Klmatic Monologues: SAFI vs BARAKA

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: safi / صافي & Baraka / باركة

In Moroccan Darija, “safi” and “baraka” both mean “enough.”

Sometimes, they are interchangeable, but they have subtle differences for different contexts.

For example, if you are eating a meal at a Moroccan family’s house, both of these words can come in handy. At one point, you will reach the stage where if you consume anything else, you will literally burst. “Eat, eat, eat,” your hosts will continue to insist. “Please! Take more! You haven’t eaten anything! Eat!”

“I’m full,” you’ll say. But the insistence will continue. At this point, you can employ the “enough!” (Remember to say it several times, along with lots of “Hamdullahs”—Thanks be to God—for it to stick. ) “SAFI, SAFI, thank you, BARAKA, BARAKA, SAFI, SAFI, SAFI!”


“Safi” is a super-common word in Morocco. Everyone uses it in pretty much every other sentence. That’s because it also doubles in meaning as “OK” or “alright.” To me, it seems even more prevalent than “wakha,” (or “waxxa,” as the Peace Corps Language textbook spells it) which also means “OK.” Safi also means “that’s it. period.” You’d add it on after a sentence that you want to emphasize. Just like English conversations are littered with these affirming phrases, Moroccan Darija coversations are chock full of “safi.”

On the other hand, “baraka” cannot mean “OK.” But it does have a few other meanings besides “enough.” It can also mean “blessing.” For instance, we often say “baraka llah fik” (God bless you) as a thanks. I use it most often during friendly business exchanges—if I buy something from a shop, open a contract with the internet provider, or ask the youth center key holder for the projector. “Baraka” can also denote a kind of spiritual flow that connects divinity to humanity—this last meaning I don’t know much about. You’ll have to ask an expert.

I didn’t make this connection until fairly recently. When we first arrived in Morocco, a series of sad events happened with family friends. We attended a few funeral feasts in those first months. Because of this, we learned that when someone passes away, you say “baraka f rask” to them.

“Enough in your head”…? I thought it strange, but also quite compelling. Maybe like you were telling people, “I hope the sadness in your mind is finishing up.” Unfortunately, I’ve used it several times since we first learned it. Only recently did I realize it actually probably means “blessings on you.” I was thinking too literally, as many foreign language learners do.


If we say them together, “safi baraka,” it often is akin to “alright, we are finishing this up.” It can be used at the end of almost any conversation. Doesn’t matter if you’re just calling your host mom to tell her you miss her, or if you’re asking your boss about a new program, or if you’re just buying some peaches off a cart.

So… safi, baraka. See you later!

Yours Truly,

Robert & Julie

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The Best Weekend Ever!

Play this while reading the blog post! ⇓⇓⇓

Sometimes vacation’s just where you want to be. 😉 This weekend was the best we’ve had so far in Morocco! We visited friends way up north. We had relaxing, unwinding chill-time, and also awesome beach adventure time.

Our slumber party setup! Glorious giant ponj bed.

Our slumber party setup! Glorious giant ponj bed.

On the second night, we had an extravagant American themed dinner on the roof!

On the second night, we had an extravagant American themed dinner on the roof!

The weekend crew, minus Yimini and Samu.

The weekend crew, minus Yimini and Samo.

Kfta burgers and fries and guacamole!

Kfta burgers and fries and guacamole

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Breakfast the next day: carne asada fries and fried eggs courtesy of Chef Jeff

Breakfast the next day: carne asada fries and fried eggs courtesy of Chef Jeff

On the last day of our trip, we went on an adventure to Asilah, a beautiful beach town.

On the last day of our trip, we went on an adventure to Asilah, a beautiful beach town.

Thanks bzaf to our guide, Samo, for taking us on a two hour hike to an incredible beach.

Thanks bzaf to Samo for taking us on a two hour hike to an incredible beach. (Yimini was supposed to come too, but we couldn’t wake him up in the morning.)

