The moment you realize your family is not perfect is a powerful moment of clarity. Jovial, happy memories of birthdays, trips to the park, and holidays reveal a parallel storyline. This is a pivotal moment when you realize the smile on your mother’s face was just masking her pain. You may realize that the laughter that echoes in your mind from a family barbecue really came after your uncles settled a huge argument. The truth, as some may call it, helped me to embrace and love my family even more. We are all vulnerable to succumbing to our vices, but the beauty of a family is that it remains a solid entity despite these setbacks.
I learned this not only from my own family, but also from my family here in Temara. Three generations inhabit this household, and on Sunday nights, when the rest of the extended family loyally gathers in the salon, you can count up to at least four different generations. I’ve witnessed this Sunday night tradition since I arrived eight months ago, and I have always tried my best to attend.
The family had welcomed me with open arms on my first day, and gently guided me to the kitchen. This is very telling in of itself. I wasn’t fed until later in the evening, but that was only because it was Ramadan. The ladies of the house urged me to eat using quintessential phrasekuli kuli that resounds throughout all the homes in Morocco. They did not allow me to help clean up. In fact, my room was cleaned for me on a daily basis, and laundry was done just as often. I was treated not as a guest, but as a royal guest of honor.
That all changed, as I assimilated into daily grind. I learned which television shows they prefer, how they like their millwi (Moroccan bread), and their favorite songs. Eventually, I was allowed to help clear up the table, wash the dishes, and even fold my own laundry! On occasion, I served other guests their tea and cake, welcoming them as if it were my own home.
I have grown really close to everybody, and through pictures, home videos, and stories grown to understand their rich history. One afternoon, Sadiya and I were scouring my bedroom for a prescription that had disappeared when we came across a box of old photos. For an hour and a half, we sat on my bed going through them. She was reminiscing of the good and tough times, while I was appreciating listening to her. I saw how this family had evolved from adolescents who teased each other incessantly, to adults singing and dancing together, rearing their own families. Maybe the answer is a new generation. I think of the baby in our family, and how her mood affects our moods. If she falls ill, the entire household is in a somber mood. But her giggles, bring out our own desire to be carefree.
I thought of the arguments that had erupted, or the stories about divorces that had been shared with me. I would assume that these events would lead a lasting scar, but I realize now that everyone will protect each other. The scar will be a reminder, but the family will still gather together to eat, laugh, sing, and dance together.
Resting on a shelf in the back of my closet at home in Queens, is a Rummikube set untouched since the turn of the century. My aunt had given it to me when I was twelve after a two-week visit. I could not bear to look at the board game without thinking about all the good times I had spent with them. I was going to see them again in two months, but it was painful nonetheless. I was eleven years old, and that is when I decided I must be emotionally stunted.
I’m sure I have grown up since then, but at the same time it will be very hard to leave this family in Temara. I’ll be overcome with nostalgia every time I play Spoons, or when I see olives at the grocery store, or even when I hear snippets of Arabic on the streets. But I know my family will always be there to overwhelm me with love.