While on a short birding trip somewhere south of Casablanca, we stayed the night at a farmhouse that is known to rent out a room to passing birdwatchers. I didn't know what to expect— this was the humble home of a family of seven in the middle of what seemed like nowhere. I was prepared for simplicity and the usual awkward moments, but hoped to learn more about Moroccan culture and the lives of our hosts. Maybe even sketch them.
The head of the household, a man about our age, would scarcely make eye-contact with me. I was not surprised, as many of the places I have travelled to have cultures or religions that in some way discourage interactions between people of the opposite sex, and here I was with my husband; it would have been rude for him to look at or speak to the wife of another man. Pedro did his best to communicate with him in French, while his wife and children eyed us and smiled. I smiled back. She cooked a delicious chicken but did not eat with us— neither did any of the kids, except for the second youngest boy who was fascinated with the contents of Pedro's shirt pocket.
At some point during the meal, the man began to tell Pedro how his marriage was not one of love— that he longed for an educated woman to have intelligent conversations with, and described talking to his wife as "pouring water into sand". I wished at that moment that I could fade into the wall. Perhaps he assumed I didn't understand French. Perhaps he didn't care. Perhaps I was sand too.
We woke before dawn to catch the morning roar of birdsong in the surrounding fields. His wife was already up, the little house softly illuminated by the light of the kitchen. We quietly tiptoed to the door, desperately trying not to wake the others— I could see the contours of a sleeping child under a fluffy blanket on the floor near our boots. The metal door let out a groan, and in seconds she appeared behind us with a smile, showing us the trick to opening the door in silence.
As I walked through the wheat fields, with the moon to my right and a pink horizon on my left, I thought about her in that little square of kitchen light, and my heart sank.