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This was when Samo ran away to a dangerous cliffside because us weakling Americans broke fast on some shwarma sandwiches. Sorry, Samo... He was such a champion though, continuing his fast all the way until sundown even through hours of hiking, hot sun, salty beach, and his wimpy non-Muslim friends sipping on their water bottles. :P

This was when Samo ran away to a dangerous cliffside because us weakling Americans broke fast on some shwarma sandwiches. Sorry, Samo… He was such a champion though, continuing his fast all the way until sundown even through hours of hiking, hot sun, salty beach, and his wimpy non-Muslim friends sipping on their water bottles. 😛

Samo playing his guitar far far away from us, while we're chowing  down.

Samo playing his guitar far far away from us, while we’re chowing down.

I adore all of these amazing people!

I adore all of these amazing people!

Then we FINALLY made it to the beach! It was so worth the trek!

Then we FINALLY made it to the beach! It was so worth the trek!

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Okay, now let me tell you about the craziest thing that has happened to me so far in Morocco… Robert, Jeff, and I were all laying on our sheet/towel set-up, drifting off into naps. Ocean breeze, warm sun. It was perfect. All of a sudden, we hear Gina and Samo start yelling, “Get up! Watch out! OH MY GOD!”

We all jolt awake and jump up… TO SEE THREE BABY CAMELS RUNNING STRAIGHT AT US.

They veered around us at the last moment, right as we jumped up… but it was a close call. So we almost DIED by way of BABY CAMEL STAMPEDE, which is the best/worst way to die ever.

After they almost killed us, they continued to run around the beach adorably.

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This is the first time in my life I've ever seen camels in person! And it was baby camels running full speed at me on a Moroccan beach. So yeah...

This is the first time in my life I’ve ever seen camels in person! And it was baby camels running full speed at me on a Moroccan beach. So yeah…

Hamdullah our parents are not getting a tragic/awkward call from the Rabat office right now...

Hamdullah our parents are not getting a tragic/awkward call from the Rabat office right now…

Alive! And living it up!

Alive! And living it up!

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It's Gina and Jeff!

It’s Gina and Jeff!

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We had a pretty wild adventure. Some of the details I won’t get into… (If you’re curious, private message us/skype us, hahahahaha…)

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After the beach, we headed back into town so Samo could break fast before we left. We wandered around the beautiful medina, gathering snacks and sightseeing.

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Close to Iftar time, we took our snacks and found a nice cafe, where we ordered cokes (so much more delicious in Morocco) and coffee ns ns. Then as the call to prayer sounded, we cheersed each other to good friends and beautiful beaches and perfect vacation days. Then we had time for one last adventure:

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Or so we thought! Actually this train station kitty was the real last adventure!

Or so we thought! Actually this train station kitty was the real last adventure! That look on my face says it all, y’all.

Now we’re back to “real life”—aka back to the slow-moving, topsy-turvy schedule of Ramadan, teaching classes, lesson planning, running errands, and all that. Can’t wait for August (a whole month of break because our Dar Chebab is closed)! And can’t wait to tell y’all about our next adventures. 🙂

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Yours Truly,

Robert & Julie

The Chronicles of Iftar

We won’t detail every Iftar (breakfast) we eat during Ramadan, but here is just a little taste of the nightly feasting! These are the first two Iftar invitations we received—on the first night of Ramadan from Mama Ryqqia and Kareema, and on the second night of Ramadan from our friend Meryem.

Mama Ryqqia and Kareema prepared a really simple Iftar with all the essentials: chebakia, harira, dates, eggs, tea, and bread.

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Harira is my second favorite Moroccan food, next to rfissa! It’s a tomato based soup usually made with olive oil, flour, lentils, chickpeas, onions, parsley, little noodles, and maybe some type of meat. The ingredients vary, but it is always heavily spiced with bzar (black pepper), zaffron (saffron), khrqum (tumeric), kamun (cumin), skinjbir (ginger), sudaniya (cayenne), and whatever ras el hanut blend the cook has on the counter. I’m drooling just thinking about it.

Chebakia is a Moroccan cookie that is wayyyy too sweet for me. It’s made with sesame and drenched in honey. I’ve grown accustomed to taking one or one-and-a-half during Iftar, but I remain a savory food person. I definitely have no sweet teeth. Still, I can kinda see the appeal of these little treats.

Shabekia!

Chebakia!

