The Road Less Traveled By

by

“It tasted good. It was actually unfortunate that a perfectly good slurpy had gone to waste.” Suoad, a twenty-year-old Moroccan student from Meknes, laughed about her two-year experience at UTSA in the States, casually flipping her waist long black mermaid hair into a high ponytail. She told me about how an ignorant white male peer had come up to her on the Texan campus and poured a full cup of sticky cherry flavored slurpy onto her head in response to her being Muslim. She shrugged her shoulders unapologetically; “I confronted him about it later.” She had run after the boy and inquired about his unaccounted for actions, as she had never before seen him on the premises of the university. The boy, she said, did not understand my faith or me. I confronted him and bore my humanity to him in careful, measured words. I did not let anger cloud an opportunity for me to help him overcome his objectified interpretation of my identity. And then what? I felt embarrassment for my nation and those instances of naiveté, and I began apologizing profusely on the behalf of those stuck in the cultural paradigm of the revered hegemonic west. Suoad shook her head vehemently and brushed off my indirect attempt at reconciliation and laughed, “La, la, la. You see, after we talked, he looked me in the eye and apologized.”image1

Later Suoad invited me into her Moroccan abode and I nestled myself between pillows on the long couch that wrapped around the living room in a continuous serpentine manner, curving around the corners of the walls like arms extended to anybody who enters the house through the foyer. Her mother had stayed home from work to cook us couscous with lamb, filling a dish reserved for holidays that filled up more than half the table. I glanced around for a plate I could serve myself with, then quickly amended my attempts at enacting the comfortable individual manner of eating I was used to at home. Everyone had picked up a spoon and started digging into the heaping communal plate of food reflexively, sighing around mouthfuls of zucchini, potato, carrot, and cabbage. I followed suit and scooped up a piping hot mouthful and endured the burn of the steam in absolute relish as I moved the saturated spices that had soaked into the individual grains of couscous around with my tongue. “Haadi zien bzzaf! Shukran!” I discreetly had propped my notebook under the table and stumbled over what little Darijan I had written down hoping the sentence made syntactic sense. “Zuina?” I gestured uncertainly to the entire presentation of the food with all its colors and organically grown vegetables and fruits on display. Suoad’s mother laughed and nodded at my fragmented attempt to vocalize my overwhelming gratitude. She spoke and Suoad translated, “You are always welcome here in my home.”

What is reconciliation? I ask myself. More than the stark dichotomy between Eastern and Western cultures is the generalizations imposed on the “other” that is written on the walls of our immediate paradigm. I knew the boy that tried to shame Suoad too well, and yet there is something astounding when people choose to cross transnational lines and seek out the alternative stories and humanity of a single individual whom we label as ‘foreign.’ Sitting down at a table so far away from my home back in Washington and immediately made to feel as an adopted sister and daughter has flooded me with a humility so vast and all-encompassing as to bring kings to their knees. I cannot help but be stripped of all the premonitions I might have held about Islam and Eastern culture and exist naked and overwhelmed by the encounter that demands my undivided emotional presence. I can no longer turn away for fear of discomfort or the power to destabilize the core of my identity for I was never created to remain static. My encounter with Suoad and her family ushered in the epiphany that I alone do not possess God or truth. The unadulterated love that had been showered upon me, in juxtaposition with the story Suoad dictated to me, has invigorated my desire to be ceaseless in the endless pursuit of understanding other peoples to substitute judgment. Rather, I opt to take the road less traveled by and give willingly the fruits of my labor to those who remain trapped within their native cultures in the hope that they too might join me on this mind-rending journey.

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