It took 30 minutes and a little help from Google Translate for my roommates and I to realize that Khadija, our apartment’s caretaker who doesn’t speak a lick of English, was inviting us over to meet her family. Only Khadija could get our butts off the couch on this rainy day. That woman’s perpetual smile doesn’t allow you to say no to such an invitation.
The six of us followed Khadija out of Hamria (our neighborhood) and toward the old Medina, stopping only when Khadija insisted on buying all of us a treat (seriously, this woman is too nice, so nice that you don’t actually know how to react). We wiggled our way through a crowded street single-file behind Khadija. She would occasionally look back to make sure all her little ducklings (us) were still in a row. Once out of the market we crossed a busy street and Khadija hailed a grand taxi. Usually you fit 6 people in these taxis, 7 with the driver. We fit seven, eight with our animated and very talkative driver.
Driving anywhere in Morocco is a slightly hair-raising experience as there seem to be no traffic laws regarding lanes, blinker signals or pedestrians. Either that or everyone just chooses to ignore them in favor of a more…”free-flowing” driving style. This ride was no exception, but with my roommate Kirsten on my lap at least I was unable to see anything as we wove through traffic.
Thankfully it was a short ride to Khadija’s. We popped out of the taxi (literally) and walked up two sets of dark, slippery, winding stairs, but those are pretty much the only type of stairs you find in Morocco, so we only struggled a little. Khadija’s house was tiny compared to our giant apartment. The first room we entered was taken up almost entirely by a wall-to-wall yellow couch. We were led into the next room, with a much fancier, embroidered couch. We met Khadija’s mom, her sister and her two-month-old nephew Hamza. Hamza was a very popular little man.
After 30 minutes of staring at each other awkwardly and attempting to converse with Khadija’s mom through hand motions and smiles, food began to appear. People in the U.S. know nothing about carbo-loading. First came pastries, flaky chocolate croissants and sticky rolls. Then came some sort of layered tortilla pancake things, then an almond cake that tasted almost like banana bread, and finally loaves of the round soft bread we’ve been eating on a daily basis since we arrived in Morocco a week ago. Bowls of cheese, jam and oil were set for spreading and dipping. Hard boiled eggs were added to break up the carb heavy table. Tea and coffee were poured and then we were told to dig in.
We tried our best. I tried a pastry, a pancake thing, a couple sips of tea, along with some bread and oil and some of the almond cake. I couldn’t handle anymore. I filled the last empty space in my stomach with one more cup of the sugary green tea then collapsed against the couch, defeated. Khadija and her family giggled at us. “Shwia” they said, “a little.” Apparently your average Moroccan could knock out this much bread in a single sitting, but the feeling of an impending food coma let me know that I was done for the night. We sat on the couch sipping the last of our tea and talking to Khadija and her family in a combination of Arabic, French and wild hand movements.
After three hours of eating and 30 minutes of Khadija trying to get us to eat more we finally said goodnight to everyone, with hugs and kisses all around. Khadija rode with us on the bus home and walked us from the bus stop to our apartment.
We said goodnight at the door to our apartment. My roommates and I kept saying “shukran,” thank you in Arabic, but that word couldn’t express how thankful we were for Khadija and her hospitality and the wonderful experience we just had. This night was one of those moments of pure human kindness and true cultural immersion you hope to have when you travel.