I’ve decided to be a little unorthodox and post a blog about living with my homestay family instead of the Meknes entry, which I still have to write.
As I’ve mentioned in previous entries, I’m living with a host family in المدينة القديمة , the Old Medina of Fes. I’ve learned so much just by living with my host family—basic daily routines and etiquette and what not, the kind of stuff that I never really thought about in America. When you enter the living/dining area, marked by the presence of a carpet, you’re supposed to take off your shoes (or sandals—shoes basically function as sandals for most Moroccans, I’ve found). No furniture in our house is above knee level, and I believe that’s the norm in Morocco. When we eat meals, we sit on a couch (and whoever is not on the couch pulls up a chair). The dinner table is a small round affair with wheels on it, allowing it to be moved about easily. There’s a see-through plastic cover on top of the tablecloth, because—at least in my family, though from what I understand this is also a norm—there’s basically no silverware or plates, not for individuals. They do use spoons when necessitated, such as with flan or soup, but both of my host parents simply lifted bowls of soup to their mouths and slurped it straight from the bowl, which was unexpected but also pretty cool. Typically the meal will be something in a large communal bowl placed at the center of the table.
Now, I must mention bread. خبز (bread) is THE staple of the Moroccan diet, or at least for the typical family living in the Old Medina. They eat bread with every meal, and basically use it as silverware. The bread typically comes in a flat, circular form, and is then cut into slices and distributed to each member of the family. They also reuse any bread that doesn’t get eaten, so sometimes the bread can get a bit stale—though I haven’t had that problem since Ramadan started, since everyone’s eating bigger servings. When you eat, you usually take your piece of bread, rip off a chunk, and using only your right hand, you dip the bread in the communal bowl, pinch whatever’s in there between the bread and your thumb, and essentially just eat with your hands. I’ve actually found it to be a manner of eating I can totally get behind. I remember after eating meals with my host family for about a week, and then going to a restaurant, I just automatically grabbed some bread and started eating with my hands before remembering that there was a plate and silverware in front of me.
Another thing related to food I gotta mention: Moroccans basically live the same schedule as the typical American college student. They eat a large lunch, then pass out with a midday nap (which really makes sense considering how hot it is around noontime). Then they eat dinner around 9 or 10pm, though some of the other students are living with families that eat as late as 11pm or 12am.
Also, Moroccans drink tea. Mint tea. They put lots of sugar in it, so it’s actually really delicious. I never drink tea in the U.S. because I think it tastes bland, but Moroccan tea is a whole other story. Same with the coffee, I don’t like the taste of coffee in America so I assumed I wouldn’t like it here. However, they put a ton of milk and (once again) sugar in the coffee, to the point where it almost tastes like hot chocolate. I’ve only had it twice here, when my family made it, but it’s some good stuff.
Here’s a breakdown of my host family. Oh yeah, I should also mention that they don’t speak any English, and I only speak a little Darija (Moroccan Colloquial Arabic, which is actually a distinct language from Fussha, Modern Standard Arabic, which is the lingua franca of the Arab world and the Arabic that I’m learning in my classes).
A very kind, patient, tolerant, and fun-loving old man. He’s also very pious, he prays five times a day and goes to the mosque after each call to prayer. His name is actually two words: literally, “Servant of God”. Rahman is another name for Allah, I believe.
My very accommodating mother, tough as nails, but also very loving and eager to joke. Her name means “saved”.
Si Mohamed [Brother]
He’s tall and skinny, and the same age as me. He’s kind of a goofball, he enjoys making other people (and himself) laugh. Oftentimes he’ll make mock karate moves at various people/objects. He will also often sing to himself in a high-pitched voice as he’s walking around the house. Obviously he’s named after the prophet, and “si” is a sort of honorific title put before one’s name. Since he’s named after THE Mohamed, my host parents used “si” out of respect to the prophet.
Her name is a nisbah adjective form of the name Hassan, who was the king of Morocco prior to the current king. She’s slightly older than me, and was just recently engaged. It’s taken a while, but I feel like now we’re finally on the same wavelength.
Even though I can barely communicate with my host family, as my time in Fes is winding to a close, I’m realizing that I’m really going to miss them. Maybe it’s because after five weeks I’ve become accustomed to my living situation—the other day, a huge crowd of tourists was walking through the Old Medina near my host family’s house as I was on my way home, and I actually found myself turning my nose up at these foreigners. The irony was not lost on me, I assure you.
That’s it for today, I gotta get home so I can break the fast with my family. Which reminds me, I also ought to make a post about Ramadan… Hm. Well, until next time!