In Marrakech, Morocco, I walked to the car wearing a back pack and realized I needed to pay the parking attendant, so unzipped the pack to remove the wallet. Unzipping the wallet, I grabbed some change, handed it to my business partner so he could pay the attendant, and tossed the wallet back into the backpack. As I continued walking to the car, a man stopped me. He is a man I have seen many times; a vagabond, a man addicted to drugs, someone I considered unseemly, dirty, even shifty and untrustworthy.
I backed away, giving the signal that I wasn’t interested in anything he had to say. Stop. No. Not interested. He pointed at me and made a zipping motion over and over. Thinking he wanted money from my zippered wallet, I shook my head vigorously back and forth. He persisted. I became more emphatic and said, ‘La!’, the Arabic word for no. This went on for a bit as I made my way toward the car.
My business partner, Mokhtar, arrived, talked with the man for a few moments, and said to me, “Your back back is unzipped.” My back pack is unzipped? Oh! My back pack is unzipped!
This man was simply telling me with his zipping motion that my back pack was unzipped. I was stunned. Embarrassed. Ashamed. I had thought the worst.
With body language and broken Arabic I did my best to thank him. “Shukran besef! Shukran besef!” I repeated. Thank you, very much. Thank you, very much. He responded with a huge smile and a hand over his heart, a common sign in Morocco to symbolize thanks and appreciation. He walked me to the car, opened the door while I got in, then gently closed it behind me, waving and smiling as we drove away, hand over his heart.
Stunned, Mokhtar and I stared at each other, shocked at what had just happened. Shocked. And also thankful for the kindness of a stranger, someone from whom we least expected it.