Monday, August 2, 2010

Oh, what a smile can do!

Oh, these Moroccan days…

I began writing this blog a week into the trip in Merzouga and it started something like this … As we leave our desert hotel “Timbouktu” and traverse through what appears to look like the surface of Mars’ rocky terrain I can’t help but look back at the Saharan sand dunes at a distance. As I peer out the window of a charter bus, the bright shining sun forces me to close my eyes and I think about the past two days in this majestic place. The Sahara has given me a deeper appreciation of life. In a place where my existence feels insignificant compared to the sheer size of the desert, where I realize how quickly I can disappear from existence if I lose my point of reference camel riding from dune to dune, then feeling a sense of relief when I look down at a friendly smile from an Amazigh named Mustafa guiding my camel on foot brings value back to my life.

I knew people throughout history passed through the Sahara on trade routes, but I never expected to see nomadic tents and homes along the edge of the desert. As we raced by tent homes in 4x4 Jeeps with nothing else in sight for many kilometers it was the children who came out of these homes running toward our cars that brightened my day the children would smile and wave as we whizzed by their world…. Now fast forward to a month into the program and I noticed a strong recurrence as I went from city to city having similar experiences as in Merzouga. On a daily basis I was greeted by friends and strangers with a bright smile and I began to think how nice a good smile makes me feel. Smiles are contagious and powerful. Research shows smiles makes things happier, relieves stress, lowers blood pressure, and helps you stay positive.

It was a comment from Azeddine, our Moroccan director, sitting in a discussion at the African Studies Department in Rabat that drove home this point on smiles. After answering countless questions on the differences between Morocco and the United States, he stressed how even when trying to fish for differences we have many commonalities as humans. To summarize his overall message in a nutshell, “people are pretty much the same throughout the world we all smile the same and we all have teeth, for the most part”. Although, I can only communicate in a few words in Arabic its beautiful to be able to express such genuine emotions with a nonverbal universal gesture like a bright smile. There have been many times where I struggled to speak to someone so I used hand signals and at the end we both smiled when I was able to communicate something as simple as asking for water. Also, I began to think of all the wonderful people I felt I made a connection with while in Morocco and for each person Youness, Abderrahim (bus driver), Abderrahim (language professor), Wissal, Mohammed, and others - their smiles are the first thing I think of when I picture them in my head. I guess it’s the simple things in life that give greater value to life. For as vast as the world is, I feel a sense of satisfaction in knowing there are human qualities we all share no matter what country anyone is from and it all begins with a smile!
Listening to
“Cellphone’s Dead”- Beck

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