Notes & Anecdotes: Part 3

We don’t just want to write about the Big Things in our lives, so here we’ll share small stories and quick blips and such. Catch all the Notes & Anecdotes here

  • The acoustics in my classroom are so bad that I have to shout a lot, which often means that my voice is gone by the end of class. I need to practice Teacher Voice more.
  • We finally made plans to meet up with an Arabic tutor in town. Way better than us trying to keep our attention on the textbook.
  • Last Friday, our host mom made us our favorite Moroccan dish, rfissa, for lunch. This was a big deal because it was couscous Friday! On Fridays, Moroccans eat couscous for lunch. Safi. It’s tradition. It’s a woven part of the everyday week. It’s a given. So, when Mama Ryqqia told us that she was going to make us rfissa (it’s also called bormash in some parts of the country), we knew that this was proof positive that she loves us bzaf.
  • Our little neighbor girls want to hang out with us ALL THE TIME. It is both lovely and annoying. I do want them to come over every once in a while to play games and learn a little bit of English while we feed them snacks—they’re adorable. But seriously, the doorbell-ringing and door-banging is constant. We’ve even pretended not to be home a few times because we needed decompression time. We thought that our cat Mishmash would put a stop to their intrusions—most Moroccan kids we know are scared of cats—but alas, they ended up loving her. Mishmash, darn you and your irresistible cuteness.
  • We were lucky to inherit many household items from our esteemed predecessors, but we still had some important shopping to do. AKA kitchen stuff, AKA the delight of Robert’s life. Shopping for kitchen stuff makes him really happy (which in turn makes me happy because it eventually leads to Robert cooking me delicious foods, hhhh). Taking the advice of everyone we’ve asked, we’ve eschewed the weekly souk in favor of other markets: the macro, the chatayba, and the large kitchen hanuts in town. We’ve found most things Robert wants for great deals, though we’re still searching for a good chef’s knife. (As a chef’s son, Robert haaaates shoddy cooking knives.)
  • Which brings us to the next small-update—food! We can FINALLY cook for ourselves. My favorite creation so far is grilled cheese sandwiches with avocado and tomato. I even made stir-fry noodles. (Hamdullah that soy sauce and rice noodles exist in the Carrefour!) Next week, we are going to make chicken parm and bring some to our host family.
  • We attended a Project Citizen showcase at one of the private schools in town, a great networking opportunity. Private school events are awesome because they always have snacks and tea… although they did make us give a speech, arghhh. We met a new friend who is starting grad school for computer science in Massachusetts in the fall. (His mom drove us home after the showcase.) Also, the headmaster told us he wants to have a meeting about collaborating for possible programs next school year! Yessssss—we’re totally going to see if Robert’s science fair dreams or my journalism program dreams are possible. 😀
  • More Work Updates: I am loving my English classes so far! Ramadan and the end of the school year are both coming, so my schedule will no doubt morph next month. For now, I am plenty busy. I already have a rapport with my awesome students. (I can already tell which ones are the teachers’ pets and which ones are the sassy back-talkers. I adore them all!) I am extra excited because, come Autumn, I have loads of programs planned and I hope some of these students will help me. I’m sowing the seeds for them now. I’m especially looking forward to implementing creative writing classes that will lead up to the annual Write On Competition. As for Robert, he is creating curriculum for Science & Creativity classes—(going well, but lacking students. English is where the demand is.) He’s also developing some Health toolkits. Because I don’t have enough time and energy to do ALLLLL the English classes our Dar Chebab wants, he is also teaching his very first beginners’ English classes! We’re on a day-to-day figure-it-out schedule right now, but we have BIG PLANS for the future.

Yours Truly,

Robert & Julie

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Fatine Turns Fifteen

Happy birthday, Fatine! L’eid milad sai3d!

We celebrated with a little but grand hefla (party) at Mama Ryqqia’s house.

party party party

party party party

Youssef setting up the party room, hahaha.

Youssef setting up the party room, hahaha.

Pre-party hair-straightening.

Pre-party hair-straightening.

The birthday girl insisted on a photoshoot. This is one of manyyyyyy. But she does look adorable!

The birthday girl insisted on a photoshoot. This is one of manyyyyyy. But she does look adorable!

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Digging in the first course!

Digging in the first course!

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And no hefla is complete without some dancing! Led, of course, by tiny dancer Kawtar: 

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All these kids are so adorable and sweet. We love them so much.

They love us too!

They love us too!

Seriously! Look how cute they are!

