Mohammed works at our house 5 days a week, not out of our necessity, but this is the way things are done here. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday he works inside the house cleaning. It is completely unusual in this culture to have a male housekeeper. (We're so progressive over here.) Mohammed, the Renaissance man, is also our gardener on Saturday and Sunday. And it's in the garden where my kids love to toil with him. At dinner when the kids all share stories about the wealthy priviledged kids they go to school with I often talk of Mohammed (who has five children) as the real life example of how most Moroccans live. He of course knows none of this because he speaks Arabic and French and I can barely speak English, let alone anything else.
My kids don't care what he speaks they talk his ear off. They always come and report the things that Mohammed says to them. And I'm like really? He told you in French (which the kids take at school) or in English? I always take these reports with a heaping dose of skepticism. And I think we all know at this point that I indeed am an idiot.
Saturdays, Sundays and actually every day is a flurry of activity for us. The kids have dance, taekwondo, basketball, scouts, sleepovers, play dates....etc. So we are home in tiny segments rushing in and out in our bustling American way. I wonder what he thinks as he watches all the coming and going at our house. Maybe he's just happy not to be at home with his own 5 children, but I don't get that sense at all from him. He truly loves children and animals. I thought he was going to cry when we relocated the fish in our fish pond to make a garden instead. When I saw the look on his face I felt so guilty I put the fish up for adoption and I wanted to keep those high maitenenece fish just for him. But then he was so excited to show my kids that the turtle who lives in our yard (who we've named Mary because of the immaculate conception that must have occurred in the absence of a male) had 3 adorable babies (named Huey, Louie and Dewey). He's a truly gentle and loving soul.
So Jade comes to me Saturday morning and says she was having a conversation with Mohammed and that she told him that she liked couscous. Then she tells me that he said that he's going to bring us couscous tonight. "You must have misunderstood" I tell her. Sure that I was right and she was wrong in a conversation that I wasn't privy to in the first place. He lives faraway in Sale the town north of Rabat. It isn't actually that far, but considering Mohammed drives a moped, which is his family's only vehicle, it is far. We go on with our day of driving the kids to boy scouts/girl scouts, back home, out again to drop Ember off at a party and out to the Medina to run errands. When we return he has already left after a days work and we settle into finishing homework, making dinner and eating it on the patio. After some home made haircuts a' la mama and some quick showers, the kids pop in a movie before bed and have some pop corn and ice cream.
It's 8pm, pitch dark and the doorbell rings. I don't think much of it because our doorbell rings alot, so I think it's someone at the wrong house. Then I hear "It's Mohammed". Jade is beaming. "See I told you mom!" Oh my god, she was right. Mohammed has brought an enormous plate full of couscous, beef, carrots, cabbage AND that HNG ( huge nameless gourd )! Not the whole thing of course. I am so overwhelmed I don't even have words other than "Merci beaucoup", mostly because that's about all that I know. And then I add "shoocran" in Arabic, again about all the Arabic I know. It smells fantastic. He seems uncomfortable with the thank yous as if the deed speaks for itself. He places it on the counter and leaves with a "bye" and his ever present smile. What's super cool is my kids know exactly how huge this is! We crowd around the plate ohhing and ahhing. How did he get here on the moped? Did he take a taxi? How did it get here from Sale still warm? How did he afford this? But mostly we are just overwhelmed by his generosity and that his family took the time, the expensive and the thoughtfulness to cook for our family. And all because Jade said she liked couscous. I feel guilty cause the kids and I are are stuffed from having eaten our earlier American dinner and later American snacking. We decide to save it for the next night's dinner.
The next morning the kids want to make something American for Mohammed and his family. An American dinner? Well that's going to McDonald's to order 5 happy meals and two adult meals with explicit instructions to eat it cold while driving them to soccer practice and yelling at them while talking on his cell phone. Or should he be texting? Either way, that's the authentic American dinner experience right? Then I thought about it and Mohammed only has a moped, so this wasn't going to work. So, we decided to bake brownies for our cultural exchange. They made us a ginormous tagine and we reciprocate with some brownies. Don't worry, they were from the box so they are authenic American brownies. I am more than aware that this has not been an equal exchange of time, effort or quantity and I feel so lame. Then again....we Americans sell our culture all around the world. It's cheap and accessible anywhere. Everyone anywhere in the world is sold the great American way every 8.5 seconds in one way or another (even faster if youse is citified folks). I feel so generic and exposed right now. Hold me!
The next night rolls around slowly, with all the twist and turns provided by a family of four kids and a dad that's away in Swaziland for the week. (I hear it's like New Jersey.) The kids are so excited to eat the tagine. We decide that we are going to do it Moroccan style. Well, not really. The Moroccan way to eat a tagine is eating it off the serving plate with your hands. While I think that would be totally cool, I have two kids with coughs and runny noses and I prefer not to have 4. And if you have kids you know that they use the closest free hand to wipe their boogery nose. Last week I witnessed one of my kids execute the longest nose wipe which went all the way from the tips of said child's fingers to his elbow. With that visual freshly imprinted on my mind I decided to do it quasi-Moroccan style eating from the same plate but with spoons. It is delicious and strangely, no matter how much we eat....it doesn't seem to make a dent. We have eaten tons of it, spilled it eating like barbarians ( semi-barbarians anyway). It's all over the table and it is somehow replicating itself. My name is couscous.... (applause) thanks ....I'll be here all week. Goodnight everybody! (Waving hand while exiting stage left). We can't wait for the encore presentaion of the leftovers tomorrow night!
Now if I can only get Jade to tell Mohammed how much she loves goat...