A challenging Friday afternoon

August 16, 2009

Participants blogger #11 describes his experience and feelings after a second Moroccan speaker visited Talk Together. Ali Bahaijoub, Morocco editor for North South magazine, came to give his own personal view of the situation in Western Sahara.

“Having been spending most of our time learning non-violent communication, yesterday was a huge reality check for the group.

“I say this because yesterday we were finally exposed to the Moroccan view. Throughout the programme, this has been a major problem. For whatever reasons, we do not have a Moroccan point of view represented here.

“That has led to many in the group feeling frustrated, and that it is unfair. Some participants didn’t feel great talking about their experiences without this alternative position also being present. However, yesterday, a Moroccan journalist came to talk to us. Although he told us much of what the government would have also told us, he cannot be held as a representative of anyone other than himself.

“The presentation was very well informed, the man very well spoken. The question and answer section got fairly heated, almost as expected. What was unexpected for me was how it wasn’t the Saharawi participants who communicated violently, but rather the rest of us. I found this really very telling. To be basically told that you don’t exist as a Saharawi completely undercuts your whole struggle. And to be able to take it calmly shows something worse – how used to it they must be.

“Later in the group dialogue the atmosphere was tense. I find it an interesting event, one I usually dread because of what I’ve come to expect from it. Yet it’s slightly surprising every time. It could just be much better is all. Anyway, this one sort of devolved into a Q&A session which frustrated a lot of us. Some people feel that this whole course is too biased.

“But personally, simply, there must be some reason for the Sarahwi to endure soo much in exile in the harsh desert of Tindouf, an idea of pride and nationalism that many of us don’t fully understand.

“Right now this is the last thing I want to be doing. This whole process is raking up big questions to which we cannot find any answers, but expect to. It’s like Edmund said: “growth is painful”.”


Saying ‘no’ in a connecting way

August 16, 2009

On Friday, the new participants spent some time being shown the posters and worksheets that the group has been working through with Robert on the conflict resolution course. From posters illustrating the communication cycle, to reminders on the ingredients of empathy, the conference room is papered with valuable reminders on how to connect effectively with other people.

After the usual morning break, when the participants all sat together on the lawn in the sunshine, the group returned to the conference room to learn how to ‘say no in a connecting way’.

Robert started the session by explaining that saying ‘no’ can be an unpleasant experience for both speaker and listener. However, to say ‘yes’ all the time can lead to imbalance, with one’s time and energy leaching away to others. The solution? To learn to say ‘no’ while remaining connected to the person making the request.

The first step is to connect with the asker and show that you understand their needs. This is not as easy as it sounds. Simply declaring ‘Yes, I understand…’ is useless (especially when followed up with a ‘…but…’). Instead, Robert recommended starting with something like ‘I understand you need…….., is this correct?’.

Once this connection has been established and both parties are happy they understand the request and the needs by which it is motivated, the second step is for the request receiver to express the need which is preventing them from saying yes. ‘I’m feeling torn’, Robert said in a role play, ‘I want to say yes. However, I need to …. and this is preventing me from saying yes’. That need might be the need for rest, for quiet, or another obstacle to saying yes to the asker’s request.

The third step is to say a clear unambiguous ‘no’. This is an uncomfortable step, but is crucial to maintain clarity in the communication and leave no wiggle room, which may be far more uncomfortable.

The fourth step is to make some kind of connecting request of the asker. For example, an invitation to meet the asker’s need in some other way (a different time, a different resource) or a suggestion that next time the asker make their request sooner.

The participants then practised the technique among themselves, using real life requests to which they find difficult to say no. The questions that followed revealed this is a common area of difficulty, a sentiment shared by the Talk Together team!

United World College talks about Talk Together

August 16, 2009

Talk Together is a United World College short course. Here’s the UWC’s take on the course so far.


