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By Mthokozisi Dube

After my first visit to Rabat, Morocco recently, I doubt I’d ever forget the kindness, love and hospitality extended to me by many Moroccans I came across.

After the long, fatiguing 14-hour flight to Casablanca, I was welcomed by one of the kindest gentleman I know – Yousef Hssini.

Little did I know that over the next seven days, I would be taken through ‘the school of humanity’ by a people I previously thought were conceited. A lot of views I held about Moroccans and North Africans, most of them gleaned from stories I heard or read, would be ripped to shreds over that week.

It makes a lot of sense to me that the gratification from my first visit to Morocco isn’t drawn from the beautiful sites I saw, but the benevolent people I was privileged to interact with.

Forget about the richly decorated Mausoleum of Mohamed V, the striking Hasan Tower, the beautiful Medina and the stunning view to the sea, my heart was gratified by the kindness, humility and love of the people of Morocco.

I went to Rabat convinced Moroccans were discriminatory towards sub-Saharan Africans. I was so sure they had little regard for fellow Africans with a darker skin.

But, I must admit, I was awfully wrong.

Quite interesting, our dear friends at the Moroccan embassy in Pretoria – Abdelkader Naji and Younes Sassi – had told me how their fellow countrymen were generally a benevolent people.

But, coming from two gentleman who clearly love and serve their country with an extraordinary level of diligence, I thought they were just bluffing.

It was on the second day of my week-long sojourn in Rabat that I experienced what I consider the best bit of my 2019.

I took a walk from Hotel Rabat, where I was staying, to buy food. I was so keen to try out something different.

About a kilometer from the hotel, I was drawn to a small restaurant, which turned out to be a family business.

After ordering some tacos and fries, I stood just a meter from the counter waiting for my order.

A man who looked in his mid-40s walked into the restaurant, came straight to me and greeted me in Arabic. I politely responded: “I only speak English, sir”.

Unfortunately, he also couldn’t speak English.

But the next thing that happened was to become the highlight of my year. The man drew closer to me and hugged me with one hand with the other either gently patting my shoulder. He then stepped back and made the love-hand symbol with his hands.

The following day, as I left the hotel to attend the 8th African Youth and Student Summit hosted in Moulay Rachid national sports center in Sale, near Rabat, my dear brother Yousef introduced me to two amazing ladies – Yousra El Hachiou and Maria Achrait.

If I’ve got to be honest – I don’t know too many people with a compassionate heart, humble and patient like Maria and Yousra.

The fun times we had with Maria and Yousra and later Maryem Taoumi, a journalist with BBC in Lebanon, and the mutual respect we shared were enough to dispel my negative thoughts about Moroccans.

My two visits to the Medina Market with a dear sister Christelle Ngaleu from Cameroon also showed me a beautiful side of Moroccans. Christelle speaks Arabic and was able to converse with Moroccans at the market. Their unassuming nature is quite a common trait.

My experience contextualizes Morocco’s Ambassador to South Africa, His Excellency Yousef Amrani’s mission to promote people-to-people relations by deepening exchanges in the areas of culture, education and tourism.

I’m so grateful to Embassy of Morocco in Pretoria, the Moroccan Agency for International Cooperation (AMCI) and the department of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation for making our stay in Rabat a memorable one.