Thursday, September 1, 2011

CATCH-UP ENTRY #1 This Is It: CBT and Introduction to Life in Morocco

The day I was to meet my first host family was one of the most nerve-wracking days of my life. After five days of a whirlwind of staying in hotels, being fed three meals a day, going to trainings in everything from preventing diarrhea to rudimentary Arabic, and bus rides through Morocco, it was time for the real thing. We left from our hotel in Ouarzazate and headed east into the desert, to a small village 45 minutes away. As I sat in the transit watching the desert pass by the window, I felt the landscape was as foreign and unknown as what lay ahead.

Right before the suq town of Skoura, we veered off onto a barely passable dirt road heading towards the village of Oulad L’Arbiya. After about 15 minutes of jostling about, we turned up to the village, which was essentially just a row of low dirt buildings lining the road. We drove through the long narrow town, curving around at the end, driving through a mud gate, and pulling up at the school, which was an unfinished house on the outside of town.

The rest was in somewhat of a haze. We were ushered into the main room of the schoolhouse. Long and narrow, with windows on two sides, it was decorated and furnished in typical Moroccan style. Carpets covered three quarters of the floor, and pillows lined three walls.

Some families had already gathered in the room. Women and children sat against the pillows smiling but probably as nervous as we were. We were told to sit with them so we all awkwardly took off our shoes and found spots on the carpet. Our LCF (Language and Cultural Facilitator) was reading off the names of trainees and the corresponding names of their families. Greetings, hugs and nervous laughing would then ensue.

My heart dropped to my feet when my name was called. I was introduced to Suquena, who turned out to be the second oldest daughter of my host family. She was cordial and seemed surprisingly calm about it all, whereas I felt about as self-possessed as a dolphin on a mountain path. I came to learn that although this was the first time I had ever done anything like this, she, at the tender age of 18, had done it twice before since her family had already hosted two volunteers.

After we all had tea and cookies, we all took our luggage and dispersed with our host families. I did not understand anything Suquena was saying to me but we communicated somehow. I followed her home, which was a short walk down the road behind the school. The road marked the furthest reaches of the town and beyond it, the desert. Reddish rocky terrain, dotted sparsely with rugged shrubs, stretched out as far as the eye could see. To the northwest was a majestic snow-covered mountain range. The houses on the other side of the road were the same color, made from the same reddish soil. Mud houses. I was going to live in a mud house!

We passed two of these houses before veering off the road onto a path leading between a pit and the mud wall of their house. We rounded the corner into the main yard, where laundry was drying in the wind. It was a serene spot with a lush garden stretching the length of the main yard.

She brought me into the house and gave me a tour. It seemed quite large once you got inside. There were two large salons, one of which doubled as the parent’s bedroom, a family room, three additional bedrooms, a kitchen, a courtyard off which was the bathroom and a storage room, which also held a mud pen where they kept their 12 sheep, and a storage room off the kitchen.
As I walked through the mud hallways, which were so low and rough-hewn I had to duck through doorways, I laughed out loud at the wonder of it all. I was going to live in a mud house!

They showed me to my room, which was decidedly non-mud-like. I registered this with a mixture of relief and disappointment, as well as awe at the grand and generous hospitality that they would give clearly the best room in the house to a stranger who was coming to live with them for two months.

This would only be the first taste of a smorgasbord of hospitality I would experience over the next two months. I had survived the hardest part – meeting the family. Now the adventure of living here with them could begin!

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