When was the last time you found yourself parked on the shoulder of a mountain highway and approached by a man who invited you to join his family for tea? Better yet, when was the last time you saw people stopped on the roadside and thought — I’ll invite these complete strangers to come home with me for a meal.
While traveling in the Moroccan High Atlas Mountains, my guide Radoune and I pulled off the highway to take a photo. From the field below, a voice called out, “Salaam alaikum!”
We turned to see a man with a gray beard, wearing a yellow rezza. Next to him was a young girl. They were each riding donkeys.
“Alaikum salaam,” we replied.
After a few moments of conversation with the man, Radoune said, “They’re going to celebrate the marriage of their neighbor’s daughter, and invited us to join them.”
Surprised by his invitation, I replied, “Sure. Why not?”
Arriving at the house, our new friend introduced us to the family. The father of the bride shook our hands. He bowed his head and placed his palm over his heart and patted his chest. It was a warm welcome.
In smaller villages, it’s customary for men and women to dine separately. Since I didn’t speak Berber, I joined Radoune at the men’s table, while the women ate in another room.
We seated ourselves on one of the long sofas against the wall. The men moved a round table in front of us, and a woman served a silver tray with glasses, a teapot, and a small bunch of fresh mint. Next to it, she set a plastic tub filled with chunks of white sugar.
Our host pushed the mint into the pot and let it steep. He dropped two lumps of the sugar in and gave it a swirl.
With a tea towel, he lifted the silver pot high above the tray and began filling one of the glasses. When it was full, he opened the lid and returned the foamy liquid. He repeated this several times, mixing the sugar. Finally, he poured each of us a glass.
Expressing his gratitude he declared, “Bismillah.”
Unable to understand the rest of the conversation, I recognized this one simple word. Bismillah is spoken often, and expresses wonder, awe and thankfulness that we have the blessing of another breath, another moment of life, and that we may walk on a path of truth and understanding.
I was soothed by their voices and the warmth of the tea, realizing that my greatest joy can be found in these chance encounters.