was also in the nice fruit display, because bananas are also pretty filling.


With lunch done, I went to go get ready to go to IES orientation, and my host father walked down the street to get Erika. While I was waiting for them to return, my host mother called me back to give me a key to the room. (During orientation I would learn that this was a necessary step to stop young children from using your passport as coloring books.) And then my host father and Erika were back, and we walked together to the IES center for orientation.



Tags: arabic, food, host family, moroccan customs

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