Traveling has always been a dream of mine, to mingle with the people of distant lands, and explore far away jungles and ruins. This might be attributed to my childhood days spent reading National Geographics with Mom and Dad, or maybe it was Indiana Jones movies or my own inherent thirst for adventure. Whatever the culprit, I’ve got the bug, and don’t ever want to be cured. Last spring break I had the opportunity to begin my travels. I ventured to Spain, and then onto Morocco. I was only in Morocco for a day, but for all the footprints I left behind on the dusty streets there, it left a thousand on me.
The people of Anjra gave me a whole new definition of hospitality in the face of extreme poverty. I was welcomed and fed, then shown around their town and market as if I were an old friend. They all seemed so content, even though most of them had never known a life different than the one they had there in Anjra, and it was implied most had never been more than 50 miles from their homes. They held no preconceived notions about me as an American, and if they did, they hid them very well; perhaps because many did not have television, or maybe they just wanted to make up their own minds about me. The whole experience left me humbled, but one event left the deepest footprint.
Before the afternoon meal was to begin, I went outside to wash my hands in the little faucet protruding from the ground. As the nozzle creaked open and I began to wet my hands, I felt a tug on the back of my shirt. I spun around instinctively expecting the worst, but was ashamed by my reaction when I saw a small child hunched over before me. I crouched down and in my best Arabic said “As-Sal A-mu Alaykum.” The boy laughed and repeated it back to me. I must have said it wrong, I thought. So I said it again and again with the 6 or 7 year old boy correcting my pronunciation each time until he was satisfied. Then he held out his hand. Of course, I was going to give him a few Euros. After all, hadn’t he just given me an Arabic lesson? But he pulled his hand back and looked at me with an odd expression. So I put the money back in my pocket. He held out his hand again. This time I reached out and grasped it. The boy shook my hand heartily, smiled and ran off down the street. I felt ashamed at my assumption. I expected the little boy to want money, but it turned out he just wanted to meet me.
This encounter lasted only a few minutes, but it made me realize the danger of assumptions and stereotypes. I have always thought of myself as an open minded person, but after meeting a little boy in Morocco I saw deeper into myself, and found something that I didn’t like. Without realizing it, society’s negative view of poorer countries had found its way into my subconscious. I’m extremely fortunate to have met that little boy. He taught me more than proper pronunciation. He taught me to take people for who they are, not who you assume them to be. I have now come to understand how easily influenced we are by what we hear and see. This lesson truly proved the power of media and film and television.
Now, the greatest opportunity for me would be to experience more of the worlds people, and help others to understand not only the ways we are different, but all of the ways we are the same.
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