This short letter was posted yesterday by Rick Steves on his Travel Blog. It is a perfect Christmas Season Story.
The writer is George Gorayeb, a former Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco, and now a realtor in Annapolis. George is an Arab-American Christian whose family emigrated from Syria.
In this season of gift-giving, I would like to share a personal story about the humblest yet most-appreciated gift that I have ever given to anyone.
Back in the spring of 1972, I was blessed to be serving as a Peace Corps volunteer, high school English teacher in Marrakesh, Morocco, in North Africa. One day, a half dozen of us volunteers went hiking in the foothills of the High Atlas Mountains. This scenic mountain range separates the city of Marrakesh from the northern edge of the Sahara Desert. For half of the year, these mountain peaks are covered in snow because of their very high elevation.
After hiking for several hours one morning, we came upon a young Moroccan boy named Mohammed, about ten years old, tending to his flock of sheep on a mountainside. He was shocked that this group of young Americans could speak to him in Moroccan Arabic.
After we talked for a while, this little kid insisted that we follow him and his sheep home so we could all meet his family in the nearby village. We followed him. His house was a very modest structure made of mud walls. His family was delighted to welcome us into their home. They served us Moroccan mint tea and biscuits. Then they insisted that we stay for a traditional and delicious Moroccan lunch.
This was a very humble family who lived from the food they raised themselves in this remote mountain village. They told us that they had never met any Americans before, and they were honored to host us. We realized that they had only a few chickens, and the mother was preparing a chicken tajine for us. A tajine is a delicious stew served in a big brown ceramic platter with a big cone top.
We all felt guilty because we knew this family lived a very spartan life. They only ate chicken on special religious holidays. But we also knew how extremely important it is to show generous hospitality towards your guests in Arab and Muslim culture. So, they insisted that they serve us the most elaborate meal that they could. And we knew that we could not refuse their extraordinary graciousness, no matter how poor they were.
During the lunch, one of the girls in our group asked little Mohammed if his bare feet didn’t get very cold in the winter months as he walked the mountainside in just flip flops. He said yes, but he had no socks. I spontaneously realized that I had to give this kid my socks. I was embarrassed because we had crossed a stream that morning, and my shoes got wet. My socks were still damp, and the one on my right foot had a big hole where my big toe was.
But as Mohammed watched me take my socks off and hand them to him, his contagious smile just exploded with joy. You would have thought I was handing him the keys to a brand-new convertible.
I learned a valuable lesson that day. This — a pair of tattered old socks — was the most humble and basic gift that I have ever given anyone. But this little kid appreciated this simple gift so much, it shocked me. He could not thank me enough when he hugged me to say goodbye that day. My bare feet in my wet shoes were really cold for the rest of that day, but it still gave me a great feeling.
Have a joyous Christmas season!