I don't eat meat.
I say this a lot.
How detailed my explanation becomes depends on the audience. Yesterday, speaking to a dear little old Berber lady, who's not only illiterate but probably didn't know anyone literate before her 60th birthday, I simply said, "I don't like meat." She responded, "But it's delicious!" I smiled - her entire face is mapped with smile lines, it's impossible not to love her on sight - and said, "Yes, delicious, but for me - myself - it's not good." My host mom was there, to chime in with her explanation that meat makes me violently ill (based on a misunderstanding last summer that I've never attempted to correct), and I let it go.
When I'm talking to people who have encountered other cultures and seem interested in hearing a nuanced discussion, I'm more likely to say something like, "In America, there are many vegetarians, for many different reasons. Me, I'm vegetarian because so much is wasted on animals. Animals need so much food and water and land; I want food and water and land to be used for people, not livestock. And here in Berberville, the sheep ate all the vegetation and now the mountains are naked, so they have to go far, far away to find grass - and we still grow more grasses in the fields, to feed them in the winter. I think that's a problem, so I don't eat meat."
I've been vegetarian since I was fifteen. And I'm the oldest Volunteer in my stage, so that tells you that it's been a while.
When I joined Peace Corps, my recruiter and I had a conversation about meat. He pointed out that in most Peace Corps countries, everyone who can afford to cooks meat as often as possible. Even if I were to limit myself to the vegetables served with the meal, they'd still have been cooked in the meat juices. He asked about the last time I'd had red meat. It was about six months prior, and resulted from my willingness to eat whatever I'm served when I'm in someone's home. The next day, I was sicker than I think I've ever been. It may have been a coincidence, or may have reflected that my body had gone so long without complex proteins that it viewed them as something foreign and toxic, and responded with the symptoms of extreme food poisoning. I told him something along those lines, and his advice was to re-introduce meat into my diet, a little at a time. I'd have enough challenges in starting life in a new country; I wouldn't need to worry about an inability to digest meat.
So ever since - and that was in May of 2007 - I've eaten meat every few weeks, give or take. I don't think I've gone a full month without meat since then, and I know a few times - like when I'm in the US, or when I'm in a city with great shwarma like Oujda or Essaouira - I've eaten meat up to half a dozen times in a week. Generally, it's every two to three weeks, but I don't think about it much.
I never eat meat with my host family or other Moroccan families, except on 3id al-Kebir, when I do it to show respect for the religious beliefs of my community. So I pretty much only dip a toe into the carnivorous lifestyle if PCV buddies and I go to one of the chicken houses in SouqTown or if I'm at another Volunteer's house, and they want to cook meat.
So I ate turkey at Thanksgiving (both Thanksgivings!), and meat-based chili when my PCV buddy Jamal made it - come to think of it, the last four times I ate red meat were when Jamal cooked it...hmmm - and have eaten shwarma in pretty much every major Moroccan city...but I still identify as vegetarian.
Which, I know, is inconsistent, and makes life harder for all the true vegetarians out there. (No, I really don't want meat. No, not even a little. Not even white meat. Not even fish. No, really, I *am* vegetarian. Really.)
But I like eating low on the food chain, and I know that all the animals in Morocco lead lives that a factory-farmed American animal could only ever dream of - the chickens run so free that I have to be careful not to step on them - so I'm OK with my compromise.
I eat enough meat that I don't have to be afraid of the meat-soaked potatoes and turnips I eat from Ama's tagine, but not enough to feel like a true omnivore.
So am I vegetarian? Not in any strict sense. But I identify with it for political and social and heck, even historical reasons (don't all my years of vegetarianism count for something?), and I'm OK with that.
Plus, I like not having to eat eyeball or brain or testicle - all of which are on the menu here. I eat intestine-wrapped organ meat once a year, and that's all the sheep I need. So I ate my half-dozen pieces of shishkebab'd sheep organs yesterday, will probably have the same again today (the 3id is a multi-day holiday), and then I'll get to return to saying Ur da-ttagh aksum.
Translation: Blessings of the Feast! Blessings of the holiday!
A more idiomatic translation would be Happy [Insert Name of Holiday]! Happy Holidays!
I went over to my host family's house yesterday evening, carrying food and gifts. I distributed the gifts - Beanie Babies, a blow-up map of the heavens, and a Jenga knock off - which were enthusiastically played with throughout the evening.
