My Host Family
When I first met my host family, I was unhappy with the situation. I had just spent my Peace Corps training with an awesome family full of kids and life. They were relatively wealthy and life there was good. My host family in my site, however, was different. My host dad is 72-years-old and very difficult to understand. He looks angry. My host mom is 38-years-old, his sixth wife. Obviously not a relationship based upon love. No kids. The food was pretty bad. Most dinners we had either milky rice or pasta. My first week with them, I was really worried about the rest of the time that I had to spend in the house. When I was sick at one point (probably from their food), it was the closest I’ve been during my service to thinking I wanted to go home.
As I got to know them better, things improved. It turns out my host mom is super nice. She wants to help in any way she can. She also speaks clearly and is good at understanding my shitty Tamazight, which is a relief. Beneath his rough exterior, my host dad is also a great guy. He can be totally hilarious at times and he always stands up for me in town, which is nice. The best example of this was, early in my service, he went with me to the local political leader and police when someone in town harassed me. It was a long frustrating day and it was really good to have him accompany me. The whole time he said things like: “if that guy says another word to you, I’m gonna …”
Nonetheless, during my three months in homestay, I was frustrated. The food got a little better, but not much. I really hated eating the same shitty thing day after day after day. More than that, there are parts of Moroccan cultural interactions that really got on my nerves. For example, at meals my host family was always telling me to eat more. At first it’s hard to know how to say no. And even when you figure out to say no, they keep insisting that you eat more. Something else that got to me was that my host mom and dad started fighting amongst themselves frequently. It was never violent, but it was unpleasant to be around. They would fight in front of me and ask me to take sides. One day my host mom told me that if I wasn’t staying at the house she would have packed her stuff and moved back home. Mostly, it was just tough having to spend so much time with these people – I’m sure I would have been frustrated with most people.
But now that I’ve moved out of their house and into my own, I couldn’t be happier or feel luckier to have them as my host family. In addition to being really nice, my host mom has turned out to be helpful with work. She attended the midwife training that we put on last week; in fact, she was instrumental in helping me recruit and organize women from our village to go to it. She is my link to the female world and I learn a lot from her. Moreover, she likes me a lot and I know that she does nothing but tell her friends how good I am. It is partly thanks to this, I believe, that I’m having warmer relationships with other women and girls in town.
The best part about my dad is that he is hilarious. He always sings these songs in this traditional Berber style. I used to think that he was singing some old songs, but no. As my language improved I realized that he just improvises songs about the things going on around him. For example, “Sma3eel (my name) just said he’s full” or “Mina (my host mom) hit the cat with the stick” or “I’m hungry, bring the tajine.” Or he’ll repeat what someone else just said in song. It’s funny, trust me. In addition to the songs, he also has some great nicknames for me. The most recent one started when I was sick about a week ago. He called me “buhulu.” Having the prefix “bu” attached to a noun means owner of that noun. For example, buautomobile would mean owner of the automobile or butahanut means owner of the tahanut. But I didn’t know what hulu meant. I asked and they pointed to their noses and sniffed. It means snot. So he was calling me owner of the snot. Now whenever we greet each other we call each other buhulu. Besides being funny, my host dad is nice and helpful.
The lesson is that once I got a little space from my host family, I really got to like them. I just don’t want to live with them. When I’m in town (which is nearly always), I go over to their house pretty much every day and spend a couple hours there. It’s a nice thing to do when I have some down time, but I don’t want to sit all alone in my house. I feel completely comfortable there. I end up spending a little more time there than I’d like to: they normally guilt me into staying for a meal or tea or something. But I’m so thankful to have a place where I can go and be with people and be comfortable. I like going outside and talking to whatever guys are hanging around there, but there isn’t the same level of intimacy. The conversations in my host family’s house are much better, probably because we know so much more about each other. The most amazing thing is that I’m finally starting to understand my host dad, which is an accomplishment itself. Out of all the people in the world, a 72-year-old, uneducated, rural, toothless, Tamazight-speaking man is probably one of the most difficult to understand.
So things are still going well. I can’t help but count the time since I was last sick: it’s been about 7 weeks now (which, uncoincidentally, is about when I left my host family’s house). Back in town after the midwife training, the women are still super excited. They greet me around town like I’m the best thing since sliced bread (which hasn’t yet made it to rural Morocco). Now the job is to organize a forum for the women to talk to other women in town. I know that this is happening informally – a woman came into the sbitar on Monday for a pre natal checkup and said that one of the women from the training had convinced her to do it. That was awesome. My adult tooth brushing campaign in my village just ended on Tuesday. I think it went well. People stop me around town and ask me about it. I’m still going to go to the schools and make the kids brush their teeth. Having work is an awesome feeling. Also, two women from the midwife training helped a woman give birth the other day, which went well. So thats pretty cool.
The big thing in my volunteer life right now is that Sunday is the first day of IST – In Service Training. It’s definitely a big milestone in PC service. Everyone from my training group will meet in Azrou for a week. (Azrou is about 3 or 4 hours north of my site. The disappointing thing is that the training was originally planned for Agadir, which is beach paradise). We’ll have more (lame) training sessions and hopefully a few good ones. We all have to write a “community health assessment,” which is basically a report on what we learned during our first five months in site. I’ll be posting that report in this space in a few days. It’s pretty dry, but it also gives a pretty comprehensive look at the health problems of my community. IST is also exciting because I’ll get my first extended break from my site since I’ve been here and I’ll get to see the friends that I made during training whom I haven’t seen since.