Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with George Gorayeb, October 14, 2020

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries

 

Transcript
Toggle Index/Transcript View Switch.
Index
Search this Index
X
00:00:00 - Family background and reasons for joining the Peace Corps

Play segment

Partial Transcript: This is Evelyn Ganzglass. Uh--[audio drops out]--Volunteer in Somalia from 1966 to 1968.

Segment Synopsis: Gorayeb heard John F. Kennedy's speech at the University of Michigan in 1960 and knew that Peace Corps was in his future. He was raised in New Jersey and graduated from Kings College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. His family was Syrian-American. His grandmother lived with him, and he became fluent in Syrian Arabic. Gorayeb applied to Peace Corps partly because of his resistance to the Vietnam War. Friends thought he was "crazy;" his mother was concerned about his safety since he was a Christian Arab. The experiences turned out to be gratifying and rewarding. Morocco was welcoming and friendly, finding Gorayeb an oddity because he was an Arabic-speaking American and a Christian Arab.

Keywords: Christian Arabs; John F. Kennedy; Kings College; Morocco; New Jersey; Oddity; Pennsylvania; Syrian Arabic (Language); Syrian-American family; Vietnam War; Wilkes-Barre (Pa.)

Subjects: Families.; Language and languages; Morocco; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Morocco; Religion; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: New Jersey
Map Coordinates: 40.1907, -74.6728
GPS: Wilkes-Barre (Pa.)
Map Coordinates: 41.244444, -75.878056
GPS: Morocco
Map Coordinates: 32, -6
00:05:53 - Pre-service language and cultural training

Play segment

Partial Transcript: So, at--in 1971, was training in the United States or--

Segment Synopsis: Training was held in Morocco, in a mountain resort. The second half of training was held at the American Legation in Tangiers, a gift of the king to Thomas Jefferson. The use of the Legation was offered to Peace Corps by the State Department as a training site. Learning Moroccan Arabic was challenging for Gorayeb. Living in a Muslim country was different for him. He fell in love with the Islamic religion. He loved interacting with his pupils, who found him a curiosity. His group was diverse except that there were 25 men and 1 woman; he has life-long friendships from the group.

Keywords: Curiosity; Islamic religion; Moroccan Arabic (Language); Muslim; Pre-service training; Tangier (Morocco); Tangier American Legation Institute for Moroccan Studies (TALIM); Thomas Jefferson

Subjects: Acculturation; Culture; Interpersonal relations; Language and languages; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Morocco; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Morocco; Religion; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Tangier (Morocco)
Map Coordinates: 35.776667, -5.803889
00:11:12 - Teaching in Morocco

Play segment

Partial Transcript: And then where were you placed?

Segment Synopsis: For the first year, Gorayeb worked and lived in Tetouan, the former capital of Spanish Morocco. He taught 50 boys English in an Islamic institute. For his second year, he was transferred to Marrakesh where he taught in a co-ed school. Shortly after his arrival in-country, there was a coup d'├ętat. The king was unpopular and schools were on strike for about 5 months, during which he had no job. He and his roommate traveled around Morocco during this time. Many of the teachers in the schools were French people with whom he spoke Arabic. While in Marrakesh, Gorayeb met and talked with Paul McCartney and members of his new singing group. It was interesting to have girls in the classroom who flirted with him after taking off their hijabs even though there were boys in the classroom. His roommate from Tangier transferred with Gorayeb to the co-ed school and they lived in an apartment.

Keywords: Co-ed schools; Co-educational schools; Coup d'├ętat; Hijabs; Islamic institutes; Marrakesh (Morocco); Paul McCartney; Spanish Morocco; Tetouan (Morocco)

Subjects: Acculturation; Culture; Interpersonal relations; Language and languages; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Morocco; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Morocco; Teachers; Teaching; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Tetouan (Morocco)
Map Coordinates: 35.566667, -5.366667
GPS: Marrakesh (Morocco)
Map Coordinates: 31.63, -8.008889
00:19:30 - Travel in the Saharan Desert

Play segment

Partial Transcript: And so did you travel any more in, in, um--when you were in Marrakesh or had you seen Morocco by then?

Segment Synopsis: While in Marrakesh, Gorayeb took trips into the Saharan desert to towns that looked as if they were medieval castles. When stranded in a town, some Moroccans fed them as their car broke down in the desert.

Keywords: Car issues; Marrakesh (Morocco); Medieval castles; Saharan Desert; Travel; Vacations

Subjects: Culture; Interpersonal relations; Morocco; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Morocco; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Marrakesh (Morocco)
Map Coordinates: 31.63, -8.008889
GPS: Saharan Desert
Map Coordinates: 23, 13
00:20:41 - Lunch with village chief and elders in Yemen

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Okay, so you spent the two years, um, doing your Peace Corps thing.

Segment Synopsis: Upon his return to the U.S., Gorayeb moved to Washington, D.C. and worked for a year for the staging department in Peace Corps headquarters. That position led him to working in Yemen as the Assistant Peace Corps Director in 1975 where he lived in the capital city, Sanaa, one of the oldest cities on Earth. Gorayeb routinely met with the 35 Volunteers spread all over the country, often in places with no roads. About 6 Volunteers were civil engineers; two of them worked in a village close to the border with Saudi Arabia, helping to improve a cistern that collected the rain water. The chief of the village wanted to show his appreciation for the Volunteers, so he invited Gorayeb and his entourage to a luncheon at his house. The elders of the village were included; they were traditionally dressed, with AK-47s, bullets, and daggers in their possession. After the meal, Yemeni men chewed a leaf that gives a buzz. At the request of the chief, Gorayeb introduced the Americans in the group, including a State Department official who was traveling around the world visiting Peace Corps sites. The chief giggled at the thought of traveling around the world: he thought that the world is flat. Gorayeb tried to show him that the world was round using a flashlight as the sun, and a soccer ball to represent the world and a leaf to indicate himself. The leaf dropped off of the ball and people laughed. People in the village hugged the Americans when they left because, due to the cistern, villagers had sufficient clean water to last through the year.

