Pushing the Limits of Moroccan Hospitality

As I mentioned in The Morocco I Love: 10 Things To Be Thankful For, I get worried every time I ask to change FreeToBeZ’s nappy in the home of a family in Morocco.

I’m always just looking for a small patch of floor that they’re happy for me to change a soggy or dirty disposable nappy upon, and am invariably asked if I wish to give my daughter a full strip wash at the same time.

This in itself isn’t a problem.

What is a problem is someone assuming that this is what one wishes to do without both parties having a mutual understanding of what is about to happen . . .

Time for tea: a typical sight of Moroccan hospitality (Commons Licence image)
Time for tea: a typical sight of Moroccan hospitality (Commons Licence image)

We were taking afternoon tea in the well-kept and textile-laden home of a Gendarmerie officer, a friend of FreeToBeB’s.

FreeToBeZ had been quickly changed out of a wet nappy in the shower room of their apartment upon our arrival (one of our reasons for stopping during a leisurely trip from Marrakech up into the Middle Atlas Mountains).

As we waited for FreeToBeB’s friend to finish his shift policing traffic outside the Gendarmerie’s buildings, we drank their tea and ate their biscuits, making small talk with the friend’s wife.

Not half an hour after changing FreeToBeZ, FreeToBeP asked to use the toilet, which I got up to direct him to. We were stopped short by a huge puddle of water on the floor, slipping us up and seeping into our hosts’ living area.

No, it wasn’t a puddle. It was a flood.

The floor must have been a good few millimetres deep in water, soaking the thick pile handmade rugs, turning the tiles into slippery death traps.

It took me but a split second to realise that the leak came from within the shower room.

And but a split second later to realise that it had spread to the bedrooms and kitchen of the beautiful apartment.

And but a split second later to realise that I was the last person to use the bathroom.

Oh ****! What happened?! What have I done?!

The horrible sensation of flight or fight began welling up in my body as I froze on the spot. I was about to wish upon the ground to open up and swallow me as my mind skipped over possible scenarios. Had I left the tap on when I washed my hands? Had there also been a plug in the sink or something?

Thankfully, just as the redness of shame was about to burn my cheeks, it took me but a split second more to recall that when the lady of the house had shown us to the shower room, I’d noticed her move the showerhead into a bucket already full of water. At the time, I’d just assumed she was moving something for her own domestic purposes, not for us. I had no interest in the shower, I was merely intent upon using the floor as a baby changing facility.

It turned out that the officer’s wife had actually turned the shower on and left the water running into the bucket so that I had an ongoing supply with which to wash FreeToBeZ with. The water pressure doesn’t seem to be very good in many Moroccan homes, thus washtime often involves standing in the shower basin with a bucket to scoop cool water from rather than luxuriating beneath the hot rain of a showerhead.

Except I hadn’t asked to wash FreeToBeZ – I’d asked to change her nappy. (The cultural differences in nappy changing etiquette – who knew?! Obviously not me.)

FreeToBeB looked at me in horror, assuming I’d been the absolute cause of the chaos.

“It wasn’t me, it was her!” I exclaimed bluntly in English, hurriedly casting the blame onto our hostess.

Whoever was at fault, it was quite an excruciating time as she insisted she didn’t need any help in mopping the mess up. Even FreeToBeB must have felt out of his depth; usually the first to rush in and lend a hand, he sat as pathetically as me as we watched her clear up the result of her gesture of help.

Thankfully, this is Morocco: I’ve regularly seen people tip buckets of water through their homes to clean up the tiled or dirt floors. Coupled with the intense heat, and their many sodden rugs were quickly lined up along the banisters and railings of the Royal Gendarmerie apartment block to dry.

FreeToBeB’s handgun-adorned friend entered his home once his traffic cop shift had finished. Wide-eyed, he asked his wife what had happened and she graciously stated that she’d left a tap on. He looked faintly amused and promptly sat down, removed his hat, poured himself a glass of tea, and took up an unrelated topic of conversation with FreeToBeB as if nothing had happened.

Overall, it was mashi moushkil all around (Moroccan Arabic for “not a problem”).

That said, we decided to beat a hasty retreat very soon afterwards.

Upon leaving, they enthused that we should visit them for tea again when we were due to pass back through a few days later (really?!).

Suffice to say, as much as FreeToBeB mentioned on our return trip that he’d like to stop for tea at his friend’s, I could only cringe in embarrassment and say “No, please – let’s not!”.

What have been your most embarrassing moments whilst travelling with children? What cultural faux pas has left you with your own cause to cringe? Feel free to share your own stories in the comments below and assure me I’m not the only one who makes a fool of their family.

2 thoughts on “Pushing the Limits of Moroccan Hospitality

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