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The nicest man in Morocco works in a carpet shop in Azrou, in the Middle Atlas Mountains. His father, Moha, owns it and is often there – he’ll go to the various souks and buy the one-of-a-kind antique rugs, he’ll purchase the rugs from the women or middlemen who come by with rugs to sell, he’ll take care of the important customers those who had been in before and were returning to close a big deal. Abdou, the son, is in the shop all the time – it’s open from not-too-early in the morning until late at night (he even sleeps there, piles on rugs upstairs; his sister brings him a late supper. He does go home on Friday afternoons for couscous lunch, and on Friday mornings he goes to the hammam for his weekly bath). Most of the time he’s in the shop along, with his two cats (the cats I knew have both passed away; not that much time has passed since I finished my service, and I thought they’d be there every time I returned, no matter how much time passes. Those cats were young - but cats in Morocco have tough lives. Still, it’s hard to imagine Abdou without Minush. Minush was a present from friends when the shop opened. I’m glad he has two of her kittens to keep him company).
When alone, Abdou might be in the entryway, watching television or watching the street for customers. When anyone comes in, though, he has a welcoming way (not the hard-sell way in many other carpet shops in the country!). inviting everyone to have tea – the best tea in Morocco. Yes, the nicest man in Morocco makes the best tea in Morocco. It probably has its share of sugar – all Moroccan tea has its share of sugar – but it has additional herbs that make it flavorful and even healthy – verbena, lavender, oregano and others – I’d say I don’t remember, but the truth is that the combinations of herbs changed with the seasons, so I have an excuse.
In the summer, somehow hot tea is refreshing – the carpet shop is dark, high-ceilinged, quiet and cool, so not too hot for tea. It ‘s cold in the winter (in “the cold country with the hot sun”), you keep your coat on, and Abdou drapes a Berber wedding cape around you (or a heavy wool jellaba, if you’re a man), and you can sit for hours drinking tea.
I went in there often – especially towards the end of my service, more days than not (and towards the very end, frequently bursting into tears at the thought of leaving). And I brought everyone in there – all of my visitors from home and every Peace Corps volunteer who came through (and a lot of them came through my town). I watched them shop for rugs – and often one would catch my eye. I ended up buying half a dozen rugs from Abdou, at least – in past because he was so nice! This was in addition to the rugs I bought from my artisans and the rugs I didn’t plan to buy in Fes and Marrakesh but did anyway. By the time I bought those, though, I had an eye and could bargain.
Not with Abdou, though – he always gave me the “friends and family” price, and he gave the best price to everyone I brought in, too. I kept telling him to start with the tourist price – or even the Fes tourist price – so people would know what a deal they were getting, but Abdou was so guileless that he immediately discounted everything for everyone I brought in. Unfortunately, my fellow PCVs weren’t always trusting. They’d been harassed by other Moroccan men and sometimes didn’t realize that it was even possible for there to be a nice one. Most of them were won over by tea, a smile, and a patience with our Arabic and his English (both of which improved by the end of my two years there). I will never have enough floor – or wall – space for all of those rugs, but I couldn’t resist.
I have to admit that there were two other nicest men in Morocco at my site. Yes, three of them in Azrou, a town of 40,000! One of the others married a fellow PCV, and one was an artisan with whom I worked. Still, when I think of my favorite times in Morocco, of what I miss the most, what I look forward to going back to, it’s the carpet shop, it’s the tea, it’s Abdou.