Seriously! Look how cute they are!

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Amal bringing out her daughter's cake!

Amal bringing out her daughter’s cake!

Those cookie things were really quite something...

Those cookie things were really quite something…

Fatine opening her present from us.

Fatine opening her present from us.

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Sometimes you just need to spin!

Sometimes you just need to spin!

Yours Truly,

Robert & Julie

Klmatic Monologues: DEBA

Klma = Word. Klmatic Monologues is a semi-regular series on words in Moroccan Arabic (Darija). Note 1: I am neither a linguist nor a native speaker, so this should be taken as amateur antics. Note 2: Darija is not a standardized written language, like Modern Standard Arabic (FusHa) or Standard English, so my Latin letter transcriptions are subjective. In other words, spelling will always be questionable.

For more Klmatic Monologues, go here.

كلمة: Deba / دبا

“Deba” is the Moroccan Darija word for “now.” It is wholly unique to Morocco. However, the concept that English speakers might know as “now” is pretty different.

When an English speaker says “now,” they mean the literal moment that we are living in. When a Moroccan says “deba,” they could mean that OR they could mean a few hours ago, a few minutes ago, a few minutes from now, an few hours from now.

If someone tells us that we are leaving “deba” or eating lunch “deba,” it is always wise to clarify with them. “Deba wlla deba deba?” (Now or now-now?) “Deba deba” is usually a closer approximation to the English “now.”

It still gets me. One time, I asked the train ticket counter guy when my train was leaving. He replied, “deba,” causing us to freak out and rush madly to the platform—where we realized that his “deba” was “soon-ish” and our train still had ten minutes before departure.

I’m not a very exact or time-oriented person, so sometimes I adore “deba.” I can call someone to let them know we’re coming over “deba” and still have time to finish up whatever else I was doing and meander over slowly. Other times, my American sensibilities cause me to be very frustrated with “deba.”

“Deba” is a reminder that knowing the translation of a word doesn’t always mean knowing the exact nuances and complexities of a word. One can read as many textbooks and dictionaries as one wants—but true knowledge of a language comes from communication in real-life. True understanding does not come from codex-bound lexicons, but from contexts and conversations. From people.

Yours Truly,

Robert & Julie

Dancing All Night

When we attended our first real Moroccan wedding, we left the party early.

By that, I mean that we left at 4:00 AM.

Moroccan weddings are quite the affair. There are loads of regional and cultural variations, but they all have some things in common: extravagance, length, and feasting.

This particular wedding was slated to start at 7PM. We arrived at 9PM and were some of the first ones there. At 10:30PM, the l’3rusa (bride) made her grand entrance in her first outfit.

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She was then carried around in the amaria (pictured below) while everyone whooped and ululated. We stayed for five outfits (there were probably two or three more).

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The groom (a family member of our host family) walking down from the podium to greet his new wife.

The groom (a family member of our host family) walking down from the podium to greet his new wife.

At our tables, we were served appetizers (including these delicious things that tasted just like spicy Cheez-Its), mint tea, and milkshakes/juices (avocado, orange, and berry panache) before the main meal. At most all big Moroccan events that I’ve been to (weddings, funerals, births), they serve the same things in the same order. First, grilled chickens rubbed with spices, usually served with veggies and harr (spicy sauce) on lemons. Then, beef and barqoq (stewed plums/prunes). And finally, the desir course: always a lovely basket of assorted fruits. We didn’t get any pictures because the food disappeared too fast! But we had a blast sitting and hanging out with some wonderful people.

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Robert telling a scintillating joke.

Robert telling a scintillating joke.

Secrets don't make friends, Mama Ryqqia!

Secrets don’t make friends, Mama Ryqqia!

Alas, the most awkward part of the entire affair was predictably the dancing. A vital part of Moroccan celebrations. We are both awful at shakin’ our booties (my hips do, indeed, lie), but these four months have already shed us of any shame we might have once had. It was exhausting and embarrassing, but we went for it!

Dragged into the middle of the dance floor...

Dragged into the middle of the dance floor…

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Amal gettin' down.

Amal gettin’ down.

The worst part was when the DJ and the filmographer decided to lavish all their attentions on us. “No no no no no,” we panicked. “Please pay attention to the bride and groom, noooooot us!!!!” We kept trying to sit down in the corner inconspicuously, but we were dragged back into the middle every time. Everyone kept wanting to dance with the random foreigners.

It looks like Robert is stealing his hat, but he's actually giving it back.

It looks like Robert is stealing his hat, but he’s actually giving it back.

