After Eid el-Adha, I took a day or two to rest. Eight hours slaughtering and eating and visiting with folks will tire you out, let me tell ya. Then, yesterday, my landlord rolled in with a few younger looking guys who were visiting their family from Meknes and Chefchaouen. He showed them the house and all the stuff I am giving him and his family. They asked if I had celebrated Eid with Allal, and then I heard something I never want to hear again:
“Did he even eat the balls?”
“Oh yeah, yeah, he ate the balls. We put the balls in the lunch meal.”
My eyes widened. There are times when you wish you could not understand Arabic. This. This was definitely that moment.
Today, an incredibly shy fourteen year-old showed up at my door. I’d never seen him in my life. He mumbled something, and I had to ask him to repeat himself multiple times before I understood – “My father says you’re supposed to come eat with us now.” Hmm. Strange kid on a mission from his dad ordering me to his house for lunch? Absolutely! I asked him his name – Amine – and told him to give me a second. Then, we were off walking through a part of the olive orchard I’d never seen. At this point in my service, I thought I had explored all there was to explore of the orchard, although in fairness, it’s probably five times the size of my town, which takes me forty minutes or so to walk from one end to the other.
Today’s new path was walled up by large mud-brick walls about eight feet high on either side of the path. It hides the grove and makes you feel like you’ve stepped into another era. I kept thinking someone might round the corner on a cart full of bodies yelling, “Bring out yer dead! Bring out yer dead!” That it felt medieval is probably fitting. I don’t quite know the reasoning for these walls or why they are stacked so high, but I do know there are some tensions between a few families living in parts of the orchard. In fact, before I moved out here, I was told that there had been a recent “skirmish” over gun powder in the orchard (the phrase actually used was “tribal warfare”), which is strange since I don’t think I’ve seen a single gun that didn’t belong to the police my entire two years. As the story goes, whatever tensions went on out here caused one of the local gendarmes to “almost get killed.” That may have something to do with why the Gendarmes were so against me moving out here. But I did my homework, and I still feel safer here than in Centreville near the taxi-stand where I was nine months ago.
Anyhow, the mud-brick walls maze around several fields, and there are a series of aqueducts, one of which runs parallel with one of the walls and then suddenly disappears under another. When we rounded a turn, there was a large mud-brick house that had been so well-crafted and carefully planned, it looked like a giant, brown castle. The mud had been stacked on the roof forming triangular parapets. To make it even more castle-like, when you entered the front door, you realized you’d walked into an open walkway with no roof. The actual house itself was yet to come.
We walked in and met a series of familiar faces. It was the same guys who had asked if I had eaten testicles. The family is related to my landlord with the paterfamilias being my landlord’s wife’s brother. (I might be wrong on this connection). I do not know any of their names besides Amine who kept busy doing math homework with his older brother who, coincidentally, was a math teacher near Chefchaouen. Meanwhile, another of Amine’s brothers was working on his doctorate in International Relations in Meknes and spoke a little English. As is usually the case when I visit a family for the first time, the women are never seen – not even to bring the food out. …which is a shame, because the dish they prepared was probably the best lamb I have ever eaten in my life. They had prepared it in a sauce that mixed cinnamon and quince. And, come to think of it, there may have been balls in there again, but let’s just not focus on that.
We sat around chitchatting for a little while (mostly them chitchatting about how much I must miss my mother to have lived here for two years), and after dinner, we toggled between watching Pirates of the Caribbean 4 and While You Were Sleeping, the Sandra Bullock movie about the girl who saves a guy’s life on the train tracks and then pretends to be his fiance while he’s in a coma. There’s not a whole lot stranger than sitting in a castle-like mud-brick house in the middle of an olive grove watching Sandra Bullock on T.V.
When it came time to leave, the brothers walked me toward my house helping me retrace my steps through the maze, and I thanked them for having me for lunch. In the midst of all my goodbyes, it was so nice to have these people so eager to say hello. But that is how Moroccan hospitality works. It’s never-ending. I walked away with a huge grin on my face and a stomach full of quince and lamb deeply thankful for having experienced that level of hospitality and hopeful that I can show the same when I return to America.