Around Here: Life as a Peace Corps Trainee in Morocco

Kuli 3abir, kuli kuli kuli kuli.

I sit on a wide purple couch and rip off another piece of bread with my right thumb and index finder and dip it into the communal dish of jam. I eye my host sister cautiously, she’s still watching me. I pop the food into my mouth. Kuli kuli 3abir. I sigh and rip off more bread. I’ve been full for a while but still she insists that I eat more, more. La la la, ana shbt. I’m full, I tell her, and rub my stomach. Please don’t make me eat more, I say with my eyes. Finally, she agrees. Hamdullah.

In Morocco, I am 3abir (a-beir) and my day revolves around eating and speaking Arabic. My host sisters named me 3abir, which means “the fragrance of flowers,” in part to welcome me to their home and because my name is too difficult for them to say. I love my new name and the Moroccans in my community are so happy when I introduce myself this way. Smiti 3abir.

After my sister decides I’ve eaten enough I walk to the Dar Chebab in my town, where I have a four hour session of language class with five of my fellow Peace Corps Trainees and our teacher Hanane. By this point we’ve got basic greetings and introductions down pat. We slowly add more vocabulary and verbs to our Arabic arsenal. My host sister comes to pick me up and I point at random things as we walk home like a toddler. Mul hanut. Gazar. Mdrassa. Sbitar. She praises me each time as I name new things. Mzian 3abir. We turn right and I exclaim limn! excitedly, so proud of myself that I can name directions. Just six days ago when I arrived at their home I mimed Ana bebe  (“I’m a baby”) to much laughter because I didn’t know how to say or do much of anything. Now I’m able to form tiny sentences and even asked my sister if it’s going to rain again tomorrow. Progress.

I head back to the Dar Chebab after lunch (and another round of kuli kulli kuli) for more language and cultural trainings. Next week our group will begin hosting clubs and activities for the youth in our town at the Dar Chebab. We chatter excitedly, albeit nervously, about what to plan and how we can teach games in our broken Darija. After six o’clock I meet up with my host sister again and we head to kaskrot (tea time) at my aunt’s house, where again I am forced to kuli kuli kuli and drink endless cups of tea.

I arrive home after dark and pour over my notes, my younger sister looking over my shoulder and helping me pronounce words. She laughs when I have trouble pronouncing certain letters and sounds and tries to correct me. Q Q Q Q. Dqiqa. Qer3a. Qahwa. 3 3 3 3. 3afak. 3alaykum. 3lash. My throat vibrates from trying to produce the guttural sounds, so unnatural to my American tongue. Around 9:30pm we sit down to eat dinner. My mind is mush by this point but I laugh and make jokes in my broken Darija with my host family. I’m so tired I usually don’t have the energy to refute the endless calls of kuli kuli kuli. They see me fading and I’m excused to go to bed. It’s cold inside and I shiver as I pull on my pajamas over my long underwear and crawl under the covers. In minutes, I’m asleep.

And so it begins again.

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