The television is a ubiquitous presence in our host home, a source of entertainment, news, and even religious ritual. The appliance itself is a sleek, late-model LG flat screen, swivel mounted to the wall and rotated outward so as to command the otherwise very well-appointed, traditional décor of our house’s main living room. The TV is connected to a satellite dish on the roof of our building, one of thousands of dishes mounted on nearly every building in Fez, all pointed towards the sky; tethers to the outside world for every Fassi who can afford one.
From the early hours of the morning to well past midnight our TV commands the room, perhaps displaying the latest episode of a popular Turkish drama about the halcyon days of the Ottoman Empire (a good portion of our group’s host families habitually watch “Sultan”), Nasser-era Egyptian soap operas in black and white, the live feed from the Prophet’s Mosque in Mecca, or a Hollywood B movie dubbed over in colloquial Moroccan Arabic (Darija). A few nights ago, our evening meal was noticeably rushed in order to allow us time to watch footage of King Mohammed VI, the ruler of Morocco, making his Hajj to Mecca. With rapt attention we watched the King, draped in thick white cloth, pray and chant for several minutes before the segment ended in commercials. Most nights, the program might be a little more frivolous: the Moroccan version of the reality show “The Voice” or a dubbed Turkish soap opera.
Yet constant conversation, both in person and on the phone talking to distant relatives in Casablanca and Lyon, France, abides with our family’s love for TV; their talking, arguing, encouraging and consoling probably add up to more daily interactions than many average families in the United States. However, the television always glows in the background, and its sound fills up any empty space in the conversation. In a home without a fireplace – and indeed not a scrap of newspaper or a page of written word with which to light one – the television is this family’s hearth.