When the Adan sounded, we all dove in immediately. Despite that thirst is the greatest challenge of these hot summer fasting days, we learned that we’re not supposed to drink water first. It’s not good for the stomach. So we indulged in everything else before gulping down cups of cold water.

Kareema and Mama laying out the meal.

Kareema and Mama laying out the meal.

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And best surprise of all! Mama prepared a panache (fruit mix) juice as an extra treat for us!

And best surprise of all! Mama prepared a panache (fruit mix) juice as an extra treat for us!

On the day of our second Iftar, Jeff, who lives in a nearby village, happened to be visiting! So he went with us to Meryem’s family’s house. Our friend Meryem is the French teacher at our Dar Chebab; she’s in her last year studying business/economics at the University Hassan I. She and her family are really awesome. Our second Iftar was a BLAST!

Me and the gorgeous Meryem!

Me and the gorgeous Meryem!

This Iftar was so ridiculous, none of us Americans could handle it. We three kept freaking out on Meryem and her mom (who, luckily, was very happy about it all). WOW! Spicy pizza bites! Spicy veggie sandwich pockets! Chicken spring rolls! Samosas! Potato salad! Grilled onions and saucy meat for sandwiches! Milk with rosewater! Lime-ade! Like five types of fresh homemade bread! It was so extravagant and so amazing. Plus the regulars: dates, chebakia, harira, tea, and all of that.

HAMDULLAH.

HAMDULLAH.

Robert and Jeff can't even.

Robert and Jeff can’t even right now.

Even better than the Iftar (if such a thing is possible!) was just hanging out with friends. Meryem later invited her next door neighbor Fatimaezzahra over as well. They spent a lot of the time being incredulous that we decided to live in Morocco, of all places in the world. It was especially hilarious when it was revealed that Jeff is from New York City. (“Whyyyyyyyy!” the girls nearly wept at him, “You’re from New York and now you live in [Jeff’s small village, pop. 18,000ish]?????? Why would you do this to yourself????? It’s like you were a millionaire and you gave away all of your money!!!”) It also turns out that Meryem’s mom is from Jeff’s village. Everyone in our city thinks that village is really mskeen

The conversation made me think about certain perceptions. We think of living here as an adventure. But many of the young people from this city think of it as a place where they are trapped. They can’t wait to get out and see “the world.” They want to leave so badly. It is exactly the way Robert and I think of Kent, Washington—the town we went to high school in. A medium-small city that feels way too small, right against a bigger city (Seattle for us, Casablanca for them).

I’m excited to hang out with these new friends more as the months and years go on. And perhaps someday, inshallah, they will visit us in America too. If all the Visa stuff is sorted out… (more on the privileges of an American passport later, alas.)

One of our new friends, Meryem's cat Jad, chillest feline in the world.

One of our new friends, Meryem’s cat Jad, chillest feline in the world.

Topped off the Iftar with a cuppa... I had to go to work right afterwards.

Topped off the Iftar with a cuppa… I had to go to work right afterwards.

After Iftar, Meryem drove us back because I had to teach an 11:00pm After Iftar Advanced English Class at the Dar Chebab. (It was, predictably, much livelier than my Pre-Iftar classes…) For a moment, it felt just like being in high school or college again. Zooming down the street at night with friends, shouting about silly and obscene things. Talking about things like car names (Meryem’s car is named Christina) and cats and and way-back-when stories. Swearing a lot. Laughing a lot. Feeling really young.

Hoping to have a lot more nights like these. 🙂 Ramadan Mubarak!

Yours Truly,

Robert & Julie

Reflections on Ramadan, Religion, and Respect

*Reminder that this post is only a reflection of OUR personal experiences and thoughts, and does not reflect any other PCVs or non-Muslims living in Morocco. 


This Ramadan, we have decided to fast.

Because it is our very first time fasting, we are going to ease into it with “baby-fasting,” at the suggestion of many of our Moroccan friends. That means we are allowing ourselves to break fast with water on occasion for the first few days. (Especially because I will still be teaching regular classes. Having a glass of water before I leave for class might be a good idea to keep me from fainting.) We have also decided to drink water before travelling. And we have decided not to fast during the days of our In-Service Training Conference (July 5-11), which is smack-dab in the middle of Ramadan. We’ll re-evaluate our plans for next year’s Ramadan at Eid al-Fitr.

