Friday, January 30, 2009


Sorry I dont have a normal post this week, but apparently I forgot to save the post I wrote to my USB. I should have something up on Tuesday. Instead, I have photos my mom took on her trip here.

In response to readers post about the difference between rural and urban Morocco, I couldnt agree more. It is like being in a different country, going from Rabat to my site. I love the big cities and I hope to spend more time in them in the upcoming months.

Sunday, January 25, 2009


Prompted by a reader, I’m going to give my thoughts on foreign aid and development.

I took an International Politics class in college that I enjoyed very much. One article in particular that made an impression on me (don’t remember the author) suggested that there was no correlation between foreign aid and development. The money that rich countries give to poor countries has no effect on their development. It’s a pretty depressing claim.

The article had two big flaws, in my opinion. First was that it measured development based upon a country’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product), which, for reasons that I will discuss in greater detail below, is not an accurate way of measuring a country’s growth. Second, the article failed to take into account the fact that some aid was given during natural disasters and thus will not lead to economic growth. Countries that receive aid in times of turbulence will probably see their GDPs decrease because of the disaster (not because of the foreign aid). Failing to account for this could have thrown off a possibly real correlation between aid and development.

Nonetheless, the author and others like him ask an important question: why is it that countries that receive so much aid (particularly African ones) are still so poor and only a little better off than before? The argument is that foreign aid resources are poorly distributed. Although I believe aid has become less of a political tool now than it was during the Cold War, aid is still often given to corrupt governments. Rather than benefiting the people of the country, the aid is concentrated amongst the powerful.

In fact, by supporting these governments, foreign aid has the perverse effect of allowing them to further establish their dominance. Dictatorships can spend more money on police and security. Moreover, since the government’s treasury is filled by foreigners, it meant that it is less accountable to its people. For those familiar with the idea of “resource curse,” it’s basically the same idea: when a government does not have to depend on its citizenry for taxes (because it has oil or gold or foreign aid), the government can be more autocratic. (Quick side note: I just finished Thomas Friedman’s “Hot Flat and Crowded” and the idea of resource curse is given nearly a whole chapter in the book. I recommend that anyone interested in the climate change discussion read this book.)

Another common problem with aid (domestic or foreign) is that it is often wasted in unnecessary projects. In my town, which is the seat of commune (our town and 7 surrounding towns), a new community center was recently built. The commune was given money by a Moroccan foundation to build it. They finished working on it in July, but it has yet to be opened. It sits locked and unused. The project cost some 3 million DHs ($375,000), which is a lot of money in these parts. I am currently trying to fund a 300,000+DH project that would bring free, clean running water to 800 people. With the money from the (unused) community center project, I could fund some 9 similar running water projects. You tell me what’s a better use of resources. I don’t think this sort of waste is uncommon. The problem is that there is no dialogue between the organizations giving resources and the community in order to establish need.

Given how poorly aid is distributed, I find this argument that aid is often ineffective fairly compelling (and depressing). Despite this, I joined the Peace Corps.

The Peace Corps is not listed as a development agency. We have such a meager pool of grants and financial resources at our disposal that we are not on the same level as an agency such as USAID. The Peace Corps has three goals: 1) to improve Americans’ understanding of the rest of the world, 2) to improve the rest of the world’s understanding of America, and 3) development. So, to ourselves, we are both a development organization and a friendship one. I think the “friendship” goal is important, but in my opinion, that is not a job (of course many Peace Corps volunteers do not treat their service as though they are employed).

The question posed to me was: what do you think of the idea that foreign aid is a waste now that you are working in development?

Well, I think that development is possible and that outside forces can be helpful in that process. I don’t really have any experience in foreign aid distribution since Peace Corps has no money. But we do have resources that we can distribute, if we do our jobs well.

Our resources are primarily knowledge/information based. We are educators. I am a health educator. If I do my job well, I will improve the lives of the people in my community by talking to them about ways to live healthier. Mostly these are small improvements, like dental hygiene or teaching about vectors of disease transmission. Once in a while they can be a little bigger, like improved birthing practices or getting people to treat the water that they drink (which drastically cuts down on diarrhea, and thus infant mortality). I’m also (unsuccessfully so far) trying to get people to think about their environment and how their actions are hurting it. Specifically, the fact that if they keep cutting wood down at the rate that they are, they will not have any wood to cut down in 10 or 20 years.

