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STORY TWO Illusion Marrakech, Morocco, December 1964 19 By the middle of December, Ben’s days had become so routine that he began to feel he had lived in Marrakech as long as any old-time resident. Not only did he know his way around the medina, but he also began to believe that he knew what was going on. He had a regular vegetable seller, knew the man who picked up his garbage in a donkeydrawn cart, chatted amiably with the butcher, knew how to choose mint for his tea from the man who sold ten kinds of it, and even had a regular spot at a café in the ville nouvelle where he met with three other foreigners once a week. A delicate balance between his “work” at the school and the pleasure he gained from the interaction with his students —really a long, friendly conversation in which he was the center of attention—had now been achieved. He loved being greeted as “Ustad Ben,” an honorific that in the school’s context had overtones of religious respect, of learnedness. Ben was beginning to be engulfed in a warm cocoon embellished and constructed in his imagination. One morning Ben rode his bike to school, taking his usual route. As he approached the walled compound of his school, he sensed commotion , heard noise, saw dust rising in the air. As soon as the school was in sight, Ben saw fire trucks and, through the dust, incredibly, army tanks and troops. The school was surrounded by police and soldiers, not in a tight circle but in a casual formation, as if waiting for orders to get organized. Ben slowed as he approached, then sped up. Something was happening here, something was wrong with this picture, something totally new to Ben. But it did not occur to him that whatever was happening could affect him or was noteworthy or serious. The scene had no references in Ben’s experience. Army troops and tanks simply had no sensible association with schools and students. Further, this was not the U.S. Army but the Moroccan Army. Ben would have felt trepidation had it been the U.S. Army or, even worse, New York cops. But this was the Moroccan Army, and somehow, without realizing it, the soldiers were to Ben as picturesque as Marrakech’s ocher buildings and the blue sky over the Atlas Mountains. Thus immunized, Ben rode his Schwinn right through the troops to the gate of the school, smiling wonderingly. There he was stopped by two soldiers. “Go away,” they gestured to him. Ben ignored them. He searched to the left and the right, looking for someone who appeared as if he might speak French. He spotted an officer, perhaps a lieutenant , and went up to him, leaving his bike leaning against the wall. “Good morning, sir, could you tell me what is going on here?” The young officer looked at Ben coldly: “Who are you? You shouldn’t be here. Foreigners are not allowed here today.” “But I’m a teacher at this school,” Ben replied, “and I have classes to teach this morning.” “There will be no classes today. You’d better go home and keep away from the school. There will be trouble later on.” Unsatisfied with this reply, Ben turned and walked back to his bike. Without hesitation, he opened the small wooden door that allowed people to go into the courtyard without opening the main gates, and went in. In the courtyard, hundreds of students were milling about, busily moving back and forth between the classrooms that surrounded the square hard-mud court and dragging all the desks, chairs, and anything movable from every classroom. These were growing into an enormous pile in the center of the courtyard, one now at least ten feet high. Ben could not understand what was happening. He looked for other teachers, for the supervisor, for anyone from the school administration, 20 Story Two but not one of them was in sight. Only students. No one noticed Ben. He spotted two of his favorite students carrying a desk. These were young men in their midtwenties who spoke a smattering of French. “What are you doing, Hsein? What are you doing, Mohamed?” he asked, his voice rising. Both young men stared at Ben, with a look that made him think they were much older and wiser than he had realized, perhaps considerably older and wiser than Ben...


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MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
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