In my backpack, I keep a small circular locket that my mother lent me before I left. It’s embellished with a vivid geometric pattern, like someone laid a silver dollar on a piece of modern art, traced an exacto knife around the circumference, and cast it onto two matching bronze discs. She had just taken the amulet on a trip to Spain, and liked the idea of me having it during my semester abroad. Inside are two crinkled pictures of my family: my twenty-year-old sister Katy; my father Phil; and my mother Pam. In my dorm room in Turkey, it hung above my desk and I often snapped open the metal clasp, ran my eyes over these three faces, and envisioned being at home. I haven’t touched the locket since arriving in Morocco, perhaps because I’ve definitely found a sense of home here.
I’ve always had a great younger sibling, but I’ve wondered what it would be like to have a brother. In Morocco, I have five. The oldest, Adnan (31) and Enis (25), come and go, sometimes regularly spotted napping on the couch and then gone for days at a time. Adnan, I know, technically lives in Rabat and works as an IT specialist — I’m not sure what Enis does. My three younger brothers are around all the time and in their own ways have hastened to incorporate me into family life in my tiled home in the heart of Fes.
This is Mohammed, 17, with the Anaconda skin he brought into my room to show me last night. He greeted me when I arrived home with an extended hand.
Lamin! Meziyan? (translation: Benjamin –> Binlamin in Arabic –> my new nickname, “Lamin;” Meziyan is a watershed word in darija that means “great” but stands for “how is everything?”)
I responded that all was meziyan, went up my room and started working on an assignment for class. Soon there was an eager knock on my open door. Mohammed’s head was poking around from the stairwell.
“Lamin? What are you doing?” He inquired innocently in slow, measured English.
“I’m working on something for class. You?” I responded.
“Oh, nothing. Good luck!” His face disappeared behind the doorframe, and I turned my gaze back to the computer on my lap. It took half a minute for Mohammed to come back into my room with a twenty foot anaconda skin.
That’s how I ended up spending an evening taking pictures with a dead snake instead of doing my schoolwork. I now partially understand what it’s like to have a younger brother.
I have two more younger brothers, but the age gap is considerably bigger: Hassan and Houssein are both eight months old. This little guy is Hassan, and you can just make out Houssein playing in the background (photo credit goes to Mohammed). Living with babies has posed challenges I wasn’t expecting (being handed a baby and a bottle when I’m the only one around, or trying to find new ways to delight one of the twins when the traditional methods are failing and their mother is busy with the other). But it’s also incredibly rewarding, and I’m ecstatic that my host family trusts me enough to help raise these little ones while I’m here. The rewards of having babies in the house far outweigh their early morning cries and sporadic fits. Watching my host family raise these kids has taught me about parts of Moroccan society that you can’t learn in a classroom, and I’m immensely grateful for that.
Inevitably the connection I have with them won’t come close to the bond I have with my own family, but there is something here that home will fail to recreate. That said, I like to imagine that a picture of this family, too, will have a place in a backpack that I carry around in the future, a reminder of the people this semester that have directly impacted my life. I can imagine it now: all of us arranged simply around the plastic table, Adnan and Enis if they are around, Mohammed with one of the twins, my sister Fatima with the other, and my parents in the center. Maybe we’ll drape the anaconda skin on the wall behind us for good measure.