Last year around this time, I was wrapping up three years in a country in the northwestern tip of Africa, known for a few different things, depending on who you talk to; for some, beautiful beaches; for others, world-renowned cuisine; for others, gorgeous home decor; and for others, questionable safety. When it came down to it, I went to Morocco for one reason: I was overwhelmed by the sense that not to go would be to reject some crucial part of my life purpose.
I didn’t know it last year at this time, but it would be my final few months living in a country that changed me and taught me more than I could ever could have anticipated going into it in September 2012. When I boarded the plane Los Angeles- Dusseldorf, Dusseldorf- Marrakech, I knew it would be an awesome adventure and an incredible challenge, but I could not know exactly how either would unravel. Almost four years later, I can look back and name some of the things I learned there, the larger pieces that I took away with me.
1. Be patient.
Moving to a new place, and especially a new country, has a way of showing you that you may be neurotic in ways that are perfectly acceptable in your home country, but that aren’t in other cultures. For example: in non-Western countries, time is often taken a little more loosely. Appointments made at 1 p.m. aren’t expected to start until 2 p.m. (or 3..or 4….). Waiting for a meal for 1 hour + is often expected, and train schedules and bus schedules are often more of a suggestion. To natives of that country, it’s not a big deal. But for an American, it may be mind-bendingly frustrating, and cause rage, judgment, and a massive headache.
There is something to be said for punctuality. It creates efficiency. But there’s also something to be said for surrendering your schedule. When something takes longer than you think it should, it might throw you off fifteen minutes, or half an hour, or three hours. In Morocco, I had a few friends that were habitually late for times we had scheduled to meet up. I once waited for four hours downtown for a friend who had invited me to come to the beach. At first, I felt confusion. Then, frustration. Then, disbelief. And finally, surrender. And then, we went to the beach.
I learned to roll with Moroccan time. I stopped coming on time. And then I was the one who was late. Not necessarily a good thing, but it taught me how to be more understanding with others, how to not take my own schedule so seriously, and how to enjoy extra, unexpected times of waiting. Waiting can be a good thing, because it yields patience, which I think is one of the things we need the most to be kind.
2. Be hospitable.
Moroccans are crazy hospitable. Like, try going to that country and not getting invited to a total stranger’s wedding. Or at least into someone’s home for a giant, gorgeous, home-cooked feast. You will leave humbled, maybe a little confused, and stuffed.
Moroccans taught me the practical skills of hospitality- i.e. how to cook a large meal, how to make sure everyone’s plate is filled, when and how to offer an invitation. They also taught me the heart behind hospitality. Letting someone into your home and providing for them usually means that you are going to give up time, food, space, and comfort. But my friends, neighbors, and- random people I met even as a tourist- considered this an honor. They considered it an honor to show someone a part of their culture and home, to feed them huge dishes of chicken tagine or plates of couscous, and spend time with them just relaxing.
Being in a Moroccan’s home doesn’t always mean chatting. Sometimes it just means being. And I think that’s part of the heart of hospitality. It doesn’t always mean entertaining, the way we might think of it in the U.S. It means sharing your private space and time with someone, even someone you may not have known for more than thirty minutes.
3. Be generous.
Generosity is a huge part of hospitality, but I find that it covers an even broader spectrum of kindness than making dinner for someone and having them sleep over. Generosity is paying for someone’s three dollar coffee when you make less than twenty dollars a day, or going two miles out of your way to show a confused tourist where the best place to get chicken shawarma (a type of wrap) is. It’s not thinking twice about giving something away even though you love it, paying for someone even though you can’t afford it, and spending your time helping someone even though you’re in a rush. I found that again and again, I could depend on Moroccans to help me when I needed it because they are generous. And I found again and again that they did it without expecting anything in return.