Guest Blogger: Ruchi Tekriwal
There are many reasons students love studying abroad. Almost every experience is a new one. Students have the opportunity to travel to new places, try new food, take new classes, meet new people, and learn new things. Like any other student, I reveled in the newness of it all. I walked along the Portuguese fortress in Essaouira and drank the Moroccan specialty, mint tea, on a rooftop in Rabat. I learned about Islam in my Qur’an class , but also from a shopkeeper in the open market of Marrakech. I ate countless loaves of fresh bread dipped in endless bowls of red lentils. Of all the experiences I enjoyed during my semester in Morocco, the most memorable one was living with my host family.
My host family was far from average. For my first few weeks in Morocco, I didn’t know who lived in the house. Guests would come and go all day and often spend the night. I couldn’t tell host uncles apart from host cousins. I didn’t even know who my host sisters were. This was because my host family was a large extended family, and our house was the base of all reunions. Everyone called it Dar Kabira, or “big house.” Every weekend, all nine siblings and their entire families would reunite for a family dinner. I had never experienced this type of large family gathering before. Besides my parents and my sister, none of my family lives in the US. They are scattered across the globe and I only see them once every couple years. I had never had this extended family experience before.
Despite being overwhelmed at first, I came to enjoy these family gatherings and looked forward to them every weekend. My favorite meal was the weekly couscous after the Friday prayer. I liked chatting with all the relatives, and it was a good way to practice my Arabic. I became used to the Arabic name they had given me, Jamila. Having guests over also meant having a lavish tea time with delicious pastries and fresh breads and different varieties of jam and cheese. In the evening, the men would watch a soccer match and argue over their Barcelona and Real Madrid rivalries. All the children would sit at a large table and we would play card games, using gestures and broken sentences to explain new games to each other. Somehow, we all understood.
What started out as strange and new quickly became part of my routine. I thought nothing of the communal style of eating couscous from the same dish. I became accustomed to new people visiting and spending the night. I knew all the guests and how they were related. Without realizing it, I had become a part of the household in four short months. Originally an outsider, I was now Jamila, a member of Dar Kabira.