The warmth of Hanane Chaibainou demonstrates the fluidity with which Moroccan values can transcend borders.
Rabat – Laila Serraj, a Moroccan student at Drew University in the US state of New Jersey, was one of an estimated 33,000 Moroccans who became stranded abroad when Morocco shut its borders on March 15. Her mother, Kelly Serraj, was understandably sick with worry.
Drew University suspended face-to-face instruction in favor of remote classes in mid-March.
“Laila continued to stay at [her] university but she was alone and getting depressed as each day went on,” Kelly told Morocco World News.
Wanting to bring her daughter home to Fez, Kelly reached out to the Moroccan consulate in New York City to inquire about repatriation flights. She said the consulate put Laila on the list for future flights, but “each day got longer and longer.”
A woman named Malika who works at the Moroccan consulate often reached out to Laila to make sure she was okay and to assure her the consulate was doing their best to get her home.
But Kelly, as any mother would in her position, “was getting [more] distraught and angrier by the day.”
Three weeks after Kelly reached out to the consulate, Malika called Laila to tell her they had found her a temporary host family in New Jersey, headed by a Moroccan woman from Ben Guerir named Hanane Chaibainou.
“I was so nervous,” Kelly said. “So was Laila.”
“I had to react quickly because I knew my daughter was getting more depressed as the days went on. I told her: ‘Listen, Laila, we have to just trust Allah and go for it.’ So we decided to go ahead and take a chance.”
“Malika gave me Hanane’s number and I did contact her. She reassured me everything would be okay,” Kelly continued.
“Still nervous, we took a big leap of faith.”
The leap of faith, however, ended up delivering a match made in heaven.
Above and beyond
“Hanane Chaibainou is a blessing from Allah,” Kelly told MWN. “I will be forever grateful to her, as well as Malika from the New York consulate.”
“Not only did they care for my daughter when the borders shut, they went [above] and beyond the call,” she continued.
“Ms. Chaibainou treated my daughter like her own. She took my daughter everywhere with her,” she said.
In addition to family dinners and adventurous outings, Hanane took Laila on a trip to Philadelphia in the neighboring state of Pennsylvania, where Laila hopes to finish her studies in medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.
“She took care of Laila so well,” Kelly said.
Laila was able to return home to Morocco on July 18, three days after the country opened its borders to welcome back citizens and residents stranded abroad. But Laila’s departure from the US was not the end of her relationship with her host family.
“When [Hanane] took Laila to the airport, she gave her a key to her house,” Kelly continued, a gesture that symbolizes the bond her daughter forged with Hanane that will endure for years to come—especially with the Moroccan student set on continuing her studies in the US.
“I feel that the Moroccan consulate did such a fine job and needs to be recognized,” Kelly added.
Moroccan people, she continued, “went [above] and beyond in this pandemic.”
The COVID-19 pandemic may have stranded Laila abroad, an ocean away from her family, but she was not alone. Kelly said she will be forever grateful to Hanane for taking her daughter in as her own.
“Truly my daughter gained a second mother.”