In my head: WHAT AM I DOINGGGGGG

In my head: WHAT AM I DOINGGGGGG

The guy holding my hand (the one who is not my husband) actually invited us to his own wedding in July. Ohhhh dear.

The guy holding my hand actually invited us to his own wedding in July. Ohhhh dear.

When we finally left, a bit after four in the morning, I was so tired that I could barely walk. I don’t know how everyone else went on! For a week after the wedding, people kept telling us that we left too early… We missed the hrira and coffee courses… But as much as I love both hrira and coffee, I don’t know if I could have made it all the way to the end. Weaksauce, I know… Perhaps for the next wedding.

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Yours Truly,

Robert & Julie

Forests & Fields, Parties & Picnics

We are city folk.

We were both born and raised in various metropolises. When we came here, from one city to another, it was with a sense of relief and disappointment. Although our Moroccan city is a small city in comparison to Seattle (about 1/4 the population), it’s still a city. Definitely not a town or a village.

However, even though we are still city-ing, our little city happens to be surrounded by fields and forests. Unfortunate for our allergies, but very fortunate for our adventures!

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Every Sunday, hundreds of people flock to the outskirts of town to have a humongous picnic party in the forest. It’s amazing. I thought I knew how picnics worked before—but Moroccan picnics are a whole ‘nother world. NEVER AGAIN will I think that a slapped-together sandwich eaten on a blanket is sufficient. Here, everyone lugs full-on kitchens to the forest! Butagas burners, giant trays of hot couscous and veggies, entire tea sets, kaskrut delights like meloui and harcha, and endless sweet bites. I think our group ended up with five or six cakes!

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Look at Baby Issa reaching for that cake. She's determined!

Look at Baby Issa reaching for that cake. She’s determined!

Baby Issa's really going for it....

Baby Issa’s really going for it….

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My sister Amal and I!

Me and my sister Amal.

Amal forced us to sit in this field and hold these flowers for a picture, hhhhh.

Amal forced us to sit in this field and hold these flowers for a picture, hhhhh.

No Moroccan affair is complete without tea. Not even forest picnics!

No Moroccan affair is complete without tea. Not even forest picnics!

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The edges of our site.

The edges of our site.

A different forest excursion on another day: our mudir’s sons took us for a different kind of picnic—but just as awesome. We made a fire and assembled a tagine from scratch.

Starting the fire...

Starting the fire…

Amanda and Robert gathering more firewood!

Amanda and Robert gathering more firewood!

Chef Mehdi doin' his thing.

Chef Mehdi doin’ his thing.

Cutting all the fresh veggies!

Cutting all the fresh veggies!

The first layer--matisha and bsla!

The first layer–matisha and bsla.

It's ready for the fire!

It’s ready for the fire!

Cook, tagine, cook!

Preparing to put the food on our makeshift stove.

Tagine snuggled in the rocks :)

Tagine snuggled in the rocks 🙂

Checking on the tagine impatiently...

Checking on the tagine impatiently…

Oooh la la!

Oooh la la!

Nathan and Mehdi keeping our stove alive.

Nathan and Mehdi keeping our stove alive.

Voila!

Voila!

It was a beautiful day. :)

It was a beautiful day. 🙂

We’re still exploring the edges of our city! We’ve discovered the rolling farm fields, the leafy green forest, and these frolic-able flower meadows:

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And we know there’s so much more to find…

Who knows where we'll run off to next!

Who knows where we’ll run off to next!

Yours Truly,

Robert & Julie

Schwiya b Schwiya: Early Reflections on Learning Moroccan Arabic

adde parvum parvo magnus acervus erit.

-Ovid

Little by little. Step by step. Schwiya b schwiya.

Darija, Moroccan Arabic, is at once an arduous challenge and exuberant fun. It is the greatest roadblock to everything we want to do in this country—but we’re also having the time of our lives learning more every day.

We owe pretty much all of it to our amazing language teacher back in community-based training, Khalid. (Khalid, if you’re reading this: you’re the best and we miss you a lot, bro!) We also owe debts to the many people in our communities who have patiently explained words to us and generously slowed down their sentences. And also a shout-out to our buddy Nawaf, who gave us a few Arabic lessons before we left the states. (The fact that we mostly memorized the words for “boobs” and “penguin” is in no way a reflection on Nawaf’s excellent teaching abilities.)

What looks like innocuous script/diacritic practice here may or may not be me being super immature.

What looks like innocuous script/diacritic practice here may or may not be me being super immature.

