Excerpt from Chapter Three:
Breathing in Another Language
World travel is both exhilarating and personal. Each of us seeks something unique from the undertaking, something that adds to our self-perception and understanding of other ways of life. If our purpose is the quest rather than the escape, it’s not sufficient to merely visit a country. We must be willing to immerse ourselves in its unique customs and explore places that are more off the beaten track.
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. Not too long ago, Fe and I joined a group to Morocco. In Marrakech, the tour guide took us to visit the famous medina in the early afternoon. In the main square, called Jamaa el Fna, there were a few entertainers and merchants selling souvenirs, but the air was hot and the mood sleepy. That night, most of our group chose to eat at a restaurant, but a few of us took taxis and returned to the square. What a transformation! People who have been there at night use phrases like “assault on the senses,” “going back in time,” and “absolute mayhem” to describe their experiences. The medina and Jamaa el Fna were all of that and more. Every inch of the square was contested by snake charmers, wrestlers, t-shirt vendors throwing samples into the crowds, henna tattoo artists, performing monkeys, street entertainers, and stalls filled with oranges, snails, and various kinds of nuts. Best of all, tiny food stalls had magically sprouted around the square. The stalls consisted of low counters with chairs surrounding a small cook stove. Young men behind the counters pushed menus at customers and spoke rapidly in broken English. Fe and I took seats at one of the counters and chose food items at random. The food was hot and quite tasty. The night air was charged with the frenzied voices of waiters calling to customers and vendors hawking their wares. It was a carnival atmosphere that spiced our food and stimulated our senses.
When we had finished our meal, our waiter brought our bill, which was very reasonable, and I pulled out my dirham to pay him. He claimed he didn’t have the right change, so he took my dirham to another food vendor and brought back smaller bills, which he returned, minus the amount for our dinners. At that point, he began to shout “teep, teep, teep” which I understood to mean tip. I was perfectly happy to include a “teep,” but first there was the matter of the money he’d given me. It wasn’t enough. He’d short changed me. It was only a few dirham, but I wasn’t about to let the man con me. I showed him his mistake, but he waved his hand and said “no, no, no,” the change was correct. I showed him his error a second time, but he continued to deny it and asked for a “teep,” once more. I finally looked him in the eye, pointed at the money in his hand, and said: “Guess what. The money you shorted me is your “teep.” With that, Fe and I got up to leave. The waiter quickly realized that he had just short changed himself (he would have gained more from a reasonable tip) and tried to make amends, but it was too late. I smiled as we left, not certain which had been more fun: eating at the food stall in the square, or matching wits with the waiter over the change and his “teep.”
This book is filled with places and experiences that have helped Fe and myself learn to breathe in new, unexpected ways. Sometimes, it’s not so much the adventure as the destination itself that stands out. Here are a few places that had an uncommon effect on us. They are places that, in some small way, have altered our perspective on life just by being there.
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