Love makes the world go around, right? I’ve encountered a lot of love in Morocco, freely (and occasionally overwhelmingly) given. Here are just a few of the many ways that the Moroccans I have met express their love for the strange, random Americans who are dropped into their homes by an international development organization for months at a time.
1. They nudge food into your wedge
Moroccan meals happen around a communal dish that everyone digs into with
utensils bread. But don’t go thinking this is some gastronomic free-for-all! On the contrary, there are RULES. The wedge in front of you is designated for your consumption, and it’s bad manners (and, frankly, unhygienic) to root around in other people’s wedges. If there’s something in your wedge that you don’t want, you can casually toss it into the middle of the heap so that others can help themselves (the center is fair game for everyone). However, parents can blatantly collect particularly delicious morsels from anywhere in the tagine and unceremoniously dump them in your wedge, indicating that they are now yours.
2. They yell at you to “Eat! Eat!” even when you are in mid-chew
I never know how to respond to the admonition to eat when I am so obviously in the very act of eating. I tend to respond by shoveling it in faster and faster. Of course, the hard part is convincing Moroccans that you are in fact full and cannot possibly eat anymore. Often my host families will dramatically exclaim over how little I have eaten since there’s still so much food left in front of me (due to them shoving food into my wedge all meal, faster than I can consume it). Very sneaky, Moroccans. I usually end up stuffing myself to bursting at every single meal, of which there are many.
3. They refill your tea many times
Moroccan tea is very, very sweet and mildly strong. In the north I typically had it with mint or with shiba (which is…absinthe…I believe?), but in the south they load it with all sorts of herbs and it sometimes tastes a bit like what the apothecary would give you for an upset stomach. As soon as you’ve gotten down to the dregs of the glass, someone will spirit it away and refill it for you. I’ve gotten pretty good at explaining that if I drink a lot of tea, especially late in the day, I won’t sleep very well, but as usual your mileage may vary when it comes to how much Moroccans will respect your wishes concerning victuals. (I’ve had to get pretty graphic about the symptoms that will result if I consume milk.)
4. They give you LOTS of sweets
Someone told me that sugar is heavily subsidized in Morocco, which might explain a little about the Moroccan sweet tooth. As I’ve mentioned before, Moroccans have very few qualms about eating candy at any time of day. It’s also rude not to share anything you’re eating, so chances are that if you happen upon a Moroccan who’s eating some candy (which you will do a lot), you will be forcefully offered some. However, when I try to share candy I’ve been given, I usually get rebuffed; candy given as a gift to the foreigner should be consumed, in its entirety, by said foreigner.
5. They never leave you alone
When I was in my training site, I was accompanied almost everywhere by my host family. Even if I simply had to go to the end of the street (a few hundred feet) in broad daylight to meet someone – someone who, if they were waiting for me, I would be able to see from the moment I left the door – then one of my family members would be sent to walk with me. Whether they were concerned for my safety in the small distances I was required to traverse, or if they were convinced I would be lonely for those three minutes, I do not know.
6. They’re concerned about your place in the afterlife
They want to make sure they’re going to be with the people they love forever. Makes sense.
7. They give you their clothing
My first host family got a HUGE kick out of putting me in various outfits, both outlandish and traditional. I grew very attached to my host sister-in-law’s fleece djellaba (dubbed by a fellow trainee the “Soviet Prison Guard Djellaba”). When I packed up to leave my training site, I had to explain several times that my space was very limited, and I could only take one or two shirts as presents. (Unbeknownst to me, a few extra snuck their way in, which I discovered when I arrived in Rabat the next day.) My current host family lent me some pajamas that have already been proclaimed to be mine, forever more.
8. They send you lots of texts throughout the day telling you they miss you
I’m pretty bad at transliteration to begin with, and Moroccans transliterate Arabic into text in a very different way than Peace Corps does. So whenever my host sisters send me “I miss you” text messages, I have to furrow my brow and phonetically read the words out loud in order to hear myself say – hopefully – some discernable Arabic. For a while I couldn’t send outgoing text messages, I could only receive them, but this certainly did not deter my sisters from letting me know, every so often, how much I was on their minds.
9. They come into the hammam, fully dressed, just to scrub your back
Now, the hammam is not a chilly place. It’s not even a warm place. It’s a HOT, STEAMY SUB-TROPICAL SAUNA. It is not a place where you want to have anything on. I can’t imagine walking in there in several winter layers, including a headscarf, and hanging around JUST SO SOMEONE YOU CARE ABOUT IS NOT ALONE WHEN IT’S TIME TO SLOUGH THE DEAD SKIN OFF THEIR BACK. Really, the dedication and devotion behind this one still bowls me over. It’s frickin’ inspirational…and a little awkward, since there’s a fully clothed person standing over you as you bathe, waiting for you to hand over your kis so they can
flay you alive get you squeaky clean.
10. They cry when you leave
I grew very close to my Pre-Service Training host family, and there were a lot of waterworks in the weeks leading up to my departure. The morning I left, the entire family got up early to see me off and cry some more. I plan to visit them a lot while I’m still in country, and I feel incredibly grateful that I was embraced by such wonderful and generous people. As I do everywhere, I feel lucky to be loved by people I love.