A Humble Gift That Meant So Much
We lived in Marrakesh, Morocco, a centuries old phantasmagorical city on the edge of the Sahara Desert in North Africa. Because of its snow-capped peaks from the High Atlas Mountains on the horizon, the ubiquitous palm trees, and all the buildings painted the same shade of dusty pink, this town looked like a Hollywood movie set.
It was spring, 1972. We were Peace Corps English language teachers in local high schools. The singing group, Crosby Stills and Nash, of Woodstock fame, had made this town famous because of their hit song,” Marrakesh Express”.
One lovely spring weekend, the daytime temperatures rose enough to melt the mountain snows enough to turn all the dry creek beds into babbling streams. We set off for a day of mountain hiking.
After a few hours of trekking, we came upon a 10 year old shepherd boy named Mohamed, grazing his small flock of sheep and goats on a steep hillside. He insisted that we follow him home to be his family’s guests for lunch. This family lived a very modest subsistence lifestyle, but it was Arab tradition to show gracious hospitality to any passing strangers.
While we were served sweet Moroccan mint tea, his mother prepared a delicious fresh chicken stew (tajeen) with preserved lemons, olives and many spices. This chicken came from their small flock in the front yard. The entire family joined us as we sat on cushions on the floor in this tiny stone house that blended into the hillside.
We knew that this family ate chicken only a few times a year, usually only on religious holidays. But regardless of that, they chose to honor this group of foreign visitors by serving us the best they had to offer. It truly humbled us.
The lunch conversation was very animated and full of laughter. They asked us many questions about daily life in our country, and what we liked about living in Morocco.
After a few hours, we felt like a great friendship had been formed, and this type of experience happened frequently during our two year tour.
During our story telling, I noticed that Mohamed wore only rubber sandals with no socks. Life in those hills was chilly in the winter months, and Mohamed spent lots of time tending his flock. He said that he had never owned a pair of socks in his life.
I instinctively removed my socks. They were fairly worn out. The right one even had a small hole in it where my big toe stuck out. To make matters worse, they were wet due to a stream we had crossed earlier that morning.
As I reached out and offered them to Mohamed, his eyes grew as big as saucers, and his smile was joyous. His reaction would have made you think that I had just given him a new car.
The image of that little boy’s smile has stuck with me for the past 40 years. Of all the gifts I have given to family and friends in my life, I don’t think any gift was more sincerely appreciated than that old pair of damp, worn-out socks.
I still remember how cold and uncomfortable my bare feet were in my damp shoes as we trekked home that afternoon. But the memory of Mohammed’s joyous smile warmed my heart that day, and it has given me a precious memory for my whole life. That little boy taught me that the humblest of gifts can sometimes have the most meaning in life.
Morocco PCV 1971-73