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6/10/09 World's Greatest Host Family

For the first time since the Great Tea Debacle of 2008, I hosted Ama and Xalti (my host mom and host auntie) for tea at my house. You'll get the full story tomorrow. For now, the backstory that explains why my host mom is the awesomest ever.

The story begins last night, when I got a phone call from Ama. I'd been chatting with Jamal, who was up here for work. Ama and I went through an abbreviated version of the greeting ritual, and then she launched into the reason for the call:

"Baba ran into Fatima in the souq today, and she said that you're in town! Why haven't you come by??"

"I'm really sorry - I've been sick. I've just been resting at home." My falsetto voice and frequent breaks to cough underscored my honesty.

"You're sick? Oh, meskina [you poor thing]. Why didn't you tell me you were sick?"

"I'm sorry. [cough, cough] I've just been resting," I repeated.

"Well, it's too late now to come over, but I'll come over tomorrow, OK?"

"OK, marhaba [feel welcome]."

We signed off, and I laid back down.

About half an hour later, I heard a knock on the front door. I don't answer my door after dark, as a general rule, but I thought I heard a woman's voice outside, so I hesitated. I decided to run up to my roof and look over the terrace railing. It's an awkward angle - straight down to the heads of whoever is at the door - but I figured it would do to see if this was a harassing visitor or a friend. Jamal came with me.

When we got up there, I called, "Shkun?" [Who is it?]

The tops-of-heads below rotated upwards to see me, and I saw Xalti and my oldest host brother, who had escorted her on this inappropriately-late-night walk through town.

"Is da-tzumt?" she called up to me.

"Xalti!" I shouted in greeting, then trotted down the two flights of stairs to unlock my massive steel door. I explained to Jamal that this is our mutual aunt (his host mom and my host mom are sisters, which makes him my host-cousin, and this Xalti is another sister of theirs; there are actually five girls in the family, but I don't think I've ever met the other two). As I went down, I pondered Xalti's question. It sounded exactly like "Are you fasting?", which I was asked daily during Ramadan last fall, but which seemed irrelevent today. I tried to think of what else sounds like zum [fast], but nothing came to mind.

When I got to the front door, I opened it and grabbed Xalti in a big hug. I haven't seen her since she reconciled with her husband several months ago, and went to live with him (about six hours away by tranzit and bus). We kissed each other's cheeks several times - the Moroccan equivalent of a big hug - and greeted each other repeatedly. She also passed along greetings from my favorite little cousin, who had stayed behind with her dad.

Then she held out a plastic bag holding a bowl and half a loaf of bread, and said, "Ama made this for you, since you're sick. Tomorrow, ??come?? visit." I've never been very successful understanding Xalti's speech - I don't know if it's an accent thing, a speech pattern, or if she just mumbles - and so I couldn't figure out how she was conjugating come.

"Oh, Ama is so sweet!" I said with a huge smile. Then I asked, "You want me to come to Ama's house tomorrow? Or you guys will come here?" I used hand guestures as well as slow speech, because Xalti has as many problems understanding me as I do understanding her.

"We'll come here," she said clearly.

"OK, see you tomorrow," I said.

"Till tomorrow, inshallah," she answered.

With a few ritual farewells, she and my brother (who'd been mostly silent throughout this) were on their way.

Later, as I was falling asleep, I kept chewing over her first question to me. Is da-tzumt? And I finally figured out what she'd meant. Fasting doesn't just mean the holy fasting of Ramadan; it means any failure to eat. Ama had worried that I was starving, since I live alone and was ill.

Given the hugely interconnected web of family ties in which Moroccans live, interdependence is a given. Independence is unheardof and more than a little wierd. Ama has enough trouble believing that I can feed myself under the best of circumstances. (She hasn't been terribly impressed with most of my food, with the notable exception of the chocolate chip cookies that she and the rest of the family adore.) If I'm too unwell to walk up the mountain and visit her and Baba and the kids, clearly I'm too unwell to feed myself.

And she's not far wrong - I've been eating fairly meskine-ly over the past few days. Instant oatmeal has figured prominently in my diet, as did popcorn and rice - the lowest-effort foods I had around.

So, fearing that I was starving away here in my isolated house with no one to cook for me, she sent over my auntie with a bowl of soup and loaf of bread, so that I'd have something to eat. (I'm still not sure whether the soup - ahrir - was something she'd made for the family's dinner or whether she whipped it up just for me, because she knows how much I like it.)

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I have the bestest host mom *ever*.

So that was last night.

Apparently, my brother returned this morning to come invite me for lunch. I slept in today though - I got the best night's sleep that I've had in months! - so I didn't hear him knocking on the door.

I spent the day wondering when the family would come over. I assumed mid-late afternoon - the usual teatime - but knew it could be any time.

They finally showed up around 7. The details of the tea party I'll leave for tomorrow. For now, suffice to say that Ama repeatedly told me that the next time I'm sick - Allah ystr [God forbid] - I should call her, and she'll come right over and make me food. She said this at least five times, both to underline the importance of her message and because she has lingering doubts about my language ability. She expressed huge relief that Jamal was here to feed me. (We'd given her a sample of his chili, which reassured her that he knows how to cook.) She was delighted to see how much better I'm doing even since yesterday. I assured her that I'm vastly improved, and she could tell that I'm no longer cracking falsetto with every sentence.

She also proposed an alternative plan to the call me instructions - if I'm sick (Allah ystr), I can come up to her house and stay there indefinitely, so that she can feed me and keep an eye on me in general.

She's such an awesome host mom.

She also asked about my family in America, who will be here in Morocco next week inshallah, and gave me an update on her pregnancy (she's due in a week!!), and we had a great conversation all around. Xalti was here too, as were each of their youngest children, but Ama and I did most of the talking.

Before they left, she made me promise that I'll go over to her house tomorrow for lunch - with Jamal if he's still here - and repeatedly prayed for God to finish curing me.

Yeah, I love my host family. Lhumdullah!

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