Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Boundaries (and children)

It's my first blog post of 2012! I hope everyone is off to a great start in the new year.

The inspiration for this blog post came from one of my daily trips last week to and from Rabat for physical therapy (if you read my last triumphant post, my cast is now off and the doctor has recommended a month of physical therapy – so far, so good!).

In order to get from our site to Rabat and back, we take what is called a “grand taxi” - essentially an old Mercedes Benz that would be fairly spacious, except that 6 passengers (along with the driver) are packed into the car – 4 in the back, 2 in the front, plus the driver. This is a fairly common way that I've seen in Morocco of transporting people from place to place. So there I am, in the back of a grand taxi, waiting for 2 final passengers before the taxi would leave, when an older woman gets in the backseat along with a young child, maybe 2 years old. I make pleasant conversation with the woman for a few minutes as we begin riding back to Tiflet, and then she proceeds to hand me the child (without my asking), who sits and plays on my lap for the rest of the trip. The child was adorable and I enjoyed the distraction which made the 45 minute ride go by much quicker, but it also highlighted two cultural observations that I wanted to share: 

1. Moroccans love children 
I mean, everyone loves a cute kid here and there, but I have never seen such a love for children that this country seems to share. People coo and smile when a small child enters a room and kids are passed around from person to person (whether they know them or not) to coddle them endlessly. Which leads me to... 

2. Thin boundaries, no barriers 
I knew before coming to Morocco to expect less physical boundaries. The grand taxi experience is one of many in which spatial relationships are very different than in the U.S. Here, many families sleep together in small rooms, greetings always involve handshakes and more often than not hugs and kisses (even amongst strangers), boys think nothing of sitting on each others' laps or walking arm-in-arm. And then there's the passing around of children. I laughed to myself trying to compare my situation to the U.S. - what would happen if I were sitting on a subway train in New York and a total stranger sitting next to me struck up a conversation and handed me their child to play with?

While I expected there to be fewer physical barriers, I have been surprised that there are fewer emotional barriers between people as well. Greetings involve hugs and kisses; that's because you almost instantly become close friends, even family. And what I found most interesting about my experience in the grand taxi was not necessarily that of our spatial closeness, but rather our emotional closeness. That this woman seemed to feel as comfortable with me after 5 minutes as someone might feel after 5 years.

One of our friends from the Youth Center invited us over for lunch today, and this was the first time we met the rest of his family. They fed us a huge lunch (rfisa – recipe forthcoming, as I am determined to learn how to cook because it is amazing!), and then immediately after which they asked us to stay for kaskrot (the next meal following lunch, several hours away). When we said we needed to prepare for upcoming English classes, they sent us away with a bag of lemons, a massive jug of olives freshly brined, and a full bottle of fresh zeit bldya (traditional olive oil) . All this after 1 hour spent with the family - which of course, involved lots of time spent playing with the children.

In other news, we traveled to Ifrane on New Year's Day with friends from our Youth Center. En route, we made a few new friends (photo below). And the apartment is coming together. We cooked our first meal this week - a little taste of home. Enjoy the pictures! 

In a shop in Azrou, on the way to Ifrane
One of our new friends
My Italian in-laws should be proud!!


  1. My favorite update so far!

  2. It's funny when I read your blog post, it reminded me of myself were in a similar situation long long time ago. When I was a kid, and my dad handed me to a stranger on the public bus because there is no seat left and a woman offered a seat for me on her lab. As a child, you just go with it. Hahaha It not just happen once, but many times. Maybe Morocco has a similar culture to Thai :)

  3. Oh! And awesome for the first homemade meal!

  4. Ann, that's so interesting that the Thai cultural is similar - maybe it's the Americans who are different from the rest of the world then!! Miss you guys and hope all is well in NYC!

  5. I could feel the warmth of Morocco as I read your blog. It does feel great to be in a place where people welcome you with so much affection. I haven’t been to Morocco, but I know for a fact that it is a country with a very rich culture. They have kept their tradition intact. And it is a very colorful country, isn’t it? I might consider it as my next destination because of your heartwarming story.

    1. Hi Earnestine, I am so glad to hear that you have enjoyed the blog! Yes, Morocco is a very colorful country and the culture is truly amazing - I feel really fortunate to have had the opportunity to live here and to learn about it firsthand. If you do decide to plan a trip to Morocco and have any related questions, please feel free to reach out!