For the past couple of weeks, our friends have been asking us whether or not we will fast—and sometimes encouraging us not to.

“It’s really hard,” Some of them have said. “You aren’t Muslim, so you aren’t required to fast. You should let yourself eat and drink—you’ll feel better!”

Some of them are really excited that we’ve decided to fast. This is purely anecdotal, but mostly older folks are excited and friends our age are skeptical that we’ll make it. Robert says that this makes him want to try fasting even more. (“CHALLENGE ACCEPTED,” he shouted at one of our friends who told us, “You’ve never done it before, so it’s going to be a HUGE challenge.”)

We’ve decided to fast for a few reasons. During a time when everyone in our community is fasting, we want to be on the same level. For us, it’s a magnified version of Ramadans past. Back home, during Ramadan, there were certain things that were adjusted slightly. We’d only plan big hang-outs with Muslim friends for after Iftur (the breaking of fast at sundown) and we’d refrain from eating/drinking in front of them before Iftur (mostly, haha, can’t deny it if we were jerks every now and then). But in Seattle, the vast majority of people around us weren’t Muslim. Here, they are. So, during a time when food isn’t being sold anyways and none of the people we hang out with are eating/drinking—it seems easier and more respectful to just join them.

Because we aren’t Muslim, there are certain spiritual Ramadan things we won’t participate in, of course: praying and attending Mosque. But there are other Ramadan things that I feel like everyone should participate in always: charity, reflection, and refraining from “nonconstructive speech.” (Meaning: no negative talk or pettiness! No talking bad about anyone, talking about anyone behind their back, gossiping, etc.)

Because Ramadan has been fast approaching (pun intended), there’s been in increase in conversation about religion. It was already a pretty prevalent conversation-starter, because our esteemed predecessors are Mormon and everyone who knew them had to ask us whether or not we drink tea. When we first arrived in Morocco, this conversation was reeeeally awkward. But interestingly, having the same conversation over and over again has made us more and more comfortable with our beliefs/non-beliefs.

We are not religious. We do not belong to any religion or claim any religion. We are secular. We, however, don’t claim “atheism” or “agnosticism” for socio-political reasons. Robert and I both have separate, complicated histories with faith.

We are open about this fact with everyone who asks, although it was nerve-wracking at first. We don’t offer the information without an inquiry though. Some people, like our host family, have come to conclusions of their own. They’ve never asked, but seem to know exactly what to think/say. When other people ask us in their presence, they answer for us with the sweetest answer: “Shame for asking!” They say, half-jokingly and half-protectively. “They aren’t Muslim, but they are like Muslims in many ways. They don’t smoke or drink. They are modest and have good hearts.” (Not completely accurate, but we don’t correct them.)

Some people don’t quite understand what we mean when we explain (probably mostly because of language barrier issues). I’m still not quite sure if “madiniyyash” translates correctly to “non-religious.” A few people have suggested that we should just tell people that we are Christian, to avoid complicated questioning and confusion. We refuse to do this. We feel that it is dishonest to misrepresent our beliefs and identities. And it is disrespectful to those we’d be lying to, as well to our Christian friends. It would be infinitely easier to lie. And we understand why many people would choose to for reasons of privacy, safety, and community. For example, non-Muslim Arabs who choose to keep the truth of their beliefs from their communities. We struggled with this at first, but we’ve decided that despite how complicated it can be to explain, it is necessary to present our authentic selves.

We also understand that our specific circumstances and privileges allow us to tell the truth. We live in a large university city with a few non-Moroccan residents besides us. That makes it easier. We can choose to just ignore people who are too pushy about religion, although luckily, that means just one dude so far. (Most inquiries go: “Are you Muslim?” “No, we are not Muslim, but we respect Islam and all other religions.” “Oh, okay!”)The friends and community members who respect us—the vast majority of them—accept us. We also take it as a huge compliment that some people have just assumed that we are Muslim. (I call this the “Are You Indonesian” conversation—Indonesia being an Asian country with the largest Muslim population in the world.)

