Last summer, on a bus from Kampala, Uganda to Nairobi, Kenya, I talked to an African man who told me the problem with Westerners was planning. He said that we spend too much time planning for life, instead of living it. He said that was the difference between us and African’s, that African’s prepare themselves for things, but they never try and plan what was going to happen. That summer I learned the truth in the man’s statement, as I watched my African friends go about their daily lives, facing and surpassing all obstacles, triumphs, and failures that came their way. From this experience, I learned the true importance of adaptation in daily life, and how the world will turn, regardless of what I have planned.
Although Morocco is on the same continent, few lessons I learned from my time in sub-Saharan Africa have been relevant here. Today was our first day of Islam and the Koran class, and though this is a topic I find very interesting, the possible enjoyment was nowhere to be found. Professor Zaki, the program director who I’ve already butted heads with, has appointed himself the teacher of this course, and although his intelligence is abundant, there seems to be a missed connection between his thoughts and their articulation. We spent a three hour course reading choicely worded, long winded, vague questions, whose soul purpose was to inform us that studying religion is not the same as studying other subjects. The study of religion is used to train a person how to think in a way that encompasses the mind and the heart. My favorite phrase was when a person’s intelligence was referred to as their “cognitive stock.” Zaki spent an entire lecture trying to explain to us how one should approach learning the Koran, without teaching us a single thing about it. His motive was the fact that there are certain aspects that make studying religion difficult, such as how times are different now then when the books were written, and problems, politics, science, ect., differ from each time period. Though this is true, what Zaki was trying to do was not map out how we would learn the Koran, but try and pre-create our interpretation of what we will eventually learn. This has been the theme for the entire program with CIEE. Instead of diving into this new culture, and experiencing it first hand, getting an impression, then debriefing, Zaki has tried to create pre-emptive judgments and interpretations before we (well those of us who didn’t travel before) have experienced anything. He is trying to plan a group reaction to situations that will be completely subjective to the person who experiences it. Preparation is so important when it comes to experiencing a new and different culture, but trying to plan out how you’ll react to something you’ve never experience before is absurd. It’s like trying to plan a reaction to a surprise which you have no knowledge of. Like I said before, Zaki is an intelligent man, and his ultimate goal of trying to teach a kid to think and analyze, instead of accept and store is my philosophy as well, but unless someone has already learned to attain information this way, his message is lost in his endless sea of million dollar words on PowerPoint slides. What the real take home message is, is that one cannot plan nor teach someone how to experience something. A knowledgeable person can offer advice and insight, but the interpretation, the reaction, and the lesson learned is all in the eye of the beholder.