July 9, 2008 Posted by Tahir in Travel


When it comes to ideals there’s not much I care about passionately. I’d don’t really care if someone lies to me, or if he steals, or is rude. But what turns my blood cold is miserliness.

I can’t stand it. Not for a moment.

It’s interesting to think that the word ‘miser’ has the same root (latin for wretchedness) as ‘misery’. And to me miserliness is exactly that — wretchedness.
Living here in Morocco you see people every day who have very little in the way of worldly possessions, but their hearts are wide open. The community is ‘sensible’ (to use the French meaning the word) to those within it, and it would be unthinkable not to share.
But then of course when you go to wealthier areas, the walls gain in height and the generosity is more about impressing others rather than helping them.
In the East the idea of giving is to benefit the receiver. For this reason gifts are often given anonymously. Think about it. That’s surely the way it should be. But we often get all caught up about wanting thanks, like a dog needing a pat on the head. 
We recently had friends visiting from overseas. Their son made something for the children in the bidonville, the shantytown, in which we live. He wanted to take the gift to the kids and never had time as he had to leave. His mother seemed upset the he didn’t have the chance to give his gift. I said that I would make sure that the gift was presented. She seemed unhappy at this, at least at first… until I explained that in Morocco, and elsewhere in the Arab world, a gift is regarded a twice as valuable if the giver is unknown.
There’s another example that I can’t get out of my head. It happened quite recently too. A European gentleman who I know was staying in Fes. He invited me down to a sumptuous house he had rented. By chance he invited me to lunch on a Friday. In Morocco Friday lunch is almost sacred. It’s a communal meal and friends and friends of friends are invited to eat, more usually not from the same vast platter. There’s no such thing as scrimping and saving when it comes to guests in Morocco… and doing so on a Friday would be unthinkable.
When the European invited me he asked ever so politely, if I might come alone… to eave my wife and children behind. I must have gone silent at the other end of the phone, because he added, ‘I’m thinking of numbers don’t you know.’ In Moroccan culture such a request is beyond unthinkable. And the more I think about it, the more I find myself preoccupied with the broader idea of cultural generosity, and real hospitality.
In the same way, it’s rude in the Arab world to tell a visitor what time to come. They will come when they are ready and as a host you are expected to receive them. And of course, generosity is rewarded many times over.
For me, both my proudest and most shamed moment came a few years ago in Casablanca. I was trying to load a table into my car near the Habbous market, when I noticed a beggar going from one stall to the next, asking the stallkeepers for fruit. One by one, the fruit sellers would select the finest apple, orange, or pear, and would pass it over to the woman with their blessing. Amazed at what I was seeing, I went a little nearer. The first stallkeeper noticed my interest. He looked at me full on.
‘Just because someone is poor,’ he said, ‘it does not mean they are not worthy of the best.’
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