Religion is important. We live in a world of religion, and as non-religious people, we have to always consider that. It’s  in our language—we say “Thank God” and we say “Hamdullah” even though our conception of “God” is not exactly the same. It’s in our cultures. It’s in our holidays. We celebrate Christmas as secular people, so observing Ramadan with our community makes sense too.

Abstaining from food and drink is only a small part of the Ramadan experience. During the next month, we plan to think deeper and shift our focuses. Ramadan is a time to truly appreciate everything you have, and to think about those who have less. It is a time to focus on cultivating self-control and empathy and love. One person told us, “Ramadan is like a reset button.” The perfect time to rethink your life and goals and desires, to re-plan schedules, and re-evaluate purpose. Another person told us, “During Ramadan, it’s back to basics. Even more basic than food and water and sex: spiritual basics.”

So whatever our beliefs, we do believe strongly in community. And with every invitation to break fast at someone’s house or attend a midnight party, we know we’ve made the right choice for us. Now, to fight through the hangriness!

Ramadan Kareem!

Yours Truly,

Robert & Julie

Culture Shock Talk

Culture shock is defined as  “the personal disorientation a person may feel when experiencing an unfamiliar way of life due to immigration or a visit to a new country, a move between social environments, or simply travel to another type of life.”

There has definitely been some amount of disorientation since moving to Morocco, although we would never characterize it as “shock.” To be honest, before coming here, I did some internet “research” on Moroccan culture—only to find many offensive descriptions by non-Moroccans. (I was particularly disgusted by some dude who described the sight of women in hijabs on smartphones as “odd.” Are you kidding me?!?! I’m still enraged about that comment.) I was far more shocked by that than I’ve been by any cultural differences I’ve come across in Morocco. People around the world have different relationships with time, hospitality, work, and education. The differences can be subtle and complex.

Cultural differences are to be expected. As an American person of color from an immigrant family, I suppose I’d know. However, even so, there are times when I feel very Distinctly American because of my surprise at Moroccan reactions. Here are some small, everyday examples:

In the States

Me: “Cute bracelet!”

Girl I Am Complimenting: “Aww thanks! I got it at Target!”

In Morocco

Me: “Cute bracelet!”

Girl I Am Complimenting: “Really? You like it? HERE, take it! Please!!! It’s yours now! PLEASE take it!!!! Keep it!!!!”

In the States

Me: Here are the extra articles you asked for.

Colleague: Thanks, dude! You’re the best. *leaves*

In Morocco

Me: Here are the extra articles you asked for.

Colleague: Thank you so much, my sister! God bless your parents! Please come over for lunch tomorrow!

In the States

Me: Hey, is there baking soda here?

Store worker: Yeah, aisle five.

In Morocco

Me: Hey, is there baking soda here?

Mul hanut: Yes, we have it… Here it is! So, would you like to come sit with me and have some tea?

 

In the States

Me: Does anyone have any questions?

Students: *silence*

In Morocco

Me: Does anyone have any questions?

Students: *all start jumping up and shouting at once* TEACHER TEACHER YES, I HAVE A QUESTION HEY TEACHER

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Life is so much more vibrant when you are jolted out of familiarity every now and then. There is comfort in the things we’ve come to expect, but there is powerful lucidity in the unexpected. It is vital to remind ourselves that “our way” is not the only way or the best way or sometimes even a good way. 

Indeed, a shock to the set mindset is a wonderful thing. It is clarity. It is luminosity.

