What I learned from Berber Nomads

After spending 10 days in beautiful Morocco, I feel like my understanding of wealth and happiness has greatly changed. Of course, I like beautiful things. Nice hotels, meals in restaurants with white table cloths…the standard trappings of our Western world. However, I saw first hand in Morocco how people who have nothing are often more giving and generous than people who have too much.

We spent 2 days in the Sahara desert. Here we encountered Berber Nomads. They are people who have lived in Morocco for thousands of years. They still live an incredibly traditional life. No electricity, no running water, no bathrooms.  I have often been called a Nomad. I have moved a lot. I love seeing and living in new places. I do this all the while taking my comforts with me. I am no Nomad.

The desert Nomads live in makeshift camps. They put up patchwork tents that are open to the elements. The ground is covered in carpets that they weave themselves. They sleep on these carpets and use them for blankets when necessary. In the summer there are scorching temperatures of 50 degrees Celsius, and then they just sleep on the ground. Usually several families live together. It makes life easier. Their food is made on an open fire. They move this camp whenever they must. Weather, sandstorms, water access, wheat availability are all factors in their movements.

Our guide was a desert Berber. He was at home in the sand dunes and in the volcanic rock that made up the desert. He said he wanted us to see real Berber Nomads.  My priest and I were uncomfortable about descending upon a family just living their life in the desert, but our guide assured us that this family would be happy to greet us. It was their way.

We drove in our air conditioned 4×4 across the sand and saw in the middle of nowhere two tents and a small clay building. There were children running around outside. The women saw us and directed us to go sit in their tent. I was transfixed by the children, barefoot and playing with rocks and sticks that they had collected. I couldn’t stop smiling at them. They were so happy. They had nothing.

We sat in the tent and one of the women brought in mint tea for us to drink. She also brought us a plate of the most delicious nuts any of us had ever eaten. Then a few minutes later, they produced hot bread for us that they cooked on an open fire. They told our guide that they liked how I smiled at the children and they wanted to give us something they made. The bread was delicious. It was especially good because it was made with love.

I cannot state more clearly that these people had nothing, yet what they had they were willing to share with strangers. Our guide said it is the Berber way. When we left, our guide said the family would accept some money to help them get wheat and some supplies. They had a donkey which they took to a market weekly…it was their desert 4×4.

The entire experience was like no other. We were guests in a Nomad’s home. I felt lucky to step back in time. I felt blessed to see how gracious people can be who have so very little. Sitting on the floor of a tent in the Sahara desert, surrounded by nothing but sand for countless miles, I was struck by how a simple smile can mean the world to someone and how kindness should come naturally and easy to us all.

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