It’s been well over a week since I moved into my host family’s home and into my Community Based Training (CBT) Site so its time for an update! It’s a bit longer and rambling so forgive me. For security purposes, I can’t publicly disclose which specific city I am in (feel free to contact me privately), but I am in a lovely small town in the Middle Atlas mountains. Between the mountains that rise above the town, the smell of pine trees that settles over everything, the reddish brown dirt under my feet, and the clean, dry mountain air that sits in my lungs, the area actually reminds me a lot of Colorado during the summer. Obviously, the big difference is the presence of a whole different culture and people. Different food, people, and language. Oddly enough, the architecture of the buildings often make me feel like I am in Switzerland or the countryside of France. But then again I don’t know anything about the geography or art or architecture so this is probably a completely inaccurate comparison.
This beautiful mountain town is very busy for being very small – women like to go on long walks in the evenings once it cools down after a long day inside cooking and cleaning and men spend most of their free time sitting in the many cafes that line the busy streets smoking cigarettes, drinking coffee, and staring intently at the strange westerners walking briskly to and from language class. Cars and pedestrians compete daily for control over the road and it remains unclear who will eventually become victorious. Hanuts (small convenience stores that put American gas stations to shame) are scattered throughout the town, shoppers stopping by to chat and buy gum, cigarettes, and sunflower seeds. Traffic rules seem to be the exception rather than the rule as cars zip around each other, force their way down crowded pedestrian walk ways, and often just stop dead in the middle of the road so their drivers can say hello and chat with a friend they just saw walking down the sidewalk. You would think you were in a MUCH bigger town given out busy it is.
I also share the city with a pack of wild dogs and a plethora of solitary wild cats, whose presence (mainly the dogs) I am learning to deal with in a safe and secure manner. The dogs haven’t acted aggressive towards me but I hear their snarling and howling every night outside my window and there is a particularly pale and mangy one that frequents the road outside my house so I don’t ever go out after dark by myself. The cats seem rather oblivious to my presence but as they spend most of their time going through trash cans and chasing mice, I tend to keep my distance.
My host family is absolutely wonderful and puts up with my lack of language abilities extremely well, although I can imagine it must be incredibly frustrating for them to have a grown adult having a hard time understanding relatively simple concepts. They laughed when I told them in broken Darija that I am a baby when it comes to the language. My Moroccan Mama and Baba are relatively older and their adult daughter, Samia, lives with them with her own 11 year old daughter, Hibba. There is a 17 year old boy, Amin, who lives us but I haven’t quite figured out if he is Samia’s son or Mama’s son. They all act as one big family unit, so it doesn’t quite appear to matter so they haven’t really told me. Or maybe they did and I didn’t understand. That’s likely what happened. I want to ask now that I have the language to do so but it seems a little late without it being awkward. Oh well. Maybe I’ll find out eventually. Mama’s other daughter lives with her husband and 8 year old daughter Wisaal nearby and they visit us or we visit them often.
8 year old Wisaal and 11 year old Hibba are my best friends in Morocco so far and my greatest source of joy. They love playing cards with me, specifically Uno and Concentration, which I taught them, using only Darija! Yay! They also taught me another card game which is pretty fun but I don’t know the name of it. We regularly play a game that’s clearly modeled after shows akin to America or Britain’s Got Talent. This consists of you sitting in front of the other two, who act as judges, stating your name, age, and talent, and then performing your talent. The judges then score your talent. Usually every one gets a 10 out of 10.
The younger children understand my broken Darija MUCH better than their parents and take the time to slowly ask me questions or find new ways to convey things when I don’t understand, which I greatly appreciate. Hibba has also studied Modern Standard Arabic a little bit in school so sometimes she’ll use a Fus-ha word when I don’t know the Darija. Waasil just loves to dote me with attention. My Baba speaks French in addition to Darija and Tamazight and sometimes forgets I don’t know French/am learning Darija but sometimes I can understand him better than Mama because of all the French-English cognates. Mama just speaks at me very fast. One day I’ll understand what she is saying.
They feed me four (!) full meals a day. Breakfast is around 7:45 at the kitchen table and generally consists of insanely sweet Moroccan mint tea (atay) and Moroccan bread (khbz) or baguettes (comer), served with jam, olive oil, olives, and/or a Nutella-like chocolate/almond spread. On my first morning they asked me if I wanted tea or coffee and I said “qahwa masoosa” (coffee without sugar or cream) and now they make me coffee every morning even though they don’t personally drink it (plenty of Moroccans do though). They were utterly complexed that I drank coffee without sugar or cream and made faces to display their displeasure at even the thought of it. I haven’t quite figured out how to tell them that they don’t need to go through the extra effort to make me coffee every morning without risking the chance that they think I am either implying the coffee isn’t good or that I don’t in fact like coffee and they have been wasting their time.