The Jenga knock-off lasted through a few rounds of Jenga-style play (as I played with each of my host brothers in turn), and then immediately got adapted, in yet another display of Moroccan creativity: my brothers realized something I never did, which is that Jenga is made up of BLOCKS. Wooden blocks. All of the same size.
So they promptly began building walls and towers and domino-style chains of blocks (which, when knocked over, would usually crash into one of the towers for maximum destructive fun) and other structures that made sense only to them. The older boy was even more into it than the younger; I really think he'll be an engineer one day.
Then I took a pre-holiday shower in their guest house - the main house doesn't have running water at all - then ate dinner and got painted up with henna. Ama wrapped up my now-immobilized hands and tucked me into bed.
In the morning, I dressed up in my zween 3id outfit - almost entirely consisting of clothes inherited from my departed sitemate, since the whole point of 3id clothes is that they be *new* (or at least new to you), then went on the usual round of 3id visits.
I stopped by the homes of two neighbors and various aunts and cousins, before winding up at my 3mmi's house for the Feast Of Meat.
We ate sheep organs wrapped in fat and intestines. Mmmm. The family has accepted that I'm a vegetarian, but they expect me to make a concession just this once per year (it's for God!), so I do, as gracefully as I can. So I ate a few shish-kebab'd pieces of barbequed organ meat For The Cause, and called it a day.
I'm stuffed to the gills, with all the tea, cookies, bread, more tea, more cookies, more tea, more cookies, and organ meat that I've eaten today...I have leftover mashed potatoes that I was planning to eat for dinner, but I'm now thinking that I may never eat again.
Today's holiday is formally known as 3id al-Adha - the Feast of the Sacrifice (referring to Abraham's almost-sacrifice of Ishmael [[that's how the Qur'an tells it - in the Old Testament, it's Isaac]] and to a lesser degree to the sacrifice of a ram that is expected from every household). Informally, it's known as 3id al-Kebir in Arabic or 3id Akhatar in Tamazight, both meaning The Big Feast.
The 3id we celebrated two months ago, at the end of Ramadan, is known as 3id al-Saghir / 3id Amzayant, both meaning The Small Feast. Formally, it's 3id al-Ftor, the Feast of Fast-Breaking.
Like Thanksgiving and Christmas in America, they're both about sharing food and good times with family and friends...and that's pretty much where the similarities end.
Organ meat, anyone?
Baba is out of town, showing the mountain nomads to a tourist, so Ama has been rattling around the house alone for a few days. (Well, she still has two pre-adolescent boys, a 2nd grade girl, and an infant, but she hasn't had any *adult* company in a while.) So she was eager to talk.
I learned all kinds of interesting things.
For one, the gigantic mountain of ifsi I'd noticed in the courtyard had been brought down by her cousin, who lives in her home village, a bumpy dirt-road trek about 20km off the main drag. He'd brought it in his transport-the-tourists oversized-Jeep-like-truck, which is why the mountain of ifsi reached up to the top of the (one-story) house. I estimated that it would have taken four or five donkeyloads to transport that much ifsi without the truck.
I also noticed just how *big* the shrubs were. I'm used to seeing ifsi used as a whisk broom, because it's the right size, plus it's the only use for the prickly bush during warm weather. (In cold weather, of course, it's used to supplement the expensive firewood purchased from wood poachers who in turn steal it from distant National Parks. They bribe the forest guardians to allow them to poach the wood; the higher the bribes, the more expensive the wood to my friends and neighbors. This is reason #13 as to Why Kauthar Doesn't Have A Wood Stove, But Endures The Smelly Butagaz Stove Instead.)
So from whisk-broom-sized ifsi to shrubs a solid meter in diameter...I wondered if it was actually the same species.
Up in Ama's village, there are few people and lots of mountainside, where the ifsi grows.
Here in Berberville, there are *lots* of people and the ifsi only grows out by the lake and in the cemetery, so every year, the women gather pretty much every last twig. During the spring and summer, it regrows from its stubborn roots, but gets only a foot or less in diameter before fall returns and the women come back with their scythes.
Think about the difference in volume between a one-foot sphere (not that the bushes are perfectly spherical, but it's close enough for the thought experiment) and a meter-diameter sphere. Volume goes up with the *cube* of the radius, so these remote-village-ifsi are *enormously* larger than the little bitty ones I'm used to.
Tonight, when we're all sitting around the stove, waiting for the henna to dry on our hands, I'll talk to Ama and my siblings about the implications of this. The relationship between the over-harvested ifsi and its ever-shrinking size, plus what that means for soil quality and erosion. Of course, words like "erosion" and "resource management" only exist in Arabic and French, not Tamazight, so I'm going to have to think about how to phrase it in ways that will make sense to my illiterate-but-highly-intelligent host mother.
