Traveling to any foreign country can definitely be stressful. Add to that a new family, and you’re talking stress. A week into my study abroad program, I was adopted by a Moroccan family who lives in the Medina of Rabat (the capital), and not just any Moroccan family but one with seven children. Before I met my host mother, who insists that I call her Mami, I was given a sheet of information about my new Moroccan family, and was floored upon seeing I would have 3 brothers and 4 sisters. How in the world was I going to cope with a family this size? I come from a relatively large family in the US, but being the youngest of 4 is not the same as being the oldest of, now, 8. Truth be told, I panicked, but all panic seemed to melt away as I met my Mami. She immediately gave me a big hug and warmly welcomed me into her family in fluent and very rapid French. At first I was simply overwhelmed with relief at feeling like I was a part of something so wonderful as a Moroccan family. Then I began to realize that my speaking ability had been reduced to basically nothing as all of these predictions about what all my siblings and my new home would look like flooded my brain. Luckily Mami understood how overwhelmed I felt by all of my experiences and she kept talking and talking about everything from her family to the intricacies of life in the Medina.
The next thing I knew I was entering what was to become my home for the next 3 months. I was lucky to get my own room on the terrace level of the house, which my family used as a guest room. So I sleep upstairs next to my oldest sister, who also has her own room, while the rest of my siblings sleep downstairs on the uniquely Moroccan couches that line the walls of our two salons. While this may seem very unusual to Americans, it is quite common for Moroccan families to all sleep together in the salon that they also use as a dining and living room. Truth be told, it is a very economical use of space, and allows for other rooms to be reserved for more special events. For instance, my house has two salons, a kitchen, a small downstairs bedroom, a salon for special occasions, and a room for my sister and I. This type of floor plan is pretty much standard across all types of Moroccan families that I have seen so far in the Medina, the old part of the city. While I am sure there are other more “modern” types of houses outside of the Medina in the colonial part of the city, or as Moroccans call it the Ville Nouvelle, the more uniquely Moroccan housing exists almost primarily in the Medinas of most cities in Morocco.
While there is a distinction between the old and the new in Morocco, the country was technically never a colony of a foreign power. However, it experienced de facto colonialism between 1912 and 1956 when it became a protectorate of France and Spain. Spain took control of the North and South, what is now the Western Sahara, France controlled the middle of the country, and Tangier became an international city. This division of the country has left a lasting legacy not only through the construction of the city, but also in the official languages of the country. Morocco is an Arabic country in that its first official language is modern standard Arabic and its people speak the Moroccan dialect of Arabic, called Darija, but the country’s second official language is French because the current capital, Rabat, was once a part of the French protectorate and was naturally a major center of administration. But I digress…
My first impression of my family was that they were quite ordered and relatively quiet for a family with 7 children. However, I quickly discovered that was not the norm. After about an hour of looking over photos with Mami, my second youngest brother, who is 7 years old, just started crying for some reason or another and didn’t stop for about 10 minutes. That was my first introduction of what the next 3 months would look and sound like. It may seem negative for some, but I always feel like there is something going on in my house and that gives me a sense of comfort. No matter what time of day, I’ll find someone at home doing something. What also makes my stay much more comforting is that my oldest sister and Mami both speak French relatively fluently, more so than me actually. So at least I am not caught in the endless battle of incomprehension that usually impedes my progress in the Souk, or Moroccan market.
The first full day I spent at home my oldest sister took me to her belly dance, or as Moroccans call it Danse Orientale, because I mentioned that I used to take classical dance classes. I initially felt like a complete fool in my jeans and t-shirt while the rest of my classmates were in as little clothes as the supposed winter here would allow. After a little while, I just learned to let loose and let the dancing fool within me come out and I made a lot of Moroccan friends that way, though I couldn’t necessarily understand exactly what they were saying. Hopefully with a little more practice in Darija and the modern standard Arabic my program requires that I take, I’ll be able to start communicating with them in the near future.