Yours Truly,

Robert & Julie

Notes & Anecdotes: Part 4

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

  • We went back to our pre-wifi-in-house cafe to meet our tutor, and our favorite cafe guy greets us with “You guys haven’t been here for 22 days! Where have you been???” …I guess he missed us! 😀
  • There’s this one dog in town who just looooooves to lazily stroll across busy streets and to lay down in the middle of the road. He stresses us out, but it’s always a relief to catch sight of him! He hangs out downtown, which is called Centreville, so we’ve taken to calling him “Centredog” (pronounced “saunter dog.” A double entendre).
  • We’ve decided to serve chocolate milk to all of our guests who don’t want tea. It’s been very popular.
  • I found out that our mudir tore down the flyer I put up for my Intermediate English class because I left out the “alif” in the definite article on the word “Thursday” (lkhmis)… Really, dude? No leeway? Not even a little? … I mean, I could have just used a pen to draw a line in front of the word. There! An alif! Grrrr…
  • Laundry disaster the other day: it started downpouring the moment I finished washing everything, right as I was about to carry it all to the roof to dry. Aghh! Sucks extra because laundry here takes 3 times as long and 5 times as much manual labor.
  • What makes me the happiest is just hanging out with friends in town. For instance, hanging out in the forest with one of our lovely friends, Hazar (not pictured cos we don’t have her permission to post yet). We brought a “picnic” (aka takeout pizza and ice cream from the Carrefour) and had a grand ol time climbing trees and spinning on the playground equipment!
Mmmmm pizza picnic!

Mmmmm pizza picnic!

  • We finally, finally, finally have all our carte de sejour papers! In a bout of excellent efficiency, we photocopied them and notarized them in the span of an hour. The people who work at the notary office are kind-of friends. As they were stamping our papers, they complained to us that American English impossible to understand. (“British English is clearer! Why do you Americans pronounce “t”s like “d”s? Like “ledder” instead of “letter”! I can’t understand anything Obama says on the television.”)
  • But alas, we haven’t gotten them processed yet… Our Regional Manager, Fatima, came to visit us yesterday. She tried to help us get them processed, as well as finish up house rental paperwork and open our PO box. Unfortunately, an entire day of attempted errands came out to nothing thanks to various external factors. Ah well, we’ll keep trying…
  • Walking home the other day, overheard some random kid we don’t know say to his friend, “That’s Julie!” Is this awesome or freaky?
  • Ever important food updates: With the help of our new blender, we’ve been making milkshakes! So far, we’ve done mocha and peach&banana. Up next, strawberries, nectarines, cucumber/melon/orange, and watermelon!

Yours Truly,

Robert & Julie

Reflections on Community Based Training

Before we moved to our current city, we spent two and a half months in a small town in the Mid-North region of Morocco for Community Based Training (CBT). Mid-January to the end of March.

I’ve written extensively about our CBT experience—but not yet on this blog. I want to show off some of the highlights of those first few months in this country. Next time, we’ll introduce our CBT host family like we did with our final site host family. And we’ll need a separate post for our CBT Wedding! (Tomorrow I will upload that one, inshallah!) For now, I’ll leave the summary at this:

It was an extraordinary, intense time in our lives. The air was so cold, our breaths rose in wisps even when we were indoors. We built a little community within a community. When we left Seattle, we knew we would miss Seattle—and we were prepared for those feelings. What we didn’t realize was how deeply and achingly we would be homesick for a home in Morocco. 

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Yours Truly, 

Robert & Julie

 

Everyone in the Room: On Cultural Differences in Greetings

Yesterday, one of my friends asked me, “Why don’t you greet all of your students?”

I was surprised and confused for a moment. Of course I greet all of my students, I thought indignantly. I say “salam” or “hello” to all of them (I try to do it in English for my English classes, but shockingly, it’s harder to remember to use English greetings now), and I even ask them how they are doing.

Then she made a kissy-face to demonstrate what she meant—and I face-palmed.

Five months here, and I still can’t get it right! She meant why I don’t greet each one the Arab World way—handshakes for the other gender and kisses on the cheek for those of my gender.

This is something I know. This is something I have practiced. And yet…

This friend and I had already had Part 1 of this conversation last week. Robert and I taught her the “American way” to greet friends: hugs! Followed by an explanation that made me realize how freakin’ complicated American greetings can be.

“We don’t really ever kiss our friends on the cheek or shake their hands. We only shake hands if we are meeting someone for the first time or we are in a professional setting. When we see our friends, we can hug them. Or we can just say hello without touching. Depends on the setting and the friend and the circumstance. If you haven’t seen each other in a while, you’d probably hug them. But if you see each other every day or every week, maybe not. Unless they are the type of friend who just loves hugs.”

So yesterday, she wondered, “You said before that the American way to greet someone is hugging them. Why don’t you hug the kids here?”

