When my best friend Louise and I decided to travel in Morocco as young backpackers, we had our shares of highs and lows on the road. One morning we took an early ferry from Tarifa, Spain, to Tangier, Morocco on a mini-bus mostly full of locals, plus a few tourists.
When we arrived in Tangier, two men with machine guns descended on our bus, shouting in Arabic and Spanish. After much confusion, and with the translation help of a six-year-old boy, we learned that we had to get off the bus, as they wanted to search everyone’s luggage.
While we stood in the blazing sun, watching our bags get thrown on the pavement, the men ordered everyone to get back on the bus. We obliged immediately, of course. It was only two minutes later we were told to get off the bus again. Amidst the mass confusion and realizing we might miss our train, Louise and I decided to grab our backpacks and make a run for it. It was easy to escape, and we disappeared into the crowd and ran about fifteen minutes to reach the train station.
After much confusion, and with the translation help of a six-year-old boy, we learned that we had to get off the bus, as the men with machine guns wanted to search everyone’s luggage.
When we finally got settled on the train to Fez and got over our feelings of panic, we struck up a conversation with a local man sitting next to us. He asked us where we were going and where we planned to stay. Being true backpackers, we didn’t plan where we’d stay until we arrived at our destination and had had a chance to look around. He was a primary school teacher who was traveling with a mother and her two children; both kids were in his class.
After an amusing conversation in English, my broken French and Arabic, the teacher said that the mother had graciously offered for us to stay with their family while we were in Fez. We happily accepted. I’m grateful for the kindness of strangers. I’ve lost count of the amount of times on my travels that I’ve been welcomed into a family’s home for a meal, even after they have just met me, and they ask for nothing in return.
We found out when we arrived we would be sharing the couch in the living room with the kids, but that was OK with us. The family lived in a modest apartment and we enjoyed three days with them, immersing ourselves in their lives, practicing French and Arabic. We shared meals family-style from the same tajine while sitting on the living room floor and enjoying lots of laughs. They asked for nothing in return.
I’m grateful for the kindness of strangers. I’ve lost count of the amount of times on my travels that I’ve been welcomed into a family’s home for a meal.
One afternoon, the teacher took us around Fez, through the maze of alleys that make up the markets there. He shielded us from the many shop owners vying for our attention. There weren’t too many women around and we didn’t see any other foreigners that day. After purchasing pottery and visiting some spice shops, we stopped for a thick Turkish-style coffee at the side of the road. The coffee stall owner even asked me to marry him!
Had we stayed on the bus that morning and waited for the men with guns to search our bags, we may have missed our train. We likely would have found a hostel, but we would have missed out on meeting a wonderful family, and we would not have seen the real Fez through the eyes of the teacher.