“Oh-Hana Means Family” by Daniel Fitzgerald

The meaning of family is one of the hardest words to define in the English language. To one person “family” might mean blood relatives, and to another it may mean wherever one lives.  As a kid, I always watched the classic Disney movie Lilo and Stich, the one about an alien creature named Stich that was designed to be evil but ends up becoming good and becomes the glue to Lilo’s broken family after her parents’ deaths. There is a memorable line from this movie that I keep thinking about here in Morocco and it’s “Oh-hana means family, and family means nobody gets left behind.” It has been a few weeks since I arrived in Morocco and I have found my Oh-hana.

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On a late Wednesday morning, myself and the other students were excited and anxious as we gathered into an AMIDEAST room to meet our new host families. Where do they live? Do they have any kids? I hope the mom is a good cook. And the most important question: will they like me?

That’s when my roommate Conner and I’s names were called out to meet our new host mom. She was wearing a long cloak and a patterned head scarf as she introduced herself as Hajja with one of the biggest smiles I’ve ever seen. She simply said a “Bonjour” and “Salaam” to the both of us and told us that our new home was only a ten-minute walk from AMIDEAST. I don’t know if you have ever experienced a moment when you are so nervous you forget how to talk, but I was. It seemed like it would be a silent walk to the house when suddenly we encountered a lot of traffic with cars honking incessantly. Hajja said something to us in Arabic and noticed that we didn’t understand what she was saying. Instead of giving up like I certainly would, she turned to both of us again and said with a smile “beep, beep.”

It clicked for us almost immediately. She was talking about the car horns and traffic. All our faces were beaming with joy from this shared understanding and knew that maybe our communication would work after all. Let me tell you blog reader that a determined attitude and great charades skills are one of the most important lessons I learned from my Hajj and Hajja thus far.

One night, my roommate Connor and I were practicing Darija phrases to use in a café in our dining area and we honestly didn’t sound that great. Instead of just practicing the words with us for pure memorization, Hajj and Hajja acted out a café scenario with us in our dining area and made some tea, coffee, and sugar cookies for the scene. I will admit, there was a lot of saying words over and over until we said them right (try saying half and half coffee in Darija and you will understand our struggle). However, that entire night was full of laughing at our mistakes, improving our Darija, and drinking some of the best mint tea.

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Connor, Hajj, and Hajja practicing Darija

No matter how many guide books I read about Moroccan culture and how to interact with other Moroccans daily, the best way to learn about Morocco is in the home with those who truly care about you.

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