Jessica Zaksek is a senior Psychology student at Colorado State University. She is currently partaking in a Semester at Sea and will visit ports in various countries such as Russia, Germany, Belgium, Portugal, Morocco and many more. Stay tuned to hear about all her adventures!
[Originally posted October 9, 2013]
I had the amazing opportunity to spend an evening with Muhrad’s family! It was the best field program I have participated in thus far. I really loved it because it gave me great insight into Moroccan culture and I got to observe and participate in a traditional meal. I was paired up with three other students and we were assigned to a family. Before we left, the coordinators made sure to give us a short lesson on etiquette and about what to expect so we wouldn’t be surprised. I couldn’t wait to get there, even though I was nervous. We did not have a guide or coordinator with us, so I was worried about what would or would not happen. In the end, everything went perfectly and I met some amazing people! I realized after this experience how much it means to make a connection with another person. Even when you have completely different ideas, you can still find common ground. It reminded me that no matter what flag flies behind us, we essentially have the same hopes, fears and dreams.
When we got to the apartment building we were greeted by two of Muhrad’s friends that would be sharing the meal with us. They were both students and their names were Said and Mustapha. We walked up the stairs to the apartment where we got to meet Muhrad, his father and his two uncles. They were all really friendly. One of the greatest challenges of the night was the language barrier between us and Muhrad’s uncles and father. We weren’t able to communicate with them. I really wish I knew Arabic! Said, Mustapha and Muhrad all spoke different languages including French, Arabic, German, Spanish, and English! Our abilities paled in comparison. Casablanca is such a cultural hub, and it is advantageous to know multiple languages. It also made our night a little easier. We had so many questions for them and they also had many questions for us. We talked about a wide range of topics throughout the night. Said was a great rapper!! He would rap in French and then switch to English! It was cool. We made some great friends! Mustapha talked to us a lot about Moroccan culture, as did Muhrad. We talked about things like food, music, politics, marriage, religion, movies, and daily life. We also told them a lot about Semester at Sea. There was never a dull moment.
The conversation was fantastic and so was the food!! It was all fresh and delicious! Mustapha’s mother had prepared a giant bowl of couscous surrounded by steamed vegetables and chunks of beef. It had so many flavors and was one of the best couscous dishes I had! We each got our own spoons and shared from a communal bowl. I thought it was a really great experience. It allowed me to take a critical view of my own culture. I am so used to eating from an individual plate, even when a huge dish is served for our family. In Moroccan culture, sharing from a large bowl makes sense, and is a vessel for familial bonding. I realized that Moroccan families are very close and there is a sense of collectivism rather than individualism. I now know how silly it is to have your own plate in a family setting. I realized how much of a germ-a-phobe I am! Experiencing this communal eating allowed me to see dining in a different way, and I appreciated the closeness created by it.
After couscous, we enjoyed two platters of fresh fruit! They were piled high with bananas, red and green grapes, three colors of apples and pomegranates. Muhrad told us that all the produce was local and fresh and free from GMO’s and chemicals. The fruit looked normal in size compared to the United States counterparts. The fruit was delicious and you could taste the difference! Following the fruit was a really delicious soup made of beef, noodles, lentils and vegetables. It was so good I had two bowls of it! They served the soup with dates, which you could place in the soup if desired. Dates are an important part of the Moroccan diet. The soup had a lot of spices! I liked the cinnamon. It was a pleasant surprise! The final course consisted of Moroccan tea, olives and bread. When Muhrad poured the tea, he did so from a distance. Mustapha said that the sign of a high quality tea is foam and bubbles. Sure enough, the tea had small bubbles. It was delicious! Truly an amazing meal!
Moroccan hospitality was showcased through this event. It showed me a special side of Morocco and its culture. Muhrad’s family and friends were so kind and did everything they could to make sure that we were well fed and had a great experience. By the end of the meal, I was stuffed! My heart and my stomach were happy. I am so grateful to them for showing me something unique that could never be experienced in a tour group. Muhrad kept saying it was their pleasure to have us and that they were so happy to have us there. We all expressed how grateful we were and how much we enjoyed their company, as well as the food. They truly were great guys and we really related to them because they were around our age and were experiencing some of the same things we were. All I could think was, “Wow!”