I am currently sitting in Rabat, Morocco. It has cooled off substantially. Yet, I’m still sticky and stiff from a long day of hot traveling, walking, socializing, and starting new career endeavors. I came to Morocco this week to attend the annual agricultural faire that takes place in Meknes, a city near Fez. My reason for attending the fair was to familiarize myself with the agricultural sector in Morocco, and see some of what my future summer employer does in the field. If all of my security and medical clearances go through in time (inchallah), I will be working with the Morocco office of the Millennium Challenge Corporation. My responsibilities will be mostly regarding communications and their agricultural program. I am actually quite excited. For, while I don’t have much formal experience in communications, I think that MCC is a challenging case on which to work, as there is no other development organization quite like it (that I know of ). So much current literature on the development industry is absolutely scathing… and for good reason. Many organizations may be wasteful, misinformed, seek only concrete deliverables instead of long term investments in sustainable engines of endogenous growth, or be completely beholden to whoever provides their funding. Interestingly enough, MCC has come up in much of this literature as an alternative approach which may (or may not) work as a future model for other bilateral aid organizations. I will wait until I return to Morocco in June to give you a more concrete explanation of this model, as I am still learning about it and want to make sure I get it right! Suffice it to say, they are all about “country ownership.” That means that the Moroccans are going to decide what kind of development they need, and they are going to plan and implement projects to obtain those development goals. MCC kind of sits quietly in the wings, offering technical and monetary support. What I find seriously intriguing is that MCC has practically no operating costs. Almost all of the money (and there is A LOT. Enough to give me hear palpitations every time I say it out loud.) is earmarked specifically for these projects. This means that as a summer intern I will be working for free. It also means that the country director and some MCC consultants have occasionally chosen to stay in the transit house where I’m staying now in order to save the organization money. As the director told me today, “We’re the rich man with nowhere to sleep!” As ridiculous as it might sound, I completely agree with this approach. Of course I do, I was a Peace Corps volunteer and willingly gave up hot showers for two years!
Back to Morocco love… I was happier today than I’ve been in a long time. There wasn’t anything that happened in particular that made my day amazing. Instead, I somehow managed to have wonderful interactions with many different types of people in French, English, and Arabic. So many people smile and so many people are helpful. Strangers become much more involved in each other’s worlds than they seem to in Europe and America. Today, I made friends with a Moroccan girl about my age who works for MCC’s partner institution. We are already planning to visit “le Maroc en profondeur” when I return. Having local friends makes the experience infinitely better and provides so much more insight into culture, religion, tradition, and the modern generation. What I love about Morocco and should be the case everywhere, is that this girl is religious and chooses to cover herself, but that it in no way will hinder our friendship. Alhumdulilah! Ok Europe, you’re next!
Today I also shared a train compartment with some friendly Moroccan women, one of which had visited California and spoke wonderful French. She was dressed in a jalaba, headscarf, and sandals. Jalabas remind me of the cloaks warn by the jedi masters in Star Wars, except that they come in a variety of colors and fabrics, to which you can match your headscarf. After disembarking from the train, I took a ride with a taxi man who mostly only spoke Arabic. He asked me to marry him before I got out of the taxi. Oh developing world, how I’ve missed you! Then, I reconvened with the lovely people in the office where I will work this summer (inchallah). I feel myself shifting from the passive, receptive, academic mindset to the problem-solving, proactive, get-your-hands-dirty mindset. I like this shift. My feet have been dragging like crazy for the past few weeks and I’ve really needed a change.
My final positive interaction of the day came when I was searching for some sort of dinner for one. I went into a cafe to see if they had anything to take away, which they didn’t. However, the four men in their 60s sitting in the front insisted that I drink a coffee/tea/coke with them. (Side note: I believe open drinking of alcohol is forbidden in the Islamic kingdom). I initially resisted, but ended up drinking a coke and talking to them about Morocco and America and Obama and intolerance of Muslims by the West. Although I was tentative, they ended up being harmless, helpful, and interesting.
Today, everyone has smiled, everyone has been helpful, everyone has been open. I feel like I’ve been closed off in Italy. I know that there will be hard times here too, but whenever I head South, I realize that there is something about the developing world that I love. I hear people in my program saying that they are going to do field work in order to flesh out their resume. Like it is something that has to be endured. I, on the other hand, feel that field work is what wakes me up and keeps me interested and makes me care. I can’t imagine myself in a Washington cubicle working on policy that will be implemented on another continent without me. At least not yet.
Today, I saw a huge group of kids, about 9 years old, at tables outside a gas station/rest stop. They were on a field trip. I thought to myself, “That really was always the best part of school.” I’m ready for my next field trip, please!
PS I’m sorry for the prolonged silence. Apparently I needed Morocco to get me back on track. Hopefully, I will soon write back-entries on my trip to Lebanon and spring break trip around Italy and Ibiza. Inchallah.