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At the conclusion of seven months as humanitarian missionaries in Morocco, my husband Jerry and I find ourselves waxing philosophical and downright profound (in comparison to what we knew seven months ago)! In retrospect, we’ve had our preconceived notions smashed to smithereens and replaced with what is probably a workable strategy.
Left to my own devices, I would probably have spent 18 months here filling outstretched hands with money or food. I most assuredly would have seen every single problem from too many cats to the hobble of that old woman as a project we CAN and SHOULD attack!! But then we began to learn the culture, talk to Moroccans, observe, observe, observe, and observe some more and finally conclude that our outreach here is for long-term humanitarian change. It’s all unfailingly interesting, but that doesn’t mean it is effortless. Au contraire!
My stellar companion resuscitated his missionary French from 45 years ago, but I am not so endowed. Consequently, I more often than not play a Harpo-esque role, though probably with less charm. My French and I limp gamely along aided by any charades I can muster. Jerry and I are both completely flummoxed by Arabic and have had to conclude that more of our previous decades knitting and watching Downton Abbey should have been at least partially devoted to some rudimentary study of Islamic culture. We pray each day that we won’t do something completely innocent that might set off an international incident!
Because Morocco is predominantly Moslem, our most important directive here is the complete anonymity of anything religious. We represent Latter-day Saints Charities, but we wear no nametags and no religious dialogue must ever escape our tongues. So, in addition to my unique muteness, bumbling cultural faux pas potential AND the complete absence of other missionaries or mission president, my other burden to bear is that the ONE thing I could passionately wrap my head around—professing the gospel of Jesus Christ—must be yet another barrier between me and the people of Morocco.
The only tool I had in my toolbox appeared to be what I could communicate nonverbally. I would have to learn to “work” that for all it was worth! Out on the streets of Rabat, I smiled. It was a start. Before long I could add a western-twanged “Bonjour”. Smile. Greet. Nod head. It looked to be a long 18 months. As we increased our prayers for guidance as a companionship, I pleaded privately to find my working place in this mission.
And then I began to reach out with my hands. I discovered that my tool box now included not only my smile but the simple touch between two people. I remember thinking to myself, “This is ALL I have—my smile, my simple greeting, and my hands.”
One day in Chefchaouen I was climbing up some stairs and saw this young girl of about 12 crying as she sat by herself. I was so moved. I stopped and just put my hands on her head without saying a word. She continued to cry as I stood there with her before I moved up the stairs. I thought again, “This is ALL I have. This is ALL I can do.”
I have gotten bolder as I’ve adapted to the Moroccan greeting of kissing alternate cheeks. In a train station in Marrakech, I couldn’t help oogling these little sisters dressed in their Ramadan finery. I caught their mother’s eye and gave her a thumb’s up as I touched my heart with my hand. She smiled, and I asked for a photo. Then she sent the little girls over to give me a double kiss on each cheek. I reciprocated by kissing the mother as well. It was very, very sweet. Took all of 30 seconds.
Sometimes I wish my tool box included so much more. I would love to chat animatedly in French or Arabic about common things of the day—what they will cook for dinner, how they will celebrate an upcoming holiday. I have so many questions, and I desire so very deeply to connect with them as one woman to another. If only my box could include sharing the greatest gift of all—the message of Jesus Christ. But I, like Alma, do “sin in my wish; for I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me.” Perhaps someday our paths will all cross again—this time without language and cultural restraints. Our eyes will brighten as we recognize each other. We’ll embrace and spill over each other’s understandable words as we communicate freely. Until then I smile, ooh and ahh over babies, speak with my face, and feel the warmth of many hands.