Darna Darkum: Our Moroccan Apartment

Time for Robert and Julie’s edition of PEACE CORPS CRIBS! (If you’re interested in the Peace Corps, tip: google/youtube “Peace Corps Cribs” to see tours of PCV homes all across the world, including other Moroccan homes.)

MarHba bikum! Darna darkum dima! (Welcome y’all! Our house is your house always!)

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The dar sitch: We live on the second floor of a small apartment complex. There are four floors total, with a shared roof. Our situation is very different from other PCVs’, even within country. Our dars can be wildly variant. Our apartment is much much smaller than the homes of the vast majority of people in our group, even the single volunteers. We don’t mind so much though. It’s cozy. The only reason we wish it were bigger is so we can host people better.

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Looking up at our windows from the street.

The neighborhood sitch: We live in a low-income hay (neighborhood) 10-15 minutes walk away from our Youth Center. As we’ve said before, our Youth Center is located in the lowest income neighborhood in our city. It has a bad reputation, although we think that it’s an unjust reputation. The hay we live in is a very poor area too, but it has a good reputation. Not sure what the difference is exactly. It’s largely residential, with a few hanuts and hairdressers and bakeries here and there. I feel very safe walking around our hay, even alone. I do get comments every now and then, but it’s mostly irritating and can be remedied with some kindly public shaming.

The roof-view of our street.

The roof-view of our street.

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Some of our favorite neighborhood kids at their usual spot.

Some of our favorite neighborhood kids at their usual spot.

The neighbor folk sitch: Our neighborhood is crowded and busy and loud. And it’s FULL of feral drari (kids) running amok. Being engulfed in packs of 10-20 drari at once is not an uncommon thing. We’ve talked about the gang of neighbor girls (led by the irrepressible Chaimaa) who stalk us. We love/hate/love/hate/love/hate them. We like the people who live around us generally. There’s a coiffeur (barbershop) across the street where a group of thirty-something men hang out. At first I wasn’t sure about it (my everyday rule of thumb: AVOID LARGE GROUPS OF MEN), but they’re cool. We love our downstairs neighbors, Bouchra and her family. Especially their sweet and responsible little seven-year old, Fatimaazahra. There’s one family who lives next door to us, but we don’t know them at all. They asked for our wifi code once, but we didn’t give it to them. We’ll make them brownies sometime as a consolation prize. Our landlady and her family live on the third floor right above us. And another lovely family lives on the roof level. Their bathroom is on the roof separately from their apartment, so it can be awkward to run into one of them as they’re leaving the shower. But we like them!

Okay, now for the grand tour!

The roof.

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This is where we hang our laundry and catch breaths of fresh air.

The foyer.

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The room we enter through. The majority of this room is taken up by Robert’s “desk,” a wonderful plastic table that was given to us as a gift by our host family. This is where Robert mostly hangs out when we’re at home. We also store our laundry machine here, but on laundry days, we have to push it into the kitchen because that’s where the outlet is.

The kitchen.

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Where the magic happens! We have a mini fridge and a tiny broken-ish electric oven, but we feel infinitely lucky to have those things. Our stove, like most all stoves in Morocco, is run by Butagaz.

Our bedroom.

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We’re lucky to have a real mattress and sheets, which are on top of two sddari (Moroccan sofa) frames. We inherited this from our predecessors. Most Moroccans we know sleep on sddari, not mattresses. We have two plastic dressers for clothes. One of them doubles as the vanity table.

Our bathroom.

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A literal water closet. Technically, our bathroom is just a tiny room with a hole, but we like it just fine! The lack of a Western toilet in our daily lives is no loss at all. The Turkish toilet is easier to clean, doubles as a drain, and (we’re not afraid to say it) is a much more natural way for humans to go. We have a sink, a little plastic shelf, and a little mirror. One of our next house projects is to install a second little plastic shelf. Best of all, we have a working showerhead with good pressure and hot water! We like bucket baths, which we’ve taken plenty of, but in the winter they can be challenging. The shower is absolutely the most luxurious thing in our home, besides the wifi.

Our salon.

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The living area where I mostly hang out and where we entertain our guests. Most of the room is covered in a huge mat. In the middle, we have a little plastic table that we haggled over forever but probably still got overcharged on. We have two little ponj mattresses that we stack (inherited from predecessors) and a large sddari ponj (bought from our host family). This room has larger plastic drawers we use to store everything from art supplies to medical kits to caftans. We also have several small storage units. One for files, paperwork, and teaching materials. One for small knickknacks and mementos. One (very important one) for books and the internet router. It’s got nothing on the numerous giant bookcases that used to fill our apartment in Seattle, but it gives us a lot of comfort. Plus a few boxes of teaching supplies that we should organize better.

A note on Moroccan homes in general: 

Opulent mansions in big wealthy cities. Concrete farmhouses in the Atlas mountains. Painted seaside villas on the coast. Ramshackle mud huts in the Sahara. Despite the extreme variations of homes in Morocco, they all have one thing in common: they are all built for hospitality.

Literally. When the director of our youth center took us to see the construction site of his million dollar mansion on the outskirts of our city (mudirs make pretty good bank and his wife is a successful lawyer), we noticed that from the very foundations of a home being built, the #1 consideration was “how can we host?” On his tour, he skimmed past the balconied bedrooms and focused on the stage he was building in the salon so musicians could be hired for parties, and the kitchen island that would aid in having to cook for dozens of people. (Mudirs have a lot more free time than lawyers, so he does the cooking rather than his wife, an extreme rarity in Morocco.)

Furthermore, most all Moroccan homes—from these decadent mansions to the smallest huts—are furnished in the same patterns. Maximum seating against the walls, usually sddari, with little tables in the middle. Always perfect for groups of guests to sit and and eat out of a communal dish.

Our home, as many Moroccan friends have commented on, is not furnished in the same pattern. We compromised. It’s half Western and half Moroccan. We have our little corner for guests, where we could ostensibly eat together. But we’ve also designed our space so that our Western habits can be accommodated as well: namely, privacy.

We feel welcomed whenever we enter any Moroccan home, and we hope that our guests feel welcome too. But we still feel comfort in our ability to be secluded. (Being on the second floor helps. Can’t imagine how our privacy would be interrupted by well-being folk if we were on the first floor!) “Homes” in the American mind are places of refuge for individuals. You get home, relax, get into your pajamas, make yourself some tea, etc. “Homes” for Moroccans are for welcoming anyone and making other people tea. Even as we clutch onto our American way of being “home” though, we know in our hearts that when we eventually go back to America, we will be bringing a bit of Moroccan home with us. Wherever we live in the future, we won’t be able to help but consider, “Now where would be the best place to serve someone tea?”

Yours Truly,

Robert & Julie

Blogging Abroad's Boot Camp Blog Challenge: Starting January 2015
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