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O Fim duma Viagem

Ftur in a House

MOROCCO | Monday, 14 July 2014 | Views [369]

 On Thursday, we were invited (several days in advance) to join Oussama at his house for Ftour. We told our host families we would be going out that night and waited around at the IES Center until 7. Fatima did come by to lock up, but this time she didn't kick us out. Just locked the door nearest to us, put down shade, and told us that the back would be open, and we should go there at seven.

 Being on the opposite side of the kind of bars I see outside closed doors is creepy. Unless you're Erika and find it relaxing because you can't hear the sounds of traffic anymore.

 At seven, we went out in the back and met with Fatima, Nisrine, Mahjid, and our politics professor to go to Oussama's hosue. It wasn't a super short walk, but it wasn't terrible, at least not for someone who had eaten and drunk water since the sun rose. It was also the most residential walk I'd taken since a few hours before my plane took off. The Mdina's residential in so much as people live there. There are too many stores and market stalls and beggars for it to really feel like a residential neighborhood. Walking to Oussama's felt like walking through the suburbs.

 I was surprised by how quickly that change took place. On Wednesday morning I'd gotten slightly misplaced (I won't say lost, since I managed to follow my feeling that told me which way it thought I should be going back. I'm only truly lost when I have no idea where I am or how to get anyway) on my way to the center and found myself in a neighborhood that felt way too deserted for 10:30 on a weekday. The change between that area and the area that the school was in was stark and immediate. I felt the same way about the route we took to Oussama's. Leaving the center, I've taken a right, and I've gone straight. But I'd never gone to the left.

 On the way, we passed the house of the current US ambassador, which gives another idea of what kind of residential neighborhood I'm talking about. To further that impression, we entered a building, went up a flight of stairs, and were led by the maid into what felt like a city apartment.

 I've gotten enough used to Moroccan buildings, particular Moroccan houses, that Oussama's apartment struck me as being different. There were windows on one side that looked out to the street below. Out of easy sight were presumably a kitchen and a master bedroom, but I did see the bedroom to Faris's (Oussama's older son, maybe four-ish?) room open, and there was a bathroom near that.

 The main room that we spent time in was a combined living/family room. The living room part featured a large TV, a coffee table with magazines in French and Arabic, and enough coaches to fit the ten of us fairly comfortably. One wall was lined with bookshelves, the other was decorated with diplomas and awards.

 Beyond that was the family room. This was lined with coaches and had a table that was large, though probably not quite large enough for the eleven people who were sitting there and wanting to eat. (Oussama's wife joined us for the meal, but she disappeared after that.) With small chairs and a small portion of table space each, we all managed to eat. I got to sit on the coach, and managed to fit my plates and glasses (with some difficulty) so it certainly worked out for me.

 As usual, there were absolutely no concerns about any of us going home hungry.

 Enough to make us full.

To drink, there was orange juice, red juice, and coffee, which I had in that order. My cup was a glass that had images, clocks, and the names of Paris, New York, London, and Sidney. Spelled that way. I was slightly amused by this and asked where he'd gotten them. United States. We're the ones who can't spell the name of the largest city in Australia. Of course.

The orange juice tasted weird, and it took me a few sips to figure out why. It was plain orange juice, not “orange juice and whatever else we feel like adding” that characterizes both Moroccan orange juice and the juice I like drinking in the states.

“What is the red juice over there?”

“Fruits rouges.”

“What is that?”

“Red fruits.”

“No, but what's in it.”

“Blueberries.” And also strawberries and something else that wasn't tomato, which was the only thing I was worried about. (I've been tricked by juices in the states that considers tomatoes the same kind of fruit as apples or grapes.) It was pretty tasty.

Coffee was hot milk and a passed-around container of Nescafe. We no longer had coffee spoons, so we poured the Nescafe into the cap and stirred it around with forks. I poured too much into the cap and dropped it on the floor when I tried to put it back in the container, so I gave up and dumped it all into my coffee. So I had the unique aspect of tasting coffee that was simultaneously too strong and at least 80% milk. (I miss real coffee. I should consider ordering that next time we go to a cafe, despite it being 9:30 at night.)

 The food was all very good, though sweeter than normal. Remembering back to Nisrine's comment about how in Rabat, you get both spicy and sweet, I wonder if my family doesn't tend more towards the spicy side. In general, I've gone “wow. That's spicy” a lot, and the only times I've gone “this is so sweet, why is this a main part of the meal”(minus the chocolate-for-ftour) has been when I've been eating away from home. Like tonight.

