The day turned out to be a hot one, for December. It was our first day in Meknes together, as a family, for the first time in over five months. Some weeks before, my parents and little sister told me that they wanted to come visit me in Morocco. To see how I live. To visit the ordinary places of my daily life. To hear the language that I speak every day.
I can’t deny that I felt some anxiety before their arrival. My family travelled abroad before, but only to those haunts of Europe – London, Paris, Rome and the like– familiar to American abroad. To travel to a country in the Arab world, like Morocco was to experience a radically new cultural and linguistic milieu.
They loved it.
We spent our first days together in Fez, and these days passed like any other for the foreign tourist in Morocco. We walked through the winding alleys of the old medina, sampled the famed leather goods, and rested by fountains raised by the Andalusians who fled the fall of Granada.
On the third day of our time together we left Fez for the neighboring city of Meknes. I was more than excited to bring my parents and sister to there. Meknes has been my home for the past year. I know its rhythms, its habits, its eccentricities. Who lives among a people for forty days becomes one of them, recounts the old Arab proverb.
That day we arrived in Meknes was the 24th of December, Christmas Eve. It so happened at that time, though, that the Gregorian and the Hijra calendars overlapped, thus making the celebrations of Christmas and Mawlid (the birth of Muhammad) coincide. People filled the streets of the old city of Meknes with a carnival air – eating, singing, playing – to honor the birth of the Prophet.
I have lived in Meknes, Morocco, for the past year. But until I experienced this day with my family, I hadn’t felt as though as I was a part of Meknes. The months before this witnessed the explosion of my fluency and confidence in Modern Standard Arabic and Moroccan Arabic. Nonetheless, I did not feel part of the place in which I lived.
However, after those two experiences – guiding my family during their brief stay in Morocco and the serendipity of the coinciding of Christmas and Mawlid – I began to feel and think of Meknes as my city, as my home. To rework another proverb: My feet were at ease and I was among family. It was as if the city itself whispered the traditional greeting: You are among family and your feet are at ease.
To anyone who studies or lives abroad, I would give this advice: To live truly in a foreign place, one must find those things that bring awe and joy, lest homesickness and nostalgia cause misery and longing for home while fostering distaste for the place one presently lives. Until my family’s visit and the coinciding of Christmas and Mawlid, Meknes was not my home. Those two events, however, gave me the joy to live and thrive here. Now, with less than a month left in my study-abroad program, I know that I will miss this city, Meknes, a place that has now become my home.