Vol. 14, Iss. 3
The Magic Window
Dr. Mohammaed Chtatou
On the 4th of July, the United States
of America celebrates its Independence Day with much pride and joy. Morocco,
on the other hand, celebrates over two centuries of uninterrupted good relations
of friendship and beneficial exchange in total respect with the U.S. Morocco
recognized within hours the independence of the U.S. and extended protection
to its vessels from the pirates of the Barbary Coast. Today, the U.S. considers
Morocco not only as a friend but most importantly as an ally, an important
political player in the unstable Arab World and a model for Islam in the Muslim
World which is torn apart by radicalism and violence. Both countries have
embarked on strategic cooperation that will hopefully perpetuate understanding
and goodwill between the two countries in the centuries to come.
Since the agreement between Morocco and the United States to begin Peace Corps
activity in Morocco in 1961, about three thousand Volunteers have served there
to undertake with its people the search for mutual understanding and peace
and to work along with Moroccans to achieve economic and social development
in the areas of education, agriculture/rural development/food, renewable energy,
health, small business development, wildlife, social services, environmental
Yet, in spite of centuries of friendship, understanding and peace between
Moroccans and Americans, the distance, cultural differences, ignorance of
each other and lack of interest combined together have created the ideal environment
for stereotyping. To slip into a stereotype is an extremely easy step to undertake,
but to slip out of one takes a bit of goodwill and willingness to acquire
knowledge about the other and to get to know him better without bias and prejudice.
Moroccans have cultivated the following stereotypes about Americans as the
result of many factors such as the mass-media (radio, television and the cinema
mainly) as well as travelers’ exaggerated accounts:
All Americans with no exception
are rich. This idea has in recent years been consolidated by such popular
TV series as “Dallas,” “Dynasty,” etc.
Americans harbour the following stereotypes about Moroccans:
The streets of America
are real battlefields where people get killed “like flies” especially in
such cities as New York, Chicago, Miami and Los Angeles.
All American women
are beautiful, tall and have blond hair and blue eyes.
All Americans are
self-centred and have no sense of sharing.
Americans have no
sense of family and no respect for old age.
All Moroccans wear robes, turbans,
veils and layers of clothes.
The Peace Corps Act, as established by Congress on September 21,
1961, states that the broad purpose is to “promote world peace and friendship”
and that its three specific goals are:
All Moroccan women
are sensual, exotic, conservative, untouchable, vain and playful.
Moroccan men are
egotistical, macho, chauvinistic, exotic, ruthless and scheming, strict,
restrictive and extremist, corrupt, conservative, backwards and reactionary,
tribal and old-fashioned.
P eople either live
in Kasbahs or in tents in deserts among palm-trees and camels.
To help the people of interested countries and areas in meeting their needs
for trained people
To achieve good cultural interaction in a given environment, many people believe
today that certain knowledge of the language is sufficient to that effect.
Experience has shown that they are wrong. Good cross-cultural communication
is achieved only if verbal language is supplemented by non-verbal language
which Edward T. Hall quite rightly calls the “silent language.”
To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the people
To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans
“Of equal importance is an introduction to the non-verbal language which exists
in every country of the world and among the various groups within each country.
Most Americans are only dimly aware of this silent language even though they
use it every day. They are not conscious of the elaborate patterning of behavior
which prescribes our handling of time, our spatial relationships, our attitudes
toward work, play, and learning. In addition to what we say with our verbal
language we are constantly communicating our real feelings in our silent language
– the language of behavior. Sometimes this is correctly interpreted by other
nationalities, but more often it is not.”
The story I am about to narrate is real and unique. It takes place in Sefrou,
a small city with about hundred thousand people, situated at the foot of the
Middle Atlas Mountains about thirty kilometres south of the city of Fes. The
story happened in the early seventies of the last century. It involves a sixty-year
old illiterate Berber man, who keeps a shop, and a twenty-three-year old English
teacher Volunteer who shopped there. The old Berber man and the young Peace
Corps Volunteer liked each other from the very first moment they met. In the
beginning, while the ice was not totally broken, their discussions centred
on family, relatives and other insignificant issues. Both of them knew that
this was not what they wanted to talk about but it was a necessary preliminary
phase, a kind of warm-up for the real thing. Suddenly, one day, while they
were sipping tea at the entrance to the shop, the old Berber man cleared his
voice and said in a solemn way. “Son, you know my wife died years ago and
all my sons and daughters have married and left. If it were not for your friendship
I would feel very lonely though I have family and relatives. The truth is
I am not on the same wavelength with them as I am with you. I have a request.
You know that I live in a house that has three rooms, and in each room there
is a window. I am tired of looking through the same windows; I want you to
open a new window for me.” ‘Why me?’ asked the Volunteer, “I am not a mason.”
The old man went on, “You are a mason of a different kind. I want you to open
a magic window onto your world for me.”
Immediately after the discussion, the young Volunteer set to work on the “window.”
He wrote to his family informing them of what happened and asking them to
send him slides, pictures, picture books and all items that were representative
of American culture. Little by little the window was opened and the most extraordinary
cross-cultural story started. The old man did not keep the “window” for himself
alone. Instead he shared it with other people. Indeed, he invited the young
Volunteer to bring the “window” and go with him on a visit to his native village.
The visit was very important for both of them. For the Volunteer, it was his
first assignment to the bled with people he had never met. He was apprehensive:
would he be a good cultural ambassador? Would he be able to communicate with
the village people in spite of his limited language abilities? The old Berber
man, on the other hand, had different worries: would the Volunteer like his
village and his people? Would he be comfortable with them?
After various arrangements on both sides, the two men took a souk bus to the
village where they were greeted with a great show of hospitality and friendship.
In the evening, after a succulent dinner of mechoui, chicken tagine and couscous
and the usual tea ceremony, the Volunteer brought out his picture books, slides
and maps. He and his friend, the old Berber man, starting giving explanations
and information on various aspects of the U.S. Many Volunteers later, the
old Berber man and his people in the village are among the most knowledgeable
people on American culture, thanks to the “Magic Window”.
Right after Moroccan independence from France, the French took it upon themselves
to contribute to the development of the country they colonized for over forty
years. The cooperation package consisted of sending scores of “coopérants”
to work in the fields of education, health, agriculture, etc. The majority
of these “coopérants” “did not come with the mentality of development workers.
Most of the “coopérants “were snobbish, unfriendly in their attitude towards
the native population, hardly ever spoke the language and avoided all cultural
exchanges. After two decades of this scheme the French were even more unpopular
among the Moroccans than before Independence.
The Peace Corps scheme on the other hand soon became popular for the very
same reasons that “coopérants ” were not. The Volunteers were friendly and
open. They spoke the language. They learned the culture and participated in
it. They lived in modest accommodations, and most of all they shared their
culture generously. As result, many Moroccans had their life changed one way
or another. The people of Morocco and the people of the U.S. are closer today
than they ever have been in their two hundred years of friendship and cooperation.
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