Travel often gives us a unique perspective on things. The longer you spend in an area, especially if you’re mingling with locals, the more that perspective grows.
I never voiced this to anyone, but I was a bit nervous coming here. Not just because of the language limitations. While I have friends and connections who are Muslim, I’ve never been to a mostly Muslim area before. Yes, in the States all you really get exposed to is the uglier side of the fanatic, extreme side of Islam, but that didn’t bother me. I knew that stuff wasn’t representative of the whole Muslim culture. What bothered me was how I would be received as an American. Particularly in light of some of the things going on in the Middle East.
I came prepared to tell people I was from Canada. Not because of any shame of being from the States, but because I wanted to be given a chance. The first time I told someone we were from the States, they were quite surprised. “We don’t get many Americans here! So tell me, what do you think of this Romney character.”
While our train departed from the station, I engaged in a fascinating political discussion with an older Moroccan male. He felt Romney was “all about money” and gave me reasons why he believed that. He brought up other things and proved he was actually more informed about things in my native country than many of my fellow citizens. He hoped for an Obama win, so I’m sure he was happy when he heard the news a couple of weeks later.
While most Moroccans are of Berber origin, the culture is quite Arabic. I knew the Middle Eastern culture was very hospitable, but I was still surprised by the overall warmth and friendliness of the people, even when they weren’t trying to sell me something.
Most Moroccans live a very humble life. In rural areas, the average person earns about $428 per month. That means that purchasing 1 kg of camel is 3% of their monthly wage.
When we eat breakfast at our favorite joint we always order kulshi (meaning, literally, “all”). We’ll split 3 eggs, a basket of breads, a dish of argon butter (kind of like almond butter), a pot of tea, and 2 large mugs of fresh-squeezed orange juice. We pay 37 MAD, or $4.40, for this breakfast. That is almost 1/3 of a person’s average daily wage, and we are getting charged the locals price. Our 3G Internet service costs just $24 a month per person. A kilo of produce is around 15 MAD ($1.78).
In the States, our current extremely modest income places our 2-person household well below the poverty line. Here we spend about the same as what a Moroccan earns each month, but we also aren’t paying for electricity or rent, and it’s for 1 adult and 1 child, whereas as most Moroccan families we’ve seen have at least 5 people. That doesn’t include the good chance that they are also supporting the husband’s mother and father, and it is highly likely that neither of them are bringing in an income either.
I was recently quite touched when a man who had been walking from table to table begging for a cup of tea saw Tigger. He came over and handed him a dirham (about 8.5 cents), smiled, and walked away. Later while taking the shared taxi home, a lady took out a small, plastic toy elephant from her purse and handed it to my son to play with. He tried to give it back to her as we were leaving the cab, but she wouldn’t hear of it.
In addition to being challenged by life here, I’ve been humbled by the generosity of people much poorer than ourselves. I have to fight against politely refusing gifts such as when our nearly toothless vegetable vendor hands us 2 oranges for free. To refuse a gift would offer a painful insult. To counter with money or another gift could very well be another form of insult.
Today was my final grocery trip into town. I found myself getting emotional as I let people know we were leaving, especially when Ibrahim, our favorite fruit vendor, asked for my address so we could keep in touch. Tigger had slept in and decided he’d rather not join me for the journey. Every person we knew asked after him.
This is the part of slow travel that is the most magical and the most painful. We’ve gotten to know people, build small relationships, and in a way become part of the community. And in 3 days we leave for the next destination. I definitely am not the same man who almost didn’t cross the border nearly three months ago. This country has left an indelible mark on me.
We haven’t left yet, but my heart already aches for Morocco, most especially for Guelmim and our little oasis of Tighmert.