Friday, January 25, 2008
IAR 202 Life Portrait
From Dreamland to True Democracy
January 20, 2008 began as a seemingly ordinary Sunday breakfast at the Cracker Barrel in Hickory, North Carolina. But the breakfast date between Renee Chaput, Katherine Atkinson, and Atkinson’s former employer at Boyle’s in Hickory’s Furniture Mart, Mehdi Amrani, quickly turned into a roundtrip flight to the enraptures of the North African country of Morocco.
Amrani began his tale as a child growing up in an affluent Moroccan family in the city of Tetuan. He stressed the relaxed and friendly nature of his native people. He described his home country as a “dreamland” where he could relax in his open courtyard, where no one was ever in a hurry, where the family could count on one another and came together for meals which may take hours on end. We were shown pictures of the architecture so brilliant with color and so meticulously hand-carved, painted, and tiled. It still amazes Amrani to this day that such architecture could survive since the twelfth century while nothing in America is more than 200 years old. With a smile, he spoke of the maids that lived with his family that would bathe them in their Turkish bath.
His world was tropical and mountainous all at the same time. Spain could be seen across the Mediterranean if he stood at the very tip of the city of Tanger where he would begin his tours when he worked as a Moroccan tour guide by bus. After becoming interested in Hospitality at school in Switzerland and Spain, Amrani would tour all over Morocco enlightening tourists at every stop from Tanger, down the Atlantic coast to Rabat and Agadir, then up toward the middle of the country through Marrakech. He practiced the many languages that he’d learned, including English, simply by talking to strangers. Morocco has a very diverse culture with three primary languages spoken: French, Spanish, and Arabic. When the tour guiding in the northern part of the country slowed down during the winter months, Amrani decided to venture over to the States.
After going back to Morocco for more tour guiding, at age 30, Amrani decided to begin a life in the states where he met his now ex-wife. He was contacted by a Vermont man who had met him while touring Morocco and wanted his expertise on importing antiques from Morocco. Amrani als During this same time, in Montreal, the synthetic fur business was heating up. Montreal businesses were opening synthetic fur shops in Vermont at which Amrani found himself working. Amrani simply walked into the store in his suit with no appointment and was directed to the manager’s office. The manager, being equally as foreign as Amrani, made an instant connection and hired him on the spot with no experience whatsoever. After 3.5 years the store closed down and Amrani became interested in the furniture market.
Amrani made some telephone calls to the large and expanding corporation known as Halfmancoeurs, centralized in New Jersey. He traveled there for an interview and was, once again, hired on the spot by the African American president of the company. That month, and every month and year after, Amrani earned rank as the top selling employee. “It’s all about people skills and connections.” After 13 years, the company had begun to go under and Amrani was ready for a change. After he and his wife divorced, Amrani moved to North Carolina where he had a brother living there. After a few months of relaxing, Amrani began searching for a new job.
Being the furniture giant that North Carolina is, Amrani knew that it was the perfect place for him. He made an appointment with the president of the Century Firm through a connection he had in New Jersey. After being told that there were no more positions, he received a call from the Vice President requesting an interview. Loving Amrani’s impressive record from New Jersey, he offered him a job and Amrani has been working at Boyle’s ever since.
And now, at 60 years old, when asked if he had any regrets, he simply replied, “I wouldn’t change my life for anything.” Amrani has no intentions of retiring any time soon or venturing back to Morocco for good for he does not intend to put up with the lack of a “true democracy.” He feels, as many of us do, that Americans often take their freedom for granted.