Learning to Couchsurf in Nador

I never thought I would ever participate in couchsurfing. It seemed both a scary and socially exhausting thing to get involved in. It also was never clear to me how it worked exactly. When I began looking into visiting Nador and Melilla, I quickly realized I was going to have to learn how it worked, not only because I was running very low on my budget for Spain, but primarily because Melilla and Nador are not big tourist destinations and lodging was either very expensive or did not exist at all.

So, I completed my profile as fully as I could and began searching for hosts. Since I am traveling solo, I sought out female hosts but there were none in Nador. So I diligently read reviews and began drafting messages where I intriduced myself and my project. I received a confirmation from Abdel, a 21 year-old living with his family in Aaroui (a city about 20 minutes away from Nador) and we arranged to meet at the train station.
All my nervousness went away as soon as I met Abdel. Right off the bat, he was really easygoing and our unorthodox meeting quickly disseminated into a casual hangout with a friend. He kindly showed me around Nador, a really beautiful city that sharply contrasted with Fez due to having wide sidewalks and an ample downtown area with large stores. After eating an elote on a stick (only salt, no chile like in Mexico), Abdel walked me over to the sea. We sat on a bench nearby until it got dark, and enjoyed the beautiful view and the music from the nearby feria (I’ll digress to point out that many other words, including granada and azucar, sound nearly identical in Arabic).
Anyway, anyway. Abdel told me that the feria was very popular during the summer months and was packed with immigrants returning from Europe. He said every day you would see cars from Germany, France, or the Netherlands. “You almost thought you were somewhere in Europe, not Morocco” Abdel said with a smile.
At that moment, I knew I had made the right decision coming to Nador, an area bordering a Spanish city and home to many Moroccan immigrants to Europe. I was going to be given an opportunity to learn about immigration from the perspective of a place who sees its residents go and the family members and friends who stay behind.

Once it got dark, we walked to the taxi station. In Morocco, people share taxi rides, which I like because its efficient and both environmentally and wallet friendly. So six of us got in a white old Mercedes car and payed about a dollar for our 20 minute car-ride to Aaroui. On our way to Abdel’s home, we stopped by a cafe to meet some of his friends, who were very impressed I was from ‘America’.

I will never forget walking into Abdel’s home for the first time. Abdel’s mother Fatin, his older sister Iman, and his teenage sister Ferdaous, were sitting on a large couch in their pajamas (which were all some kind of pink) watching an Indian soap opera. They each greeted me with four kisses and instantly made me feel at home. I also met the two youngest siblings (who I played with quite a bit), Majda who is 6, and Mohammed Amid, a wild 5 year-old.

By the time dinner was served at 10pm, I was starving. A large plate with potatoes, carrots, and fish was placed in the middle of the table and everyone reached in, using chunks of bread to grab the food. There were four other smaller plates: two with salad and two others with something green I could recognized. Abdel didn’t know the English word for it so Iman started waving her hands by her mouth while making an ‘ahh’ sound, allowing me to understand that they were spicy green peppers. We all laughed and eventually it became a running joke, something we would do from time to time when we saw each other.



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