Mococco-by Senan Pol
During my trip to Morocco for the Experiment in International Living, I had the pleasure to travel all around the country taking in the various views and drinking in as many experiences that crossed my path. One of the most challenging yet rewarding experiences of my trip was the homestay. Each homestay is different from program to program and different from experimenter to experimenter. The homestay in Morocco was set in a small, close-knit mountain village. As our group first stepped onto the dusty orange ground, we were greeted by smiling faces in front of the tall reed fences that border the village. We then made our way to what one could call the center of the village which was a three-wall roofed hut made of reed. Inside, handmade rugs, made by the woman of the village, covered the dirt ground and pillows lined the walls. As we walked toward the hut two lines of women wearing bright orange greeted us. They were the women-only group called the Woman’s Cooperative. Their main job is making large amounts of exports for the village including rugs, honey, couscous, cosmetic products, etc. On top of it all, most of them are mothers and are tasked with raising their young. After our group had been seated around the low-tables that speckle the rug-covered-ground, we were given tea, a staple to Moroccan homes. With our tea glasses empty, we eagerly awaited our introductions to our individual host-families. One by one, our in-country group leader introduced the host families to their designated “daughter” or “son”. When it was finally my turn, I already knew who my host-mother and host-father would be because they had eagerly introduced themselves to me while we drank our tea. My host-father, tall and skinny with a big goofy smile, is the president of the village’s farming association. My host-mother is a member of the Cooperative and a mother to four children. My host-siblings (in order of age) went as follows: Hiba, my host-sister, Bilal, my host-brother, Beshir, my other host-brother, and finally, Schwebe, my baby host-brother. All of them were extremely kind and playful with me every day. Over the course of my stay with my loving host-family, I noticed the differences… and the similarities between my host-family in Morocco and my family in America. I noted how my host-family did not have a great deal of furniture or how they did not have complex plumbing for toilets or drainage. Whereas in America, families may have huge sets of antique furniture passed down for generations or toilets that have the ability to flush, my host-family did not nor did the other families within the village. The main contributing factor to these differences boils down to minimalism. It is not that these host-families cannot afford a toilet that flushes automatically, it is the fact that in their lives they do not find the reason to have such things. It is a major contrast between the cultures of America and those like Morocco. Some may say “It’s incredible how little they have and that they are still happy!” This is frankly untrue. Yes, they are incredibly happy, and yes, they do have things that one may consider “little” compared to the copious amounts of objects we accumulate in our Western lives, but the part of the statement that is false is that one is assuming that the only way a family or person can be happy is by filling their lives with a variety of doodads and gizmos. What I learned from my host-family and the other lives of the village is that one does not need material objects to feel content, but instead fill that need for objects with the experiences and memories that you gather from all around you. Whether that be in travel or in the people you surround yourself with, just understand, as Eckhart Tolle so eloquently said, that the present moment is all you will ever have and all else things do not matter. I find that in Western culture life is sped up as if a movie is being sped up to get to the part that you want it to be at, but in Moroccan culture, I find that it is quite the opposite. I spent most of my days in the village lying under a tree with my friends, reading and watching the weavers entwine the hours away. I also spent my time with my host-family just talking or teaching them American traditions like how to make pancakes! I learned so much about my host-family and even those not related to my host-family. For instance, my friend’s host-sister who is my age lived nearby and she could speak French. Because my friend could not speak French, her host-sister would come to me to just talk because I knew some French. I learned so much about her. I learned how she yearns to travel to Switzerland and how she has only ever gone as far as an hour outside of the village. I learned that she loves Turkish soap-operas and that she loves Spanish music. My friends and I would often discuss the challenges that the wonderful youths of this village may face when it is time for them to grow up. We discussed my friend’s host-sister and how badly she wishes to travel. We talked about my other friend’s host-sister who has a terrible nerve injury that paralyzed her hand as an infant. We discussed how the people in this village may lack the proper medical, dental and financial needs they require. As we set off from the beautiful host-village of Brachuoa, we began to think about ways in which we can positively impact the village from our homes after the trip. We debated creating school drives for simple medical aids such as band-aids and alcohol wipes. Overall, I truly valued my time spent with her and my host-family which brought to my attention that in America with all of the hustle and bustle we never truly slow-down enough to have meaningful conversations and time to spend with our friends and families. When we actually do take the time or are forced it is a wonderfully rewarding experience that only improves bonds we have with people. Now being home, I am striving to have more of these times of conversation and being in the presence of others without external distractions because once again the present moment is all we will ever have.