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Just Hanging Out, Hanging Out, Hanging Out with my Family

MOROCCO | Friday, 13 June 2014 | Views [310]

The shower is the first thing that I look at and think “I need to put up with this for seven weeks?”

Take a typical half-bath, maybe a little wider than normal and with a decent window sill. Shrink the sink so that you can move it into the corner next to the toilet. From the now-empty half of the bathroom, measure out a square area that doesn't quite reach the door and depress it. Add a shower head and a drain. Then for good measure add a bucket for ablutions. This is the bathroom that I need to use.

It's enough to make me long for the shower of the hotel I stayed in in New York. Sure, it was small enough that I needed to keep my legs at an angle over 90 degrees to shave, but at least there was a door so I wasn't constantly in danger of soaking the entire bathroom., including my towel and clothing.

After shower 1 of 39. (Not that I'm counting or anything) was over, I went back to my room for about a minute before my host mother started calling my name, so I went upstairs for breakfast.

Sitting down for a meal across from a woman who's filling in the role of mother is always going to be an interesting experience. It was made even more challenging by my active Arabic vocabulary being limited to 4 words- yes, no, thank you, and I'm full.

She asked me if I'd slept well, or something like that, and placed both her hands together to make a makeshift pillow which she held on the side of her head.

Then she asked me if I wanted sugar with my coffee (she didn't ask if I wanted milk in my coffee or, more accurately, coffee in my milk. That was a given.) And then she told me to eat.

Breakfast was the same thing as pre-lunch the day before had been. My host mother showed me how to open one of the packets of cheese properly (there's a red tab that you pull, and once that's done you pull another red tab) and I started cheesing and jamming my bread.

At some point I also got a cup of juice. “Citron,” my host mother explained. It tasted like water, lemon juice, and sugar (a combination I've made myself several times, so I'm familiar with it.)

There wasn't much conversation we could have, so we mostly ate in silence. Then it was time for me to go to school. I remembered to lock my door against the passport-destroying children of guests, but I needed to unlock it to switch blankets.

This is the day blanket.

This blanket must be seen, but not slept with

This is the night blanket.

This blanket must be slept with, but not seen

I'm unclear as to why I need to switch the blankets on my bed twice each day, but my host mother seems to want that, so I will.

After another near-death experience, we were at the center and having school.

Rather than need to make the mile-ish walk (minus twenty minutes the literature professor had run over) for an extended lunch with our host families, we were packed a meal. I had a meatball-ish disk and potatoes with onion in addition to an overripe banana, some bread, and a small thing of pistachio (?) yogurt. The food was good, but way too much.

During lunch, people shared their experiences with their host family. Most found the description on their sheet didn't match the dynamic of the hosuehold.

In my case, my sheet had read “couple with 16-year-old daughter.” It should have read “couple with 16-year-old-daughter and slightly older friend.”

Another person's sheet had mentioned two grown-up children. The house had one grown-up child and his family, which included young children.,

Erika's s room had someone next to it who “is the niece of my host mother. Either that or the maid. I've only ever seen her cook, clean, and watch TV with my mother's sister, so I'm not sure what's going on there.”

With the meal done, the question arose of what we were supposed to do with the extra food.

I'm worried that if I throw it out, she'll know, because I never eat this much at home.”

I'm worried that if I throw it out, she'll go 'oh good! You ate it all' and pack me twice as much tomorrow.”

I compromised by throwing out half of the remaining meatballs and potatoes. (Sacrilege, I know. But jbett, jbett.)

Later my mother got Abir to ask me why I hadn't eaten lunch. After the response that I couldn't eat that much was translated, she said “jbetta,” and another phrase that I'm pretty sure means either “you poor thing, how do you survive with so little food” or “you ignored lunch to eat pizza, didn't you?”

After classes were over, my host father came to walk us home.

Erika wanted to stop and buy water, so we asked my host father about that. “Elle veux de l'eau,” and I made a drinking motion with my hand.

Otel, otel,” he said, repeating it every now and then when he sensed that I still had no idea how that response helped.

I'd heard that if you wanted to drink in Morococ, the best place to do so was in hotels. Had he misinterpreted the drinking motion I'd made for “we want to get drunk?” Because that was pretty far removed from what we actually wanted.

Later, Abir would explain that he'd thought we were asking if the building we were near was a cafe, and he'd been trying to explain that it was a hotel, and we would laugh over the crazy miscommuniation. For the remainder of the walk home, though, it was a cause of mild concern.

Not quite as concerning as coming withing sight of the gate we needed to walk through to walk home only take a left, then another left, walk up a block, be motioned to stay outside while my host father walked into a store, following him for another block to another store, (he didn't buy anything at either) and finally returning back to the gate we'd seen earlier.

At the start of the street before we turned into the dead-end that contained Erika and my houses, he stopped at a small sttall to buy bread. I think that might have been hat he was looking for earlier. I didn't ask, because I figured he would just repeat “soleil, shms” as he had on the way to the center that morning. Still not quite sure why.

I got back from a long day of classes and that detour in walking home ready to collapse on my bed and do computer-things. I'd barely collapsed when Saida knocked on my door and asked me to come out.

We'd been told during orientation that every family provided at least three meals, and some had a fourth (tea.) I was hoping that mine wasn't, because there are limits to what I can eat. But I walked out and there was tea, the bread my host father had bought, the usual selection of cheeses, jam, and oil, and also a cake.

I began by being served tea and cake. The cake was surprisingly not too sweet. It was very much a tea cake, and when the tea is that sweet I suppose you just need normal levels of sweetness for the cake.

While I was eating the cake, Saida cut half a loaf of bread and gave it to me with the command to “mange, mange!” I cut a piece about a third of that size and spread some cheese on it, declining the pink spreadable “luncheon” that was also an option.

After tea was over, I took my computer out to the living room (though calling it a salon feels so much more accurate) and worked there for a bit.

I kept needing to retreat into my room to read the French history document a page or two at a time. Reading French, especially dry French history textbooks, requires a fair amount of concentration. Hearing Arabic conversations is distracting. Hearing Arabic conversations and English TV shows while trying to concentrate on French history is pretty much impossible, at least for me.

Dinner was a pasta dish (with two different kinds of noodles mixed seemingly randomly together) that I was even able to finish, because we were served a reasonable amount on a plate.

During dinner, my host mother asked me something, and I looked to Abir to translate.

She asked if you miss your mother.”

I nodded, then realized my one class in Darija had actually prepared me for this. “Eh.” (Not “iieh,” because that's a slightly different part of the country, fortunately.

Zouina” Arabic Arabic Arabic “Schwiya” Arabic-that-sounded-a-little-like-”mama,” and said with a joking smile.

Zouina” is one of the words you have to pick up when you spend time around two Moroccan teenage girls. It had been translated several different ways to me, but basically it's an equivalent of “groovy," if you lived in the 60s. Which I didn't, so I'm really just guessing.

Maybe someone is trying on clothing, and you want to express a positive opinion. “Zouina!”

Maybe you want to say that you like the food. “Zouina.”

Things like that.

Schwiya” was another of those words I'd lerarned in class, complete with the corresponding hand gesture. The hand gesture is made with the palm facing towards the floor and the hand tilting slightly to one side and then another. “Schwiya” means exactly what that gesture might mean in the United States, “a little.”

Zouina,” I responded mock-indignantly. And we laughed.

It felt like our first moment of real communication.

Tags: arabic, food, host family, house

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