I’d like to preface this post by saying that Americans are all wrong about food. All of our individually-packaged, single-order meals create a society that’s all about selfish eating (this one is mine and that one is yours). We even have individually-wrapped cheese! “Family-style” is a generally associated with eating at home or hokey, themed restaurants. But we’re wrong, food shouldn’t be hoarded, it should be shared down to the last bite.
While the real Marrakech Express refers to the train Graham Nash (of Crosby, Stills, and Nash) took from Casablanca to Marrakech, Morocco, my travel buddy and fellow American student abroad ordained our 13-hour train ride from Marrakech to Rabat The Marrakech Express. They say it’s more about the journey than the destination and in this case, it was. (Rabat wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.)
There were three of us in the train car at first: me and my two friends who were also studying abroad in Belgium. After a few minutes, a middle-aged man dressed in a suit sat in the seat opposite us, followed by a 20-something man who spoke some English. Just before the train started, a little old lady, dressed in traditional Moroccan clothing waddled in. and sat beside my friend, Sean. We were all packed into the car like sardines. I remember the little old lady falling asleep on my friend, Lizzy’s shoulder.
The little old lady didn’t speak any English. She spoke Berber, the native tongue of the Moroccan people. But that didn’t stop her from trying to communicate. She took out a block of cheese from her bag, broke off a chunk then started passing it around. It went around once and everyone took a small hunk – but that wasn’t good enough for her. She passed it around, wanting everyone to enjoy the stinky, salty cheese until it was gone. She even refused to take it back, leaving my friend, Sean, with a piece of cheese too big for one person to eat.
The businessman went to the food car to buy a sandwich (it was around lunchtime) and even though a sandwich would have been just enough food for a burly man like himself, he offered it to the rest of the car before taking a bite. Naturally we declined, but I was so taken by the spirit of sharing food that I took out the kilo of dates that I had bought at Place d’Jemma el-Fna. I originally intended on keeping the dates as a snack for my friends and me to eat in Rabat, but when my cultural fence was torn down by my fellow train riders, I didn’t care anymore.
After visiting other countries later on, I realized this cultural phenomenon wasn’t just special to Morocco. Food is something that should be shared not hoarded. Why wouldn’t you want someone to taste that homemade spaghetti Bolognese or French macaron you have? Since then, I’ve tried to be more generous with what’s on my plate, or in my oven. But, once in awhile I just want to eat my entire bagel with peanut butter all by myself.
Alexia Detweiler is a graduate of Penn State University. In the spring of 2009 she studied abroad in Brussels and ate the best frites she’s ever had there.