Learning a new language is no picnic. (Except for those couple of times that we were invited to literal picnics in Arabic, I guess?) There are certainly times when it feels so impossible. Ghayns stuck in our throats and uncooperative tongues refusing to trill R’s. Realizing later in the day which conjugations we completely botched. Repeating a word a dozen times to a listener who is still shaking their head and shrugging.

There are always those moments.

Fortunately, Moroccan Darija is such a wonderful language! There are loads of difficulties for the tongues and ears of English-speakers (here’s glaring at you, extra letters and collapsed vowels), but it’s really, really fun to learn. It is an amalgamation of Modern Standard Arabic (FusHa), French, Spanish, and the gorgeous Amazigh languages (Tarafit/Riffian, Central Atlas Tamazight, and Tashelhit/Shilha). Unfortunately, it is too different from other Arabics. (Unfortunate because one of our naive early hopes had been traveling to the Middle East with near-fluency. But alas, they won’t be able to understand us and we won’t be able to understand them.)

There are endless moments of hilarity and awkwardness in our lives because of language. Most people are kindly willing to stoop their words down to our baby-level. Alas, our mudir (our boss, the director of the Dar Chebab), is not one of those people. He is an erudite, eloquent person—and his natural speech is full of words even the average Darija speaker would consider elaborate. He’s the kind of person who says “archives” instead of “old papers.” (Dude, why couldn’t you have just said “old papers”??) Conversations with him are quite an ordeal. While most other people stick to pointing at objects/miming actions to teach us words (a much preferred method for us babies), our mudir is ruthlessly teaching us the words for metaphors (ex. “passing the torch”) and abstract concepts/philosophy. He’s a very kind man though. During one meeting, he told us, “We’ll help each other out. There are some things we’re good at and some things you’re good at. We’ll fill in the gaps together.” I’m guessing that when he said this, language was at the forefront of his mind.

More moments. The PCVs whom we are replacing studied Arabic FusHa before they arrived in country. So everyone asks us constantly why our Arabic isn’t as good as theirs. Ah, well.

More moments. Every once in a while, a waiter or shopkeeper will tell us our total bill and we will stare blankly for a moment, panicking because apparently our Arabic is so crappy that we can’t even understand numbers… before realizing that they’ve spoken to us in French. Ah, well.

In Morocco, when in linguistic doubt, sometimes pronouncing words in a French accent will help. It’s been working wonders for me. “What did you study in college?” someone will ask me. Blanking on the word for “literature” in Arabic, I just purse my lips franco-fully and say, “leeetchura-chuuur dyal longli!”

My favorite was the time we had to get our passports photocopied in a hanut. Robert asked the mul hanut, “Wesh kayn photocopy?” He stared at us uncomprehendingly. “No, sorry,” he said in Darija, “I don’t understand. What do you want?” We looked at each other for a moment, before I slowly let out, in an exaggerated French accent, “foo-tu-cou-peh?” His eyes immediately lit up in realization. “Ah, kayn!” he exclaims.

Our early predictions about language acquisition have been spot-on so far. Robert’s fear that I’d be better at remembering and regurgitating vocab because I’m bilingual seems to be about right. Not that it matters much. Because also, my belief that Robert’s natural kindness and people-personness would facilitate his conversations is definitely true. I’m cynical and taciturn in any language. It also helps that Robert is male and Arab-passing. A lot of men in our community tend to direct their speech towards him first, even when we are with Moroccan women.

One of the most frustrating aspects of learning a new language is the common reactions of Shock and Mock. Sometimes people are just astonished, and we don’t mind that at all. It’s perfectly understandable. But every once in a while, it’s a little tiring.

And when we are having one of those days when it seems like communication is impossible—our pronunciation nonviable, our memories decaying—it is good to remember that there are always ways to say what you need to say. Because here is a list of Complex Things You Can Discuss Even When Your Arabic Sucks:

  • Health care systems around the world
  • The intersection of morality and health in things such as smoking and drinking alcohol
  • Religious doctrine and religious extremism
  • Latinate → French etymology
  • The inevitability of death and grief
  • Systemic racism in the United States

And best of all:

  • Friendship and family and love!

Because even with our horrible language abilities, we’ve come to love so many people here. It’s unbearably cheesy, but hey—words are not a barrier to the connection of hearts. The people who have become our friends and family here know exactly what we are saying when we tell them how much we care about them, and even if we don’t know the exact translations all the time—we understand perfectly when they tell us how much they care about us. You know… there are just some things in the world that no language has the adequate words to express.IMG_8257

Yours Truly, 

Julie & Robert

Notes & Anecdotes: Part 2

We don’t just want to write about the Big Things in our lives, so here we’ll share small stories and quick blips and such. 

