The American Thanksgiving may be a racist holiday. Celebrating this day may ignore the hundreds of years of oppression inflicted upon non-whites. Nevertheless, this holiday exists; and although it is based in controversial circumstances, it contains one positive (not including food, although, you could also take that either way): being grateful.
Interesting article: How turkeys got to our tables
For a recent travel writing workshop, I was asked to recall a moment – an instance of an act of kindness I’ve experienced while traveling. Anyone who has traveled knows that every day we are continually flooded with gentleness. The world is made out to be a horrible place. Yet, no matter where we find ourselves, a kind stranger is always there to help us out. I’ve had hundreds of these instances, but to celebrate the positive side of Thanksgiving, I’d like to share just one with you.
A friend and I were sitting on the curb at the bus station in Chefchaouen, Morocco. Like most of my memories of this country, I recall feeling dizzy and sticky from the intense heat. Kimberly and I had been waiting for quite a while. Having arrived early, we were now consumed with boredom. I looked around me. A few other passengers were sitting in the small shaded area next to the parking lot. Entire families huddled together, escaping the burning sun. A few meters away, men -young and old -were sitting at a the cafe sipping mint tea or coffee.
Although people in this country had treated us overwhelmingly well, sometimes the stares were bothersome. I remember the feeling of just wanting to go unnoticed. Even a toddler walked past and hesitated for a moment to stare at us. Who were were? Hunger, heat and confusion sometimes make for slight irritability if one doesn’t keep it in check. Could the bus just show up already?
After a few more minutes, it finally did. Having deduced that this bus was, in fact, the correct one, we walked over and got on. Quickly noticing its lack of toilet (toilets are important. Signs are even better), I told Kimberly to make sure the bus didn’t leave, I was making a run for it. Who knows how long this journey would be? Bladder pain is no small feat. I dropped off my bag and speed-walked across the parking area to a small concrete building.
Naturally, I was drenched with sweat upon reaching the entrance. I was met with two men and an elderly women. I stood in front of them. “Five dirham,” the woman said unemotionally. I let out an irritated sigh as I saw a woman behind me give her fee and walk in. So close, yet so far away. I had left all of my belongings on the bus. I’m sure it was set to leave soon, and there was no way I was going to be so close to relief and let it slip away.
I sprinted back to the bus past the men sitting at the cafe. Grabbing some money, I reminded Kimberly not to leave without me. Skipping awkwardly back to the bathroom, I gave the woman my five dirham. “Shukran,” I said.
As soon as I walked in, I couldn’t believe how stupid I was. In the squat toilets, of course there was no toilet paper. I don’t need toilet paper. I can survive. But it would have been nice. I had already run back to the bus once. I was thirsty, sweaty and mildly annoyed. If I ran back one more time, I would risk holding up the bus, or worse, having to give the men at the cafe more material to laugh about. No annoyance is normally very important, but depending on one’s circumstances it can feel huge.
I was standing in front of the stalls contemplating my decision to suck it up or go back to the bus. Then, the woman who had entered the bathroom before me came out of one of the stalls. Without a word, she looked at me in the eye and sensed why I was hesitating.
She smiled. She grabbed a packet of tissues from her purse and gave them to me. I tried to just take one and give her the rest back, but she shook her head and waved her hand to say no. I relaxed immediately. “Shukran!” I screamed.
Sometimes, we find ourselves on a heightened level of trivial irritation. For no reason. We let external factors – like waiting or bodily needs- influence our mood. Yet, one ounce of generosity can melt that away in a second. One small act of kindness, like a stranger giving me her tissues, can counteract two hours of negativity. Powerful.
It’s not always that we are confronted with grand gestures of kindness. Rather, when we stop to think, we realize our lives are filled with micro-moments of warmth and generosity. No matter the size of our egos or the immensity of our narrow-minded perspectives, we keep each other in check.
I got on the bus with ease. I was comfortable. I watched the mountains from my small window and sunset over the arid landscape.
Top photo: a door in Chefchaouen.