Monday, August 4, 2008

Entertaining Strangers

In America, we have such a hard time setting aside time to serve our friends, but how often do we go even a step farther, and reach out to those we don’t even know?

In Morocco, hospitality is not something that is penned into the day-timer, or something to be planned. Moroccans revolve their day around hospitality, and the whole family takes part. If you were to ask a Moroccan about their hospitality, they wouldn’t know what you were talking about; to them, it is a way of life.

Countless times after a day of trekking up through the mountains with my girlfriends, we would arrive in a small village, longing for some cool drink or something to eat- anything to refresh us for the journey back. At the beginning of my trip I was always so worried: would there be a village shop or restaurant where we could refill our water bottles and buy food? How about a bathroom? I found that these needs were met every time, and not once on these excursions did we satisfy our hunger and thirst with our own money.

As we would walk into a mountain village, children would be looking down on us from upstairs windows, and then we would hear running and yelling something to the effect of an English, “Mommy, mommy, there are foreigners here! There are foreigners here!” Then said mothers would come to their door way and come out, kissing us on the cheeks, greeting us, “Salaam Wa Alaykum… Labes?” We would be ushered into a small, cavelike house, dark and solely cement, up stairs we could hardly see and past a cold kitchen. Then a door would open, our dirty sandals stripped off our feet, and we would be entreated to sit in a welcoming, sun-lit room, couches spanning the walls, colorful and bright carpets on the floors, and a small, short tea table greeting us as it sat in the middle of the room. At one word from the mother, the young girls would go into the kitchen to prepare our tea and food, and the little children would sit wide-eyed, taking in all they could of the strange people in their house. Another of the little girls would walk around the room, washing and drying our hands for us.

As the tea would steep, we would talk in broken Arabic, French, and simple hand gestures. When words could not be found, we resorted to smiles. The food would come, and the guests would be served first, sweet mint tea and usually some kind of bread or cookie. More talking, more tea, and more smiles… After many hours, relatives would stop in with their greetings and then more talking and yet more smiles. After spending a whole day conversing and sharing, we would find out that the next door neighbors had prepared a evening meal for us, and so we would say our thanks and goodbyes to our new friends and move on to the next house, where we would sit and talk for another three hours, eating a traditional Moroccan meal. After long goodbyes, the father or older son would travel part of the way back to our village to state his protection over his family’s guests, and to ensure our safety.

This was a common happening in Morocco… strangers and foreigners welcomed into the home, as if we had been expected for days. A family’s income for the next two days spent on our entertainment and provision. The strangest thing of all… it gave them no greater joy then to take care of us, even though they may never see us again. How often here in America, after a friend has “overstayed their welcome” do we shut the door with sighs of relief, dreaded the sink of dishes to wash, or mourning over the fact that the house we cleaned is now littered with doll dresses or Legos!?!? Would we ever even consider investing in the lives of people completely different from us, whom we would possibly never come into contact with again?

Oftentimes, Moroccans would ask us to stay the night with them. We were now their family, and they took joy in looking after our safety and welfare. They wanted to know about our families, our work, and our religious beliefs, whether they agreed or not. How often in America do we shun and fear talking to those who disagree with us about the God we know, love and serve? They were willing enough to teach, yet humble enough to listen. And the poorest of homes became rich over a teapot of sweet conversation and blessed refreshment.

Learn from the Moroccans… hospitality is no small thing- it can change lives. It changed mine.