Lunch for my family is usually around 1:30 in the Saloon, which is basically a living/dining room combined into one, so since I get out for lunch from language class from about 12:30-2:30 this works very well. In Morocco the kids come home from school for lunch so we all eat together as one family. Lunch is the biggest meal of the day and is absolutely delicious. It usually consists of more atay, khbz, Tagine, Mateisha ma Beid, dates, fresh figs, apples, rice, potatoes, and the list goes on. My family taught me how to make Mateisha ma Beid (A tomato/onion sauced cooked in eggs), so I’m excited to try my own hand at it. Lunch is very diverse but the main constants are some sort of meat (usually beef, chicken, or fish), khbz, atay, rice, and fruit for desert (which I am a BIG fan of BTW). My family particularly likes peaches, pears, apples, figs, and dates. Couscous Friday is a real thing here and I am LOVING it. Occasionally for lunch they’ll buy a liter of Coke or Sprite.
Kaskroot takes place usually around 6:30, which is usually after I get back from language class. Technically, it’s supposed to just be a snack/something akin to British Tea time, but it becomes a fully-fledged meal in terms of how much you eat. Usually Kaskroot consists of atay, khbz, cake, cookies, and fruit. I have a love/hate relationship with Kaskroot.
We normally eat dinner around 11pm, and is very similar to lunch except on a (slightly) smaller scale and usually includes Harira, a soup that my Moroccan family insists is very spicy and have even opened the window to eat because they think it is so spicy. They have a lot of trouble eating it but are absolutely shocked that I don’t seem phased by it. Moroccan food has tons of what one might call “warm” spices and flavors but “spicy” doesn’t appear in their food much at all. Sometimes Mama will include a hot pepper in a dish while she cooks it but this more adds flavor than heat. My first meal I went to eat the hot pepper and right as it went in my mouth my host brother Amin shouted out “Har!” (Spicy!) and looked horrified but it wasn’t very spicy. He was very confused. Now they’re use to the fact that I like the spice and they will often push anything spicy including the hot pepper towards my “triangle” of the dish.
I’m only just beginning to understand how much of Moroccan culture is about food and meals. Lunch, Kaskroot, and Dinner often last an hour and a half and it’s the exception when there are no guests at one of our meals. I’ve been eating more food than I’ve ever eaten in my life. Every meal is a feast. Every meal we seem to eat our own weights in bread. I try and try and try to not eat much but they effectively force to me to continue eating, constantly saying “Yaqub! Kul! Kul!”, “Yaqub” being my Moroccan name and “Kul” meaning both “eat” and “all” simultaneously. It seems they literally have a strategy to get me to eat more. They discovered I like peaches so it’s very often that finally after I’ve convinced them to not make me eat more they pull out a peach and put it down in front of me and tell me that I have to eat it so it doesn’t go bad. And then when I leave to go to class they hand me another peach or apple to eat on the way. I have limited clothing options so I have no idea what I’ll do if I have to move up a size. I’ve learned to eat slower and to start saying I’m full MUCH earlier to get ahead of the “Kul! Kul!” comments. I like to think it’s a game we play, but right now I’m losing.
Language is going mostly well, and I feel like I’m making a lot of improvement, thanks to the fact that I can already read the script and am familiar with Arabic’s unique sounds. However, its continually frustrating when I simply don’t understand something or just think about how much more I have to improve in the next 2 months before my actual service begins. Apparently, many of the more advanced Arabic students often get placed in Tamazight villages in the south. On one hand it would be pretty frustrating to spend 3 months studying Darija only to have to learn a new language when I get to my final site, but on the other hand most of people from the south at least speak Darija as a second language so I would have some adjustment time. Additionally, a fellow Peace Corps trainee who is also in a more advanced group pointed out, “When else in your life are you going to be able to learn a language like Tamazight? It will be much easier in the future to learn Darija/Arabic than Tamazight if it’s that important to you.”
Stomach problems are a daily struggle and am already becoming much more comfortable talking about my bathroom experiences. There is one particular bathroom story concerning a government building, a broken toilet, and no running water I would love to share but I would prefer to not make public. Let me know and I’ll share it with you. Pepto Bismol has been an absolute life saver. I’m hoping that my stomach will soon get used to the food and everything will return to something close to normal. My family is very sanitary when it comes to food (except for the fact that we eat out of the same dish) so I’m not super worried about food poisoning like some of my fellow Peace Corps Trainees are.
I’m getting better at the bucket shower! I’m very thankful my family has a way to get hot water. They heat the water using hot coals and then put it in buckets in the shower room, where I dip a hand bucket to dump water over myself. I scrub myself with soap and shampoo and then rinse using the hand bucket again. While slightly more inconvenient, I am learning to appreciate the bucket shower as a much more economic and environment-friendly body cleansing option.
Today I finally got to climb a nearby mountain with my fellow trainees and it was so good to get out and exercise. I already want to go again.
Anyways, I think that’s it for now. Thank you so much for supporting me in this journey and remember to subscribe since my posts will be rather infrequent and be following any sort of set schedule. See some photos below.