Then I moved to a Moroccan village.
Today most of my friends range in age from 3 - 16 years of age, and all of them are women. There is Fatima-Zahra, the 4-year-old who comes running for a kiss when I turn the corner, screaming my Moroccan name, "Khadija." There is Aicha, who is freshly 16 and plans to marry within the year. Hanan is 16 and speaks rudimentary English -- my refuge in moments of fumbling, hopeless Arabic babble. The flock of women I love and call "home" here come in all sizes, ages and attitudes. A place where their welcome, especially in times of illness or discouragement, can bring such joy it takes everything not to cry with gratitude.
But my best friend of all? Malika, my host mother. The other night, after we had finished the Ramadan breaking fast, or feast, I walked her to work at the neighborhood housewares hanut (store, pronounced "han-oot"). Together we pulled out plastic tables, gaudy mattresses and plastic wardrobes. And then we sat, her crocheting and me watching, talking about everything and nothing. We joked about her boss and his goofy, doughboy-like demeanor, and I told her about the kids harassing me, my visit to the police station, did my best to explain the concept of scones, which I baked early that day. She showed me photos on her phone, one of a Gendarme (police man), and later confided that the handkerchief she was knitting was for him... a new crush, perhaps. I told her about my love life, an upcoming trip out of the country, showed her my fingers rubbed raw in a day-long stint of laundry. All of this shared, expressed, and so much laughter.
It struck me later that we had confided so much. For a conservative, Muslim culture, my experience is rife with intimate moments and, at times, risque conversation. Always with women or children and in privacy from men. Indeed, most of my time here is lived out in the exclusive company of women in exclusive places. True, there are things I will never, can never discuss. I can never share that I claim no religion and will remain under the guise of "Christian." There will be no talk of homosexuality (illegal in Morocco), or religious debate. Chances are we will never talk about sex, either. I remember a good friend and fellow volunteer once expressing his frustration at his host family's attachment to and love for him. How can they love him and yet not know all of him? It struck us all. Here, I guess, it is just a new way of knowing people, where some things fall away and it becomes possible to love and know without entirety.
So here I am. A twenty-something, mediocre Arabic-speaking white girl. I often address men as women on accident, demonstrate bizarre habits such as drinking tea without sugar and spending time alone, refuse all meat but chicken, carry my own, personal water bottle and toilet paper with me wherever I go. Yet I have a friends. The best of friends, in fact. And finally, a best friend. Malika.