December 2, 2012

Research, Awkward Questions, and Interviews

It is two weeks into my three-week Independent Study Project, and I am more interested in my subject than ever. Honestly, I have met and interviewed some fascinating people this week. So, I have already written a fair amount on the subject of my project with my last post (the narrative of sub-Saharan Christians in Rabat), but I’ll jump into what I’ve learned in the past week.

I started out my interviews with a pastor of an international, multi-denominational church in Rabat. Three hours after meeting up with him, I had so much information that I actually felt a little overwhelmed by it. But it was a great first interview–both for this project, because he gave me so much background and so much to think about, and for my first time ever interviewing someone for an academic project. I definitely went in very prepared, with a list of topics and questions I wanted to cover, and he hit most of them on his own, so I only had to prompt him in certain directions.

Rabat, where I study

After that interview, I felt more confident about my next ones. I knew how to phrase questions, and I had a huge amount of background information to draw off of. This week, I have now interviewed eight students about their experiences with their faith since moving to Morocco for their studies, as well as a director of youth ministries. With each set of interviews, I’ve become more confident, and my questions become more focused as I am able to find patterns, and my ISP has definitely become tighter.

But I would say there are two experiences that have perhaps affected me the most. Both took place this past Thursday. Around noon that day, I was feeling pretty good about my project–I had about 20 pages written, had already interviewed a couple of people, and had other observations and interviews lined up for later in the week. Feeling pretty confident, I decided to try to tackle one of the toughest parts of my ISP–finding and interviewing some illegal migrants about their faith. Now, there are many sub-Saharan Africans who have migrated illegally to Morocco, either as a final destination or as a stepping stone to Europe, and I pass probably about fifty of them a day as they peddle phones and other goods on the street by my apartment. But I was hoping to ask them about two very sensitive subjects–religion and illegal migration–and I kept imagining how this conversation might go. Perhaps like this:

Me: “Hello. Do you speak English?”

Man on the street: “No.”

Me: “Oh. Well, darn, I was going to ask if you are a Christian in this overwhelmingly Muslim country. And…maybe you could also tell me about migrating here illegally?”

Right. Not exactly ideal. And yet, I couldn’t really figure how else to go about introducing the subject, and I needed to do it for my research. So I headed out to the same street, and when I made eye contact with one of these men and he greeted me in French, I gathered my courage and went to speak to him. And, basically, what followed was the scenario above. He was Senegalese, only spoke French, and was a Muslim–but his friends spoke some English, and another friend was Christian. Somehow I introduced myself and my project, and they ushered me over to sit between them on a wall, and the men who spoke English translated my questions to the Christian and translated his answers back to me.

And honestly, these men were hands down some of the friendliest men I’ve met in Morocco–eager to help me, excited about my project, and honest with their answers. Although the translations made it a little difficult for me to ask all of my questions, I learned a lot—and not just about Diaga’s experience with his faith in Morocco. I walked away from them grinning, exhilarated by how much fun it was to throw myself in and talk with them. Now, I’m trying to organize another trip with a friend who speaks French to go to another district of Rabat early next week and interview some more migrants. Hopefully, the experience will be as rewarding as the first.


After this experience, I was feeling really good about my ISP, and I was excited for the evening, because I had organized to meet up with one of the girls I had interviewed. She was going to take me to a prayer meeting with the church. And this was certainly one of the most interesting, intense experiences of my time in Morocco. I have never been a part of such a dynamic, vibrant prayer group. At one point, the call to prayer sounded, and the voices of these ten people swelled in song and overwhelmed it. Honestly, it was an amazing experiences, seeing this worship and meeting these people.

Really, I want to say that I am enjoying myself. I am thrilled, actually, to be studying this topic, on my own, able to organize it and plan it by myself, with the chance to meet so many fascinating, interesting, nice people. And to think, at the beginning of this semester I was really worried about ISP–whether I would find a topic I am interested in, how I would do in interviews, whether I would feel overwhelmed. But instead, all my experiences interviewing and observing for my ISP have been easily in my top 20 experiences on this trip. The two that I wrote about above are easily in my top 10. To feel that way, to learn this much, and to feel this confident–not a bad gig, study abroad.


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