This is the first time I have lived with a host family during my travels. I’ve always thought that host families are awfully brave for opening their homes to strangers from all over the world, so I want to ensure I pay that kindness back in full.
Forget about teaching—trying to be a good guest has been the real source of anxiety. It is so important that these families continue to welcome guests, and I do not want to be the guest that makes them re-think their entire operation. “Did you see Elliott use his left hand when he ate tonight? We can’t be having anymore of that under this roof! No more guests!”
Of course my host has never said such a thing. Eating with your left hand, by the way, is considered gross because the left hand is reserved for bathroom duties (the same is true in India). Anyway I knew about that rule, but I knew there must be more, which is why I did as much reading about Moroccan etiquette on the plane ride as possible.
Really that’s all one needs to do in order to be a passable guest. There are many guides online that make dining and conversational etiquette explicit. The one rule those guides leave off is perhaps the most important but also the most obvious: be good. Here good is a catch-all term meaning say thank you, offer to help clean up, don’t make a mess, compliment the cooking, etc. etc. etc.
Just be good. Be good to your host family and be good in life.
HOWEVER. I do have one major complaint about the etiquette guides I read online. Olives are a staple food here, and NOT ONE GOD DAMN GUIDE mentioned the proper etiquette for spitting olive pits out of your mouth. I have come to my own conclusion that there is simply no graceful way of accomplishing this task, just like there is no graceful way to get out of a pool that doesn’t have steps or a ladder. Some things, I suppose, must be learned from experience.
I had never taught English to kids before, let alone kids of a different country who grew up speaking a language totally unlike English. So, I prepared a lesson plan and I prepared for the worst.
I dreaded having to keep up an air of enthusiasm around the kids, but when they walked in the classroom any fears of mine vanished. This small group of middle school kids were quite fluent in English, and their unembarrassed enthusiasm took me completely by surprise. These kids were here because they wanted to learn English. The way this particular Workaway host operates is by having volunteers from all over the world come and teach these little Moroccan kids English. As such, these kids have been exposed to countless cultures and ways of life. They aren’t embarrassed by their interest in the world outside of Morocco.
I was expecting the apathy I remember from my middle school days, and when it wasn’t there I realized I could talk to and teach these students with ease. I had written out discussion topics as a part of my lesson plan, and I feared that I would run out of topics (I teach them for two hours straight through,) but running out of things to discuss became an impossibility just twenty minutes into the class. There were non-stop rapid fire questions about the U.S.—what do people from the U.S. know about Morocco? What is the biggest state? Where is Hollywood? And how do you pronounce Connecticut?
I really was expecting the whole process to be like pulling teeth, but the two hours sailed by and I had a great time. This was of course just a positive first experience and in no way telling of education and teaching as a whole (my mother could tell you plenty of stories that make teaching seem awful—plenty of stories that make it seem incredible too). But first experiences are so important for anything, and I’m just glad my first exposure to teaching didn’t leave me with the bitter cynicism of Argus Filch. For reference I recommend re-watching “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” wherein Filch, played by the inimitable David Bradley, says “there was a time when detention would find you hanging by your thumbs in the dungeon. God I miss the screaming.”
My passport is four years old. I got it just after graduating high school, and now that I’m fresh out of college my photo naturally looks outdated. My hair was longer back then (I have none to speak of now,) and I didn’t have a beard, so I can forgive the immigration officers at the airport for doing a double take when they see who I was four years ago and who am I today.
The old photo had never been a problem until I was leaving Brussels airport for Morocco. The immigration officer studied the passport for a few moments and then held up the old photo to me.
“You expect me to think this is you?” Most immigration officers only joke about the photo, so I figured he was simply being incredulous for the sake of humor. I laughed and said I’ve changed alot since high school.
He stared at me; my smile faltered.
“If you were trying to immigrate into Belgium I would send you back to Athens.” I was so surprised I didn’t know what to say. “Well?” he said. I didn’t have a response so he just sighed dramatically and stamped the page. “Good luck landing in Morocco. Moroccan people are not so simple.”
That prick gave me such undo anxiety about safely getting into Morocco, because when I arrived at immigration I wasn’t hassled at all. I got the stamp and moved along.
When I met my host he greeted me with a hug, and gave me so many kind words of welcome. My host family had dinner ready to go when I arrived, with plenty of mint tea to boot.
The word for greeting in Arabic is “salaam,” which literally translates to “peace.” I fail to see the supposed duplicity in Moroccans that the Belgian immigration officer implied. Generalizing a people so broadly seems to me to be a symptom of a person who has some foul complexities of their own.
Peace and mint tea. What could be simpler?