By Larbi Arbaoui
By Larbi Arbaoui
Morocco World News
Taroudant, Morocco, March 23, 2012
MWN has conducted an interview with Mr. Ben Pennington who is an American athlete, musician and a poet. He served as Peace Corps volunteer in N’kob, Zagora, Morocco for two years [from 2009-2011]. The goals of Peace Corps are to exchange both culture and technical skills, though it’s hard in such a warm and welcoming country as Morocco to give more than is received. Ben had come to Morocco before that time to participate in Marathon des Sables.
During his stay in Morocco he visited many cities, taught English, French, Spanish and Portuguese to Moroccans of different walks of life and gave music lessons to young people in Dar Shabab. Through this interview, we will discover how Mr. Ben Pennington’s short stay in Morocco has turned him a Moroccan fan. Since the interview is long enough to be published in one piece, we decided to publish it in a series.
L A: Good morning, Ben.
BP: Hello, my friend.
L A: Would you please introduce yourself briefly?
BP:I’m a musician and writer that lives in Tennessee. For people that don’t know, Tennessee is a state in Southern United States. Here we have very hot summers and very cold winters, with lots of flowers. Our biggest product is cotton and music; so, Tennessee is known for music. I live on the Mississippi river, the 3rd biggest in the world, and the Mississippi is known as the birthplace of rock & roll, blues and jazz music, as well as the call-and-response tradition that became the basis for rap and hip hop.
Personally, I was born in 1985, I learned guitar at age 10, and besides music of all types (especially opera and 1960s Soul) my favorite things are studying foreign languages, traveling and literature. Also, I love, love, love women with very dark black skin. So living in Morocco was a good fit for me for many different reasons: adventure, people from all over the world live there, and good music all the time as well as a chance to enjoy a more traditional and slow-paced lifestyle in a very beautiful area.
L A: You have been to Morocco for two years serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer, right?
B P: That’s correct. I lived in the South with the Amazigh (Berbers) community very close to the border with Algeria, and I was able to visit all corners of the country several times, from Oujda and Faguig to Tata and Dakhla. I taught different youth activities, like English and music. I taught basic French to some older women that had never gone to school, and I sat with them a few times while they studied Arabic script. In my town I spoke the same amount of Tashlehayt, Darija and French. As my students progressed, we spoke more English. Some people wanted to know Spanish, so I gave a few lessons in that. Another man knew Spanish, but wanted Portuguese, so I really taught according to the needs of the student.
L A: As a PCV, why did you choose Morocco among other countries?
BP: I knew Morocco before, when I went there in 2005. Normally in Peace Corps, a person doesn’t choose the country – this is so that everyone doesn’t all say “I want to go to Costa Rica”. Sometimes they go to countries they have never heard of, like one of the -stans. But later, they love it completely, and they are glad that the place was chosen for them, because they never would have gone there otherwise. And usually they stay long enough to learn the language, to see it with the eyes of a local person, even to find a loved one there. Sometimes, too, what you think initially good for you is not always best, and having the administration choose for you can be better, because they know better than you of what you are capable. Another important rule is that you live alone in your community—no other Americans except those 7 or 8 hours away, sometimes—so that in the course of two years, if you’d like to have a friend, then you have to socialize and meet a friend from your host community, a Moroccan. In Morocco this was easy: after a week or two, everyone knew me and wanted me to come for tea. After two years, I was one of them.
BP: Yes. I was in Ourzazate for a week and in the Moroccan Sahara walking and running for another week. It was very “warm”, close to 50*c [130*F] degrees every day. I was a competitor in the Marathon des Sables. This is the same as running six marathons in one week, and you carry all of your food with you on your back. Only water is provided to the competitors. As tough as it is, it’s a race that is embraced and held as dear in the national consciousness of the country. Its champions are always Moroccans and they are national heroes.
L A: Marathon des sables is, indeed, a challenging and exciting experience. I am sure you have an interesting story you may thankfully share with us.
BP: Because of this race, I met the legendary Lachen Ahansal and his brother Mohamed. But I always love to tell the story about the way I cooked my food. We’d start running very early and I’d arrive as the sun was descending. One day they always have an overnight stage that is 80 or 85 kilometers [50 or 53 Miles], and you run without stopping. On that day, I was walking blindly in the sand dunes, with a neon light at the top of every other dune to guide me. But that would mean 10 minutes of walking in the sand at night with no light until I arrived to the top of the next dune. It was like being on another planet, and I was all alone except for some race staff riding dune buggies and checking on the runners. Amazing.
One thing I always tell people about the time during the Marathon des Sables is this: you get very hungry after running so much, so I’d put a bag with rice and vegetables near the top of my bag, a few inches from my neck, while I’m running and with the food in direct sunlight. I then added water, so after running for an hour like that, all I had to do was open the bag and the rice would be cooked and the food was always steaming hot! And this is hours after the hottest part of the day had already come and gone! I suppose my brain was likely doing the same thing, but I survived. The best thing from that year was that the finish line was in Tazarine. I didn’t know it when I went to live in Nkob for two years [from 2009-2011], but that town is just 35 kilometers [22 Miles] from the same exact place that I had been four years before! Instead of being the backdrop and the cast to my ‘exotic adventure’, these people and this place had instead become my neighbors, in a more intense and intimate journey, the one that’s just Moroccan daily life.
To Be Continued…
Larbi Arbaoui is a Teacher of English who has been teaching for more than 5 years. He studied English language and literature in Moulay Ismail University, Faculty of Arts and Human sciences, Meknes. He Attended and participated as a speaker in several Regional colloquium of the Moroccan Association of Teachers of English. He wrote a short play entitled ‘Aicha, the Talented Student’ performed in Dar Athaqafa, Zagora. He is Morocco World News corespondent in Taroudant, Morocco.
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