“Uhhhh well, in America, we don’t greet students physically,” I told her. “They are part of your professional life, not your personal life. They aren’t your friends. (I guess it’s different here because many of my students ARE my friends. That’s because they’re often my age or older than me…) In America, sometimes, if they do a really great job on something or they need comforting, we give them a hug. Usually a side hug. Front hugs, like with friends, are not encouraged. But we definitely don’t greet them with handshakes or kisses. We just say hello, maybe wave, maybe sometimes a high-five but only if you know them well?”

I just succeeded in confusing her further.

In Morocco, as well as many other non-American countries, you must greet every single person in the room or it is considered rude. In America, if you enter a room, you are only expected to greet the people you know. No one expects you to greet the strangers. You’d only greet strangers if you were introduced to them specifically. But enter a Moroccan room, and you must greet everyone properly and equally—whether they are your best friends or people you’ve never seen before.

This is something I’m still struggling with, though I am getting better slowly.

Shwiya by shwiya, as always…

Yours Truly,

Robert & Julie

Some Days

Some days, only three kids show up for your Beginners’ English class, so you play foosball instead. Some days, you end up with dozens of hyper boys in your classroom, all jumping out of their seats to scream the English names of animals at you.

Some days, you invite the neighbor girls into your home while you make brownies and they download “Hijab Makeup Salon” onto your phone without asking. Some days, you feel a bit giddy from all the mutual gift-giving and cheek-kissing. Some days, you feel so tired from work that you ignore the ring-ring-ring-bang-bang-bang on the door until your landlady has to come chase away the neighbor girls.

Some days, you drop by your host mom’s house to drink hrira, and you don’t know whether it’s the tumeric, pepper, cayenne, cilantro on your throat or the welcoming hugs, but you feel a delicious warmth all the way to your toes. Some days, you bring your host mom some “American food” and laugh as she pretends to love it when she actually hates it and laugh even more when she takes a second helping just to encourage you.

Some days, your heart aches for cities and towns far away. You left pieces of your heart in those places. Some days, you call the people in those cities and towns who are keeping your heart pieces safe until you return. You just want to hear their voices. Some days, the calls are full of wistfulness and love and happiness. Some days, there is bad news on the other end and you feel like you would give anything to be there and not here.

Some days, you make yourself mint tea and pour it from high up even when no one else is watching because now you know—what other way is there to properly pour tea?

Some days, you go to the post office to open a mailbox, and for the 3rd or 5th or 8th or 10th time, fail completely.

Some days, you forget who you’re supposed to call about a lunch or kaskrut invite because there’s been a waterfall of them and you can’t keep track.

Some days, you walk away from an acquaintance, fistpumping the air because you still can’t believe you had an entire conversation about a complex topic and you even used past progressive tense! Some days, you want to hide away FOREVER from the embarrassment of accidentally writing “touch” on your posted class schedule instead of “contact.” (Some days, you turn bright red even just thinking about moments like these. Some days, you just shake your head and laugh at yourself.)

Some days, you happen to run into several people you know on the way to the market. Some days, you walk home from work with wonderful friends, arm in arm, laughing at each others’ bad jokes. Some days, you hear some creep on the street say something that clings against the inside of your skull like slime.

Some days, you don’t leave the house for the entire day because everything feels too heavy. Some days, you just wish you could be anonymous and alone. Some days, you just wish you were somewhere else. Some days, you realize you’ve spent your entire life semi-wishing you were somewhere else.

Some days, you splurge on Milka chocolate bars or avocados or ice cream to make yourself feel better. Some days, it works. Some days, you just need your mom’s beef noodle soup and it’s nowhere to be found. Some days, you make the uh-oh revelation that you are craving couscous and that in two years, the craving will be permanent.

Some days, you can barely understand how the world can be so vivid and sharp. Some days, you think about how spectacularly lucky you are. Some days, you think about how you now have true family in a new country. About the friendships you are building. About the students who are inspiring you. And some days, even though you know your little diasporic traveler’s heart can never be truly full—some days, it feels full for just a moment. And that’s enough.

Some days, you know this is exactly where you are supposed to be for now.

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Yours Truly,

Robert & Julie