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December 10, 2008 Hospitality

As I was leaving lunch today, three and a half hours after I arrived, -- Wait, I have to back up.

I was invited for the Day-After-3id-Lunch, aka the Feast Of Meat. I was told to arrive at noon. I didn’t want to come empty-handed, so I swung by my favorite Hanoot to pick up some Fanta. (I’ve brought various sodas at different times, but yesterday Ama mentioned that Fanta was her favorite, so I’ll probably stick to that one in the future. And no, I’m not getting any endorsement for saying this. ;) For the record, *my* favorite Moroccan soda is Schwepps Citron. It’s sort of a cross between lemonade and 7Up or Sprite.) There was a delay getting the Fanta, plus I had to wade through calf-deep snow, so I ended up getting to my host family’s house a few minutes late. I was still the first guest there.

I’d imagined that I would be the only guest. I thought it would just be a family lunch.

Sometimes, I’m dumb.

Yesterday’s lunch was at my oldest 3mmi’s house. (Note to the language nerds: 3mmi means paternal uncle, 3tti is paternal aunt, Xalli is maternal uncle, and Xalti is maternal aunt. There are 4 siblings – 3 brothers and a sister – and the order is Oldest 3mmi, Aba, The 3tti Who Doesn’t Like Me, and 3mmi Moqadim. When I’ve referred to an 3tti in past blogs, it’s usually the wife of 3mmi Moqaddim. The Moqadim –the mayor of Berberville – lives next door to me, so I see his wife and kids just about daily.)

Where was I? Lunch yesterday. Right. At Oldest 3mmi’s house, aka the house of the patriarch of my family. The father of these four siblings – aka my paternal Bahallu, or grandfather – died long ago, and the mother of these four died over the summer, so now Oldest 3mmi serves as patriarch.

Enough with the backstory.

The whole clan had gathered at Oldest 3mmi’s yesterday, so when I was told to come to Aba & Ama’s house today for The Meat, I should have guessed that the whole clan would re-convene.

Lhumdullah, I’ve finally been to enough clan gatherings that I’ve figured out nearly all of my aunts, uncles, and cousins. It has taken six months, but I’ve worked it out. :) I’m still missing one or two names – only of the boy cousins, because they get to run around more, so don’t spend as much time sitting still where I can figure them out – but I knew who everyone belonged to, at least. I’ve been in the awkward position of having been here too long to be able to ask anyone their name directly, but I was so flooded with names during Mahallu’s funeral that none of them stuck. Today, Aba said that he’d left something for me with Z---. I had to ask, “Who’s that?” and he answered, “Tin Moqaddim.” She belongs to the Moqaddim, my youngest 3mmi. I still wasn’t sure whether it was the wife or daughter until a little later, when someone addressed his wife by name. After six months of living next door to her, I know my 3tti’s given name. :) At least now I’ve got both of them pinned down. Later on, I called Z--- by her name. I wonder if she’d noticed that I’d never done it before…

So we feasted on The Meat for a couple hours, more or less duplicating yesterday’s feast, and then nearly everyone left. When the party had shrunk to the intimate size of me, two 3ttis, Ama, my 17-year-old sister, and my 20-ish-year-old cousin, the GirlTalk began. Turns out this transcends culture. :)

We chatted for an hour or so, and then that party broke up, too. Which gets me back to where I began: As I was leaving lunch today, three and a half hours after I arrived, Ama reiterated her standing invitation to me: “Come over anytime. If your house is cold, come sit by our wood-burning stove. If you need bread, come get some. If you want a meal, come at a mealtime. If you want to sleep here, sleep here. Stay a night. Stay a week. Stay 10 days. Whatever you want. You are always welcome here. This is your house, too.” She words it slightly differently each time, which is how I know it isn’t just a polite mantra, but a genuine invitation. She means it.

And that’s why I titled this “Hospitality”. Because I can’t decide whether she’s just my clearest example of the legendary Moroccan hospitality, or whether she’s as exceptional here as she seems to me to be. I’ve mentioned this to a few PCV friends, and have gotten mixed responses. Some have fallen out with their host families; some go over every week for couscous; some have never moved out. But because I’ve surveyed so few people, and because each circumstance is different, I still don’t know whether Ama’s extraordinary (to me) offer is actually quite ordinary, or whether she’s just remarkable. And I don’t know which I want it to be…do I want to credit an entire country with this kind of generosity, or do I want to have the Bestest Host Mom Ever?

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