America is hugely important. We are unique people with a immense role on the world stage. But traveling in recently Morocco, it became clear that the rest of the world isn’t paying attention.
We were traveling the through the Sahara Desert in a rickety old van with eight other Americans. We’d passed hours driving through lifeless sand dunes. Suddenly, we were startled to spy a black tent. There’d been nothing but rocks and sand for a hundred miles so the guide suggested we stop and pay a visit.
We left the comfort of the air conditioned bus and approached the black woolen tent. It was a humble residence, but through the guide, we were able to meet and converse with a weather beaten Bedouin lady of the “house” and her two young children. She invited us into her dusty tent to sit down on the black wool carpet. Outside there was not a trace of civilization, but inside the tent were all the cooking pots, blankets, and clothing her family needed to live. We sat there on her carpet protected from the scorching sun, drinking her tea asked her simple questions.
“What do you think about America?” we wanted to know.
She replied she had never heard of it but assumed it must be another desert tribe. We told her America is not a tribe but a proud nation like her own country Morocco. A look of curiosity crept over her dark face and she asked
“What is Morocco?”
We chuckled at her Bedouin simplicity. She didn’t even know what country she lived in. Here was a woman so deliciously unaware and uninformed we could not hide our feeling of condescension. Quickly the guide reprimanded our disdain.
“Her global geography can’t equal yours”, he cautioned.” But consider what’s important where you are sitting now.”
“She doesn’t know beans about America but she knows where water is with-in walking distance. While you smirk at her, remember your geographic knowledge isn’t worth much absent our air-conditioned bus full of bottles of water. No bus and she would be just fine. You’d be dead.”
Certainty is dangerous. Uncertainty is safer. When you are not in charge, your mind is open. Pico Iyer’s TED Talk
Our condescension quickly vanished.
That Bedouin Lady got me to thinking about our back home news headlines, the Dow Jones Industrial Average or election campaigns. They have little relevance for this Bedouin lady. Could it be possible that 80% of the world’s population like Mrs. Desert Lady hold us in neither high nor low regard but don’t think about us at all because they have more important topics on their mind? It was a deflating thought.
That must be what they mean when they say the reason we travel is not to find answers (to questions like what do you think of Americans), but to find better questions.