"Field Work" / by George Bajalia

Tangier, Morocco



I’m really not the best wrestler. I’m too not grand at playing the guitar either. When I arrived a week ago, though, it seems that my new friends got a different impression. It started on the way back from the airport.

The graduate student to whom I was introduced via email, Abdelmajid, picked me up with two of his friends- Brahim and Ouhtmal. After dropping off my bags at my host’s apartment, we hopped straight back in the car and headed to the beach. My friends were eager to show me their favorite parts of Tangier, and to turn me into a Tanjawi, as they put it. On the way to the beach, they asked me what sorts of sports I played. As an American, I had to be an avid basketball and football fan, they knew. After floundering for a bit, I told them that I used to wrestle in high school. When we got to the beach, they promptly announced that it was my turn to wrestle them. I really didn’t know what to say- I tried to politely decline, but they persisted, insisting that I should show them how Americans play sports. So we wrestled. Somehow, I ended up with Brahim over my shoulders and then throwing him down to pin him. I counted to three in Arabic, and then got up. Sweaty, sandy, and ready to talk about theatre, I sat back down in my chair. Abdelmajid quietly asked me why I had let Brahim up. “The match was over, I pinned him and won.” That didn’t quite fly. It seems that the rules of wrestling in America and Morocco differ a bit. In Morocco, I quickly learned, you keep going until someone calls off the match and concedes. So, we wrestled again. And again. Through some trick of fate, I kept winning, but Brahim kept wanting to try again. Eventually, I called off a match and conceded my winning streak. Sinking into my chair to stair out at the Mediterranean, I realized that I had been traveling for over 24 hours at this point and began to take a nap. About 5 minutes later I was woken up my Abdelmajid holding a guitar. “You play the guitar, right?” “Well…. Sort of. I mean, not really, but I guess I know a little bit.” That was enough for them. They had borrowed the guitar from the beach goers next to us and wanted me to play some American songs for them. I’m not quite sure why they had the impression that I could play the guitar, but not wanting to disappointed, I told them I would play. I asked them to start singing a song, and I would play along. I don’t know what song they were singing, or what chords I was playing, but we laughed our way through a couple of minutes of music.  

In the ride back from the beach, sore and sandy, I started thinking about the research I was planning to do. How was I supposed to do research into identity performance, text circulation, and theatre if all my new friends wanted to do was go to the beach? Thinking back on the day’s events, though, something hit me. Before coming to Morocco, I had often heard about the differences between forcing “field work” to happen, and really just existing, observing, and reflecting. Who am I to force conversations or solicit answers and experiences based on my own agenda? As if I was somehow outside of the realm I was researching? Look at what had just happened! I had “performed” my own identity as an American young adult by wrestling and playing the guitar. And these interactions weren’t the result of an academic theory or ethnographic methodology that I spent the summer reading… Granted, such texts are supremely useful for building a cultural knowledge and context, and for analyzing experiences and encounters. Before coming, my job to was to absorb as much of them as possible. When I get back, and throughout the course of next year, I’ll need such texts and ideas in building a coherent thesis out my experiences. But right now, my job is to actually have the experiences. Not on my terms, though- on the terms of the culture and community that I’ve entered. The biggest mistake I could make would be to brush off some experiences and only note the ones that I’ve solicited. I hope not to do that.