An Ode to CouscousRabat, Fall 2009
Talk to anyone who studies abroad, and they’ll tell you they loved the food where they went, but couldn’t stand it after two months into their semester. That’s what I heard before I went, and that’s what seems to be the feeling of everyone else on my program. But for me, I could drown in couscous and tajine, and I’d still love it.
The Arabic word for Friday is Juma’ah which comes from the root verb “to come together” because Friday is traditionally the day when all the men go to their local mosque for a midday service. Before the service, families always gather for a special meal. In Morocco, that meal is couscous.
Yesterday was Friday, and I went to meet my cousin in law’s family, who live in Salé, which is right across the Bou Regreg river from Rabat. Like a good Moroccan family, they stuffed me full of delicious couscous and mint tea. When the seven-year-old Sofia realized that I didn’t speak very good Arabic, she took it upon herself to teach me. She pulled out her school books and read with me, emphatically correcting my mistakes. The best part was when I would get to a word I didn’t know, and she (knowing only, “Hello, how are you?” and “Yum, this is delicious” in English) would start explaining the word to me, mostly with other Arabic words I didn’t know, but through a mix of ingenuity and stubbornness, she’d get me to finally understand. Luckily, my cousin in law’s mother, who normally lives in Madrid, is visiting for a few weeks because Eid Kabir (literally Arabic for “big celebration”) is next week, so I got to see her too. She was disappointed that I didn’t know Spanish like my cousin (her daughter in law), but through shear intelligence and compassion, she was able to fully communicate with me (maybe not fully – but we were able to talk a lot).
That night, my host family made sure to serve me a huge plate of couscous for the couscous that I missed with them earlier that day. Then, I met up with students studying English at Muhammad V University, so I could help them with English and they could help me with Arabic. I got invited for couscous by some of them. Then, on my way home, some hipster Moroccans, who I’ve seen selling clothes at the local souk, offered me money for my hoody, and I started talking to them – eventually provoking an invite to couscous.
Maybe the reason I like couscous so much is because even the invitation to couscous comes with a healthy dose of Moroccan compassion. Well, that and the pumpkin in it – so sweet and soft – kills me every time.
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