This weekend I have been lucky enough to receive some invitations from my coworkers. On Friday, I joined a Standard Arabic class, which was one of the best Arabic courses I’ve taken, particularly since the teacher spoke no English. My main complaint about my university’s Arabic class was that the teacher was always telling us, in English, about silly things like how many Cinnabun stores there are in Cairo. Even if I ever go to Cairo, I really do not have any interest in going to Cinnabun. In Friday’s class, we talked about the Tunisian revolution of 1864, and then briefly discussed the 2011 revolution. I learned how to say important words in Arabic and French, such as corruption, taxes, and unemployment, all of which seem as though they will come in handy here!
On Saturday, I tried some Tunisian food at a restaurant with a coworker after looking at perhaps hundreds of photos of her two-year-old daughter. She told me a little bit about the ban on hijabs before the revolution, when Ben Ali was still in power. She said that she had often been brought to the police station and sometimes even beaten up a little just for wearing hijab, because as she said, “some don’t fear God, they fear only Ben Ali.”
In the evening, I was invited to another English teacher’s home for the evening. The teacher reminded me of a University of Chicago professor; he liked to talk! He did say several very interesting things though. I told him a little bit about how I find Tunisia compared to Morocco, and he commented disdainfully on the fact the Moroccans are still happy with the monarchy. In Morocco, people are very defensive of the king, often claiming that he is like family. However, it is illegal in Morocco to criticize the Moroccan government and royal family, and breaking these rules can result in very serious consequences. In Tunisia on the other hand, Ben Ali and the current temporary president Merzougi are both heavily criticized. Before the 2011 revolution, even YouTube was banned, but now people have more freedom to express their opinions even if there are still some limitations.
Another thing that the teacher talked about that I found very interesting was his disdain for all things French. He said that he teaches English in order to break the bonds of colonization, because young Tunisians who learn French often go to France for study or work, where they are treated with hostility. I have never been to France, but I have heard many people say this same thing, and the bans on headscarves in France certainly reflect this problem. The tension between France and its former colonies and protectorates still exists and perhaps creates a lot of problems, here and in France.
I definitely wasn’t thinking of my job as an English teacher as a way of helping North Africa resist the lasting influences of colonization, but English definitely is the most global language. Well, I’ve got at least two years to change the world, one English student at a time!