 There were two kinds of soups served. One of them was the traditional harira, and the other was a corn-and-milk soup. I chose the harira mainly so I could be certain which of the three soups my host family serves is the traditional one (the non-spicy reddish-brown one from the second and third nights.) Nathan was the only one to choose the corn and milk, though I recognized that one too, and can attest to it normally being good.

 There was a cinnamon and almond dish which was pretty good. However, it was not the cinnamon-chicken-seriously,-what-more-dessert-could-you-need from the first night that some people have felt an increasing need to have again as our time left in Morocco shrinks. It was still tasty, though.

 There were three kinds of rif-ish bread. One of them was plain, one of them was with vegetables, and one of them was with meat. I tried the first two. The one with vegetables is a bit overpowering, and the plain one works as a great neutralizer if there's something not quite to you're liking. (I used it as that.)

 Abandoning all pretense of being a valid entree was what a croissant ould be if croissants typically included chocolate and custard as major ingredients. (Chocolate- vegetable. Custard- dairy. I mean it totally belonged on the dinner table.) One Megan asked what they were and got her answer, the rest of us pretty quickly asked for the remaining ones.

Nisrine encouraged us to try spreading an almond-and-honey sauce on one of the thick-crepe-like breads and eat it, because it was “sooo delicious.” We tried, and proclaimed it good, but not as good as Nutella. (What is? If you're Natasha, nothing.)

Once we finished the meal, we had a slight break, and then moved on dessert. Dessert was mostly what was left of the sweeter aspects of dinner plus fresh fruit and yogurt. We all thought we were stuffed after dinner, but proved capable of eating a bit more. We weren't too optimistic about our abilities to walk home, though.

Fortunately, we had time to let that wear off. With dinner done, we moved to the couch and watched TV. Initially Moroccan shows, which had everyone fluent in Darija laughing while the rest of us exchanged confused looks. During commercial breaks, Nisirne tried to engage us in a competition to see which half (Natasha, me, and Nathan vs. Cynthia, Erika, and Megan) knew more commercials. I think it ende din a tie, but only because no one else was willing to count the seven-second clip separating the show from the general commercials as a commercial. I say if it contains a short snippet designed to be memorable (people were talking about it at dinner, so it must have been) and prominently features the name of the product it's selling, it's a commercial. Others didn't agree.

When Nisrine left, we swtiched to watching the news. First CNN, then for contrast's sake Al Jazeera. (They were both covering Israel, making the contrast rather extreme.) After a bit, I got up and stated looking at his bookshelves. And by “looking at his bookshelves,” I mean “reading the title of every single book that has a title in roman script.

Looking at the bookshelf, I understood why so many of the books in the IES library are murder mysteries. A lot of Oussama's books were that too. Another decent section was nonfiction, and then there were some Hemingway and a Graham Green and Vikram Seth. I read two chapters of The Human Factor before we left.

Faris kept coming by and asking “comment appelle-tu.” When I responded something like “Je m'appelle Sabrina. Comment t'appelle-tu?” he would laugh and run away. At one point, he tried “Shnu smitk?” with much the same reaction. I can't tell if he was insulting my language abilities or just found my name inherently amusing.

Oussama came by to ask if I'd found anything interesting.

“You have two copies of “L” is for Lawless.”

“Show me.”

I pointed them out. He took one of them off the shelf and handed it to me. “Keep it.”

“But...”

“I don't need two copies. You pointed it out, so you get to keep it.”

I probably would have protested more if I weren't in legitimate danger of running out of reading material between the time the last day of class (and in the center) and arriving back in Chicago. Now that danger is slightly lower. I'm sure my parents will appreciate this when they don't find a plastic gnome mailed to them a week after I arrive. (“Why?” “I didn't have anything to read except Skymall. And the more I read it, the cuter it became.” “Couldn't you have watched one of the in-flight movies?” “Look at that his face. Isn't he adorable?”)

When we left some time after 10:30, I still needed to prepare presentations for lit and poli sci. Tempting though it was to ask the professor if I could get out of it by having spent an otherwise perfectly good three and a half hours with him. Given this is one of only three presentations I need to give, I decided not to push my luck.

Tags: books, food, gnomes, presentations

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