by Larell Scardelli
9 miles from Tarifa, Spain to the coast of Morocco, North Africa.
9, the number of my apartment building back home in Granada, Spain.
The coast looked similar to that morning at Buckaneer Backpackers in South Africa when we ate breakfast on the deck (the meal that gave us food poisoning when we landed in Cape Town). How it was foggy with its peaches and blues. Opaque but full. I knew I would miss those big pastel colors, but I never knew if I would see them again. A friend? We could be that close. Africa again. With a smile.
I type out this note now with a decorated hand, sometimes getting distracted by the dots and swirls our Moroccan host mom’s friend so easily drew. Henna from a woman whose genuine hobby it was. Who Fatima, our silly host mother, calls on when someone is getting married or just for fun, like this.
“From her head,” I asked Fatima’s daughter the only one who spoke English in the house. “I want her to design whatever she is thinking.” She smiled and casually translated this to Arabic. Deep into my skin sits the reddish brown of this woman’s imagination, sits the image of Fatima insisting that we don’t have to pay even when we pleaded with her, and her giggle as she slid a sock over our hands to keep the black root intact as we slept.
Fatima: religiously known as the daughter of the profit Muhammad. Her hand meaning protection in Muslim culture, sitting on almost every door. My host mother, named after her.
This little 5’2″ Muslim woman that I’d never met in person. . Her missing side tooth. The way she moved around kind of childlike from one foot to the next. The size of her fingers. The fact that she spoke little to no English, yet I still understood everything that she said, even more than my host mom back in Spain. She thought I was silly, because I was able to make mistakes– asked if I could try to pour the tea from high above the glass like she did. Later learning that this made bubbles on the top of tea, and in the Sahara Dessert this protects the sweet liquid from sand storms, a tradition that I would later think to use in my life back home. I spilled a little and laughed and so did she. From her tummy and her cheeks.
Maybe it was the culture, too, that made me feel like myself. Being able to drop food on the table or my lap and not feeling sloppy or unmannered. Picking up vegetables with my fingers, opting not to use the spoon that was offered to me, something they only use when they host Americans and sometimes when eating couscous. I think I felt like I was in my own home. Like I was sitting on my own couch eating with my parents “family style,” as we call it. Casual, like here have this, or can I have some of that? Making a little bit of a mess but knowing that we would easily clean it up after. Not feeling like I was doing anything wrong. Having that sense of relaxation on her silk turquoise couch, enough to put my feet up and rest my head when watching Egyptian movies. Her family popping in and out off the street with ease, ringing the door bell 5, 6, 7 times to joke. How close could this culture be to the one I was raised with? Muslim to American. Rabat, Morocco to Bridgewater, New Jersey. Is it just a mind set? Not having a strict line to stay in? My mother always making me feel comfortable with everything from money to questions, as did Fatima in only two days? Protection of the heart and of the head while being someplace I had never imagined for myself. Host mom is too shallow of a word.