Finding Home Far From Home
Leading up to the Bouguemez homestay, I was beyond nervous. After facing many challenges during my first homestay in Azrou, I was anxious to see what this tiny village would throw at me.
One week in, I found myself feeling blue, struck with some serious homesickness (miss you, Mom and Dad). Sitting on our terrace, surrounded by the incredible mountains and soaking in the Moroccan sunshine, I began to reflect on the week that had passed in Bouguemez in the form of “Roses and Thorns”. Roses were easy to brainstorm: I loved weaving carpets with my host mother and going to work with her at the cooperative, my one-year-old host nephew was the cutest, the landscape was beautiful. Thorns, on the other hand, were somehow difficult to generate. Thinking harder, I realized that my biggest issue was my homesickness. The cause of it, and my biggest complaint, I could come up with about my homestay? The fact that I felt so at home in that tiny village.
My welcome into my home was quick and smooth, marked by huge embraces from the new members of my family and a rush to eat the tagine waiting in the salon. Sitting cross-legged around the table, enjoying our lunch silently, I was shocked to feel so comfortable, so soon. I found comfort in everything we did: in sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with my host mother at our loom, in watching TV with the whole family before dinner, in bringing out breakfast each morning at nine o’clock sharp. After only a week a routine established itself; the things I was doing felt like I had been doing them for a lifetime.
Within the community, too, I fit. It was obvious when women from my host mother’s cooperative recognized me on the single road running through Timmit, stopping to kiss my on each cheek. It was obvious when the kids saw me walking home and yelled “Iman”, my new Bouguemez nomenclature, despite the fact that I had never met them before. It was obvious when the boys on the soccer field excitedly welcomed me into their game, even though I was so bad.
In experiencing that sensation of familiarity, I deciphered pieces of home in everything I saw. In the yellow leaves on the trees, I saw the changing colors of New Jersey in the fall. In the casual greetings from people, I felt that sense of community I am so accustomed to back home. Although these were all great things, they were the cause of my immense homesickness. And if those are the biggest complaints I have about my homestay, how lucky am I? The good stuff, I understood, was what was making me feel bad, but that is a part of the experience. And Bouguemez, I quickly learned, was a great experience.
As most things go, I didn’t fully appreciate my homestay experience until it was over. Eating at roadside restaurants, I remember the taste of my host sister-in-laws home cooking. Sharing a room (and a shower) with seven other people, I appreciate my bucket shower, shared only with a friendly shower. Washing laundry in the shower, I miss hand-washing laundry outside with my host mother.
Bouguemez, like Azrou, was hard, but for a very different reason. It was amazing to experience a tight-knit community like Timmit and to be a part of a family that welcomed me into their family with such ease, and although that came with other sentiments, it is an experience I feel so grateful to have had.
Again, Mom and Dad, I miss you a lot, but now, I miss my host family, too. I feel homesick for both places, but for the same reason. Those two towns, although wildly different, both embody strong senses of comfort and community that I am coming to learn are so important to me.
My Bouguemez homestay, I can say with certainty, was not at all what I expected. It’s a place I long to go back to more and more everyday, and a community I feel so lucky to have been so comfortable in, despite the homesick sentiments it stirred up in me. My homestay experience reiterated the importance of community to me, whether that be in the home, in town, or on the soccer field.