Tuesday night of finals week. Am I studying? No. Instead, I have spent the evening in busy preparation for my host sister’s birthday party. Carefully adorning our usually barren white living room walls with bright pink balloons and streamers — perfectly matched to the pink little-girl sized plates and napkins my roommate and I hurriedly arranged on the dining room table. We maneuvered the maze of crevices between endless plates of birthday sweets, whose fragrant smells flooded from the tiled kitchen through the entire apartment. Plate after plate of the sweet smells were hurried out of the kitchen onto the dining room table.
Soon, the entire apartment was overflowing with not only sweet birthday fragrances, but also bubbling, high-pitched laughter and the pitter-patter of tiny white ballet slippers chasing each other under table legs and between the legs of myself and my roommate. The excitement of my host sister’s seventh birthday party flooded the apartment through the night.
Dressed in her nicest jellaba, the traditional Moroccan dress, the birthday girl stood at attention in front of the couch overflowing with classmates. A voice three times her size echoed from her little lungs and directed the night’s festivities: hide-and-seek and races down the narrow hallway until the inevitable sugar crash.
Kiss-cheek-kiss-cheek. The little girls scrambled over each other to say goodnight, their arms overflowing with leftover goodies that my host mother stuffed into pink-flowered baggies for the party guests. Our host father walked each little one safely home.
As the tall iron door shut behind the last little girl, my host mother sat with my roommate and I in the aftermath of celebration. The carefully arranged place settings and sweets sat in disarray on the table in front of us, balloons and streamers clung hallway to the concrete walls, and the sweet smells still lingered in the air. On the couch next to us, the birthday girl lay fast asleep, still dressed, with her birthday tiara clinging halfway to her hair, disheveled from the night’s festivities. After a few moments of rest, just long enough for our host father to return from the final little girl’s walk home, it was time to clean the little apartment, careful not to disturb the sleeping beauty on the couch.
Life with a host family has been challenging at times: curfews, set meal times, bed times, and Saturday morning wake-ups have been a part of the journey. But so have birthday parties, and dinners, and special nights like this, which have given me the chance to really be a part of a Moroccan family.