Humans of the Middle East

During this latest trip abroad, I’ve been struck harder by something than before. Even though it’s kind of a cliché, what makes travel unique isn’t the sights, the architecture, the relaxation or even the food. What makes it unique is the people. Whether random passersby, baristas in a tiny café, or lifetime friends, the humans you meet on the road is what gives you new glasses to see the world. So without further ado, I wanted to introduce you to some humans of the Middle East I’ve met over the past few months.

My buddy Ibrahim, for example, who makes the meanest popcorn Rabat has to offer. Or the street band in Tunis who played nonstop for hours in protest of government land grabs, as the crowd around them heaved and swelled. Even in Rome I can’t get away from the Middle East — pictured in front of his own artwork is another Ibrahim, an Egyptian who moved to Rome in the 80s and has been selling paintings of the Colosseum ever since. And even though it’s hard to avoid raising eyebrows when I try to take pictures at a local market, some of the fish sellers couldn’t wait to goof off for the camera:

Now, if you ever come to Morocco, you must know: they love their seafood. All kinds of seafood. Including snails, which they boil alive in a broth seasoned with a dozen spices or so, then serve in bowls and eat straight out the shell with toothpicks (in recent years, this has gotten attention as an upscale snack among the locals. I’d say it’s a bit of an exaggeration). Here in Rabat, Abd al-Rahim makes the best snails in town. He’s been at it for over 30 years and, if you catch him with his friends, they’ll crack a smile before throwing down another snail.


Finally, I couldn’t resist including a few photos I took with these amazing people I’ve met. I see Abd al-Rahim the snailmaker pretty often, so of course he made it into the mix. The gents under the parasol are veggie sellers in Rabat, and the other two throwing up deuces talked politics with me in Tunis for a while. Of course no selfie collage is complete without my beautiful, amazing wife accompanying me on a train from Casablanca to Rabat (you’ll notice she’s the only woman pictured here, which is the result of fairly restrictive social norms plus a general shyness about being photographed among traditional Middle Eastern women). And two friends from home who were clearly fascinated with the sun setting on my baldness.

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