Other highlights from lunch:
* The king is coming! The king is coming! Sometime after l-3id. [[This makes the *ninth* time people have told me this in the past 20 months. I'll believe it when I see his motorcade roll into town, and not before.]]
* My little brother interrogated the entire neighborhood to find out who had picked up my cell phone after it fell out of my pocket. ("It belongs to our tarumit!") Only after he offered a cash reward did the finder speak up, and even then he wanted to keep it. Apparently, my brother and the other kid got into a fight over it, with the result that when I returned from my recent trip to Rabat, the other kid came up to me on the street and said, "Hey, I found your phone! Come over to my house and drink tea and I'll give it to you!" I thanked him profusely, but didn't offer cash, which is why Ama was now explaining to me that I'd need to make my little bro's promise good. Which I'll do tomorrow, when I stop into that household on my round of 3id visits.
* She asked after my entire extended family, knowing that in my travels, I'd've had the chance to reach out to them on Skype. She has a phenomenal memory - I suppose you'd *have* to, if you have no way to record information for later recall - and often asks follow-up questions to anecdotes I've told her weeks or months before.
* Ama knows just how quickly the next six months will pass, and how soon I'll be gone. She grew up with four sisters, but they've all scattered; she doesn't have any family of "her own" in Berberville, she said, except me, so she'll be very sad when I leave. The silver lining that she keeps reminding herself of: Someday, I'll return with my husband and cute children - one boy, one girl. I always answer inshallah or msh irra arrbi (as God wills or if God wants it) , but I know how much it would mean to her. And I do certainly plan to come back to Berberville someday. Spouse and kids? Yeeeeah, we'll see about that.
* She's been under the weather for the past few days, so hasn't been able to make the holiday cookies that she's known for (and that are expected fare, come the morning of the 3id). So when I presented her with a box of fancy cookies from Souqtown, she was tremendously relieved. When I told her that I planned to spend the afternoon baking more, she got even happier.
* She offered to let me take a shower in their guesthouse. (The main house doesn't have running water at all, let alone a shower room.) I countered with spending the night - if that was OK. I'd been waiting for her to invite me, but I guess I was too emphatic at the last 3id, and made her think I didn't want to. When I asked if I could stay over, she lit up.
So we parted with me promising to return around sunset, cookies and shower stuff and fancy-clothes-for-tomorrow in hand.
Which means I'd better start packing...
I only listed the ways to leave alive.
Today, Peace Corps lost a Volunteer...and I lost a friend.
It's so unexpected as to be ludicrous - so shocking as to leave me gasping.
Here's the official notification from our Country Director:
The Peace Corps is deeply saddened to confirm that on Monday, November 16th, 2009, Peace Corps Volunteer So-Youn Kim passed away unexpectedly after an illness. So-Youn was in a hospital in Marrakech and Dr. Hamid was by her side.
So-Youn, 23, a native of San Francisco, California, had been serving as a Youth Development Volunteer for one year in Tamagroute near Zagora.
Please contact a PCMO if you need counseling or would like someone to talk to.
Details of a memorial service to honor So-Youn will be shared soon.
Please keep So-Youn’s family and friends in your thoughts.
Update from a less stunned moment, 10 days later:
This is hardly Peace Corps' first fatality. In our fifty-year history, we've lost about 250 PCVs, out of the almost 200,000 who have served. Three-quarters of those were in the first twenty years; once Peace Corps stopped giving us motorbikes, the number of deaths from traffic accidents plummeted. (Sources: here and here and here.)
That doesn't make this any less of a tragedy. So-Youn (or soyoun, as she usually wrote it) lit the world with her radiance. She threw herself into life like a full-contact sport, with little patience for superficiality and a gift for penetrating insights. She was generous, loving, thoughtful, funny, exuberant, flamboyant... And whatever you believe happens after death, whether you hope to share her joy again or believe that she has vanished from the universe forever, we can all agree that we will miss her.
I'm grateful for the life she lived and for the time I got to spend with her.
For those who have been asking what happened - I avoided discussing it when I thought the questions were driven by sensationalism. But I know some of you are worried about me or your own loved one (because believe it or not, many of my readers are friends and family of other PCVs), so I'll say this: None of us are in danger. Soyoun died of complications from a medical procedure. Nothing contagious, nothing infectious, nothing any of us need to fear.