Chat with a Moroccan and a day in London

August 14, 2009

Participant blogger #10 talks of her meeting with a local businessman, the first Moroccan guest that Talk Together has received. Our newest friend came to visit for the afternoon, spoke to some participants and then led a small group in the Moroccan tea ceremony. Some had just experienced the Saharawi tea ceremony for the first time, and the similarities and differences were fascinating.

“Although the local businessman was Moroccan, he fully sympathised with the Western Saharawi point of view. However, he was able to provide us with some aspects of the Moroccan perspective. A short while after meeting him, we entered the group dialogue session. Instead of using group dialogue in the normal manner, it was used to question the two participants from the camps near Tindouf. It made the session seem very busy and less relaxed, but at the same time it was enjoyable and thought provoking.

“Unfortunately the weather wasn’t on our side for our day trip to London. But we ensured that this didn’t dampen our spirits. Firstly the group took a ride on the London Eye and observed the many tourist destinations from up high. It was good fun and great to finally get some social time with the group as a whole. After this the group split and went off to do various activities. I myself met up with two friends.

“I told them a lot about what I learnt in the previous week. Both of them were shocked at the extent of the conflict and both told me that they were previously unaware of it which reminded me of the phrase ‘the forgotten conflict’ to which it has been referred. I spent the night away from the group. It gave me a chance to relax and process the thoughts which have been filling me head over the past week. So now, with my relaxing 2 days drawing to an end, I am looking forward to jumping into the next week with no reservations.

“I received a message saying that some Saharawis arrived last night. So right now I am looking forward to getting to know them.”

Day Eight

August 13, 2009

Participant Blogger #9 reflects on his day and the prevailing mood.

“More than one week has now passed of the Talk Together seminar and we continue to explore new ways of getting to know more about this forgotten conflict. Yesterday, me and the other participants were in London and some of us met the Polisario representative in the United Kingdom.

“The purpose of going to London was originally to try to get to know more about the Moroccan perspective, but our repeated attempts of trying to get a meeting with some representatives from the Moroccan embassy had failed. Hence, a constructive account of the official Moroccan view of this conflict still remains, leaving many of the participants frustrated and confused.

“We are therefore trying our best to find other people with knowledge about the Moroccan stance so that we fully can get to know the complexity of this dispute. Needles to say, that hearing only one side of the conflict renders it impossible to come up with a solution that both parties can agree on.

“Despite this however, a feeling of optimism prevails within the group and we are by no means giving up, but rather realizing more than ever that conflict resolution takes pertinacity and determination. In that sense we are constantly trying to contact different people with insight into the Moroccan perspective.

“I have for example been in contact with a Moroccan student who seemed willing to share his views of the conflict – it would be wonderful if we could talk together over Skype. We all feel that it is about time that this conflict gets resolved and I can assure you that there is no lack of motivation.”

Thoughts of a sleep-deprived pacifist

August 13, 2009

Here’s another posting by one of our participant bloggers.

“I have been in Oxford for a week now, learning about the situation in Western Sahara and more about conflict resolution. The last week has been a rollercoaster of problems, issues and attention from both the international and local circles.

“I, myself, am a pacifist – I’ll declare that stance right now – so the idea of learning about conflict resolution appealed a great deal to me. Never did I imagine the problems such a programme would cause. From issues with visas and border controls within Morocco, one would have thought we were asking for much more than a peace conference aimed at students. But maybe these problems highlight the true nature of the conflict. What is Morocco afraid of? Or maybe they’re not, but without them here all that is left to do is to speculate.

“Hunger Striking in Agadir airport attracted a great deal of media attention and we have been fielding interviews and questions over the past few days. Perhaps people can learn more about the conflict and actually learn about it – rather than taking the attitude of “Africa can only be helped by Africans”. I certainly hope so. The past week has given me a far greater insight into diplomacy but also into the international issues surrounding this conflict than I ever could have considered. I am hopeful that with an increased understanding, the conflict can finally be resolved peacefully through negotiation – perhaps supported by the international community.

