The Dairy Farmer’s Family
It is often the case, when travelling, that you come upon a situation which forces you to decide whether you are going to deviate from your plans or continue on your predetermined voyage. We came to this particular fork in the road when meeting Mubark outside of a small town while hitchhiking to a slightly bigger town. What transpired was a beautiful afternoon, the kind that seems to only happen when travelling with an open mind and an open itinerary.
Hitchhiking does not involve any innate skills but it does often require a certain mastery of the art of body language, patience, and a willingness to just go with the flow. Mubark stopped his rickety pickup truck, little brother in tow, utterly perplexed by what we were doing on the side of the road in this no-horse town. We were quite far from any major or minor tourist destination and had clearly walked way past the bus and taxi stations. He spoke no English and hardly any French and there are babies here that speak better Arabic than we do. We resort to the ancient methods of hand gesturing and smiling, declining his apparent offer to take us back to town to get a taxi. “It was really nice of him to stop,” we think, and continue attempting to thumb a ride.
Not even ten minutes later, the same busted pickup truck pulls over to where we are standing and the hand gesturing ensues once again. This time though, it is accompanied by a gesture of his hand to his mouth and a French word all three of us understand: “manger”, to eat. We assess this fork in the road and with plenty of daylight left ahead of us and an eagerness for a little adventure, we pile into the cab of the truck and head down a dirt path, our destination unknown, except for the fact that some sort of food awaited. Good enough for us.
We drive for less than 5 minutes, winding through country back roads, and eventually arrive at a house at the end of an alley. We spill out of the truck and duck through a small doorway into a lovely, flower laden courtyard and are immediately ambushed by a flock of Moroccan women, spanning multiple generations. Gabe quickly gets ushered away for the grand tour with Mubark and I am the center of these ladies’ attention.
They are eager to lend me their shoes and, in a whirlwind, I am flown into the kitchen to be taught the correct way to boil water, put mint and other herbs into the teapot, and finally, the big test…how to whisk eggs and whip up an omelette. Nobody speaks English so we are in the kitchen, once again, communicating by pointing and laughing (mostly them at me for not realizing my simple and obvious tasks) as they try to direct me through the procedures for preparing tea and snacks.
Apparently my kitchen work is all satisfactory and I am rewarded with a giant glass of unpasteurized milk, which I am very wary of drinking. As it turns out, Mubark’s family are dairy farmers and very proud of their farm. Gabe gets the tour of their many cows and we are taken to see the machines they now use to milk them. Knowing nothing about dairy farming, certainly nothing about how it is done in Morocco, we assume that having over 10 cows means they are very successful in their operation but we still only sheepishly sip at the fresh milk provided to us as a testament to that success.
For some reason, even after almost 3 weeks in Morocco, I still say yes when asked if we wanted sugar in the tea and so we sat down for Diabetes Tea and my decent omelette. The ladies were all around, eagerly watching as we consumed the fruits of their farm. It was the first time in Morocco that I had been around so many women and I lamented the language barrier because there were so many things I wanted to ask that sign language just couldn’t accomplish. What were their opportunities for education? Did that matter or was raising their family a larger point of pride? I was confronted with my own privilege that these were questions they probably didn’t spend much time thinking about. Or were they? I hated to have to resort back to my assumptions about the lives of rural women in a patriarchal society, but from what we could see, they were most likely consistent with the narrative. However, in that moment, I was one of the women and they took me in warmly, even as an unmarried, uncovered woman tramping around with some man who was not my husband and also seemingly not my brother.
We finish eating and ask if we could take some pictures. The request is initially met with hesitation yet that quickly dissipates after the first few shots and then it is game on. The ladies want to change into more photo-worthy headscarves and make me pose with flowers and children and different groupings of people. They shower me with hugs and kisses and everyone gets out their phones and make Gabe take multiple pictures of Mubark and me and the children.
We go to leave, to get back on the road. Somehow we had communicated that we were hitchhiking and Mubark offers to take us to a good spot to continue. The ladies, quite sad to see us go, keep making hand signals with one finger making a loop in the air, which I assume are meant to say, “come back and you are welcome to stay with us anytime.” We go to get in the truck and, still making the “come back” signal, some women start pointing at their ring finger, and then to Mubark, and then to me. It finally all clicks. The kitchen prep was a test ensuring I was competent enough to prepare a meal, the photos were evidence of what a great couple we would make, the hand signals were not an offer for both of us to return and stay but more of “go drop this other guy off and come back with Mubark and get married and live on our dairy farm as the newest member of the family”. It was worth a try.
We all pile back in the exhausted truck and hit the road again, Mubark driving us well out of his way to a perfect hitchhiking spot. We had enjoyed a beautiful afternoon with a family in a setting we would have never experienced had we not been hitchhiking. It is times like these that reaffirm once again our decision to travel in this way. The quirky situations you find yourself and the people you meet in the process are such sweet bonuses to an already liberating way of travelling.
It can be strange sometimes to be taken in to people’s homes when you know they most likely do not have a lot of disposable income to feed two extra people. So often on this trip we have been fed more than others because we are guests and it can be awkward to know that you are quite literally taking food out of someone else’s mouth. We have been offered people’s beds and rooms while they insist on sleeping on the couch, even though they work all day and deserve a comfy bed way more than we do. But here, such generous hospitality is part of the culture. It is insulting to reject people’s opportunity to extend their hospitality to you. So we’ve learned to put our preconceived Western notions of politeness aside and accept the meals, accept the beds, and accept the milk…even if it is unpasteurized and you only drink a sip.