In short: feel free to grieve with us, but please don't be afraid for us.
Happy Thanksgiving, friends!
As my American readers know, today is a major American holiday. For my Moroccan and other international readers: Thanksgiving is the holiday where we gather with family and loved ones to share love and warmth and reflect on all that we have to be grateful for.
Last year, when I tried to explain Thanksgiving to Moroccans, I translated it into Tamazight as l-Wess win l-Hamdullah, ie the Day of Thanks-be-to-God. I figured it was a fair translation, but when my better-educated sitemate heard about it, she bit down a laugh and explained that in classical Arabic, it should be l-3id al-Shokr, the Holiday of Thanks.
That sounds way better, so I've used it ever since.
Of course, Thanksgiving is a quintessentially American holiday*, so it's not celebrated here.
Correction - it's not celebrated by Moroccans. Except for the ones invited to the Thanksgiving celebrations put on by nearly every American Peace Corps Volunteer, Embassy staffer, or other ex-pat cherishing a beloved holiday here in our adopted country.
I've gone to two Thanksgiving dinners this year - as I did last year, for that matter. One was this past weekend, with beloved friends up north, whose endless hospitality make their home a haven for so many of my favorite PCVs. About a dozen of us gathered together to share in the joy (and the delicious feasting).
I also went to a Thanksgiving dinner hosted two weekends ago, here on The Mountain. (Technically, it was in the next valley over, but whatever.) That one was a potluck; I contributed pumpkin muffins, a funfetti birthday cake (because while *Sunday* was all about Thanksgiving, *Saturday* was a joint birthday party for two friends), and mulled cider.
Both feasts featured honest-to-goodness TURKEY, plus mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, apple pie & pumpkin pie... That's just what I got to have twice. Deliciousness I only got once included from-scratch applesauce, stuffed mushrooms, pumpkin scones, chocolate chip pumpkin bread...and I know there's more that I'm forgetting.
At both, I got to share the day (and the feasting) with loved ones. Though my biological family live thousands of miles away, I spent Thanksgiving(s) with my Peace Corps family - the dozens of brothers and sisters (and crazy cousins) I get to share my service with.
I am truly grateful.
PS: Today, on Thanksgiving Day itself, I broke in my new pressure cooker with some phenomenal mashed potatoes. 'Cause it's not Thanksgiving without mashed potatoes. :)
* Yes, I know, Canadians have one too, but they're Americans - North Americans - too, so it counts. Besides, any holiday inspired by Pilgrims, designated by George Washington, and re-awakened by Abraham Lincoln is "quintessentially American" by any meaningful definition.
My region is dense with Peace Corps Volunteers. For a relatively small region, we're flush with PCVs. For the past six months, we've had 13; we recently lost three, but we just gained five more with the newly arrived YD and SBD Volunteers, so we're up to 15. I thought we were nearly saturated, but I just got an email from our staff that says we're going to get a whole bunch more. The Mountain might have as many as 20 Volunteers.
So what is "The Mountain"? It's the shorthand that most of my local PCV buddies and I use to refer to those of us who share our Souqtown. Some people prefer "Souqtown Crew" or "The Souqtown Gang". I like "The Mountain."
Of course, it's not entirely accurate. The road from Berberville to Souqtown runs along a valley floor past several mountain ranges, and several of the Volunteers who make up "The Mountain" live in adjoining valleys, on the far side of these ranges. Some of our crew are in the flatlands on the far side of our Souqtown. They tend to prefer "Crew".
But I like The Mountain, for all its vagueness and inaccuracy.
Today, I visited my two nearest Mountain Volunteers. Our sites are close enough - evenly spaced every 20km along the road - that it's actually possible to go and return in a single day, if you time the transits carefully enough. Of course, given the vagaries of transportation on The Mountain, it's also entirely possible that you'll end up stuck in a friend's site overnight. But we all keep lots of sleeping bags and blankets and ponjs on hand, so it all works out well in the end.
I have to say, I'm going to miss these impromptu sleepovers when (if) I return to the US.
Remind me why we stopped having slumber parties after childhood?
For a country with so many goats, you'd think goat cheese would have found its way into the local diet.
Last year, Berberville got its first snowstorm on 10/10, and received heavy storms fairly regularly for the next five months. This year, October came and went without a single snowflake. Now 11/11 has passed, and we're still adfel-free.
I've been told many times that last winter was the worst one in a decade or two. I wondered if people were just saying it so I wouldn't go home before this winter, but now I'm starting to believe it.
But it is cold.
