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Last weekend, most of the Americans deserted Fes to explore other parts of Morocco. Still recovering from whatever destroyed me last week, I decided to stick around. Maybe I didn’t get to swim in clear blue waters, drink wine, or see the countryside by train, but I learned how to dance like a Moroccan, how to make bread from scratch, how to properly prepare a couscous feast, and how to pull off wearing a head scarf. More importantly, I got some serious bonding time in with Salma. Funny how bringing a banana to the breakfast table thoroughly baffles the entire family, but taking Salma out for ice cream at 11am is perfectly ordinary.

Saturday morning, after helping Amina make bread, I accompanied Mama Hakima and Hannan to the old part of the city. Mama Hakima sews jelebas and paid a visit to this very kind man who (I gather) also sews jelebas. I was blown away by the quantity of trash, the poverty, the living conditions, the poverty, the jam-packed homes, and…the poverty. See the photos attached! We explored the souks for a few hours and the image of swarming, giant black flies rendering grapes, peaches, apples, and cacti unidentifiable has been seared in my mind. Cow hoofs oozed translucent white substances and goat heads stared me down, their long tongues hanging limply out of their mouths. We held up clothes in passing and admired leather sandals, and deep within a pile of old used handbags I unearthed a worn, dark leather shoulder bag that fits my camera and other essentials perfectly. I paid the equivalent of 65 cents.

Returning to the luxury of our home in Fes, we feasted on my favorite Moroccan dish (that I helped prepare all morning): couscous!

I am sneakily trying to apply the psychology of positive reinforcement on Amina. So far so good. I am no longer served the homemade yogurt, my bread at lunch is always toasted in the panini maker (as she watched me do with bewilderment), and only half a sugar cube gets tossed into my coffee and tea. Mama Hakima’s doctor prescribed her a strict “regime,” or diet, and I’m really missing her bubbly presence at dinner. Last night, she sat in silence at the table staring longingly at the kefta pizza on everyone’s plate, and sporadically demanding that everyone eat more, more, more even if their plate was already full. Mama Hakima is known by others as “Hajja Hakima”—the prefix “Hajja” adds a title of honor and respect because she has completed the pilgrimage to Mecca thirteen times.

Our form of transportation home from school yesterday was a… scooter-pulled cart. Six of us piled in like cattle, in complete darkness, and slowly bumped along the side of the road…all the way home. It was uncomfortable, periodically terrifying, and entirely hilarious. Later that night, Jesse and I revisited that gym I accidently discovered a while back for a kickboxing class! I got my ass kicked. Literally. By a young girl named Hajja. Beyond running around barefoot in circles with about 15 little boys, struggling through pushups and sit-ups and high kicks, and huffing and puffing and grinning next to some seriously dedicated/strong older guys, the best part was glancing across the room and watching Jesse try to protect himself with ill fitting boxing gloves against a chubby eleven year old whose aimless kicks and punches nearly beheaded Jesse. Sweating felt so good and the counting and yelling in Arabic and French was awesome. At about $3.50 per class, Jesse and I are going to be regulars pretty soon, inshallah. My hamstrings, abs, and thighs are thanking me.

More on classes. Regarding the private tutor I set up—I am so lucky. Professor Zahraoui is a small, well-composed man in his fifties who seemed to forget I was a student and talked in rapid, complicated MSA for most of our two hours together. Exactly what I wanted. We spent the first hour reading an article aloud, then we solidified some messy grammar rules, then just talked for an hour. From cultural differences, to my questions on Arab culture and what is “munasib” or appropriate, to human trafficking, the safety of women in the East and the influence of globalization on dietary and medicinal shifts in Morocco. It was the longest conversation I’ve ever held in MSA… though there is much progress to be made! Zahraoui also convinced me to watch Arabic television more religiously. His sister-in-law has no formal education, thus is illiterate, yet because she watches so many Hindi films on TV she is almost fluent in Hindi!

Coming home last night around 9 after filling up on a (heavenly) almond milkshake and falafel, I nervously told Amina I didn’t need dinner. Mama Hakima and Amina proceeded to shower me with hugs and kisses, repeating “My house is your house! You are beautiful! There is no problem! WELCOME!” as if it were my first night here. I hardly slept last night, though. Went to bed around midnight, laid there trying to match my breathing to Amina’s snores in the living room, swatted away a buzzing insect that would not stop circling my head, proceeded to apply Deet from head to toe, arranged my closet and did some yoga…and dozed off by 4am. I awoke to the buzzing insect in my ear once again at 7. What got me physically up was the bird that flew into my room, got a few screams out of me, and soared back out the window.  But the three mini vanilla Danon yogurts I’m about to buy, mixed with a banana, my honey almond granola, and spoonful of peanut butter in a big bowl, is going to turn this day around!

Old part of Fes

Making bread with Amina!

Couscous!

Old part of Fes

Old part of Fes