Sunday, May 23, 2010

A lesson in Moroccan culture: Hospitality

Although I know I just posted a blog something happened today that I felt like I needed to share: we had company come over to the house. This was some sort of family; I didn’t quite catch the sons/daughters of someone’s brother. But nonetheless they were family, family from Casablanca (so they were doing pretty good in the social standings). There was a young couple, with a young child (about 2 years old) and an older woman (my grandpas sister, maybe?) The husband also spoke a little bit of English, so they come from a little bit of money. Well I was beckoned out of my room at about 5pm and brought into the parlor upstairs. We have a very nice house upstairs, painted beautifully and really pretty tile but downstairs is another story. If you go into the bottom part of the house its mud walls, a few ponjs (Moroccan couches) and rugs thrown over them. It's not quite as fancy as upstairs. We do everything downstairs, we prepare meals, make bread, cook and everyone but me, grandpa and grandma sleep downstairs. So when I was filtered from my room to the upstairs parlor I knew we must have someone visiting.

After the older woman requested I prepare the tea I knew I was in for a treat. I have had tea very often in this country and I have watched it be prepared many times but I have yet to make it. And what better time then when we have guests from Casa in town? Well you can imagine how entertaining this was for them because it’s quite a process:
  • First you boil water over the butane gas
  • Then, put a small amount of tea (looks like little black seeds) into the tea pot
  • Pour a small amount of hot water in the tea pot and swirl around
  • Dispose of the liquid in one of the many tea cups on the platter
  • Pour more water into the tea pot, swirl and pour out again
  • Fill the tea pot until it is ¾ full, add a ridiculous amount of sugar and place over the flame on the butane
  • Allow the water to begin boiling and then add the mint (n3a n3a) or shiba (don’t know the English name) and remove from flame
  • Allow to sit for a few minutes and then pour into a tea cup. The farther you can get from the cup the better, you want at least a foot between the tea pot and the cup (the more bubbles the better)
  • After you fill the cup pour it back into the tea pot and repeat once or twice more
  • Pour a very small amount into another cup and taste to see if it tastes like sugar water, there is no such thing as too much sugar in this country so you should probably add more
  • Pour everyone an equal amount and distribute saying “bismila” so you hand off the glasses
So- as you can see, quite the process I had to go through with about 6 people watching my every move laughing if I did something right (they like to laugh when you know what you’re doing, makes you rethink everything). After the tea was distributed- they said it tasted good, but I thought it was WAY too sweet and too strong- we had cookies and sat and talked (I listened) until about 8. Things started winding down so I though it was time for them to leave, but I was wrong. Out comes a tagine and bread. Dinner at 8 o’clock you say? UNHEARD OF! We don’t eat until 11 at least, so I was not expecting food. When the tagine was opened I noticed a large amount of meat. Here is Morocco what would typically be one serving of meat in America is what my entire family of 10 spilt. Three bites of meat is what I usually get and I get the most since I am the guest. I noticed not all the meat got eaten (my family that lives in the house with me didn’t touch the meat- I suspect there will be another dinner at 11 and we’re eating that). After I ate just as much as everyone else (yet still got yelled at for never eating) out comes a tray of fruit. We NEVER have fruit for dinner so that was quite a shock. After fruit, things started winding down and the family left.

What I found interesting about this whole festivity is the fact that these people are from Casablanca, they have a little bit of money yet my family offers them the best they have and leaves what’s left for their own children. I have found this a lot in this country, being the guest at everyone’s homes, I am always offered the best and what I don’t eat goes to the rest of the family. This amazes me. Even if a family has little to nothing they will offer me some of the precious meat they do have or break out the almonds for tea while I’m there. The hospitality of the Moroccan people continues to amaze me everyday I’m here… I think everyone can learn a little something from their generosity.


  1. Isn't it amazing how people are in-person, one-on-one? We really don't know anything about the real people that make up a country other than what the news or books tell us -- or worse yet, what governments and politicians lead us to believe. Somehow we "indivduals" need to figure out that the world is neither good, nor bad -- it is what it is -- same as people. However, mix in politics, governments, and religion and we end up with a bad blend of misinformation and mistrust of something or someone we really don't even know... That's my take anyhoo... I'm glad you've found a tutor who is unlikley to assume you want to marry them -- happy days indeed. Love you. Dad.

  2. Hi Angelica,
    I was a PCV in Tunisia, and have also lived in the UAE and now in Morocco. Like you, I was surprised to discover the true meaning of "Arab hospitality" early on in my service, when very poor families would offer something akin to a holiday feast whenever I or other guests visited their home. It's such an endearing quality, isn't it? We have so much to learn from one another as global citizens. Best of luck in your experience.

  3. It's so great to read your description of the whole event, and the hospitality truly is amazing!
    Thanks for letting me read your blog, Angelica!
    I miss you, and it sounds like you are doing really well.
    The huge banner outside Rockwell is comforting to those of us who miss you.
    Cheers, Katya