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Jasmine Dispatch

Dinner for Twelve

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Last month we had a chance meeting that has turned into a special relationship for the whole World Trek team. One day we were sending dispatches from an internet café in Bamako, Mali. A friendly guy named Ali Keita heard Kevin and I speaking English and decided to introduce himself to us.

The next week we bumped into Ali again, and he ended up showing us around Bamako. When we told him that we'd be going to Morocco in a few weeks, his face lit up -- Morocco is his home country! He'd grown up in Marrakech, a fabulous and important medieval city. He insisted that we call his sister, who lived there, once we arrived.

We left Mali for Senegal, and then traveled to Casablanca, Morocco. Our first day there was Monica's birthday, and we wanted to make it special. We called Ali's sister, and she told us that Ali was visiting her for a few days. He had been hoping we would catch up with him.

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P-A-R-T-Y! A celebration for Monica at the Keita's home in Marrakech
Unfortunately, Ali was scheduled to return to Bamako in two days. He suggested we catch the first train from Casablanca to Marrakech so he could show us around before he left. He and his friends met us at the train station, and after that, the day seemed like a fairy tale. Ali changed his flight arrangements so he could stay with us in Marrakech for an extra week. His family took us into their beautiful home, threw a fabulous birthday dinner for Monica, and have given us complete royal treatment ever since.

Not only do we have a great friend in Morocco, but also we got an extraordinary introduction to Moroccan life and culture. It was fascinating to learn about their traditions and way of life. They found it just as interesting to learn about our culture and how different it is compared to what they hear in the media.

Take one night at dinner for example. Around a table sat about twelve people; everyone was from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. As I looked around the room, I wondered what cultures were represented. I am Black; most people would assume this is African. Kavitha is of Indian descent, and so she's Indian, right? That makes Monica Filipino, and Abeja American. Ali and his sisters are also Black so that makes them African like me. Ali's sister Myriam is married to a Caucasian man; maybe he's a Frenchman - this was a French colony at one time. Ali's cousins are very fair-skinned Moroccan women, and so they might be French and Arab. Finally, his two friends are darker-skinned Moroccan men, and so maybe it's safe to say they're Arab.

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Ali Keita and the World Trekkers -- a great combination!
I knew I shouldn't make any assumptions, but it was such a beautiful collage of colors and distinct features that I couldn't help but wonder. What would you think? Remember, assumptions are not fact, and everything is not always what it seems.

I wasn't the only one who was curious about this subject. It seems Boudouin, Myriam's husband, and I were thinking the same things. Just as I was about to ask him where he was from, he posed the same question to me. I told him I'm African-American, and my family roots are from down South: Georgia, Arkansas and Texas. "Oh, Atlanta," he replied in his most down-home southern drawl, and we all cracked up in laughter.

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Ali and his family have been so good to the Odyssey Team!
He continued around the table. Like most people, he immediately assumed Kavitha was from India, and asked her what state in India she was from. She corrected him and explained that he was almost correct, but not quite. Her family origins are from India but she's American, from Washington DC.

He asked Monica where she was from, expecting her to name an Asian country. Instead, she answered, "I was born in Canada but my family is now American. We live in San Diego in Southern California, not too far from LA where Jasmine lives."

"And your parents," he smiled, "are they American also?"

"Yes, but our origins are in the Philippines," Monica informed him.

He skipped Abeja, and started to explain that he was Belgian…

Abeja interjected "No one ever asks me where I'm from!"

"What do you mean?" Boudouin seemed puzzled.

She smiled, and replied "Since I'm white, and people think of America as a white country, they automatically assume I'm American. I am, but my family is of Norwegian descent."

"You're right," he agreed, "people always assume I'm French or German, and I'm not."

Ali then added that because he's dark with Afrocentric features people are always surprised to learn that he's Moroccan, especially if he says he's African first. When people think of Africans they think of dark-skinned people, like the people of the West African cultures of Mali and Senegal. When they think of Moroccans they think of fair-skinned Arab people, like his two friends Farrakhan and Khalid. They especially don't consider his two cousins African, because their complexions are really light, almost Caucasian. Actually they're of Berber descent, the original people of Morocco. Berbers were the majority before the Arab invasions.

Often we are programmed to think certain things and view life from only one viewpoint. I believe that education and knowledge can expand our view and help us appreciate the variety that makes up the world we live in. Your world can be very small and limited if you don't know the facts. When you learn about other cultures, you learn how we are all connected. You are no longer limited by the confines of your culture and way of life, and the possibilities are endless.


p.s. - Please e-mail me at


Kavitha - Do You Believe in God? Do You Believe in Miracles?
Abeja - We're in Casablanca!
Monica - Extra! Extra! Read All About It - the Odyssey's in Morocco!
Monica - Extra! Extra! Lisez tout sur l'Odyssey au Maroc!
Making a Difference - Abeja gets M.A.D.-- She's Making a Difference

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