Things have really gotten started now. Two days ago, my group and another arrived in Sefrou, a small city about an hour outside of Fes in the foothills of the Middle Atlas. So now there are eleven white people in the city. My first and second impressions were “holy shit there are a lot of kids” and “every single person is openly staring at us”, in that order.
I have two host brothers, a host sister, and the parents. The father is missing from most meals; he’s retired so now works full time chilling at cafes with saHabu (his friends). Shout out to Tommy – my host father always wears a Redskins winter hat. With all the money the government’s giving you, (so far I’ve received $92.25, which is actually more than enough), maybe you should send another one over so he can keep reppin’ the district.
Maybe I’m just slow but I’m having a very difficult time understanding my host mother- for whatever reason, her accent really gets me. My host brother, Hussein, is the one I talk with the most. He’s studied English, French, Spanish, and Classical Arabic in school, and is about fifteen, but I sometimes still can’t get certain ideas across. He is the only one in the household, as far as I can tell, who prays regularly. My host sister is ordered around everywhere. She’s maybe 11 or 12 but it seems as though she does everything. She’s the one who brings the table and food into the living room/dining room/tv room and she’s the one who cleans up afterwards. I have yet to hear a word of complaint from her- hopefully she starts asking why when she hits her teens. As for the last brother, he’s an unbelievably cute three year old. It took me a while to figure out if he’s speaking Arabic or babytalk. I think it’s mostly Arabic. He follows me around and asks me to “say table”, “say bed”, “say wall”, “say table”, “Table!”, but I usually can’t understand him. That puts my Moroccan Arabic at the level of a two year old. Maybe two and a half.
As for the house, it’s fairly small- in an apartment building towards the edge of town, but only a few minutes from my teacher (language and cultural facilitator)’s house, where we spend most of the day in class. I have a room of my own, there’s another where the whole family sleeps, a small kitchen, a room that functions as the “Saloon”, and a outdoor patio area where clothes are hung to dry. There’s no shower, no sink outside of the kitchen, and the bathroom is a “Turk”, as they say.
From my perspective, I tend to distinguish between certain things that I consider cultural “differences” and other things that I consider cross-cultural normative ethical challenges. In the first category, I would put using a single, communal cup for water at meals, eating with your right hand only, wiping with your left hand, the father being absent most of the time, and so on. In the second, I’ve noticed two things in particular that have struck me. Firstly, the status of the daughter. She (Loubna) certainly studies and goes to school and so forth, but it appears that she does the majority of the household tasks as well. The mother is constantly telling her daughter to do things, and then she does them. I need to keep my thoughts to myself about this. The second odd thing was when the three-year old “Nourdine” was jumping on top of me and the mother told me to “Drbu”, or “hit him”. When he’s doing something bad, the family usually gives him a little bit of a slap on the back of the head, kind of like a really really mild spanking. Maybe I’ll get to a point where I feel comfortable slapping my host brother, but not on the second day. Overall, the family is super nice and wants me to be happy. Since my language is so limited, there’s really no opportunity for disagreement anyway. My host father tried to talk to me this morning and I picked up the words for “united nations” (thanks al-Kitab), “America” and “sahara”, but I just said I didn’t know. I’ll probably always say I don’t know for topics covering conflict zones and the US in international politics.
Everything here is super cheap.
After our class on the names for different vegetables and fruits, we went to the Sweeqa to go shopping. This is like a small outdoor market. We probably bought 25 kilos of food for 50 bucks or something. Including a chicken. It was a little more than three dollars. We walked up to the stand where they had a bunch of chickens in a cage, they weighed it, and a boy who was maybe twelve then slit its neck, threw it in a bucket where it spasmed and kicked for a while, dunked it in scalding hot water, defeathered it, cut off the feet, gutted it, pulled out the good stuff, cleaned that, put it back in the chicken, and tossed it in a plastic bag all in about two minutes. It was insane. We could see the liver still twitching as he put it back into the bird. And it was still hot. The shop owner thought it was hilarious we wanted to see the boy slaughter the chicken. Since we’d gotten to know them so well (I guess), we left all our food with them for a few hours and went to get food. You make friends quickly here, which is nice.
Lastly, today I was a victim of Moroccan hospitality. After going for a run with a friend from my group, I was invited by her host family in for coffee. They gave me coffee and maybe half a dozen different things to eat, had me watching the video from their family reunion (which was basically an hour of women dancing), showed me pictures from the old days, and told me all about their family. There are four generations in the house, including a 98 year old grandmother with Berber tattoos on her face. Her son leads her about the house as if she were a two year old, which is kind of hilarious. In an old picture the son looks exactly like John Belushi. Anyhow, I had a hard time explaining that I had to leave, not to mention I was disgusting from the run and the no shower for a few days.
That does it for now.