Keywords: AK-47s; Assistant Country Director; Bullets; Chief of village; Cisterns; Clean water; Daggers; Elders; Flashlights; Guns; Leaders; Qut; Sanaa (Yemen); Soccer balls; Staging department of Peace Corps; Washington, D.C.; World is flat

Subjects: Acculturation; Culture; Interpersonal relations; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Management; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Yemen; Voluntarism; Volunteers; Washington (D.C.); Yemen

GPS: Washington (D.C.)
Map Coordinates: 38.9101, -77.0147
GPS: Sanaa (Yemen)
Map Coordinates: 15.348333, 44.206389
00:29:40 - Work as Deputy Country Director in Yemen

Play segment

Partial Transcript: What was the different role you played as a--you were--you said you were a deputy director.

Segment Synopsis: As Deputy Country Director, Gorayeb visited officials in the field asking what sort of technical assistance the U.S. government might provide, and then defined the job before recruiting Volunteers. Some Volunteers had difficulty coping with isolation in their remote villages. Those Volunteers learned "a lot about themselves." "Without question" would he recommend that people join the Peace Corps.

Keywords: Deputy Country Directors; Isolation; Role of Deputy Country Director in Yemen; Technical assistance

Subjects: Acculturation; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Management; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Yemen; Voluntarism; Volunteers; Yemen

GPS: Yemen
Map Coordinates: 15.348333, 44.206389
00:33:24 - Conflict over a drilling rig in Yemen

Play segment

Partial Transcript: So you said you had some other stories about Yemen that you wanted to tell.

Segment Synopsis: The USAID bought 3 drilling rigs; one of the Volunteers had experience with rigs in Arizona. He drilled holes about 100 feet in depth and all were dry; he wanted to leave his site. The chief of the village didn't want the rig to leave, and wanted to try to dig one more time. To prevent him from leaving, men from the village, on the direction of the chief, shot holes into the tires of the rig's truck. Even the 4th hole was dry, so Gorayeb talked with the chief who, eventually, let the rig leave.

Keywords: Conflicts; Drilling rigs; Holes in the tires; Issues; Problems; United States Agency for International Development (USAID)

Subjects: Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Yemen; Voluntarism; Volunteers; Yemen

GPS: Arizona
Map Coordinates: 34.2744, -111.6602
GPS: Yemen
Map Coordinates: 15.348333, 44.206389
00:35:58 - Lifestyle in Yemen

Play segment

Partial Transcript: But Yemen was like that.

Segment Synopsis: Gorayeb says that "Yemen was like living in the Wild West." When Volunteers arrived in Yemen in 1975, there was no television, and few foreigners visited there. Gorayeb was invited to a wedding, where men and women were separated. Also attending the wedding were men from China with whom Gorayeb and his colleagues spoke.

Keywords: Intercultural communication; Interpersonal relations; Yemeni weddings

Subjects: Culture; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Yemen; Voluntarism; Volunteers; Yemen

GPS: Yemen
Map Coordinates: 15.348333, 44.206389
00:40:21 - Role of relationships in Peace Corps / Third goal of Peace Corps

Play segment

Partial Transcript: What do you think that the role of Peace Corps has been in these countries--these two specific countries where you were?

Segment Synopsis: The relationships that Peace Corps Volunteers and staff build in other countries matter. He feels good that there are hundreds of adults in Morocco who got to know an American and their impressions of America are based on the relationships they had with Peace Corps Volunteers. In Yemen, there are thousands of adults who knew an American who worked alongside them. Gorayeb says that dollar for dollar, the biggest return on investment is with the Peace Corps. The experiences that Americans gain by living and working in other countries are shared with others throughout their lifetimes. He lectured classes on the Islamic faith; during the pandemic, that lecture was videotaped and has been viewed around the world. Rick Steves watched this video which Steves posted on his website and has been viewed by 92,000 people.

Keywords: Bringing the world back to the U.S.; Outreach; Relationships; Return on investment; Rick Steves; The role of relationships; Third Goal; U.S. foreign aid; Videos

Subjects: Intercultural communication; Interpersonal relations; Morocco; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Morocco; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Yemen; Voluntarism; Volunteers; Yemen

GPS: Yemen
Map Coordinates: 15.348333, 44.206389
GPS: Morocco
Map Coordinates: 32, -6
00:45:25 - Call for others to join Peace Corps

Play segment

Partial Transcript: So I always end the interviews by a-asking the person whether there's something else that I should have asked about that you wanted to talk about.

Segment Synopsis: Gorayeb invites people to join the Peace Corps because there's a place for them. Gorayeb says that if you want an experience that will open your eyes and open your heart, and change you in positive ways, you will never regret joining the Peace Corps; it will be one of the most gratifying and humbling and illuminating experiences you'll ever have.

Keywords: Change in positive ways; Invitation to others to join Peace Corps; Open your eyes; Open your heart

Subjects: Intercultural communication; Interpersonal relations; Peace Corps (U.S.); Voluntarism; Volunteers