al-ayyam luwwelin Internet fi-l-maghreb
The First Days of the Internet in Morocco
by Douglas Davis, Ph.D.
I have just returned from attending the conference "Les premières journées Internet au Maroc," held in Rabat, Morocco, October 17-19. I was invited on the basis of a pending application to spend half of next year's sabbatical leave working with Moroccan colleagues on the development of collaborative research strategies using the Internet and on the application of these to study of the psychology of information system use. The conference included experienced Net-users from the US, Egypt, and Tunisia, but emphasis was on technical details of the forthcoming Moroccan nodes (9600 baud dial-in with assigned IP and billing by time and volume seems, unfortunately, the likely initial configuration). I was one of two participants to address the characteristics of on-line communication, the social psychology of Usenet groups, and the promise of the Web; and (in contrast to the professional French of the Moroccan participants) I did so partly in colloquial Moroccan Arabic,* continuing with brief English remarks on the gender and class differences in computer use affirmed by most US research. Here is a loose translation of the first half of my talk.
Ladies and gentlemen, Peace be with you and good morning. I'm going to speak with you this morning for a few minutes--that will be enough for you--in Moroccan dialectal Arabic. Why? I was born in the USA, in the state of Minnesota, in the American countryside, and there I learned American dialect. Later, in 1969, I studied Moroccan Arabic at the University of Michigan, and I came to Morocco, where I completed a social science study with my wife, Susan Schaefer Davis, and lived in Sidi Kacem Zaouia. There I became accustomed to the Moroccan colloquial Arabic language. For the last ten years I have lived on the Information Highway, on the Bitnet and Internet. Thus I speak three colloquial languages: dialectal American, dialectal Moroccan, and dialectal Informationese (laughter and applause).
Last night I tried to think of what I should say to you in just a few minutes about the Internet and the new world of computers, and I fell asleep and dreamed I was back in Sidi Kacem in the year 2001 (laughter).
I found myself at the taxi stand at the lower end of town, and I walked up the main street and found the house of my friend Hamid. He's a teacher at the elementary school, where he is responsible for the fifth grade class. He is working on a lesson for his class today, writing in Arabic with a stylus on his Personal Digital Assistant (PDA). He finishes, puts the PDA in his pocket, and heads off to school to download the lesson to his desktop system connected to the school LAN.
On the way, Hamid passes his neighbor, Fatima. She's just finished a new piece of Fez style cross-stitch embroidery and photographed it, and she's sending her film off so the pictures can be placed on CD-ROM and uploaded to the Internet, where they will appear that evening on the electronic rug-shop, Marrakesh Express, where Fatima sells her goods (laughter, applause).
I then found myself in the secondary school, where I saw a group of 20 students, each at their desktop systems, engaged in an on-line conversation using IRC Chat. They're "talking" with 20 students in the US, in California, and 20 others in Jerusalem, in Palestine. Each one works at their own keyboard, and sees the words of all the others on their screen. They will chat for half an hour in Arabic and half an hour in English. If anyone finds an Arabic word they don't know--for example, the Californians' Arabic is a little weak--they just click on it with their mouse and the meaning appears on the screen, in English. And if, for example, one of the Palestinian students has a problem with an English word later, they will click on it and find it translated to Arabic.
Later another group of students will spend an hour or two reading and responding to their email, carrying on correspondence in English, French, or Arabic with whoever they wish.
Then I was in the elementary school. There too I found the pupils all using computers. One group of three--Mjid, Suad, and Rachida--are in one corner of the room using a CD-ROM multimedia encyclopedia and linked World Wide Web connection. They use an Arabic interface and see the results in color on their screen. Now they're looking at color photographs from the manuscript museum in Cairo, Egypt. They have been studying miniature paintings done over 500 years ago in Herat, Iran, by the painter Behzad; and they are comparing his technique with that of El-Greco in a collection of paintings from the Prado, in Madrid.
Off in one corner by himself is Sa`id, who's just turning eleven. He's finished his lessons and is using the school's laptop computer, like this (holds up Mac Powerbook). He's been thinking about the coming month of Ramadan--maybe it's time to try fasting (scattered applause). He's running a Hypercard application that allows him to read the Chapter of Power in Arabic on the screen and to hear it chanted on headphones.
I was delighted with what I had seen, and I left the school and made my way back to the foot of town. As I stood waiting for a taxi to take me back to Rabat I head a voice call out,
"Douglas, where are you headed?"
Someone seemed to be standing there, but I couldn't see his face clearly.
"Who is it?" I asked.
"Ah, Douglas," he replied, "you're always living in your fantasy. These things you've seen--they still haven't come to pass. They told us there'd be an information superhighway, coming down from Tangiers and heading up into the mountains and branching out to the coast but we've got nothing from it. There's a huge irrigation-pipe of information passing by town, and we just want to put a little water-tap in it, so we can drink."
"Who are you, sir?" I asked.
"O Douglas," he said, "now you only respect Sidi ROM, and you've forgotten Sidi Adberrahman Mejdoub" (surprised laugher and extended applause).
"So, what shall I tell all the people at the conference tomorrow about all these wonders I've seen?"
"Douglas, you do what you want. You always do. I'll just leave you with this, about that wonderful computer future that maybe will come to pass, and maybe not:
The computer market is a dangerous place
O shopper, beware!
For they'll show you bushels of profit
And you'll wind up losing your principle.
Thank you (applause).
The term "sidi" (see below) refers to an honored person, and in particular to a local saint revered for special spiritual powers (baraka) demonstrated during his lifetime. This rural town of roughly 12000 is the center of a small religious organization (zawiya) maintained by descendants of Sidi Kacem (d. 17th century), whose shrine is the site of the major mosque. This is indeed al-`arubiya, with one paved street, perhaps 10 percent of houses with indoor water-taps, and few amenities. The town was the site of the fieldwork described in Susan Schaefer Davis's Patience and Power: Women's Lives in a Moroccan Village (Schenkman: 1983) and in Susan and Douglas A. Davis's Adolescence in a Moroccan Town: Making Social Sense (Rutgers: 1989).
Moroccan children must pass a standardized exam to pass from elementary to secondary school at the end of the first year. Elementary instruction is in Modern Standard Arabic, which differs from the colloquial language of the Moroccan home and street in much the way Latin differs from colloquial Italian; and the first hurdle of Moroccan public schooling is to learn this rich and difficult lingua franca of the Arab world before passing on to French, English and/or Spanish in secondary school.
The lunar month in which pious Muslims fast from first light to sunset. Children begin to fast around the time of puberty. The 27th of Ramadan, the Night of Power (laylat al-qadr) marks the anniversary of the revelation of the Qur'an to the Prophet Mohammed.
I owe the inadvertent pun on CD-ROM to my friend Kathy Morabet's description of an elementary pupil at the Rabat American School who, having heard of the wonders of the new computer resource, assumed it must be another of the panoply of Moroccan saints. Sidi Abderrahman Mejdoub (d. 17th century) is the reputed source of a wealth of Moroccan oral poetry, of which the following quotation, with "women" [an-nsa] substituted for "computer," is perhaps the most-quoted example.
Next week: The Bell Curve I.Douglas Davis, Ph.D. <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Copyright (C) Douglas Davis 1994. All rights reserved.