A funny moment in your life is when you haven’t the faintest clue as to how to convey, well, anything. Communication is left to a myriad of gestures. These gestures are meaningless by themselves. Neither the gesturer or the recipient of the gestures really understands the specifics. However, the broad use and collective emphasis of these gestures along with the occasional word or phrase usually accomplishes what the brain and mouth could not. It is an exercise in creativity and patience. I have had my fair share of hour long conversations revolving around such topics as circumcision (the scissors gesture is extremely handy), exercise (running in place does the job), and general befuddlement (a significant shoulder shrug will do).
This might make some people uncomfortable. Let me make it clear. It is uncomfortable. I still feel like a child trying to understand metaphysics when I am surrounded by several Moroccan women at any time during kaskrut. The only thing left for me to do is to sip my qahwa. And so, I smile and nod. The number of times I think someone asked me if I am getting married or if I want two wives or if I planned on settling in Morocco is always surprising (when I understand) and is always over at my host grandma’s house. I may or may not have agreed to get married both in America and in Morocco. Still, this not knowing forces me out of my comfort level. I love that I have to flounder in a language I don’t know. I love that I gesture wildly when I get flustered or confused. Trying to explain that I don’t dance is much easier (and much funnier) when I get up and actually dance in the tiny salon surrounded by my host mom and dad.
The greatest thing, though, that comes from my ineptness at the language is my time cooking with my host mom. It is in the kusina where we both end up gesturing in order to make something that I find not knowing the language perfectly is also a blessing. My lack of language allows for me to connect with people on a different level. Within the world of gesturing, we both actively take part in the conversation, and many times the game of charades breaks down the awkwardness that can be spoken language.
Knowing the language will come with time. Until then, I will continue to shrug and point and make faces to get my confusion and questions across. The learning process is messy, and many times it is boring. That is not the case when learning a language in its country of origin. Where else could you find yourself sitting across from your Moroccan Momma discussing the neighbor’s baby’s circumcision celebration?
Keep on keeping on,