My Homestay

Alex Norman

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Okay, so now that you know how pretty my school is (see First Impressions), allow me to introduce you to my host family! For those of you who are considering studying abroad, I strongly suggest that you look into any programs that offer a host family experience. Having a host family has a number of perks; it is a great way to get a first-hand glimpse into everyday life in the place you’re visiting, it introduces you to a variety of new people, it is great practice for learning a foreign language and, if you’re thinking of ever revisiting a city or country after studying abroad, a host family can serve as a great in-country contact when you return.

My host family, like each and every family involved with SIT: Morocco, is located in the Rabat medina. I have a host grandma, a host mom named Amina, a 20 year-old host brother named Achraf and a 5 year-old host brother named Atae (pronounced “ah-tah”). My host mom, who works for the Ministry of Justice, speaks very good French, as does Achraf, who also speaks some English (he mainly sings it when he plays Jason Mraz songs on his guitar!). Although the Darija (Moroccan Arabic) lessons I received at the beginning of the semester have been somewhat useful, I chiefly rely on French to communicate at home. My host grandma and my little host brother, however, speak only a few words of French so I generally communicate with them using a combination of basic Darija, French, English and “universal words” (exclamations like “wow” and “oh” and, with Atae, terms like “Spiderman” and “Toy Story”).

Now, just a few words on each member of my family. To begin with, my host mom: As I have mentioned before, my host mom spends most of the day (Monday through Friday) working for the Ministry of Justice, then picks up Atae from school at the end of her work day. She’s constantly in motion doing one thing or another, and she’s pretty glamorous. My SIT friends always gawk at the fact that, although barely over five feet tall, my host mom wears stiletto heels every day without fail (her shoe collection was pretty much the first thing she showed me, after the kitchen and the bathroom. I’m pretty sure I knew where she kept her heels before I found out where my bed was–and she wears these heels ever in the cobbled, pock-marked medina streets!!) and pairs them with glamorous cropped djellabas (a traditional hooded robe worn widely throughout Morocco).

My host grandma is probably the funniest person in my household. We tend to crack up over things no one else in the house notices and, even though we mainly communicate with each other through miming and facial expressions, we have tons of inside jokes. Also, as far as meals go (a VERY big deal in Morocco–so much so that they deserve their own blog entry, so stay tuned!), Granny reigns supreme. My host mom and even my older host brother make reasonably tasty meals, but my host grandma has a cache of superb meals that she clearly takes a lot of pride in (as well she should; even writing that sentence just made my mouth water).

My host brother Achraf is not around the house as much as the rest of the family (this is true of most of the SIT:Morocco homestays; in our families at least, men generally spend a lot less time at home than women, and most SIT: Morocco students are used to spending evenings at home with sisters, mothers, grandmothers, aunts, etc. Another way of noting this cultural trend is the at-first-striking number of men hanging around in the Rabat streets as compared to women. It’s a very interesting experience to walk past a large cafe terrace that is filled entirely with men). Achraf, however, does not spend his time in cafes but actually passes most of his time surfing in the waters surrounding Rabat. He follows surfing like religion; really and truly! Last Friday, he came straight back to the house from attending the mosque and underneath his traditional robe he was actually wearing swim trunks. When he is home, he sports around with his little brother and plays a mix of U.S. and Moroccan songs on the guitar.

Last of all: but certainly not least: is my little host brother Atae. Of all my host family, Atae is probably the family member I interact with the most, in no small part because he’s invariably at my side when I wake up in the morning, then again when I return home from school, and pretty much until he goes to bed. All the things I could say about Atae are essentially summed up when I say that this kid adores Spiderman. As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure that I never mentioned the fact that I read comic books when I filled out the homestay form for SIT, but our homestay coordinator must have been pretty clairvoyant since I spent about three hours drawing different superheroes, over and over, for Atae in a little notebook in my first week with my family. Atae is also my best Darija tutor. He instructs me in all sorts of words and has no reservations about making either an amused or a puzzled face when I try to pronounce them!

Atae with his favorite toys

While there are about a billion different things that I could (and probably will) mention about my homestay family, this little glimpse will have to do for now. I’d also like to include a picture of my whole family, but it’s hard to catch a time when we’re all together–so stay posted (in all likelihood, I’ll post a picture of us eating couscous together, since this occurs every other Friday or so). Ma’ as-salaama!