Our third and final excursion was to a small village near Beni Mallal in a region of Morocco known for high immigration rates to Europe. Even though it was a village with all that that entails: dirt streets, cows, and other livestock; it was still bigger than my hometown of 2,000 people by more than double. Another important fact to note for us was that nearly every family has at least one relative who is in Europe. My host mother there had three relatives abroad. More immediate to my experience though were the relatives left behind. My host mom, Khadija, lives with her husband’s family as is traditional. Her mother-in-law, sister, brother and cousins are in the home. She also has two adorable little girls, the elder is three and the younger is almost two years old.
Going to the village was a wonderful break for me. Despite going to college in Boston, I’m still not used to living in the city. It takes me a couple weeks to be able to sleep through the sirens and people and traffic at night and I escape to parks and open green areas where I can see the sky on a regular basis. Parks exist in Rabat – but most of them are full of trees and none of them are an easy walk from the old medina where I’m living. While there are not sirens in the medina, which is the oldest part of the city, there are still people at all times of the night and day. In the village I could count the stars and once the sun went down and dinner was served the sidewalks and dirt roads were empty and silent. I was also able to communicate much more easily. The most common language was still Darija and I did not suddenly wake up fluent (unfortunately) but many people also spoke Spanish. Spanish is a language I can communicate in efficiently though with little elegance! Once it was discovered that some among us could speak Spanish, those who spoke Spanish in the village sought us out to practice with and talk about their experiences in Spain.
One night at dinner, we had a guest who had recently returned from Spain after living there for over 20 years! As soon as I walked into the room, my host family motioned me over to him where he proceeded to tell me about his journey and is views on Morocco as a country. When my roommate came, he was more than happy to include her in the conversation as well. After a while, he noticed that I wasn’t talking. And he asked why since I had said I spoke Spanish. I told him I understood Spanish and knew what he was saying but had difficulty speaking. And of course, I said so using expansive gestures as befits my Italian heritage thereby causing everyone to laugh over how excitable I was. I did make more of an effort to formulate responses though instead of being an unobtrusive listener to his and Karolina’s conversation.
One thing that did surprise me however was how the return immigrants were viewed in the village. In a meeting with the village women, one of the other girls in the group asked the women what they thought of the returners. The women told us that no one who had made it to Europe would ever want to come back to the village. Therefore, all of the men who were there, who had returned, must be criminals who had done something bad enough to warrant deportation. Yet when we spoke to the men who had returned they told us that several of them had planned to return all along in order to retire in Morocco and the economic crises just forced them to return sooner than planned.
Despite the complex intricacies of communicating and learning from the adults in the village, the children were similar to children around the world. By the end of the first day, we had a big enough entourage to start a game of soccer with them and that attracted even more children! With the magnetic attraction my head has with all flying objects in sports, I wound up in the most useful position of: you guessed it, goalie. And no sooner did I get placed as goalie, when three more girls from the village joined me! There were four of us strung out across the goal and we made an excellent team. After the game, they tracked me down every day at some point just to say hello. No matter where we went in the village we had a group of curious children following us. We taught them games and songs such as “London Bridge” and “head, shoulders, knees and toes” and in return they showed us photos and laughed and tried to teach us new words in Darija. When I gave them presents of bubbles that I had brought from the U.S. they were excited and wanted to give me gifts as well. On the final day as we were getting on the bus, I saw them all right outside heads bobbing as they searched for someone and as I jumped off, they surrounded me for a final round of hugs and kisses farewell. I could likely write an entire series of blogs just about these girls and my host siblings, but it’s dinner time here in Rabat! Until next time (and I’ll try not to leave you hanging as much! ^_^ )