Through the van window the air in Casablanca was dusty and sour. I let my eyes reflect the passing scene: the half-built concrete structures, the sheep and motorcycles and cars that zoomed close to our truck’s edge amid the traffic, then swerved back out again to meet the road.
Kafa, Shukuran, Insh’Allah. Enough, thank you, God willing. Memorize these words, said Youssef, a Moroccan-American man with laughing eyes and a New Jersey accent. He was taking my family to have lunch with his family because one evening in our North Carolina dining room my mom complemented his sister-in-law Karen’s Morroccan meatballs.
Cinnamon on heavy meat tempered by the sweetness of apricots, my mom remembered. That is why we had gathered here.
Because I was with my family I let the grown-ups do the talking and lapsed into childhood passivity, raising my head for the odd laugh or nod of agreement. Beyond the thrust of the cars and blurred half-buildings, vast stretches of desert expanded into sky fogged with dust and soot. I can’t remember now what I was thinking then, but if a camera were have to followed my eyes it would have showed them looking past the horizon. Past the odd, hijab-wearing mother and son waiting at the bust stop, past the man herding sheep in the distance, into that at closest range. My mom, dad and sister took up enough of the frame without the endlessly passing small glimpses of a life of which I still know very little.
The four of us hadn’t spend more than a few days together every few months for the past few years – what with us going to college and then me going to France – and so because of that, or maybe in spite of that, the old dynamic prevailed. The same old give and takes. “Father is father” so one rug merchant would say to us some days later. Mom wouldn’t have me running off alone with my camera. And in the mornings to come, from our one-room suite at the Riad, I’d mock my sister’s elaborate morning routine, not because it was any different than mine but because she was getting into Ayn Rand, and I kind-of sort-of thought that gave her the right. Of course it didn’t, but she’d take it all the same.
Youssef broke my reverie with guttural Arabic vowels. We were going to the neighborhood butchery to get chickens, he translated, for the meal. Our van pulled up to an open adobe door in his Casablanca neighborhood and we entered into a dark room of warm meat smell and herbs.
The butcher unloaded six small roasted chickens onto a platter. One for each of us, eh? joked Dad, and Mom took out her camera to take his photo.
“Enough was the first word she learned,” Yousseff said of his American wife, laughing. “You’ll see why.”
We did. At the meal we sat exchanging grins as we watched heaping plate after plate of meats, salads, fruits, couscous, and yes, as all six chickens arrived at our six-person table. I’ve had enough, I finally said, before I piled on a few more thank-you’s for good measure.
We said these words and we’d say them again. But to whom among the givers and the receivers was subject to change.