As I am writing this blog entry, I am sitting in my host family’s living room on one of the three very comfortable yellow couches, while my host mom watches a French game show on the TV. There is a strange etiquette to living in someone else’s house, especially for four months. We, my roommate and I, are guests in the apartment, but, at the same time, we are not. We have been pseudo-adopted by this very kind family who feeds us and, in the case of our jokester dad, continuously asks us “so how do you find Morocco?”
We find Morocco to be very nice. However, we, or at least I, find myself to be continuously navigating a wider range of new social situations than I ever have before. There are many layers to these navigations, from the basics of simply being in a new house and with new people, to deeper cultural differences that we all work our way through cautiously. There is also the language barrier, which is tied to the difference in culture and adds an additional level of struggle.
In my previous entry I mentioned the prevalence of French in Rabat. That statement is still true, but I now interact with much more Darija, or colloquial Moroccan Arabic, on a daily basis. My family speaks both Darija and French as well as a small bit of English. I have discovered that I most certainly do not speak Darija. It is very different than the Modern Standard Arabic, Fusha, that I have learned in class. But I manage to muddle through using the handful of words I do know with my Fusha and French filling the gaps.
The key to succeeding in a new house and culture, from my experience here at least, is paying attention. Lots and lots of attention. On our second night here, my host mother’s family came over for dinner. We met her mother, her two sisters, and her niece. Our apartment is well furnished and tidy, but it is also not excessively large. So there were many people in a small room!
While kissing people on the cheek is perhaps not quite so accepted in America, in Rabat it is the thing to do with any friend or family member. When I first met my host grandmother, I shook her hand. Oops! One of my first cultural faux pas. Well, let me correct that: one of the first mistakes I was consciously aware of making. I am sure I have obliviously done many other silly things, but nobody has called me out on them.
Anyways, we laughed it off and I subsequently made sure to greet, and later say good-bye to, the other family members by kissing them each once per cheek. The rest of the evening involved no large mistakes, just lots of navigating smaller activities such as how to eat dinner.
The apartment has a small kitchen and a larger living room, so with our large group of family we ate in the living room. The conversation moved at a rapid and enthusiastic rate, a level of Darija that I have not yet reached. However, I managed to understand at least the questions that were thrown my way and to respond with lots of nods and smiles.
Every day in Rabat is filled with experiences like that one. We work on balancing time with friends and with new family, on exploring the new city and culture, and of course on practicing our language skills. Every moment, even just hailing a taxi, is a learning experience. However, part of the learning is learning how all places are very similar, as one girl on our program wisely pointed out. Take birthdays: my host brother turned 12 last week. We bought him presents, had cake, and sang to him in four different languages. Some traditions really are universal!