A Taste of Moroccan Hospitality

By: Anashua Dutta

December 15, 2015

In September, I was instructed that there are a few words in Darija everyone should know. While I was skeptical that knowing shwiya (little), labas (how are you), mezzian (good), bishal (how much), and zwin/zwina (pretty) would get me very far, they surprisingly made up most of my interactions in Darija. The word I heard the most at my homestay was kuli, the female version of the imperative “eat,” and there is no other word that epitomizes so perfectly my experience with Moroccan hospitality.

From the minute I entered my homestay, I was serenaded with a chorus of “Kuli, kuli. Most meals, besides breakfast, consisted of a tajine—the name of the preparation and also the vessel, a large circular clay dish with a funnel-like top the cuisine is cooked in—and khubz (bread). Every member of the family has a zone: the (extremely large) pizza slice shaped section of the tajine directly in front of him or her. My first week there I was a little shy, never having had this experience of eating communally before. I quickly learned that there is no place for shyness in a Moroccan household, when my hesitance to eat too much was met with more food pushed into my zone of the tajine. My host-brothers often distracted me with jokes during dinner so I wouldn't see my host dad throw a few more pieces of lamb into my zone. Over the last three months, I attempted to hone the skill of eating extremely slowly to stem the amount of food I am so lovingly, albeit aggressively, given. When I told Maman, my host-mother, that I was afraid I was going to leave 20 pounds heavier, she exclaimed "Inshallah!" and grabbed my cheeks, which she had previously said needed a little more fat.

At tea time, there are always more glasses on the table than people in the house. There is always more food to eat than space in peoples’ stomachs. All of the families I have met have, with no hesitation, treated me like one of their own. The salon—a rectangular room which has decorated futons and large pillows running in parallel to the three walls—serves as both a gathering place for families to eat and talk and as an extra bedroom for family members or friends staying the night. In a Moroccan home, a “stranger” only holds this title for the time it takes him/her to cross the threshold. When I was staying with a family in a rural town near Marrakesh, I observed my host-mother commiserating with a woman I assumed to be her best friend. I later learned that my host-mother had just met this woman recently and was immediately privy to a host of information most Americans would share only with their closest friends.

The hospitality was not limited to my homestays in Morocco. Wherever I went, whether on a class trip, a meeting for my research, or a happenstance interaction in the course of my travels, a plate of tea and biscuits was immediately brought out. Through a series of random events a few months ago, I ended up at the top of a mountain in the Rif region. The café owner there insisted that my friends and I come to his hostel, where we spent the afternoon drinking tea and eating prickly pears. There are no formalities in these interactions—no script that dictates that every Moroccan must serve their guests tea or feed them until they burst. Despite the inability to fully understand each other’s language, I always felt completely as ease with the people I lived with over my past three months here.

The one event that stands out the most to me as representative of the love I felt here happened in October. I was grocery shopping with Maman and she met one of her friends on the street, who gestured to me and asked who I was. Without skipping a beat, she responded “Ma fille” (my daughter).

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