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My Moroccan Diary: Tiny Village, Tremendous Hearts

I’ve previously written about my time in my Rabat homestay and the family that became my own. But when I flew out of Morocco in May of 2019, I left my heart with two Moroccan households. 


In March, our program took us to the tiny northern village of “Bni Kolla” for a week-long homestay. We were there to gain a first hand account of life in rural Morocco and better understand the reality of 40% of the country. We wouldn’t have any wifi, cell service, or running water. And out of the 100 villagers, there was only one who spoke fluent English. 


For this homestay, we had two American students in each house. I partnered up with Lexi, my dearest friend, and we randomly wrote our names down under one of the offered houses. Although Lexi was able to navigate Morocco quite impressively with her French language skills, I knew that it would be up to my own Darija (or Moroccan Arabic) for both of us to be able to communicate with our new host family.


Prior to boarding the bus for the excursion, I was, admittedly, skeptical about the entire village homestay. It was nerve wracking to be plopped into the middle-of-nowhere. I hadn’t used a Turkish toilet in over a year. Just the thought of several days of windy driving were making me nauseous. And the idea of possibly going five days without showering? Shudder-worthy. 


Before I had even entered the village, I was carrying all of my privileges with me. 


When you go abroad and have crazy, life-changing experiences, you actually expect yourself to change. I had not only fought hard to shed any entitlements I carried into my Rabat homestay, I had even wrote about that journey and published it on Her Campus. But it’s a lifelong decision to own up to our personal privileges. Everytime we occupy a new space, we must challenge the biases that we are bringing into it. So, even though I would have to squat over a hole in the ground for a week, I used the bus ride there to instead anticipate all that I would learn from the days ahead. 


Flash forward to a beautiful and bright Friday morning, and as the sun peeked over the gently swaying branches of the olive trees, I was busy crying. It was too soon for me to have to say goodbye to Bni Kolla. 


Left: the oven outside of our house where we baked khobz (bread) every morning; Right: the well which the village used for all their water


There were so many things to love about my time in the village, from the nightly soccer games we all played with the local kids to the picturesque hike we took through Morocco’s foothills (which you can watch here). But nothing compared to my host family. As familiar as I have grown to the sharp sorrow of a goodbye scarred by long-distance, this one brought such a bitter-sweet hurt. 


When I was trying to decide what scene I should write about, to best encompass everything I loved about my time with them, I considered the card games I played with my brothers, Morad and Tarek, and teaching new games despite and through our language differences; cooking lessons and henna sessions with my lovely older sister Moona, who was actually only a year my senior; baking early-morning khobz at the outdoor oven with Mama Zhora; going by taxi to the nearby city of Ouezzane for a hair appointment with my sister Shema; or hanging out of my bedroom window with my American roommate, Lexi, as each night we took turns brushing our teeth whilst (half) underneath the stars. 


But what I kept circling back to was the sheer amount of love that my family poured out for Moona’s young son, Sed. 


Lexi and myself, holding Sed as we baked bread one morning


The love that my family showed me, as well as everyone I saw them come in contact with, was already on an unparalleled and admirable level. Hugs were numerous, laughter was constant, and patience was ever present. But with Sed, a tiny one-year-old with cheeks so chubby they looked like they should belong on a baby four times his size, the outpouring of adoration was something awe inspiring. 


When we would eat meals, conversations and quiet moments were all characterized by a table-wide staring session at Sed. Family hangouts in the evening, when we would play cards and watch Turkish soap operas together, were accompanied by the shrieking peals of Sed’s laughter. 


It was obvious that everyone was whipped for the tiny boy, and I have no shame in admitting that it took mere moments for me to succumb to the same spell. He was entirely too easy to fall in love with; armed with his happy disposition, (adorably) shy head bobs, and trademark squeaks. 


Our typical breakfasts: tea, eggs, olives, and khobz with fresh jam 


Everyone was constantly smiling at him, babbling with him, and making him laugh. Not once did any member of the family express exasperation at having to watch Sed. On three separate afternoons I watched Moona and Zhora literally drop what they had been holding and sprint to him when he woke up from his afternoon nap. 


And it wasn’t just the women in the family. The two brothers, Morad (13) and Tarek (11), were just as doting. They could, almost always, be seen cradling and kissing their young nephew. Sometimes their affection would appear while they absentmindedly chilled with Sed. But most often the two brothers would be actively trying to get Sed to giggle and flash a two-toothed smile. 


To watch two tween boys shed any conceptions of toxic masculinity and simply shower their loved one with adoration…it was a sight that took my breath away no matter how often I saw it. 


Lexi and I with our brother Tarek on the morning we left (before the tears started flowing) 


At first, I wanted to connect all of this to the idea that one doesn’t need to grow up in riches to be happy and loved. Then, I considered comparing my experiences with the young men of the village to the young men I encountered in Rabat – and the pervasive catcalling culture – and what it might say about gender dynamics. But both of those seemed to be missing a point, on top of making generalizations and insinuations that I wasn’t sure I could stand behind. 


So, at the risk of getting sucked back into the longing sadness that comes with dwelling on a place you deeply miss, I think that this can be it: where we find our real, raw sources of happiness can be in the smallest and simplest places. And what you pour out onto others is both obvious and appreciated. 


I knew that my family was excited to have me stay with them, and it was immediately clear how generous and kind they were. But to watch how they treated Sed reminded me of what a true, selfless, and pure love looked like. It was refreshing. It was heartbreaking. It was everything.


HCLUC Co-CC Shelby is an LUC senior studying multimedia journalism, cultural anthropology, political science and Asian studies. Although she grew up in South Dakota, she has found homes in Chicago, Morocco, and Vietnam. She strives to continue traveling the world to seek out human triumphs and trials by telling stories through a fresh, unbiased viewpoint. When she's not studying or working, Shelby is a devoted fan of sunsets, strawberry smoothies, and Seth Meyers. 
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