October 25, 2012

New Families

It has been a while since I have last been able to post. In part, that is because I got pretty sick in the middle of the week and was unable to access any internet connection. Shortly, I will describe the village where I lived last week, but I wanted to take a moment to address the events I’m experiencing now because they are probably the most difficult I have experienced (and perhaps will experience) while in Morocco.

On Monday night, I had to move out of my host family’s house. I won’t go into detail about why except to say that I am fine and that it was due to a breach in contract on the family’s part, rather than any personal problems. I cried a lot on Monday. I cried some the past couple of days. I might still cry more before I have adjusted to my new family’s house and to yet another manner of living, being, and interacting. At this point in time, I know rather than feel that it was the best idea to move out, because it seems now to have so disrupted the pattern I had developed here in Rabat. I feel somewhat suspended and anxious and unsure when I should be feeling like I have established a routine and home in this city.

I was surprised by the level of helpfulness of my program–some people surprised me by being more helpful than I had expected, and others for being less so. Again, there is no need to go into too much detail there. But I will take the time to thank my friends for their support. After the village stay in particular, where I spent the majority of my time with my closest friends to handle such very different living conditions, I admit I was surprised and a little overwhelmed to remember how wonderfully, beautifully kind the students on my program are. There are a thousand reasons to travel far away for study abroad, but one is certainly the friendships that are made possible on such a program.

I am writing now the evening after I wrote those first three paragraphs, situated now in the living room of my new host family’s house. It is a relief to have been welcomed in, and though I still feel a little uncertain as I try to learn about a new set of family customs, my host mother’s smiles and the slightly awkward chitchat with my host siblings have set me a little more at ease. To be quite honest, though, I should admit that it was the sound of barking that lifted my spirits the most–Rosa, a little long-haired dachshund, is now curled up with her nose on my leg, offering me perhaps the best comfort I could receive from any creature right now.

That being said, there is something familiar now of the first-night awkwardness of a new home stay.

Host family in the village stay

After the village stay last week, I truly do feel like I could jump into any house and survive the awkwardness, eat and sleep, and manage to communicate with my family even if through facial expressions and gestures alone. Going from a shower head and a functional Western toilet in my old home stay to a bucket shower and a toilet without flushing capabilities here is nowhere near the change I felt when entering the village.

My host family’s house

To start, let me say that the house in which we stayed in the village was absolutely the most beautiful I have ever seen. But the beauty was not from any decorations or architectural designs or the furniture–because there really was none. It was a simple house with one living room, a bedroom, and a kitchen around an inner courtyard, with the sheep, goat, and cow pen adjacent. There were no couches or beds–only rugs on the floor and a little table at which we ate, and the only decorations consisted of a glaringly ornate wall clock hanging outside the living room door and the little souvenir I had brought them from my hometown, a standing picture of a Moravian building. There was, however, electricity and a tiny television, which was perpetually set to WWE Wrestling, of which I have now seen more than I have ever hoped to see.

So no, the beauty was not because of what was inside the house, or even the house itself.

Looking into the sheep pen

It was the mind-blowingly massive sky that stretched over the open courtyard, and the glimpse of hobbled cattle through the wall separating the house from their pen, and the arid land and stunning sunset and low mountains that stretched outside the wooden door. Every time I turned my head, I swear I saw a picture.

As this post is already getting long, I will wait to talk about my wonderful host mother, our activities during the day, and what I gained from the experience until next time. But I do want to reflect briefly on how it felt to enter such a different world. And I don’t mean to use that phrase, ‘different world,’ in a cliched or dismissive way–I honestly do mean it, more than just the difference in facilities, culture, or language.

What a shock it was to try to reassure myself by thinking, “Well, I might not know how to defeather and take apart a chicken, but at least I get good grades,” and then to realize…that is the least relevant thing to this life. If I had told my host mother (which would have required we speak more than 2 words of the same language) about my GPA, not only would she not have known what it was, but she also wouldn’t have cared a cent about it, because it simply was not relevant or important to her life. What I had always prized as some of my best accomplishments–my grades, my writing, my success in school–would have, perhaps, brought me a vague smile and then nothing else from her.

But I did, slowly, come to realize that she did in fact appreciate other things about me. She would, I believe, appreciate what I really do believe is my single greatest accomplishment–my wonderful relationship with my family–and I think she valued the good humor, excitement, and eagerness with which my friend and roommate, Emma, and I threw ourselves into her world.

Sorting Grains

And if she did not value us as she might an ideal daughter, we grew to admire her immensely in ways both different and familiar to us–her work ethic, her strength, her humor, her parenting skills, her kindness. She is perhaps not the usual female role model for college-age women seeking a successful career in academia, but she is certainly one of mine.

Later this week I will write about more concrete experiences–and maybe I’ll start with the language barrier, or finding the ‘toilet’ in the donkey pen beside my friend, or the henna on our feet, or playing ninja with our host sister. All stories that now, as I sit on a comfortable bed in a warm house with my computer, blow my mind in retrospect. But at the time, those stories had become our life.

posted in Madeline Gambino

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