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The following is a post by AUA Service Intern Amber Watson written during her work in Morocco at the Azrou Center for Community Development.
By Amber Watson
Since my arrival in Morocco, I have been constantly travelling its terrains, from Chef Chaouen and Tangier to Rabat and most recently to Fez. But out of all my weekend excursions in Morocco, the one that has had the greatest impact on me personally has to be my homestay weekend.
What was initially supposed to be a homestay in Azrou (the town where I intern Monday through Fridays), ended up being a homestay in Zaouiat Sidi Abdesellam (a small town only 10 minutes outside of Ifrane which is where we live). To be honest, upon hearing the news about this shift in the plan Caiti, my homestay partner, and I were slightly disappointed and a bit nervous for the upcoming adventure; we had become increasingly excited to get to know Azrou from a more grounded perspective with only a week left in our internship and felt that a homestay in another town wouldn’t give us nearly as great of a connection as Azrou could. We ended up being dead wrong.
After being picked up by Safae, a young woman who works in Zaouia as the Youth Center Director, we were quickly assigned our first task: create a mural for the kids at the youth center. Before Caiti and I were even ready to begin we turned around and had 20 or so kids impatiently waiting to be told where they could paint, brushes in hand. Fast forward: a nice red sunburn, slightly dizzying dehydration, 4 hours later, and voila our masterpiece! During that time we managed to communicate with the kids through some truly broken Darija (the Moroccan dialect) and half-understood French, but the reality was we didn’t really need much of any language to connect. I think that’s one of the many beauties that lies behind this internship; sometimes, it isn’t the perfection of the rules and the final product that makes it beautiful, but the process and in this case, the friendships and personal connections, which created it. The next day, when we walked into the center for a quick hello, Caiti and I were greeted by each and every kid in the building with kisses *bisous bisous*. What an amazing feeling it was to realize you had become part of an inner-circle, accepted into part of a community, in less than 24 hours.
Although I didn’t realize until just minutes before entering the house, our host family was actually the family of one of my students/coworkers named Naima (she works at the Azrou center teaching Arabic, but she also sat in on half of my English classes). Although she herself lived in Azrou, she came up to Zaouia that weekend specifically to show us her hometown through her eyes. As we came in an hour or two before Iftar, we asked if we could lend a hand with the cooking. It was uncommon for us to be allowed to lend a hand with Iftar, but this time Naima said to us, “As you like!” a common response when asking for a request or favor over here. We immediately responded with “We would like!” and jumped up off the couch towards the kitchen. There, Naima’s mom, the boss of the kitchen, taught us how to thoroughly knead the Melewi bread (a traditional Moroccan food) and toss it into the pan. Although we had taken cooking classes at a café in Fes the weekend before, I enjoyed myself so much more in this kitchen, an authentic Moroccan family kitchen.
During the meals we ate at our homestay, we were constantly surrounded by the many female relatives of Naima which gave us the opportunity to learn a lot about their family tree and culture, a family whose first language was Amazigh (Berber), despite the fact that their ethnicity was Arab: quite an interesting mix of cultures. And even though only one person at the table spoke English and two spoke fluent French, we somehow managed to have a conversation with everyone at the table, if not through literal translation, through gestures and facial expressions, which can sometimes be one of the more enjoyable conversational techniques.
As our trip came to a bittersweet end, we gave the owner of the house, Naima’s aunt, the money from our AUA program for agreeing to host us in her home. In order to receive the money she had to fill out a form and sign her name at the bottom. Naima filled out most of the form as it was in English, but Fatima, the aunt, proudly signed off at the bottom of the paper. She was currently taking “alphabétisation” or literacy classes at the Azrou center, and recently learned for the first time in her life how to write her name.