My roommate Lilia and I lucked out because our homestay mother, Fatima, and her 22-year-old daughter both spoke fluent French, and I did too. We only realized what an asset this was when we Americans on our trip discussed the ‘familial’ relationships we had with our homestay families. Most of the other Americans on the Morocco trip could barely communicate with their families. They had problems saying “I have to go to work,” or asking questions as simple as “Can I take a shower?”
However, Lilia and I could actually have a meaningful conversation with our family, thanks to the fact that we could communicate past the few words of Arabic we had or the few words of English family members had. Being able to talk freely with our homestay families gave us insights into their lives beyond what was visible.
One afternoon I was sitting with our mother in the living room, watching her make Moroccan pastries. After watching her expertly juggle a dozen tasks, I asked her if she found cooking to be hard work. She looked up at me, blinked, opened her mouth and said a few words that I never expected to hear: “Yes, it really is, and men don’t understand how hard. I have to finish my work, always. If there is still dough left, I am up more than half the night finishing the cutting and folding and baking. I stand all day working around the house and my legs hurt and my shoulders and my arms. You get so tired, and there is still always more to do. Men don’t understand this. They think work is easy, that anyone could do what we do. They have no idea, I would like to see them work, see them accomplish as much as I can.”
She looked at me sadly and blinked again. Then she smiled and told me “C’est ça la vie.”