I have officially been living with my Moroccan host family for a little over a week now, and I feel like I am living in a completely different world. I live in a small apartment in Fez, Morocco with two younger sisters, 20 and 16; two younger brothers, 17 and 19, and a wonderful host mother who treats me like one of her own. She says I am one of her girls and even insisted that I take a beautifully sequined Moroccan dress as a gift to symbolize my presence in their family. I have a father, but I have not met him. He is a marble maker and lives and works in another city.
My 20 year-old host sister is full of energy, bubbly, funny, and extremely kind. The first day we walked arm and arm around the markets. I immediately felt safe in her presence, a feeling I so desperately need throughout this experience. Oh, and she loves to dance! The first night she blasted Arabic music and started dancing. Hesitant, I got up from the couch and joined her. We laughed and had fun even though we had only exchanged a few words at that point. Dance is truly a window into another culture. I am grateful that I can rely on dance as a form of communication, especially when there is a huge language barrier.
My host sister got engaged yesterday! She dressed up in a red, sequined Moroccan dress and the family of the groom came over to the apartment to chat over tea and sweets. I think it went really well. She is full of smiles.
My other sister and brothers are wonderful as well. My 16-year old sister took me on what I think is her typical night out. This consisted of walking around the city for a few hours and congregating with other adolescents by the candy shop. My 19-year old brother took me into the city last weekend acting as my personal tour guide. I loved experiencing more of Morocco through him.
Hospitality is deeply rooted in Moroccan culture, and my family is nothing but hospitable. With kindness and patience, they give so much and want me to feel comfortable. They encourage me to eat, and I mean EAT! They say Kuli, or you eat! If they see me without bread in front of me they make sure to hand me another giant piece. I have to say sbet, LHamdullah or I am full, thanks be to God a few times before they let me stop eating. Meal times have been one of the most interesting, full of culture experiences. We eat communally off of the same plate and use bread as our means to consume the meat and vegetables. It's not culturally acceptable to each with my left hand. I think I have definitely won the award for being the most messy eater in my family. My diet consists mostly of fish, chicken, bread, potatoes, pasta, rice, some vegetables, and tons of sugar. They love sugar and insist on adding it to everything from tea, to rice, to milk.
I have observed that family bonds are extremely strong. I can sense that my family is close-knit. Communication between the family members are consistent. They share meals, especially lunch together. They argue and get frustrated with each other, but also joke around and laugh with one another. I can see they love each other very much.
Fez is a big city in Morocco, but I am beginning to know my way around my neighborhood. During the day market stands are set up in the streets with fresh fruits and vegetables, clothes, and miscellaneous things. There are many little shops all around that sell everything from almonds to soap. Kids are walking to and from school, and cars are zooming past. I hear shouts of people bargaining, sounds of construction, and kids yelling. The call to prayer also sounds throughout the day. It has been interesting living in a country where religion is so much apart of the culture.
I am a one-minute walk from the Dar-Chebab or youth house where I attend daily language class with my five other CBT trainees. We have language for about 4 hours in the morning. Then, I return home for lunch with my family. In the afternoon, we go on a community walk to learn more about Moroccan culture and fine-tune our observational skills or we have other training sessions. The days are long and I am pretty exhausted by the time I return home. In the evenings I try to engage with my family, study, and rest. Ironically, I think I have been watching more TV here than in the states. We like to watch Turkish soap operas or MTV.
This week has been full of challenges. Using the bathroom is an adventure in itself and hot showers are such a treat. Finding a sense of purpose for being in Morocco amidst the challenges of adjustment has been difficult. I have to bring myself back to my mission as a youth developer in the Peace Corps and remind myself of why I am here. I also remind myself that one of the reasons I applied for the Peace Corps was the knowledge that the experience would be full of challenges. Enduring the difficult times is what will help me grow and learn. I also applied for the Peace Corps, because I yearned for a simplified lifestyle where I could be more in tune with myself and others. However, I am beginning to question the idea that a "simple life" really exists. I think life will always be full of complexities and I now I am challenging myself to find that sense of simplicity and peace within the ups and downs. I have to take this experience day by day and remember that I have the support and resources to get through each day.
I miss my family and my friends. I miss being able to express myself fully. I miss eating what I want to eat. I miss dancing. I miss exercising. I miss trees. I miss space, and I miss peace and quiet. Love to everyone at home!