Take Interest in One Another

Two days prior to our departure to Sidi Ifni (سيدي إفني), Kris introduced us to her friend and Dar Si Hmad employee Abdelkabir Najib – who simply introduced himself as Najib.

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Dar Si Hmad is an NGO that works to develop the Ait Baamrane region. Their most notorious project is the implementation of fog nets for water harvesting.

Najib later told me that he doesn’t share his real name, Abdelkabir, because people mispronounce it and so he goes by Najib. I can’t say that I personally understand the frustration that people feel when westerners come to their countries and mispronounce their names given the differences in sounds and pronunciation since my name is simply Alan. I saw the same thing happening back in the United States with the Asian students, most of which already have western names on top of their Asian names to avoid the discomfort of having to correct people’s mispronunciation of their names. It took me a whole term to convince my roommate, Chang Wu, to allow us to call him Chang rather than Henry (his American name). Isn’t it sad that people are willing to give up their real names because foreigners are unwilling to make an effort to correctly pronounce their names? The wise words of Dale Carnegie echo in my head every time I meet someone new:

“The average person is more interested in his or her own name than in all the other names on Earth put together… But forget it or misspell it – and you have placed yourself at a sharp disadvantage.” – How to Win Friends and Influence People

Najib immediately opened up to me and happily accepted my request for an interview that afternoon. We walked down the wall of the Medina towards a small restaurant called “El Bahia.” I was surprised by the aura of happiness that he radiated. It was contagious and it spread to everyone he talked to including the angry waiter who worked at that restaurant. With his acute ear, Najib picked up the subtle Amazigh accent of the waiter and proceeded to talk to the man in Tachelhit (one of the Amazigh dialects) – something that seemed to make the waiter’s day as a huge smile took over the angry frown. Najib told me that although most of the Amazigh population is concentrated in the rural areas, cities like Casablanca will shut down during Eid al Adha (A Muslim celebration that celebrates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son in the name of God) because the people running the businesses are all Amazigh and they return to their homes for the celebration. Surprisingly, estimates say that 60% of the Moroccan population descends from Amazigh.

Anyways, being around Najib reminded me of what it was living in Latin America, where people seem much more open and warm than in the United States. As Najib walked us around the streets of Sidi Ifni he could not resist greeting every single person we crossed – most by name, others simply strangers – and in return he received the warm smiles of people who asked about his entire family’s health. Why is it that in the United States people don’t greet each other in the streets? Why do people give each other cold looks in the streets as if everyone was looking to hurt each other? It all probably comes down to a difference in values. Now this is entirely my opinion and based on my experiences travelling around the world so you may disagree with me on the following:

In Latin America and Morocco people seem to value family much more than in American. This is probably the result of lower economic power and not every single family will fit the rule. In all of the Latin countries in which I have lived, entire families come together to celebrate Christmas. Family members live nearby and sometimes in the same house for generations as is the case of Moroccans. Dinner is a family matter with every family member sitting together to share the food. I think that these customs somehow extend to interpersonal relationships and affects the way that people interact with each other outside of their homes. For example:

In Argentina you will see men greeting each other with a single kiss in the cheek and a hug while women are greeted with a single kiss in the cheek or at least a hand shake. People sit together and share the food in the table.

In Morocco it is 3 kisses and a hug for men and a handshake for women and while eating, people will often pick the food with their hands from one big plate that everyone shares.

In Peru handshakes and pats in the back that may extend to hugs just like in the Dominican Republic. Also, in both countries the family gathers for dinner.

In the United States, however, it is a “Hi!” And waving in the air – from the distance – and from my personal experience with American families, few sit together to have dinner. The first time that I walked into an American household I was not greeted by the parents or by anyone on my immediate arrival. I felt uncomfortable being in a house without having greeted every member of the household. I feel like this would not happen in most Latin households since people will greet you at the door as you come in.

I will admit that I have fallen into the habit of giving people cold looks and leaving behind the warm greetings for the waving of the hand in the air. The question is: if the poor people of a Moroccan village are willing and able to serve copious amount of food to strangers, why can’t we take interest in each other in America? It costs nothing to do so.

 

 

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