When I woke up this morning, about 7:30, my indoor-outdoor thermometer said that the indoor temperature was a balmy 42 (I live in a fridge again! I can leave out leftovers and not worry about them!) and the outdoor temperature was 35. As the sun rose, outside got steadily warmer; at this point, in direct sunlight, it feels like mid-sixties, maybe mid-seventies. Nice and warm. Inside, the air has heated up to almost 50.
So yes, my heater is on. I used it for a week or so, during a cold snap, and then let it sit cold and dark for about a month, as Berberville enjoyed a warm fall. But now, and for the past several days, it's been on for at least several hours each day.
Just the little butagaz (butane) heater. My giant buta heater won't get fired up till snow falls, inshallah.
I was too young to notice or understand, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." To have an informed opinion on the presidential elections. To have any comprehension of perestroika or glasnost. But in Social Studies class, we had to bring in news articles on current events, and about half the class had brought in a story about The Berlin Wall.
I still had no idea what was going on, let alone what it all meant, but I knew that Something Big Was Happening.
And now, 20 years later, capitalism vs communism has all but disappeared from public discourse; the talk now skews towards Islam and The West. And here I sit, an American living in a Muslim country, heir of Washington and Payne living in a kingdom, eyeball to eyeball with cultures and customs completely different from those I grew up with.
The world shrinks daily.
20 years ago, a massive obstacle...crumbled. Was torn down, brick from brick, by a jubilant mob. Today, the biggest comparable barrier snakes through the Holy Land; another is under construction from the Rio Grande to the Pacific.
But if we learned anything 20 years ago, it was that no wall stands forever*. That any barrier, chasm, gulf, wall, boundary...is ultimately permeable, because the human spirit cannot be bound by physical obstacles.
So as I stand on the conceptual frontier between Islam and the West, I'm living that. Every day, I find more things in common with my Moroccan friends and family. Yes, we hold different beliefs, attitudes, expectations...but we're still united by far more than divides us.
And the "Goal 2 and 3" work that I do - like writing this blog, for instance - I do to lay bricks in the bridge between my two communities and cultures, and to help knock down any imagined walls in the minds of my friends on either side.
And just think - simply by reading this, you're helping me in that work.
*OK, before you quibble about the Great Wall of China - that one's not a barrier anymore, it's architecture. It's not preventing the free movement of anyone who wants to cross it - or if it is, that's a news story that deserves some attention, 'cause I've never heard of it.
We had a very successful conversation with the principal, and he even gave her a copy of the school's enrollment records, complete with details about annual retention, failing students (or "redoubling", as they're called here), IB passage rates, and more, broken down by gender.
I don't know why the principal has been a stickler for the paperwork until now - he didn't ask to see mine until May, and I worked in the school from October onwards - but I was very grateful that he answered her questions fully and thoughtfully today.
I was less grateful - in fact, I was downright upset - to discover that the huge murals that we poured so much time, attention, labor, and money into last year...
...I don't even want to say it...
...have been plastered over. The king is scheduled to come to Berberville next week - and I say "scheduled to" because this is the *eighth* time that he has been expected in the past 20 months, and we haven't yet seen him - so everyone is running around, beautifying the city.
And for reasons that I cannot comprehend, the school administration decided that the buildings would look better with freshly plastered and repainted walls than with the gorgeous, professional-looking murals that the EE club students generated last year.
Honestly, it felt like a gut punch.
I didn't even notice it immediately - it's hard to see what's *not* there - but about 5 minutes into our visit, I suddenly noticed that I was looking at textured beige where a huge world ecosystem map should be. I hastily ran around to check all the other walls...all freshly plastered and painted.
When I asked the principal what had happened to all our work, he just shrugged and said, "You can redo them if you want."
That hurt, too.
And then we began discussing girls' education, and my spirits rallied somewhat, and I even proposed a few new mural ideas before we left...but my heart wasn't in it.
I did run into a few of the teachers we worked with last year, and talked about restarting the club for this year. We'll see how that goes...
Not *that* nigh.
But, you know, nigh-ing.
We just got word: Our service will close* on May 19th, 2010, exactly 2 years to the day after we swore in. And we have a 72-hour checkout procedure that backdates from that, so I'll be leaving Berberville for the last time on May 14th or 15th, inshallah.
That's really not very far away.
In preparation for that, all the remaining Health and Environment PCVs from my group - I think we have 45 out of the original 60 - will meet together three months prior for our "COS Conference".
