From the moment I stepped off the plane in Morocco, I was a king. Or queen, what have you, but I prefer king.
It’s the only country that has made their airport a pleasant experience for me. Passing through security, I was greeted with welcoming smiles and people warmly wishing me a great time during my visit. Rather than being regarded as an ignorant foreigner or as another blank-faced number walking through the queue, I was embraced as a life-long friend of every Moroccan in the vicinity.
This royal treatment extended passed the airport, into the cities, medinas, and riads. People waved back at me, a polar opposite from the attitude in Germany, where I currently live. The locals were eager to share a conversation with me – of course, with intentions to sell me one of their handmade crafts. But still, I was happy to connect and laugh with them. The intricacy of design in most of the buildings and hotels alone proves that this country cares about the details, the little things that matter most. I was amazed at how naturally giving most Moroccans are, despite having very little. They were willing to share everything they had, including the best pieces of their country.
I noticed that when you are treated like a king, it can be easy for an average American to forget the privileges of living in the United States.
It was not easy for me to forget my privilege, however. After peeling back the layer of gorgeous tiles, artisan pottery and delightful people, I could recognize the poverty that surrounded me. There were beggars crouched in most corners of the medina, trash bags broken open on walkways swarmed with diseased cats, and children playing with homemade balls made of duct tape. The smell of sewer and rotting food is inescapable. The indigence was not hard to notice, but hard for me to look away. I looked. I absorbed all of this poverty into my heart and soul because it was the first time I ever saw people living that poorly.
Growing up after my parents divorced, I always considered myself to be poor. My parent’s combined income when I applied for college was $22,000 per year. I lived in an unstable household, moving eleven times from ages 14-20, and attending three different high schools. I worked since I was fifteen years old, mostly because I had no other option if I wanted to fit in with fellow students by wearing what they wore. At one point, I balanced three jobs while maintaining full-time student status at university. Undoubtably, this I-can-do-it-all mentality would soon break me.
The truth is, I prided myself on my hustle. Coming from a very broken home, and not falling into the predicted outcomes of drug-abuse or lack of education fueled my drive to do it all. My entire identity was based off being a hard worker, a “hustler.” I would jam to Drake’s, “started from the bottom and now I’m here,” holding those lyrics close to my heart because I, too, beat the odds stacked against me. I prided myself on how poor my family was. When someone would assume I came from a privileged home, I was quick to correct them, quick to brag about my “hustle” from the bottom.
But in Morocco, I promptly realized what being poor actually means. My whole identity shifted from being a hustler to being ungrateful.
During a discussion with my tour group about how poor we all grew up, the realization that I was ungrateful smacked me in my face. We were eating a common Moroccan breakfast with breads, butter, cheeses, jams, and olives. While spreading butter on her toast, one of my peers mentioned how her parents would make “butter sandwiches” for dinner, not understanding that it was all they could afford at the time until she was much older. Of course, this became a who-was-more-poor war. I’ve partaken in many of these conversations, especially when I felt I needed to defend myself when someone assumed I grew up wealthy. If you’ve ever been around people who overcame their fate below the poverty line, then you know of this “Poor War.” It’s about people trying to one-up each other on who climbed the highest ladder to get out of their situation.
As I listened to my peers bragging about whose home was smaller, it started to dawn on me that, although I fully related with living in a double-wide mobile home, I did not want to contribute to these types of conversations anymore. Something about ferrel cats eating garbage next to a beggar in front of the restaurant made me not as inclined to talk about my “poor” upbringing. I was ashamed.
You see, because of my low household income, I was able to attend almost any university in Texas on state grants (an opportunity I wasted, but was the best thing that never happened). And despite bouncing from one house to the next eleven times during my teen years, I always had a solid roof over my head, a comfortable bed to sleep in, and not to mention security, privacy, transportation, running hot water, sanitary conditions, and an abundance of food. With my basic needs exceeded and opportunities for education and work, I was never poor. Compared to my American peers, I’m sure my lifestyle was seen as lacking. But I doubt many Moroccans would consider my early adult lifestyle as impoverished.
I felt shame for believing I was poor almost my entire adult life. I felt disgusted with myself for contributing to these “Poor Wars” by trying to one-up other people on how I grew up with less than them. Why was I blind to the unlimited opportunities I had? There is no shame in where I started in my adult life, but there is shame in not appreciating what I had, and in not being more grateful for my parents who were doing their best.
- Think of a bad event or negative experience you had in the past.
- Say “I’m blessed,” before your bad experience.
- Afterwards, give a really strong reason, so strong that it explains the why of your existence, or a fundamental part of who you are.
I’ll give you several real examples of my own life:
- I’m blessed to have parents who weren’t able to give me everything because it caused me to gain mental strength and understand the value of money and work-ethic.
- I am blessed to have a childhood where I needed to get a job at 15 and work throughout college because it gave me the power to find my independence.
- I’m blessed that my parents got in a divorce during my “emo” teen years because it helped me understand what truly matters in my own marriage.
- I’m blessed that I had a thyroid disease because it taught me how to take care of my health and inspire others to do the same.
- I’m blessed to have a family situation so toxic that caused me to move across the state of Texas to get away from them, because it lead me to meeting the love of my life at my new college.
When I gather all of the whys: the mental strength, learning the value of money and working, finding my independence, meeting the love of my life, learning how to love and value my marriage, fixing my health and inspiring others to improve….. I would not trade any of this for the chance of a more privileged life.
Can you say the same?