For the first 11 days of the program, the whole group went to Meknes, a city about two hours inland from Rabat, for an off-site orientation. The orientation was great for a number of reasons — we got to explore a few cities other than Rabat thanks to additional trips to Fez and Volubilis; we learned some Moroccan Darija, or colloquial Arabic; we got to practice living in a homestay with some other kids from the program ahead of our more permanent homestay in Rabat. But by far the best part of my experience during the offsite orientation was the cats that were in my Meknes homestay.
We arrived fairly late in Meknes and were escorted from the English language center where we arrived to our house in the old city by one of our three host sisters. I stayed in an old riyadh with two other girls from the program in a house with a single mother and three daughters. Our host sister directed us through the city, down a very long and steep hill, and up into the old medina. When we arrived at our host family’s house, we introduced ourselves, and all of the women introduced themselves. We looked down at the cats and asked in French what their names were. “Minousche,” the youngest girl responded, pointing to the bright white cat with a few orange spots on it. We pointed to the other cat, who was mostly brown and red, asking what its name was. “Minousche,” she responded. The three of us just looked at each other, shrugged, and figured we would go with it.
The next morning at breakfast, we tried to broach the subject once again. Maybe we had misunderstood what they meant the night before? In French, we asked the mother, “So, this cat’s name is minousche?” She nodded, somewhat confused. “And the other cat, its name is also minousche?” She nodded again. “So they’re both named minousche?” Again, she nodded. “Okay we just wanted to be sure.”
“That one is the mother of the other one,” she said, pointing to the white cat, though both cats were kind of in the same area so it was hard to tell which one she meant.
“Oh! Okay!” We all nodded and looked at each other, affirming that we understood what was going on now. We then started referring to the cats as Minousche One and Minousche Two, Minousche One being the white mother cat, and Minousche Two being Minouche One’s brown son. But honestly, we didn’t have to differentiate between the two of them very much because Minouche One is very charismatic and liked to play in the main salon of the house, where we sat and did our homework and talked when we got back from school. And Minouche Two, whose tongue is too big for its mouth, so it sticks out just a little bit all the time, wasn’t very social and didn’t like to come play with us very often.
But a few nights later, after dinner, we were sitting in the salon and playing with Minousche One, and Minousche One rolled over, and it became incredibly evident that Minousche One has a pinousche, i.e. Minousche One is definitely not a mother because Minousche One is definitely not equipped to give birth. So now we were confused yet again. Was it actually the other way around? Had we misunderstood what she said?
Again, at breakfast over our meloui — a delicious traditional Moroccan bread that is somehow simultaneously flat and flaky and crunchy and doughy — we asked yet again. Our host mom must have thought that we had an odd obsession with their cats. “So is the brown one the mother?” Yet again, she nodded, looking confused, potentially because we were asking her something that she had already told us, potentially because we asked probably way too many questions about the cats. “She’s pregnant now, too,” our host mom said, referring to Minousche Two, which I guess is now an inapplicable name.
We oooohhed and ahhhed and realized that that’s why she has a disproportionately large body compared to her head, and that’s why she doesn’t really like playing with us. So we changed the names yet again to Mama Minouscha and Just Minousche. It only took us a week to figure out what to call the cats.
But on our last day in Meknes, as we were eating more meloui and enjoying our last mint tea with our host mom, Mama Minousche came and sat on each of our laps, as if to convey that we had finally earned a place in their home. Maybe it was that. Maybe it was because we had finally learned her name. Maybe it was because we were feeding her meloui.
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<p>Hi there, I’m Emma, and I’m from Hinsdale, IL. I’m a senior at Brown University studying computer science and Middle Eastern studies. No, you are not the first person to tell me I should work for the CIA. I like stories, and I like data. I like combining them even more. Follow my blog for an in-depth look at Moroccan culture!</p>