When you live in the countryside of Morocco, and someone approaches you speaking English, I have to admit, I’m always just a little skeptical. A lot of the folks who want to use English with you will want to try out the five words of English they know, and that turns into a somewhat annoying repeat of the same five phrases, sometimes just curse words. I once had an eight year-old walk up to me with the nicest smile on his face and announce in the most genuine way possible, “Hello, f#ck‘s you.” He had no idea what he was saying. It was just one of the only English words he knew, so when I tore into him shaming him left and right, I almost made him cry, because despite cursing at me, he really was trying to be nice.
Every once in a blue moon, you stumble upon someone who actually knows quite a bit of English. But no one I met in my entire two years of living in Morocco had better English than my friend Driss, one of the high school teachers who lived in my town when I first arrived. We were both new to the place, and in some ways, we were both foreigners. As a Fesi, people who heard Driss’s accent sometimes responded rather harshly, something to the effect of, “Y’ain’t from ’round these parts, are ya?” As a result, Driss and I were able to grow considerably close sharing similar cultural experiences despite being from two very separate cultures.
As time went on and I got to know Driss better, I grew very thankful for his friendship. Driss doesn’t just teach English. He loves it. He has a passion for the language, and every day, he tries to learn more. Driss would be embarrassed by me saying this, and he would refuse to believe me, but he is more fluent in English than most Americans I know. I mean, the guy needs to get his Ph.D. already; he was born for that.
As someone who craves deep and meaningful conversation, Driss filled a gap for me that reminded me how much I love learning. He helped me keep my wits about me, so to speak. When we got lunch today, I made clear to him that he was always welcome in America. But whereas with Omar, that was an invitation I hope he can one day pursue, it’s something I expect to happen for Driss.
It is not easy to go through the visa and passport paperwork to leave Morocco for Moroccans. And it is also quite expensive. Or can be. But when someone is as passionate about Western culture and the English language as Driss is, the opportunity to show him around America is something I earnestly hope I get to do one day. Of all these little vignettes I’ve been writing about my goodbyes, it is Driss who I think I am most likely to see again. After a tussle over who was going to pay for coffee and lunch, I insisted that while I’d let Driss pay today, he had to come to America so I could return the favor there. And if God wills it, I hope I will be as hospitable and as welcoming to him as he was to me.