I had a dream last night that several years had passed, and Khalil and Fatima, my host family brother and mother, were coming to the United States to visit me. I was at the Nashville airport waiting for them to arrive, and when I saw them, they were jumping up and down yelling excitedly, “Salamu Alaykum!” I smiled big, but just when I was about to run up and hug and kiss them, some redneck started yelling at them and telling them to get out of his country. I woke up on the verge of tears, realizing the reality of things back home and wishing that everyone could experience the hospitality and love I have experienced the moment I got here to Sefrou.
I am living currently on the border of the Middle Atlas Mountains with a wonderful family, about forty-five minutes southwest of Fez. When Driss, my “Language and Cultural Facilitator, or LCF” introduced me to Fatima, my host mother, she smiled big and told me the only English she knew – “I love you; you are my son.” She then proceeded to list her children from oldest to youngest, starting with me – “Philippe, Yussef, Marwan, and Khalil.”
From that moment forward came the awkward but exciting realization that none of the family spoke even a smidgen of English, and most of what I have been doing since we met is struggling to communicate. We draw or look at pictures; we stumble through the Darija dictionary; we laugh. We laugh a lot, actually. It’s funny to me that I have no idea how to convey the majority of the things I want to say, other than relying on the twenty or so words that I have learned thus far, and yet, despite our language barrier, I feel like I know what matters most, and I find it incredibly comforting: that three thousand miles from the place I have called home my entire life, I am loved for almost no other reason than to be loved.
Khalil, the youngest at fifteen, walks me to Driss’ apartment each morning. Most of the time, we are quiet, but every once in a while, I’ll ask him what something is, or he’ll want to show me something. My first night here, he showed me videos on his phone of him trying to kick a futbol and then doing a flip in the air and hurting his knee. We had a good laugh about that. Then, he showed me a picture of something that looked like a bird and kept saying, “Hmammah.” I couldn’t figure out what he meant, so he got up and walked out. A minute later, he walked back inside holding a pigeon in his hand and handed it to me – “Hmammah.” Oh okay, I get it now, Khalil.
People in America who say that the south is “hospitable” have never been to Al Maghrib. This is above and beyond hospitality. I have been offered the nicest room in the house, certainly the largest. Tonight, when Allal, my host father, arrived, he brought a Muslim crown (a hat) for me to wear, which I’m thinking will help me integrate into my community, though I look a bit silly with it on the way my hair swings out from the sides. I guess I’ll need a haircut soon.
The little kids in the Medina on their way to school (Mdrassa) will run up to us and ask our names and whether we’re ‘Francois’ or ‘Mirikaini.’ I very much look forward to working in the Dar Chebab (the House of Youth) and getting to meet them. I will be working there through the Ministry of Youth & Sports.
Much more to come.