After the waterworks and goodbyes in the village, we headed to beautiful Assilah. There was so much to see, and so little time to explore. As a group, Assilah became one of our favorite cities in Morocco. Its Medina was the cleanest, and it held beautiful pieces of artwork. There was a different mural at every turn, and the shops were full of unique pieces. The homes there were also very unique compared to the ones we’ve seen in Rabat, Marrakech, Fes, and all the other cities. They all had their own design going on, and it was a very bright place as a whole- plus they had a beautiful beach.
My personal favorite part about Assilah was the Spaniard influence it has. It’s very close to Spain, so many people there spoke fluent Spanish. I got to communicate with people there more than I had been able to anywhere else in Morocco. It made me feel more at home because I am a Spanish speaker myself. The music they would randomly blast on their streets gave me joy, and that was the overall feeling there: joy.
After a relaxing bus ride, we arrived at a city full of sunshine, tourists and arts. The city Assilah is known for its various artistic traits especially the murals in the Medina. A group of friends decided to discover some of them. The first mural that we saw right after entering the main gate of the Medina was extremely colorful with alien-looking creatures and other doodles. The modern looking of the mural sets it apart from the heavily white and blue Medina. As we began walking, we saw more and more carefully decorated doors and mini gardens. We were able to see the Place Sidi Benissa and its magnificent green door. We also discovered some artsy boutiques including a jewelry maker, dress maker and a calligrapher. Some of the murals were newly painted, and one of them was a blue and green earth with the Arabic writing saying “Protect the environment for better lives.” More excitingly for lots of people in the group, we were able to speak some Spanish in the city of Assilah with vendors and shop owners. We left the beautiful city early in the morning and inshaallah we will be able to visit it again.
The night before we left, the village put together a goodbye party for the group.
A lot of the girls got ready together and we all helped each other do hair and makeup. To our surprise, our families also provided each of us with a beautiful kaftan, my own host mother gave me one to wear that had been hers years before. Ready for the celebration, we headed down to the tree to see everyone else all dressed up.
All of us were excited, but also nervous, as each of us had to give a presentation, in Darija, to the village. We all had improved our Darija significantly in the village, but we still weren’t even close to a level of proficiency, so a paragraph presentation was a daunting task.
The celebration started with kick boxers and martial artists who showed off their skills. Calligraphists and musicians gave deeper insight into the Moroccan culture.
Some of the women from the village then brought out tables and arranged us around them. We were all a hungry and figured a little snack wouldn’t hurt. The women brought out chocolate cakes and laid them on the table. But then they brought lbsinmin, cookies, coffee cake, tea, soda, and more. The tables were overflowing with food and it was definitely more than a snack. The group didn’t have much difficulty digging in.
But then it became time for presentations. We all got up and addressed the crowd, stumbling over words here and there, but still mangling to draw “awws” from the village as we expressed our gratitude for their hospitality and community over the past two weeks. All of us were emotional, as were our host families, and this only grew as some of our students thanked us, in English, for our time and friendship in the village.
More surprises awaited us as we learned the weavers who we had been working with for our stay wanted to gift each of us with a piece of carpet that we had helped to weave. They were presented to us by a member of our family, with my mom giving me my own beautiful woven square. Pictures, mingling, and dancing followed, and tears continued to flow.
Personally, I was busy holding onto my ten year old host sister, who was sobbing into my arms, upset that I had to go so soon. She told Widad, our in country leader, she was “just beginning to get used to having me around” and I agreed with her. In just 12 days, she had managed to become my best friend in the village, acting as my little sidekick. I couldn’t comprehend having to say goodbye in less than 24 hours. I told her she was my Moroccan sister and she told me I’d always be her American sister.
Many similar moments with our new family in Morocco were going on around me. It was easy to see that we hadn’t just lived in the village for two weeks, we had truly become a part of it.
At the end of our village homestay in Lambarkyin, our group was incredibly excited to begin our excursion to the beautiful coastal city of Assilah. At the same time, however, it was very sad to leave our host families and their village, which had all become so integral a part of our daily routine during our nearly two weeks of homestay. From the night before our departure up until the next morning as our bus traveled the winding roads away from the village, tears were shed over the goodbyes said to host mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, and friends. Personally, as we drove away from Bojouda and dirt roads were replaced with paved ones, I couldn’t stop thinking about the power of the kindness of strangers. To me, it was somewhat unfathomable that a family I’d never met before had taken me in as one of their own — cared for me, respected me, and opened up a place for me within their home. Even those in the village who weren’t in my host family were quick to show me kindness, whether it be inviting me to dinner or teaching me to weave. I felt blessed to receive such generous and genuine care despite having done little to deserve it, and I know that others in our group marveled similarly at the village’s hospitality.
Now, less than two days from the end of our month-long trip, our group is back in Rabat where we started: a much-anticipated delight, with Rabat being the favorite city of most, if not all, of the group members. And yet, it is not the same as when we first arrived. We returned with new experiences and new knowledge, and I, for one, am unable to keep my mind off of my host family. Before this trip, and even up until the day before our homestay began, I had no reason to think about the people who might be living in a small village tucked away in the mountains of Morocco. I had never visited, nor had I ever met anyone who lived there, and so it didn’t cross my mind. But now I have visited: I have tasted the food and played with the children and weaved with the women. I know that they all exist, that they have daily routines and rituals and traditions just as I do. I cannot help but wonder what they are all up to, much in the way that one’s mind wanders to an old friend and how they might be doing. And I know, too, that I will go home to the sights and sounds and chaos of New York and be subtly but irreversibly changed by my knowledge that every day, as I wake up or eat or work or sleep, so too does my host family, so many miles away and so impossible to forget.