  • Our carte de sejour journey continues. Last week, we had to go to the Ministry of Justice and Liberties in Rabat to apply for another security clearance. It all turned out well though! Luckily, Fatima—our Safety and Security Coordinator—was there to fix everything like the badass she is. As a huge plus, we were able to stop by the Information and Resource Center in the Rabat office, where M’hamed the librarian hooked us up with a pile of pages! A happy Julie requires lots and lots of books, so that in itself made the trip worth it.
Fatima, our superhero!

Fatima, our superhero!

  • I’ve been trying to study a bit of Arabic every night in between kaskrut and dinner–but one night, my host sister decided that there was a more pressing priority for my integration. So instead, we youtube searched “bride falling off amaria” and watched like twenty videos.
  • We had our first visitors! Matt and Anne live in a neighboring town and needed to come to our city to pick up their luggage. Because of the camp, we hadn’t picked ours up yet either. So we turned it into a fun exploring day!

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  • One of our host family’s favorite topics is which soap opera star looks the most like Robert. Which always turns into a conversation about how Arab he looks. Guess who is left out of this conversation, hhhhhh. 😛
  • When we’re at the café, sometimes random dudes wander in selling homemade foods. We buy one every time. Our favorite is this meat pastry thing. Is this a bad idea for our bowels? Probably… we’ll see. But who cares—they’re delicious! And at least we know they’re halal.
  • I have finally achieved the impossible. I drank enough bowls of hrira (Moroccan soup, my favorite stuff in the whole world) that NO ONE TOLD ME TO SHRB, KULI, OR ZIDI. They just all looked at me as I patted my protruding stomach and nodded approvingly.
  • We’ve found some unique strategies to deal with overly hyper kiddos.

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Love,

Julie & Robert

Klmatic Monologues: MSKEEN

Klma = Word. Klmatic Monologues is a semi-regular series on words in Moroccan Arabic (Darija). Note 1: I am neither a linguist nor a native speaker, so this should be taken as amateur antics. Note 2: Darija is not a standardized written language, like Modern Standard Arabic (FusHa) or Standard English, so my Latin letter transcriptions are subjective. In other words, spelling will always be questionable.

كلمة: Mskeen / مسكين

The closest English translation of “mskeen” is “poor.” It is, in itself, a poor translation. It does not always mean a lacking or a deficiency. “Mskeen” or “mskeena” is an adjective that denotes sympathy towards someone else’s misfortune. “Poor guy!” we might say in English—and we don’t mean that his income level is low.

According to our Mama Fadila, everyone is mskeen in some way or another. According to her, our Baba Hassan is mskeen because he has no top teeth. Our little sisters Ahlam and Imane are msakeen (plural) because they have tons of homework from school. Robert and I are msakeen because our Darija is crappy.

Mskeen can be a temporary state, as in the case of our Darija (kantmmna, inshallah!). It can also be a permanent state, as in the case of Baba.

Mskeen can define your life—if for instance, you are mskeen because you are living in poverty. Or it can just be in one small instance—again, as in the case of Baba, whose lack of top teeth does not affect his great job, his lovely house, his perfect family, or an entire townfull of folks who adore and respect him.

At first, mskeen seems completely negative, but it surprisingly has some positivity to it. If you think someone is mskeen, it means you care about them. After all, you wouldn’t worry about the woes of someone you didn’t like. Even when it is negative, it is not usually an insult or an offensive term.

Technically and officially, mskeen is used in the context of zakat—charity, one of the Five Pillars of Islam. Muslims are obligated to help mskeen people, in this case defined as “the needy.” Some people have told us that the word has roots in connection with “humility” or “humbleness,” as the Prophet prayed to Allah to live in a mskeen way. However, the everyday colloquial usage of mskeen can vary from pity to empathy.

We are constantly called mskeen. Sometimes in pity, sometimes in empathy. Mostly because we are foreigners who are struggling (and often failing) to speak Arabic. One time, we told a taxi driver that we’d be living in Morocco for two years on volunteer stipends, and he responded, “Ah, mskeen!” When we asked why he said “mskeen,” he said, “Because in American, you have a lot of money and nice things, but you are choosing to live in Morocco.” So it turns out that you can be mskeen for things both in your power to change and out of your power to change.

