I practically fell out of the dilapidated bus when we arrived in Marrakech.
My best friend and I had just returned from the Sahara on a grueling 12-hour ride through the Atlas Mountains. The bus had stopped frequently at unmarked destinations along the unpaved road. Barefoot children and women dressed in traditional djellabas shuffled into the already crowded bus, while old men chanted from the Quran and begged for alms in the narrow aisle.
Although the wildly diverse, yet magical, country of Morocco intrigued and excited us, we nervously awaited each day and the adventure that it would bring. The exoticism of the culture, traditions, food and religion was overwhelming - Lindsay and I certainly were oceans away from the comforts of home.
At sunrise the next morning, we woke in our rooftop hostel to the call to prayer broadcast from the nearest mosque. We wandered into an enormous medina paved with brightly colored mosaic tiles. Rows of vendors selling fresh orange juice lined the square, giving way to a jungle of hookahs, snake charmers, storytellers, palm readers, scribes, and even a "dentist" sitting beside a carpet scattered with extracted teeth.
Amid the confusion of this compact city, we came across a man sitting on the side of a narrow cobblestone street. He was patiently carving a wooden key chain in the shape of the Hand of Fatima. Seeing the pride and dedication he took in the perfection of his craft, I knew this would be the perfect gift to bring home for my closest friends. I asked for 10 key chains, and tears practically swelled in his eyes. After some hesitation, we agreed to follow this stranger back to his workshop, where he had more wood and paint.
From one winding alley to the next, we followed our new friend as he shared stories about himself and his family. We learned how he had lived in Marrakech his entire life and had been carving wood since his father taught him when he was young.
Once inside his tiny workshop, we were greeted by his wife and two sons, who generously offered mint tea and Moroccan pastries. We sat cross-legged on pillows strewn on the concrete floor and practiced our best Berber accent while sharing English words with his eager-to-learn sons. We were so intrigued that we almost forgot about our key chains, until, hours later, our finished products were presented to us. Ten perfectly carved Hands of Fatima, each hand-painted with Arabic initials.
Hidden from the hustle and bustle of the Marrakech markets, we had taken a chance and trusted a complete stranger. Spending the day with him and his family helped me understand that although we may be separated by oceans, cultures and traditions, the core values of friendship and family will survive any storm.