Belonging

We spent a very pleasant evening at Zoubida’s house Monday evening. Those of you who have traveled with us to Morocco will remember this family well. Zoubida is the woman Denise hired as her house-helper the first month we lived in Morocco in 1986. At that time, she had a son and four daughters living at home. The oldest child, the son, was about 22 at the time, and the daughters ranged in age from about 7 to 18. The father and mother divorced about 12 years ago. The two older daughters are single and live with Zoubida; the younger two are both married, one living in Fes, the other in Jacksonville, Alabama. Many of you know Raja, the mother of Aya, who came to Alabama in 2003. She married in 2006 and Aya was born a couple of days before we traveled to Morocco in 2007. In fact, Denise stayed with Raja in the delivery room and brought pictures she made soon after the birth, a poignant event when she presented them to the grandmother and aunts during that trip.

Soon after Zoubida started working for us, Denise assisted her in changing residences, from a one room apartment to a much larger two room apartment located in Fes Jdid. Those words mean “new Fes” and the structures in that section of town date back to only 1300 or so, while the “old” part of the city, called Fes El Bali dates back another 3 to 4 hundred years. The family lived in that same apartment until about two years ago when Raja helped the family buy a home in a more modern part of town, near where the third daughter lives. That daughter, Hassana, now has two children. Marwa is four and Yassine just celebrated his first birthday this March. One of the older sisters, unemployed at the present time, provides child care for Hassana, who works as a clerk in an office similar to city hall.

We began sharing meals with this family early in 1987, especially Sunday lunch, in order to facilitate learning Arabic. Denise provided some extra money each week so that we would not be a financial burden. Our children were contemporaries of the younger girls, and there would often be some of our ex-patriate friends or neighbors and friends of their family members in attendance as well. I particularly remember multilingual games of Uno being played by the children, and the sense of satisfaction that we as parents had that our children were engaged and thriving in the new environment in which we had placed them. We are still a bit anxious that there might be a book appearing someday about the unfortunate choices their parents made!

What we discovered and have observed in friends who have traveled with us and shared a meal with this family is a profound sense of enjoyment and appreciation. Such an experience creates an attachment to the country that is rarely realized in visiting tourist sites. Practically everyone who has traveled with us cite the visits in homes as the most significant part of their trip. Zoubida and her family obviously qualify as good hosts, and their affection for Americans is real. As a result, we have always scheduled visits there whenever possible. Reflecting on our history with this family since 1987, I could list the names of 53 different Americans that had eaten a meal in their home. I would suggest that stereotypes of either ethnic group for the other has been significantly altered, and prejudices once embraced are now more likely to be rejected.

Monday night we saw demonstrated again the obvious affection and concern for each member of the family, especially for the children. It is possible Hassana’s children are a bit spoiled because they get a lot of attention from the two aunts and grandmother. But we also witnessed a lot of sisterhood, and the good fortune of Zoubida, who is not in good health, to have daughters willing to contribute different types of gifts and effort to care for the oldest, as well as the young. The abundant laughter we heard, the esteem we felt from them, the sense of belonging that covers more than a quarter century now, reminded us that we have gained a whole lot more from our presence here than we have given. Belonging to a family has many interpretations, and Monday night reminded us that it is possible to find one with profound meaning in places we might easily overlook.

Fred

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