Where There's a Will-


Learning from Cultural Encounters: Where There's a Will


Location: Tangiers (Morocco)


The scene is a cafe in Tangiers. Tomorrow is Saturday. I've just invited a Moroccan friend to a picnic at the beach. Will he come? "Perhaps," he says in English, translating from the Arabic "Inshallah," which literally means "If God is willing." I'm feeling hurt. What does he mean, "Perhaps"? Either he wants to come or he doesn't. It's up to him. If he doesn't want to come, he only has to say so. He doesn't understand why I seem upset, and I don't quite grasp "Perhaps." Our two cultures confront each other across the teacups.

Only several years later, reading a book about culture, did I understand. He would come, he meant, if Allah willed it. His wanting to come and his being permitted to come were not one and the same. In Morocco, unlike in America, where there's a will there is not necessarily a way.

So who was I to demand an answer to my questions? And who was he to give one?