Discovering New Perspectives on Life
Students examine how the author's worldview expanded by living in another culture.
About the Story
Each of this story's three sections focuses on a different lesson the author learned from serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco. Morocco's population is almost 99 percent Muslim. Religion permeates every aspect of the culture. In exploring some of the cultural features that shape the people of Morocco, Storti focuses on experiences that made him aware of how people of a different cultural background can view the world in fundamentally different ways. He describes his growing realization that his own perspectives and tastes, which he had always taken for granted as being fairly universal, don't necessarily prevail in another culture.
Students will find more meaning in this story if they understand the importance of prayer in Muslim culture—and that central to Islam is the importance of the submission of one's will to the will of Allah. In submitting to the will of Allah, a Muslim expects to find peace. Moroccans and other Muslims commonly end statements with the term inshallah, meaning "God willing," because, for them, Allah controls their destiny.
Muslims pray five times a day. Prayers are said at dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset, and nightfall. Muslims are called to prayer by a muezzin, or crier, who chants from the tower of a mosque. The chant is often sung through a loudspeaker so that it can be heard throughout an entire town or a large part of a city. Although it is preferable to worship together in a mosque, a Muslim may pray almost anywhere, such as in a field, an office, a factory, or a university. Muslim children are taught to pray when they are 6 or 7, and are expected to pray by the time they are 10.
Wherever they are, Muslims face Mecca to pray. Mecca, in Saudi Arabia, is the birthplace of the prophet Mohammed and the holiest place on Earth to Muslims. Facing Mecca creates a sense of unity among Muslims by providing a spiritual and social focus.
About the Setting
Morocco, a monarchy on the northwest coast of Africa, has a population of some 30 million people, almost all of whom are Sunni Muslims of Arab, Berber, or mixed Arab-Berber ancestry. Arabic is the official language, though Berber is spoken in some areas, as well as French and Spanish. The chief cities all lie along the Atlantic or Mediterranean coasts: Rabat, the capital; Casablanca, to the south; and Tangiers, to the north.
Morocco is a land of contrasts—from the range of the High Atlas Mountains in the north, where the temperature may be extremely cold, to the Sahara in the south, where the temperature and humidity are characteristic of a hot desert.
The Peace Corps has been active in Morocco since shortly after the agency began. More than 4,000 Volunteers have served in the country since 1963—working and living in both large metropolitan cities and the smallest traditional communities. Author Craig Storti served in the coastal city of Safi, some 150 miles south of Casablanca.
Largely dependent upon tourism, Morocco also exports citrus fruits and has a sizable bauxite mining industry.
The current monarch, King Mohammed VI, is working hard to improve the quality of life in rural areas, raise the social and economic status of women, and relieve poverty.
To discover the three lessons Storti learned as a Volunteer and find out how he learned them
To reflect on the enduring understanding: "Living and serving in another culture can teach important life lessons—if one is open to learning"
To relate the author's lessons to students' lives
- Auxiliary verb: A verb used to help form the tense or condition of another verb. For example: will do, have done, may happen
- Minaret: [min-uh-RET] A tower that is part of a mosque, with a balcony used by a muezzin to call Muslims to prayer
- Mosque: [MAHSK] Muslim house of worship
- Prayer call: A signal to Muslims to pray, issued by a muezzin
- Cadence: A beat of sound; a rhythm
- Muezzin: [myoo-EHZ-in] A crier who calls Muslims to prayer
- Irrevocably: Unalterably; permanently; unable to be changed
- Staging: A three-day orientation session in the United States for new Peace Corps
- Eschew: [es-CHOO] To avoid
- Unrelentingly: Unyieldingly
- Using information from the overview section, tell students about the author, the story, and the setting. If students do not know about the Peace Corps, provide a brief overview, using information from the introduction. Explain that Peace Corps Volunteers usually gain a broader worldview and a deeper understanding of other cultures as a result of their service.
- Point out the location of Morocco on a map of Africa.
- Ask the students to read "Three Lessons." Provide a copy of Resource Sheet 1 (see link above) to guide their reading.
- When students have finished reading the story, have them work in pairs to complete the resource sheet.
- Conduct a class discussion on the three lessons Storti learned. Consider addressing some or all of the following questions:
- What were the three lessons Storti learned?
- How did he learn each of them?
- What does being "open to learning" mean?
- When did Storti learn his third lesson—about the pervasive, or deep, meaning of inshallah? [It was several years after the incident.] Why did it take years to learn? What was it that Storti had to realize before he learned his third lesson?
- Do the three lessons Storti learned have anything in common? If so, what is it? [Responses may vary, but for those who see a commonality, it may relate to having one's eyes opened to new possibilities by exposure to someone else's culture.]
- What did Storti gain from being open to learning from people who are different from him? What can I gain from the same kind of openness?
- Journal Activity. Students will have concluded that the author learned about new tastes, new values, and new outlooks by being open to learning from people who were different from him. For homework, ask students to respond in their journals to the prompt that follows. (Remind them that their entries will be subject to being read by others in the class.)
Describe a time when you were open to learning something that changed your view of your surroundings or changed your opinions about something important to you. If possible, describe an experience that also involved a person whose culture is different from the culture of your home community.
Journal Walk. Have students open their journals to their homework responses from the night before. Ask the students to move around and quietly read the journal responses of six other students. (Masking tape arrows on the floor can help provide an orderly progression.) Give students six to eight minutes to circulate around the room, moving from journal to journal at equal intervals.
- Have students re-read the first lesson Storti learned as he became accustomed to the sound of the muezzin's prayer call. Ask students to discuss with a partner a type of music they once disliked but now enjoy. What happened to change their minds? What happened to change Storti's mind? (Students can alternatively consider their changed taste in art, or a change in perception of a movie over a period of time.)
- As a class, discuss Storti's account of his first lesson, about the muezzin's prayer call. These prompts may facilitate classroom conversation:
- What did Storti mean when he said: "You can accommodate the strange, the unusual…. You are not irrevocably the way you started out. With a little luck, you can grow"?
- How important is it to be able to get used to what may seem strange or unusual at first?
- Why did Storti feel this was an important life lesson?
- As homework, ask students to make a list in their journals of 20 items in their bedrooms (including things in their closets and bureau drawers).
The following day, in class, ask the students to put a plus sign next to the items in their lists that they think they absolutely need for survival and to be happy, and a minus sign next to those things they think they might prefer to keep but could do without. In small groups, have the students discuss their journal classifications. Have them try to identify specifically the criteria they used for deciding what they would absolutely keep and what they could do without.
Then, in class discussion, ask the students to report what sorts of things are essential to them—and why—and what sorts of things are dispensable—and why. Now re-read Storti's second lesson aloud, about getting by with less, and then ask what Storti meant when he wrote, "Peace Corps whittles away your list of necessities.… Then you understand you can only be as free as that last list is short." Do students agree that it may be advantageous to have a short list of things they feel they can't live without? If so, why? If not, why not? If opinions differ widely, point out that materialism may be partly influenced by our culture, and partly by personal preference.
Frameworks & Standards
- Everyone has a culture. It shapes how we see the world, ourselves, and others.
- Living and serving in another culture can teach important life lessons—if one is open to learning.
- Living in another culture challenges us to understand the world from that culture's point of view.
- How do my cultural values and beliefs shape how I view individuals from other cultures?
- What can I gain from being open to learning from people who are different from me?
English Standards: 1, 6
Social Studies Standards: I, IV, IX
National Geography Standards: 6, 10
For more information on the standards in Uncommon Journeys, see the Appendix (pdf—160 KB, linked above).