I had a unique opportunity Monday afternoon as a result of a phone call I made to our friend Farid. He invited me to come speak to his high school English class, about 25 high school juniors and seniors who are following a physics and chemistry track in their preparation for university study. They attend a private high school, a clue that their parents are prosperous, and most have taken formal English classes at one of the many language institutes in town.
We met Farid in 1985 when we were doing some volunteer work in Rabat prior to spending the fall semester of that year in England with Samford’s London study program. Farid completed a teacher certification program after obtaining his degree in English and began a career as an English teacher in 1987. He is a native of Fes and the member of a very prosperous family who owned a ceramic tile factory. Even though teachers are not rewarded very well financially here in Morocco, he has faithfully pursued his chosen career in education, primarily in the public sector. A couple of years ago he began teaching in addition to this regular schedule, a couple of classes each week at a private school, late in the afternoon when he is free.
I called him to set up an appointment for breakfast with him early next week. He asked if I were busy and could I meet in about fifteen minutes in order to speak to his English class. He explained that I would only have to answer questions, since the class had studied a lesson the week before with the objective of asking questions in order to obtain information about a person’s background. The first week Farid had adopted the persona of an American named Bob who was visiting their country for the first time. He introduced me as Bob’s cousin, who had lived in Morocco in the past, and had returned for a visit. Ironically, I have an uncle named Bob who visited us in Fes in 1988.
I had a very nice time with the students. They were engaged, respectful of my opinion,well-behaved, and seemed very interested in what I had to say in response. Many of the questions were the usual type: Where are you from? When did you come to this country? What foods do we have that you like?
However, others required more thought before I responded. Some were of a political nature such as what are your thoughts on gun control or do you think women get the respect they deserve in Morocco? Others were religious in nature such as, are you a Muslim, or how do you promote religious tolerance in your country? A few dealt with societal issues, such as technological change and the effect it has on our daily lives, or the “brain drain” that occurs in less developed countries as many of the best and brightest students pursue what they believe to be better opportunities in more economically advanced countries.
To the question of why we travel to Morocco every year, a fact I mentioned in giving some background to one question, I had to admit that it was pretty hard to give a precise reason. That is why I write at least once each year attempting to articulate the resolution of that very puzzling question that continues to cause us some concern.
It seemed odd to them that I have lived here twenty-five years or so before they were born, and that I had traveled to many more places in their own country than had they. My expressions of affection for their native land, and the efforts we have made over the years to introduce even more people to this land were well received. Not all of my answers were completely understood, but the level of their English mastery was quite impressive.
A number of students expressed an affinity for things American, particularly in the popular culture, and I really got their attention with the description of programs such as the International House Program at Jacksonville State. The potential for scholarships, in fact, any type of financial assistance for university study, is a matter of extreme importance to them.
I left with the feeling that it had been a mutually beneficial experience. I have almost no contact with students their age during our time here each year, and it has been twelve years since I taught at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane. I tried to be candid with them, and at the same time give a fair and honest representation of the United States. Maybe my performance was acceptable. At the end I did not get a standing ovation, but the applause was decent, and at least 10 or 12 of the students came up afterwards to chat for a few minutes. All in all, a very different and rewarding experience.