At COS Conference, we'll discuss things like how to finish off our projects in a way we can be proud of; potential job opportunities; the status of our health care /insurance /other benefits /etc after we COS; what RPCV status means in terms of fellowships and non-compete status for federal jobs; and suchlike. It's Peace Corps' official chance to point out that we're about to finish up, and how to handle that.
After 24 months in country (well, it'll be 23.5, but who's counting), it'll be a shock for most of us to think about.
Adjusting back to American culture - assuming we plan to return to America (which, honestly, is a valid assumption for the vast majority of us). Finding a job, once this guaranteed paycheck dries up. Deciding our next steps.
Of course, it has already come up. Everyone I talk to back in the US wants to know what my post-May 2010 plans are, and even PCVs here have started discussing it with each other.
A couple of us - literally 2 out of the 45 - are contemplating extending our service for a 3rd year. One has already committed to it and been approved; the other [me] is still making up her mind. Fortunately, I still have time to think about it. If I do decide I want to extend, I have to formally make a request to my Program Manager (though I've already sounded him out, and he responded positvely). If he thinks that (1) I have good reasons for wanting to extend, and (2) there's money in the budget to fund me for a third year, then he'll approve my application and pass it up to the Country Director. If the CD agrees, then it's official. The deadline for Country Director approval is COS conference, meaning that the application deadline is a month or three before mid-February. As in, I need to make up my mind before the New Year for sure, and even sooner if possible.
* Hence the acronym COS, Close Of Service
We talked about all kinds of things, from Secretary Clinton's imminent visit to the weather similarities between Hamburg and the High Atlas Mountains. Oh, and we met when he startled me into spilling my soda all over myself and my lap. After a "meet cute" like that, we were destined by all the laws of cheezy movies to become friends. :)
At one point, he asked me, "So what do you dislike about Morocco?"
I mis-heard him (or maybe misunderstood him - his Tam is somewhat different from mine), and thought he'd asked what I *like* about Morocco, and answered, "The people."
His eyebrows went up. "The people!?"
Nodding, I repeated, "Definitely the people. And the mountains - I love the landscape here." He looked puzzled. "Yeah, the people are so friendly, the mountains are great--"
He cut me off. "No, I asked what you *dislike* about Morocco."
I laughingly apologized, "Definitely not the people! Sorry!" He laughed, too, while I searched for an answer that could be honest without hurting his pride in his mother country.
After a minute, I said, "Well, I like tagine, but having it day after day, meal after meal...it's too much."
He agreed. "I love tagine, I love couscous," he began, "but there are other foods out there, people! That are better for you!"
We swapped food stories for a bit, and then I turned it around on him. "What do *you* dislike about our country?"
He promptly answered, "Relationships between men and women. I hate it that men and women can't be *friends* in Morocco."
I chimed in so enthusiastically, I might have actually shouted. "I know! Exactly! It makes me crazy! I have so many friends-who-are-men (amdukal), but even to use the word is to make people assume that they're my boyfriends!"
We riffed on this for quite a while.
I shared this story, which I don't think I put on my blog before:
While I was in homestay, a male friend came to visit me. I spent the week before his visit explaining to my host mom, host sister, host cousin, and all female friends that he was a ***friend***, not a boyfriend. I even insisted on using the Arabic word sadiq, in hopes that it had a more platonic connotation than the Tamazight asmun or amdakul.
I don't think they believed me, but they agreed to refer to him as my sadiq.
And then he arrived, my host mom locked me in for the night.
See, in homestay, I lived in a semi-detached part of my host family's house. The guest house, more or less. But ain't no way I could stay semi-detached from my family with a man under the same roof. So my sadiq stayed in another house they own, on the far side of town. And for the first time since I stayed with them, my host mom locked the door to my part of the house.
She literally locked me in.
(But she forgot about the back door to the "guesthouse", which leads out to an enclosed courtyard with its own easily-unlatched door. So I slipped out to join my buddy for breakfast.)
Additionally, Moroccans aren't fans of cross-gendered public displays of affection. Contact between men or between women is always fine, but men and women shouldn't even hold hands when walking down a street, let alone hug in public. So I may well travel 14 hours to visit a guy friend, and when I get there, I run up to him and ... shake his hand.
Unless I'm in a big enough city that I can assume some cosmopolitan westernism, in which case I go ahead and hug my buddy. :)
...So with these and other stories to share, I cheerfully passed a several-hour conversation with my new friend. My new male Moroccan friend. Guess it's time to dust sadiq off and bring it back into my daily conversation...