Dave and I love exploring hole-in-the-wall restaurants, often finding that crumbly brick exteriors and ancient wood framings usually house chefs that can make ovens sing and griddles dance. Such a hole-in-the-wall opened a few months ago about a mile or so down from our street. “Marrakech” it’s called, a Middle Eastern café owned by a family from Morocco. The pastries quite literally melt in your mouth, the falafel is the best I’ve tasted, and Dave swears by their shawarma (one of his all-time favorite dishes since he tasted it from a street vendor in Jerusalem a few years ago). Opening the door is all it takes to overwhelm your nose with the smell of rich spices and fresh pita. Ordering simply requires walking up to the counter, letting the folks know what you want, and then having a seat while they fix it for you behind said counter.
Last weekend, Dave and I decided on Marrakech for lunch. In truth, I was feeling a bit angry and hopeless at the world, saddened by the hatred that continues to spawn violence in the Middle East, frustrated at our own nation’s inability and unwillingness to try to understand what’s really happening there. I told Dave that the only thing that would make me feel like I was doing something was to go to Marrakech for lunch, thereby supporting the family who owns it, hoping they’d see that not all Americans fear every Middle Easterner they see.
The two men working the counter that day were men I’ve seen before, both with dark olive skin, one with piercing bluish eyes, the other with dark brown ones. They welcomed us with a smile, prepared our food with great care, and took time out from a busy lunch rush to come away from the counter and ask if we were enjoying our meal.
When we were done, having finished off our meal with baklava dripping in honey and butter, Dave went up to the counter to pay. Again, the man with the blue eyes asked if everything was okay. Dave said yes, thanks, and then, as he took our receipt, looked at the man and said, “Masalam,” and then began to turn away. I had only half been paying attention up until this point, but when I heard the foreign word come out of Dave’s mouth, I broke out of my post-lunch fog long enough to see the blue eyes behind the counter light up beautifully over a shy grin as the man replied, “Masalam,” and then, “Thank you.”
As Dave and I walked back out into the heat of an August afternoon, I looked at him and asked, “What did you say in there?” “Masalam,” he replied, “is Arabic—loosely translated it can mean either ‘good-bye,’ or something more like, ‘God be with you.’”
This is, I think, the source of my frustration with this world—that too often our response to the stranger is assumption or probing question, rarely is it a recognition that in each of us dwells God. How I wish that our interactions were more often ones that cause eyes to shine and smiles to widen. How I wish that our greatest concern was finding God in one another as opposed to imposing our way of life upon one another.
Next time we go to Marrakech, I think we’ll ask his name and tell him ours.