November 17, 2009 – She sits next to me on the couch, surveying the others that surround the small table. The mother of five, she is the queen at mealtimes – distributing the bread and allocating the meat to her husband and children. At first, Mama Hafida appears stern and perhaps a bit intimidating. She hands me a piece of bread and gestures to the tagine in the center of the table. I offer my thanks and use the bread to scoop up a piece of deliciously tender chicken, all the while wondering if I can string together a sentence in Moroccan Arabic before mealtime has passed. As soon as I let my mind wander away from the table, it is called back by the words of my host mother…
”Coolie, Katrina, coolie!”
In English, this means, “Eat, Katherine, eat!”
Over the past three months, I have come to know this phrase all too well and under the watch of my Mama, I obey the demand so characteristic of Moroccan mothers. When I feel I can eat no more, I sit back and explain “al hamdulillah!” which when used at mealtimes translates to “Thanks be to God, I am full.” Raising her eyebrows, Mama asks, “Enough, really?” I reply, “Ena Chbett Mama” and gesture to my stomach, exclaiming that in Morocco, I am growing wider with each passing day. I wait to see how she will respond, hoping that she won’t see my refusal to continue eating as an insult. Relief courses through me as I watch her austere façade crumble and give way to a beautiful smile. Her laughter echoes around the room as she puts her arm around me and pushes the tagine towards my father and older brother. In this single moment, I see the Mama Hafida that I have come to adore; a beautiful, splendid woman whose sense of humor and maternal generosity is never-ending. She is the embodiment of familial support and love.
As I enter the final month of my stay in Morocco, I find myself reflecting on my experience thus far. If there is one aspect of life here that stands out above all that I have encountered in this remarkable land, it is my Moroccan host family. Made up of my mother and father and five siblings, it is a large family which with recent marriages and births, has begun to grow. I see most of the family members everyday, whether it’s at mealtimes or when the women gather to clean the house and drink mint tea. I know that when I leave this place, the memory of this collection of sisters, daughters, and mothers will remain with me indefinitely. Hardworking, patient, innovative, and most of all loving, these women are the foundation of my family.
While my mother and oldest sister, Aziza, prepare all the meals, my teenage sister can often be found cleaning the house or looking after her two year old nephew. My brother’s wives spend the majority of their time caring for their young children, doing the laundry, and sewing headscarves that they can sell to help support their families. Stressing the importance of school to their children, these mothers nourish both the bodies and minds of their precious children. Defeating a few perceptions common in faraway lands, these women are vessels of empowerment and strength, creating around them an environment that forwards the success of society on the whole. Sons and daughters go out into the unpredictable world of contemporary Morocco equipped with the lessons and love bestowed upon them by the women who have shaped and continue to shape their lives.
For younger women such as myself, perhaps without meaning to, these women instill a sense of commitment, of responsibility to the precious construct that is the family. Since living with them, I have found myself more in touch with my own family at home and much more interested in maintaining the relationships that I have with my parents and siblings. Part of me can’t wait to step off the plane and shower my own mother with all the love and gratitude that I have within my heart. Similar to Mama Hafida, she has spent most of her life loving, inspiring, and believing in my siblings and me. While I have had an inkling of her role in my life all along, my time with my Moroccan family has truly showed me the immense significance of that role in making me what I am today. Watching Mama Hafida clean the dishes and help my little nephew to wash his hands, I find myself wishing that our world had a few more Mama Hafidas to go around.
Editor’s note: A junior at Boston University, Katherine Lochery is spending her fall semester in Morocco, studying Arabic; Women, Islam, and Politics; and Post-Colonial Aesthetics and Politics. Born in Britain, raised in the U.S. and in possession of a passport that has seen more action than most anyone of any age, she is consumed with a desire to leave the world a better place than she found it. This is the fourth entry in her chronicle for Where2Now of her experiences during the course of her semester. Read her other entries describing her adventure. 1, 2, 3, 5, 6.
Top photo by Pawel Ryszawa.