George Hines is Chief Information Officer at GES...

When you least expect it, experiences can forever change the way you look at life. I had one of those experiences at a small airport in the remote town of Errachidia, Morocco just after finishing a wilderness survival trip in the Sahara desert.

It was just after the “February 20 Movement” riots in Morocco and the beginning of the "Arab Spring" uprisings in the Middle East.  Not concerning myself with the news, I had decided not to cancel my survival trip to Morocco.  After several days of trekking through the desert and the Erg Chebbi dune field speaking in the broken Arabic my Lebanese grandmother spoke to me as a child, I was ready for a warm, clean bed I had reserved for myself in a nice Casablanca hotel. The only thing that stood between me and that comfy bed was a one-hour flight on the only commercial flight of the week out of Errachidia.

I arrived at a closed airport due to a miscalculation that put me there five hours early.  I decided to offload my pack and relax at the entry of the small building.  After 15 minutes, a barrel-chested Moroccan military officer walked over to me and asked what I was doing at the airport in very broken English.  I’ll admit, my first impression was, "Here we go, another person who’s probably trying to mess with the foreigner."

I managed to let him know that I was an American on a desert survival trip as I showed him my passport.  He was curious about an American with a Lebanese middle name with some Arabic knowledge, but his eyes really lit up when I told him that I was from Phoenix, Arizona. To my extreme surprise he said, "Grant Hill and David Nash are my favorite basketball players." There I was in one of the most remote desert regions of North Africa with an Arabic-speaking army officer who was a Phoenix Suns fan!  He grabbed another officer at the airport who spoke better English and we struck up a conversation for almost three hours.  We shared everything from sports and family customs to the differences between Moroccan and U.S. governments. We were all curious and having a great time.

Just before they opened the doors to the airport, the officer went away to grab something and motioned for me to stay put.  He returned and said, "You seem like a good man.  Please take this to understand my people better."  It was his pocket Koran which was clearly very dear to him because of how worn it was. I was amazed by the kind and thoughtful gesture. In return, I wanted to give him a gift, but I was struggling to think of something as meaningful.  Because he was fascinated by my survival equipment, I gave him my reflecting mirror and my waterproof match case with waterproof matches. He was clearly elated, hugged me and wished me well.  He even invited me onto the tarmac to watch the plane land while the other passengers remained in the airport behind security.  The best part is that I learned so much from someone I had never expected would teach me such a valuable life lesson.

This lesson was when you see someone and start to apply your own understanding of who you think they are based on the way they talk or look, take a chance to get to know them. NEVER judge a book by its cover. Your life will be far richer for it.

I travel quite a bit to meet with employees and help clients achieve their objectives with our technology solutions. I take this lesson with me wherever I go. I’ve learned that while I really enjoyed Morocco, it doesn’t have a monopoly on fascinating people. Just sitting next to someone on a flight from Phoenix to Las Vegas can be very enlightening as well.

Do you have an unexpected and unforgettable interaction that taught you a life lesson?  Share your example below!