“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” -G.K. Chesterton
Last year on Thanksgiving I was in a cozy sweater with my family in Minnesota, sitting around our big dining room table with a turkey, cranberry sauce and mashed potato feast laid out before us.
This morning I am sitting outside in a t-shirt at Darna House, a café and women’s cooperative, in Tanger with a tarte au citron (lemon pie) and café au lait.
One year can change a lot, huh?
Despite the extreme weather and menu difference, I have found one thing transcends time and continents: being thankful.
Here in Morocco giving thanks is a part of daily life. Any conversation with a Moroccan is peppered with the word "hamdulillah", which can be colloquially translated to “thank god”. From everything to asking how you are (mezzien? –good?— hamdulillah) to announcing that you are stuffed from a meal (shabat, hamdulillah —I’m full, thank god), Moroccans express gratitude for nearly every detail of their lives.
At first I thought of it as a cultural conversational quirk. Ironically I would throw it into conversations with fellow study abroaders for a laugh (“Our family finally stopped cooking sheep from Eid”, “Hamdulillah!”), but as the semester continued, I have realized the importance of these mini-thanksgivings.
Of course I felt endless gratitude during the unforgettable moments: watching the sunrise over the Sahara Desert, jumping in a waterfall in the Rif Mountains, dancing on the roof of our hostel after a late night in Essaouira, experiencing a Moroccan wedding and hanging out with monkeys in the cedar forest. But I have started the habit of taking small opportunities to send out gratitude to the world: laughing with my homestay sister even though we speak about three words of the same language, the moment I conquered the 11 turns it took in the medina between my house and school, people watching on a lazy Saturday afternoon on Mohammed V Avenue in Rabat, a delicious café au lait for a dollar at any café in Morocco.
Sometimes when studying abroad it can be easy to forget to be thankful for what is in front of you. Right now I’m on the independent study portion of our program: a month to spend wherever I want in Morocco following a story that will be pitched to a media outlet. Along with a very talented videographer friend and a Moroccan journalism partner, I’m in Tanger, looking at immigration. The two weeks we have been here so far have been tough—I’m truly learning the meaning of shoe-leather journalism (literally the leather on the bottom of my sandals broke from walking across all of Tanger for interviews) and the challenges of reporting on a new topic in a language other than my own. In the frustration of hunting down a subject, fruitlessly emailing experts and outlining a yet-to-be-written story, I sometimes forget that I am living in an incredible city, meeting fascinating people and getting to do what I want to do for the rest of my life: report the stories that need to be told.
But today, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’m taking a second to look around, reflect and say a huge hamdulillah for the world.
Hamdulillah for cous cous Fridays, for wonderful friends on two continents, two families (one who loves me even though I don’t speak their language and the other who loves me even though I chose to spend four months halfway across the world), for my Moroccan and American journalism partner.
Hamdulillah for Tanger, for the small cafes filled with regulars that have begun to feel like the bar in "Cheers", and for all the great people I have met here. Also for Rabat and the two months that I had there learning about the complex layers of Moroccan politics, poverty, arts, education and gender issues, and all the extremely intelligent people who explained these subjects.
Hamdulillah that I have the opportunity to leave America and see the world, meet people and experience different cultures, and that as long as I have my American passport I am lucky enough to be able to visit most countries without too much trouble. And hamdulillah that I can afford to have this experience and go back to the United States to finish my degree at a great school.
Hamdulillah that in a few hours I will be sitting down to a delicious meal (though no turkey) with lovely friends.
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