Staying at La Fiermontina Ocean, the exquisite eco-resort 45 minutes south of Tangier, I was invited, along with other guests, to take a traditional Moroccan breakfast in the village adjacent to the property.
I’m normally nervous of such things, often finding them contrived, sideshow affairs, far removed from the authentic encounters I perennially seek, delivering value into unseen hands, increasing distance between peoples and whitewashing the realities of inequality. Harsh preconceptions built on years of experience.
And wrong in this case. Like everything else in that three-day stay, it was a delight. Simple but glorious fare: delicious tea, a wondrous chick-pea soup garnished with oil and spices, harvested honey, freshly baked breads and cakes, home farmed dates and olives – the best I’ve ever tasted. We were welcomed. We were educated. We were blessed.
It felt “just right”. We weren’t tourists. We were guests.
From nowhere appeared a small girl, no older than six. A visitor, like us, but from another village, arriving on the off chance, accompanying her father. She saw us, smiled a smile for the ages and, without prompt or persuasion, delivered to everyone an innocent and gentle kiss. We melted in fellowship. We ate, we drank, we smiled.
Then came the icing on an already well baked cake: A story from one of the La Fiermontina founders. Although replete, we devoured her words…
She told of how they realised, early on, that their project would not be a success without the trust, support and friendship of their neighbours; neighbours who were understandingly suspicious and nervous of the “new people next door”. So, they set out to deliver what they perceived the village needed, the things that would obviously make their lives better in association.
They diverted water to the village, removing the need for long treks to and from distant wells. The villagers were grateful, but the barriers remained.
They built a road from the village to the main road, making communications and connection with the outside world easier. Received with thanks, but again, no cigar; the same with the school and the gift of electricity; the same with jobs at La Fiermontina, where the ladies would clean the guest rooms and bathrooms. Well paid jobs, but the necessary bridges were not being built.
One day, a question was asked: “Could we bring guests for breakfast in the village?”
A seminal moment. Walls came tumbling down.
The villagers were delighted. The fact that people would want to come to their homes, to share a meal, to meet as equals and to laugh with their children levelled the field upon which real relationships could be built. Relationships that could, and would, endure, built upon the sharing of a simple, but perfect, breakfast.
Stories are always best when they’re true. For me, this was the highlight of the trip, maybe a highlight of all my trips. Not only because it was such a beautiful experience but also, and more so, because it reinforced in me my belief in the enduring value of travel: Its ability to bring people together, whoever and wherever we are. Its ability to make us richer.
On that morning, we received the most generous of breakfasts. Every effort had been made to ensure that we had the most glorious time. There was more food than we could possibly eat. It raised concerns in me that we’d created waste.
So, I asked the question.
It raised a smile: Because we’d had a good breakfast, the children and the other villagers would also have a good breakfast. A breakfast that they’d looked forward to.
Another truth: Whenever things are done right, everyone wins.