“The students who cannot attend are missing out on an incredible opportunity. Not only the “Oxford Six” but also the 7 Moroccan students. Both groups were prevented from travelling for various reasons. Are we lacking something in the course because of this? Perhaps. We are missing a vital side and a key argument within the conflict; without a full understanding of the Moroccan view, it is becoming increasingly difficult to remain neutral. I want to learn the Moroccan insight and understand their views on the area. The leaders here have been incredible, but it is a very different feeling to meet a person face-to-face to hear their thoughts and feelings.

“Instead we are left with speculation and guessing – we will have to learn this point of view in other ways. We shall have to read about it – with no opportunity to ask questions or get a fuller understanding. So while face-to-face would be a benefit, we still continue on, learning and considering all the sides.

“But I’ll carry on – with learning and debating – but also laughing, smiling and enjoying time with new found friends. All I hope is that one day this conflict can be resolved and then, finally, the ideas of violence and fear can also be forgotten, as this conflict has been for so long…”

Stop press blogger

August 13, 2009

“They’re finally here! For so long now this programme has been haunted with various problems when it comes to getting all of the participants gathered in Oxford together, that the fact that we have just been joined by the group of students from the refugee camps in Tindouf somehow seemed unreal when we were notified.

“But this is in fact exactly what has happened. About an hour ago, just seconds before our traditional “group dialogue” was about to begin we were told that the new participants had arrived. And not just in Great Britain either; but here at the school! In one jumbled group we ran outside to greet them, and when I finally saw the students coming out of the blue van parked by the school’s main entrance it all became real.

“For me the surprise was double, as I suddenly realized that I knew one of the guys from my time as a voluntary English teacher in the refugee camps. It was so strange to suddenly stand face to face with a person you have only met in a completely different setting, and who you said goodbye to months ago with the uncertainty of whether you would ever meet this person again.

“Happiness, excitement and nervousness are all fighting for a place in my stomach right now, as I feel that in some sense that everything has changed. For over a week we have talked about the students we were missing, those who for various reasons had not been able to join us. We have had questions about them, felt curiosity and empathy with whatever problems they have faced on their journey here and we have in some sense missed them.

“Therefore it is absolutely amazing to finally stand face to face with some of them. To be able to shake their hands and wish them a warm welcome amongst us.”

“On the other hand it also underlines the fact that we are still not full numbered; that we are still missing important parts of what was supposed to be our group, and I think that those students who are still not with us will be in our thoughts and hearts throughout this course.”

The much talked about “tango for conflict resolution”

August 12, 2009


Day Seven – Talk Together hits the capital

August 12, 2009

Participant blogger #7  tells of a day in the capital exploring new places and perspectives.

“After several consecutively hectic days, we were able to take a breather from the course. We went to London to visit several iconic sights such as the London Eye, Trafalgar Square and Covent Garden. I find that exploring new places with equally new friends is a very enriching experience, especially because we have the opportunity to give each other a different outlook on various things due to our different cultural backgrounds. It was also especially great that we had students from the U.K. who were familiar with London and who were able to tell us the significance of various landmarks.

“The sights were utterly overwhelming for me. I was also very surprised to see a woman standing on one of the pillars of the Trafalgar Square. She was standing there, trying to paint. She also handed out coloring material and paper to the people passing by. Apparently, this is done every year for 100 days. Every hour, different people are given the opportunity to climb up the pillar and do whatever they want. They can protest, sing, dance or even just pose up there. This was very interesting for me because this truly shows the amount of freedom of expression the people here have.

“We, all, also had the opportunity to have coffee with a POLISARIO representative in the afternoon. I decided against going because I felt that I have heard a lot about the POLISARIO perspective and very little about the Moroccan perspective. I felt that hearing another POLISARIO perspective, without understanding the perspective of the other side would leave my opinions skewed. However, as always, this is just my opinion and for now I have decided it would be best that I would be very informed with regard to the different perspectives in the conflict.”


August 11, 2009

…Talk Together participants think creatively to work out the unidentified cultural artefact. Image255Image257Image254