Sunday, August 1, 2010

Western Lense, American Cubicle. Part 2

Next phase: It is important to understand that because of our, for lack of a better word, ‘elitist’ tendencies. Misunderstandings are bound to occur, or are inevitable. As much as we are alike with the people of the world, we also must recognize and tolerate the differences.

During one of our scheduled lectures on Sufism, the professor giving the lecture would communicate in Arabic, then a man would translate in English of course. At one point while the translator was speaking, the professor received a phone call, which interrupted the lecture, and much to our surprise, the professor answered the call and had a quick 30-second conversation (as the translator continued to speak to us, as if nothing had interrupted the lecture) then hung up.

Now this would never occur in the US and probably most other countries I would assume. We in the US have cell phones off in these types of settings (most of the time), and would never imagine such an action to occur at a lecture, especially by the professor. We’ve developed a protocol over the years.

I think I may have been the only one who thought this was hilarious. I’ve seen this plenty of times. A friend of mine did Peace Corps in Ghana, myself, I served in Niger, both countries in West Africa. In both countries, what happened with the professor here at the University in Fes, Morocco, is very common in the 2 countries previously mentioned. It is also very common for professionals and even figureheads to be late at their own scheduled meetings!!!

A part of me appreciates this break from punctuality. I like that things are so relaxed within the culture that we get to enjoy time rather than live for time. Things are so rigid in the US, which I understand, but like I said, I can see and appreciate both sides.

After the lecture some of my fellow Fulbrighters talked about how they felt disrespected that the professor had answered his phone.


This is NOT disrespectful, just a cultural difference. That type of phone protocol has yet to be established in places like Ghana, Niger, and apparently Morocco. If the professor thought he had disrespected someone, he would have apologized. Plus the fact that the translator did not stop and kept going on as if nothing happened, that in itself should be an indicator of the normality of the situation. There are far worse situations of disrespect that deserve attention, and this is not one of them.

Also, I was vindicated a few days later, when THEE University top head was giving his formal thank you and farewell speech, and all of a sudden, his phone rang, and he did not hesitate to answer… it happened again! Hopefully other Fulbrighters saw this and said, “Hey it’s not that big a deal or disrespectful after all.”

Lastly, I hope that are flaws do not hinder our experience or the communication we hope to start up with the rest of you back in the US once we get home. Many of us came to Morocco with very ambitious goals particularly regarding the Arabic language. I really hope none of us go back to the US and come off as experts on Morocco.

The reality is that Morocco is just as complex, complicated, and rich as the rest of the nations of this Earth. There are no black and white answers to many topics, heated and controversial issues are hard to propel to the national level (in terms of bringing them up for debate). Similar to the US right? We have many issues in our country, like the state of education, health care, immigration, etc… that will never be debated and/or resolved. And those are current issues; we have not mentioned the old ones or the history of some of America’s problems.

Well, Morocco is very much the same way…

Imagine taking 13-14 Moroccans, and sending them to the U.S. for 5 weeks (with ZERO English). Now would you expect those Moroccans to know the 300 years of US history? Obviously NO, but at least they were exposed to our country and they learned some things that will hopefully inspire them to maybe research a particular topic that really fascinated them about American culture or politics. Hopefully those Moroccans go back with solid general ideas and a better understanding of that particular region of the world. Guess what people, that is us, right here, right now. Hopefully. we go back to America with a good grasp on Moroccan issues, but by no means are we experts.

Maleikum Salaam.

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