I joined my host family a few days ago, and I’m feeling pretty good about it. I live in the Ville Nouvelle, or new city of Fez. Fez is divided into basically 3 regions:
1. The medina. The very old city of Fez, which consists of alleyways and cobblestone streets. The vendors sell everything from sequined hijabs (headscarves) to ready-to-eat snails (to be eaten with a safety pin, stuck in a lemon to disinfect it for the next patron) to copies of the Qu’ran on tape, to textiles and tilework, to weaving and leather goods (Fez is the capitol of leatherwork). Anything you need, the Medina is frenetic enough to find it. I have heard that Fez’s medina is the largest and oldest marketplace in all of North Africa, even larger than Cairo. It also has the Arab World’s first established University, still in use today. It is certainly the personality of the city, and I can’t wait to explore.
2. Fez Jadid. The newer part of the old city of Fez, also called “The White City”, this part is connected to the medina and has historical sights and gardens and housing projects.
3. La Ville Nouvelle. The newest, most modern part of Fez. Separated from the medina by the Royal Palace (only occasionally visited by the Royal family, who spend most of their time in Rabat). This is basically the suburbs that spread out from the medina. It has public transportation and most municipal buildings. This is where I am living, and where my language school is located. Also, it includes the city’s only McDonalds, which apparently turns into a hoppin’ nightclub at night.
I live with a very friendly family. Baba Khafit, Mama Fatiha, daughters Kenza (about age 26) and Marieme (18), son Hamza (20? I don’t know, he’s never around), and two little boys, Sidimohammed (11) and Abdourahmanne (4), and another daughter, Amina (24) who lives in Casablance with her husband. Little Abdou is definitely a character, giving me kisses and trying to understand my hair and trying to teach me Arabic. Man, kids are the best language teachers. Today he took my pen into the other room and burst out saying, “Ta daaa!” I looked and he was covered, head to toe, in scribbles. Needless to say, he gets a lot of spankings. It’s been interesting adjusting to such a large family, but I think it’ll be good, inshahallah (God willing). The family mostly speaks darija (Moroccan Arabic), but the girls also speak French, and want me to speak English with them.
My schedule is still messed up because of Ramadan. We eat Iftar at about 7pm, after which we laze around and watch Egyptian soap operas and music videos (shout out to Nancy Ashram) and the Middle Eastern equivalent of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. I don’t know why, but that show has an equivalent in almost every single culture I’ve ever visited. Iftar dinner begins with dates and avocado juice, then continues with plates and plates of salad, harira (pseudo-vegetable soup), egg sandwiches/deviled eggs for the weird American who can’t eat bread, a million different pastries that look intricate and delicious, French fries, olives…and ends with a plate of fruit. It’s so lovely: once I got past the awkward conversation of explaining my Celiac disease, they’ve been shoving fruits and veggies at me like they grow in their back yard. I’ve begun drinking the water right away. I learned my lesson last time: better to drink the water and get it over with, then try to ease your way into it and be sick for months on end. Mama Fatiha has promised to teach me how to cook Moroccan foods, and I wrote down her recipe for Avocado juice (ie. delicious avocado smoothie).
I usually pass out after dinner, but the family stays up basically all night, in order to eat Suhuur, which is the last meal they can eat before the sun rises, around 4:30 am. Then we’ve been fasting all day, party all night, rinse, repeat.
I do love my family, but as someone who needs a little more independence, and needs some sacred space, I think I will try to find alternative housing later on. Its hard for me to fully install myself and break into the social circle of the family, because both they and I know that I’ll be leaving soon. It’s a strange transitional place to be…I’m excited to get residency here.
Speaking of, I begin Arabic classes on Monday. So…don’t expect epic updates like this once I begin classes. One British woman I spoke to at school, who has taken the classes I’m doing, told me to get ready for all the work they have for us. I guess there’s tons of homework every night, and tests every week, in addition to 4-6 hours of class per day. It is so awesome that my full time job is to study languages all day, every day, for the next few months. I know I’m going to get sick of it, and definitely frustrated. But I’m determined to invest in it, because it is a great gracious gift.
Oh! Guess what! I got a cell phone! (thank you Shi-Hsia! PS: do you know how to lock/unlock the keys?) Feel free to call me anytime, but we’ll have to keep it short, because incoming calls from other countries are not free, as far as I know. (I will have to clarify this)…but at least we can set up a skype date. My # is: 64-237-6253. Dial Morocco's Country Code (212) before this number. So holler at me, peeps!
So, as I watch the thunderclouds move in over the Faithful prostrating themselves towards Mecca on rooftops and terraces below, please know that I’m thinking of you all.
Peace in Al-Sharq al-auwSot.