“Before I came to visit the US in 2013, I thought all Americans are like Robots. All they care about is money, money and only money, work, work, work. Before coming to the States, I had read different travel accounts about both America (by Arab writers) and about Arab countries (by European and American writers).
The Arab writers’ texts include Tangier’s Eyes on America by Abdelatif Akbib, “A Stranger in the West: The Trip of Mikhail Asad Rustum to America 1885-1894) by Mikhail Asad Rustum, “The America I Have Seen: In the Scale of Human Values,” by Sayyid Qutb (1951), “America for Sale,” by Mahmud Amara (1991) along with other accounts compiled in an Anthology entitled America in an Arab Mirror: Images of America in Arabic Travel Literature, 1668 to 9/11 and Beyond, (eds.) Kamal Abdelmalek & Mouna El Kahla (2000). Texts about the Orient by European and American writers include Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, Spider’s House by Paul Bowles and Arabia Deserta by Charles Doughty among other travel narratives. In his account A Stranger in the West, for example, Mikhail Asad Rustum, contrasts American and Arab ways as follows:
– We write from right to left – They write from left to right
– Women submit to their men – Men submit to their ladies
-We say “Please come over – They say “Please come over to our home we want to you.” to our home to see us.”
In another account, “America for Sale,” Mahmoud Amara recounts that he came across some ads wherein one finds “American wives put their husbands for sale.”
In the same sort of representational pattern, the reader of Paul Bowles’s texts is introduced to a part of the Arab World (Morocco) which is full of drugs, prostitution, primitiveness, lustfulness and backwardness.
However, though my first visit was so limited in terms of scope and experience, as I couldn’t get out of the academia circle to see how American families and professionals work and live, I had the chance to go through some experiences that opened a door for me to correct those misconceptions I had in mind about Americans.
At the personal level, recounting the following scenes would speak my mind nicely:
- The very fact that Mr. J.E. Rash, the president of Legacy International, came to greet, meet, and talk to every member of the North African delegation showed to me that one’s rank doesn’t matter in this country (USA) as it does in some parts of the world. Maybe some people may think that he does so because he is at the top of the organization which is responsible for the program I am participating in. No, at all it is not, I would strongly say NO. He does so out of his strong belief in human values, whatever the situation is. Wherever I went, I could meet people occupying high positions. In Roanoke, I could, by chance, meet the Mayor of the city on one Sunday with his informal clothes walking through a local annual festival.
- Whenever somebody happened to block unintentionally my way and whenever I did the same, I always heard “Excuse me, I am sorry, or Hey, how are you?” Whenever I spoke to an American about my project or the reason behind me coming to the States, all I heard is “Woow, excellent, awesome, or very excellent.” Likewise, after meeting an American, s/he would say “have a nice day, evening or morning.” However normal all these expressions might be, to many, they meant a lot to me, because they form a whole cultural system that is driven by positive thinking.
- I never imagined myself begged by an American for a few dollars (This happened to me and my colleague from Tunisia, Yomna, three or four times). This taught me that poverty is a global concern and phenomenon.
At the professional level, I have learned a lot from the Roanoke based non-profit organization where I did my fellowship, Total Action for Progress (TAP) and all those agencies I could visit through TAP. I have learned how to be honest in what you do, how to love what you do, how to develop a results-oriented strategy for work, and how to develop an organization culture. I would never forget an outstanding professional and personal value which has driven TAP to be what it is nowadays. I had the chance to learn this value from somebody who devoted more than 40 years of his life to extend the work of TAP; Mr. Ted Edlich – the ex-president of TAP. He said, “When you and your team manage to work something out successfully, look through the window and thank everybody, but when one of your staff fails to do something, look at the mirror and blame yourself.”
By way of conclusion, like I said on the thank you event for Host Family and Fellowship Hosts, this exchange program is not only for skills-building to empower people living in poor conditions, but also a great chance to correct those misconceptions stated above and their likes. It is really a golden opportunity to put the intercultural dialogue in action. Thank you Legacy International.” ~ Limame Barbouchi, Administrator, National Initiative for Human Development in the Province of Taourirt
Sixteen Moroccan and Tunisian fellows are currently serving in fellowships as part of Legacy International’s “Professional Fellows Program in Non-profit Development for North Africa (PFP).” The fellowships are with non-profit and public-sector offices in Washington, DC, and in Roanoke, Virginia.
Learn more from the Fellows in the Fellows Blog
- For Science, For Action, For Health
- Be the Change You Want to See
- Similar and Different: In the US
- Alice in Wonderland
- Chinatown Unexpected
- Americans are Proud of Their Country
- On the Floor of the Senate
- Dreaming of a Better World
- Hit the Ground Running
 Kamal Abdel-Malek, America in an Arab Mirror, (New York: St.Martins , 2000). P.6