“No, NO. Take ONLY 4. 150 Dirhams for only 4. No 6!” Our steely haired taxi driver hollered repeatedly at our cluster of quizzical, tired hikers, spent from a full day of clambering along river crossing stones and dancing up tree roots in the heat of the sun on our trek to the waterfalls outside Chefchouen.
We exchange hard, impatient looks amongst ourselves, frustrated with the stubbornness of the robed, wrinkled man to allow the friends we met up with at the trail head to the waterfalls to join in on our taxi ride back into Chefchouen in order to both secure a ride back for them and make the fare cheaper for all.
“This car holds 6, EASILY, if not more,” we declared, gesturing firmly to the full back seat, rapt with seat belts galore.
Our Berber driver shook his head angrily, his peppered whiskers glinting in the fading sunlight.
“FOUR,” he shouted, his finger quivering as he jabs it in the direction of the four original car occupants he drove the 40 minutes to the waterfalls 6 hours ago.
I crossed my arms defiantly, frustrated with the amount of money-minded business men we have encountered in our travels, who seem to care only about maximum extraction in favor of genuine humanity. My growling stomach and throbbing feet added nothing to the situation.
After more rough phrases and impatient jabs, we finally weaseled our way into a 6 person cab ride, nobody very happy despite the fact that we got what we wanted and our driver got 50 extra Dirhams out of it. Huffy silence ensued as the car doors slammed.
I was entirely in the mood for a good, car-ride-length moody pout, hoping to project my pungent disapproval over the obsession for money palpably into the bony skull of our driver seated a row in front of me. Rather to my disinterest, my pout was lifted when I witnessed the following.
Bright-eyed, dark-locked Jonathan of Wales, a being of meditation and mindfulness, gingerly folded his extraordinary long legs into the short front seat, wrapping his bony arms around his sunset orange backpack, the top of his sproutedly curly pony tail brushing against the fuzzy roof.
We took off along the curvy road that lined the mountain pass, barely dodging the plaguing pot holes, our crotchety driver honking not-so-gently at the passing motorcyclists.
Jonathan turned to him.
“I’m sorry,” he said humbly. “And thank you.”
He reached into his bag and pulls out a half-opened stick of lifesavers. He peeled back the crumpled metallic wrapper to expose the next chalky white circle, extending it to the cab driver seated adjacently.
Grumpy driver looked a bit stunned, much to my satisfaction. He took one, and a brief shadow of a smile worked its way into his wrinkles.
“Choukran. Thank you,” he huffed.
The stuffy air of the whisking cab dissipated a smidge. Minutes passed and a conversation on psychology and Spanish culture commenced amongst us the backseaters for a spell, our frustrations lifting almost without our permission.
Again, Jonathan reached for the lifesavers. Again he peeled back the wrapper, popped a white candy in his mouth and extended a second towards the driver.
The smile was more pronounced this time.
“Choukran,” he whispered.
The honking lessened a smidge and and pot holes got a bit softer.
Our cultural-themed conversation lightened and became more breezy. More minutes passed.
Jonathan peeled back the rest of the wrapper, popping another life saver in his mouth, and again reaching out his hand in extension.
“Choukran.” He smiled.
Being angry and frustrated solved absolutely nothing; it didn’t make me feel less cheated, it distanced even further our driver from humanity. It’s the same issue that we faced in Marrakech. The hoards of sellers intruding upon our being by shoving sunglasses and plastic watches into our faces and trying hard to “show us the way” everywhere in order to squeeze out our money rendered it almost impossible to treat them as anything other than objects of annoyance.
As much as I am sometimes drawn towards pouting, it’s not satisfying or helpful to treat people as objects. Maybe it’s because I realize how seriously easy it is to start treating all of humanity in such a manner. It’s terrifying to imagine oneself as existing objectively.
I know that it’s a bit of an issue of culture, that there exists differences between societies of individuals. But that tends to be an excuse for the way that we can treat each other.
It doesn’t feel good to be an object. To be dismissed as a greedy scoundrel. To be waved away as easily as one might shoo away a summertime fly. Although there are so many semi-toothed men wheezing, “Hasheesh?” shamelessly at us from the Medina alleys, I don’t want to believe that they don’t feel the burden of dismissal as we brush past them silently.
Because if I can believe that they don’t care about our open rejection, our refusal to acknowledge their presence and their business, what is it that separates any of us from succumbing to the same disinterest in mattering?
There was so much peace that radiated from our driver when Jonathan extended an ever so magically symbolic life saver. It was so easy, so simple, such an easy act of humanity. Such a buoyant reminder that we, despite differences in religion, gender, ideology, upbringing, modesty, tradition, ideals…have needs and desires in common.
To be a part of a world that contains only individuals who are greedily seeking their own good is to be part of an empty shell of nothing. This kind of world flourishes when we treat people as such. It’s the self-fulfilling prophecy.
Perhaps what impressed me the most about the entire situation was how pleasantly more efficient it was to solve a spoiled mood with a bit of sharing. It took nothing other than stepping down from a high, lofty position of self-righteousness and treating someone like a human. How powerful that was to witness and infectious to imitate.
Peace and Blessings,