If someone falls ill, they are mskeen. If someone trips and falls, they are mskeen. If someone’s loved one passes away, baraka f rasu, they are mskeen. If someone is tired, sad, angry, or stressed out—they are mskeen.

A mangy, starved-looking cat on the street is mskeen. A soap opera character whose husband has left her is mskeen. A kid throwing a temper tantrum can be mskeen. A person who has to stand because the train is too full is mskeen.

Mskeen is a condition of humanity. As Mama Fadila puts it, no one can completely escape mskeen-ity. As for us, we are owning our mskeen! Every day here, we are the embodiment of mskeen. And that is perfectly alright with us.

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Look at these two mskeen souls!

A Fortnight Before Freedom

We move into our apartment in two weeks. TWO WEEKS. It feels like forever away. We are desperately craving freedom. Although we adore our host family, there are constant trials when you live with other people in such close quarters. It will be so sweet to be able to read alone without a concerned mama demanding to know whether or not I’m sick, without hyper kiddos bouncing around me while screaming “Look! Look! Play with me!”

For now, we are just enjoying our last few weeks as “drari” before we are allowed to bloom into adulthood, hah. As glorious as that horizon looks, we will definitely miss the delicious homemade food, the challenging Darija practice, and the wonderful individuals of this household. If you’d like to e-meet the lovely family hosting us, here are some portraits of them:

Mama Rqyyia

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A very honest, no-nonsense, straight-to-the-point lady. Unless she’s making a joke. Her favorite joke is to mess with Robert. Sometimes by pretending that she didn’t understand his Arabic when she actually did. Sometimes with comparisons to me.  “Zaina zwina, wilakin Yassine muskin” is her favorite rhyme. (“zwin/zwina” = beautiful, “muskin/muskina” = poor thing/an expression of sympathy.) One time, we were showing them pictures of our wedding in Agourai, and Mama Ryqqia kept going on and on about how zwina I looked (this lady does not help regulate my ego, heh heh heh). After about fifty photos of this, Robert jumps in between us and sarcastically shouts “HEY I’M RIGHT HERE, THANKS.” Mama Ryqqia winks and shrugs, “I guess you’re zwin too.” Much laughter from everyone. They are hilarious when they go back and forth.

Kareema

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Our 23-year-old host sister. She is generally very quiet and reserved. Her favorite activity, much like Mama Rqyyia’s, is to make fun of Robert. Anything we say in Arabic is bound to be repeated (aka mocked) by Kareema with much laughter. I definitely don’t blame her—we probably do sound ridiculous, hahahaha.

Amal

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Our 34-year-old host sister. She technically lives in another neighborhood with her husband and her three kids, but she and the kids are at Mama Ryqqia’s almost every day. Amal is a spitfire. She’s passionate, assertive, loud, and sometimes even kind of inappropriate (in a funny way). She does a lot of winking and lewd gesturing at us as a joke (…hopefully as a joke).

Fatine

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Amal’s 15-year-old daughter. Smart and responsible, but still a kid at heart. When she told us that she wants to learn lots of languages and travel the world, her mom turned to us and said, “She wants to be a flight attendant when she grows up.” Fatine disagreed: “I want to be a pilot!”

Kawtar

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Amal’s 9-year-old daughter. The sweetest. Suffers swiya from Middle Child Syndrome. She’s also a dynamo dancer! All Moroccan kids I’ve encountered know how to dance like pros from a very young age—but Kawtar is definitely the best I’ve seen. One time, we had an argument about whether or not butterflies are bugs (I was on Team Yes They Are Bugs and she was on Team No They Aren’t), so now my nickname for her is “Farasha” (butterfly in Arabic).

Youssef

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Amal’s 5-year-old son. Seriously the cutest being to ever live. He’s such a sensitive soul, which means he’s kind of a crybaby, but also the most loving person ever. He’s one of those people who just feel too much emotion that they can’t contain it. It’s not a five-year-old thing either (I’ve known a lot of five-year-olds), it’s a Youssef thing.  I just about died when he told me that I am dear to his heart. He has two little pet birds and watching him take care of them is just the best. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything cuter than Youssef lovingly changing the water for his little birds while talking baby talk at them.

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Their generosity in opening their home and hearts to us is inspiriting. For the next two years, no matter how tough things get, it is amazing to know that we will have a place to go where people will greet us with delight, a place where people are not afraid to correct our Arabic, a place to go on Fridays to fill our stomachs with cous cous!

Love,

Julie & Robert