None of these changes will impact the GDP of Morocco in a significant way. I suppose reduced infant mortality could bump GDP up a little bit, but GDP growth is not the goal of this sort of development work. And that’s my gripe with using GDP as a measure of growth/development. If I and every other PC health volunteer in Morocco were wildly successful (which we aren’t) we could significantly improve hundreds of thousands of lives without affecting GDP. By measuring growth through GDP, I think that development agencies can lose focus on the most cost effective ways to improve quality of life.

Now, can I (and others like me) be successful?

It’s difficult, but I believe that Peace Corps’ approach to development is the right one. I think that working with people on a local level is the right way to do development. Peace Corps is very concerned with sustainability; they make empowering local organizations one of their greatest priorities. The idea is that once the Peace Corps volunteer has finished his/her work in a community, development will continue because communities and people will have the tools to help themselves.

The difficulty is that changing behavior is very hard to do. Anywhere in the world, people have a way of doing things and a belief system that justifies those habits. Here in my community, one frustration I have is convincing people that the water they drank or a microbe they ingested has made them sick with diarrhea and not the cold or the sun. Every single person I have met, educated or not, believes that the sun and the cold are the main vectors of disease transmission. And for every time that I tell someone that a microbe made them sick, five other people will tell them that it was the sun. This difficulty is complicated by the fact that I speak the language poorly (making a convincing argument difficult) and that I have no credibility or authority. I’m a 23 year-old kid who doesn’t know how to do anything. I can’t plow a field, I can’t go to the mountain and get my own wood, I never dress warmly enough, and I’m not married. People here worry about me surviving because they think I am incompetent. Being an American gives me some credibility, but not enough. Which is why I’ve always tried to work with local people who give me credibility.

Generally, my impression of Peace Corps volunteers is that they are mildly successful in their development work. There are some volunteers who Peace Corps calls “super” volunteers. They learn the language, they integrate into their communities, and they have small-scale projects that do make an impact. But the fact that a volunteer who does his/her job is described as “super” shows how low the bar is set. There is a culture of failure and disappointment in Peace Corps. Many people come in with good intentions and energy for the work they want to do, but struggle. Volunteers are often discouraged by how their work is going. Either their language isn’t good enough, they have difficulty motivating local organizations, or the community itself may not be receptive to change. In my opinion, these difficulties arise because of 1) poor training on the behalf of Peace Corps, 2) the volunteer themselves, and 3) the real difficulty that doing grassroots development presents. It is not easy.

As I alluded to above, having money for projects would greatly improve my effectiveness as an aid worker. Why doesn’t a big aid organization (like USAID) pair up with Peace Corps volunteers in order to better distribute resources? It seems to be a good match as they have the money and we have the time to do the proper research. I have a couple ideas on why this doesn’t happen. First, if PC volunteers were given actual responsibility, then PC would have to recruit better-qualified individuals and pay more. It would change what it means to be a PC volunteer. Second, giving money volunteers money to work with would probably distract from their attention to education. If I had tons of money at my disposal for infrastructure or other big projects, I might be less inclined to deal with the frustrations of small steps achieved through education.

So, in conclusion… working for Peace Corps has confirmed a lot of what I learned in my International Relations class: development through foreign intervention is difficult to achieve. Resources are wasted. Aid is not distributed through the community but eaten away by corruption. And doing grassroots development (like in the Peace Corps) is a long, slow process. But I think that change is possible through dedication, patience, and hard work.


It’s still cold here. My host mom has gone to see her family for a couple weeks, so my host dad is now all alone in his house. I’ve been going over there more often to keep him company. In a typical day, he comes over to my house for a lunch that I’ve cooked (I always cook him the same thing: a tajine, because it’s the only thing that I can cook that he will eat) and I go over to his house for a small dinner meal and help him with some household chores. Given that the health center has been closed recently (nurses appear to be allergic to cold) and that the school is on vacation, I’m happy to have a little something to do everyday.

A Moroccan told me: the conflict in Gaza will have a significant, long-term impact on the attitudes of Muslims in normally moderate countries. It will lower their trust in the United States. It is a blow to democracy. A couple others (seemingly the minority opinion) have told me that Morocco and other Arab countries are also to blame for their inaction. Mostly what I say to people is that it was a catastrophe and that I am ashamed of my government.

On the positive side of things, Obama. He gave a speech at the State Department a few days ago in which he said he would work on withdrawing from Iraq, close Guantanomo, and stop torture. First of all, it was awesome. Second, people here love him for it. Especially for closing Guantanomo. If it weren’t already obvious, he will improve the world’s impression of America.

My work is currently in a lull. It’s cold and people don’t want to do much. Like I said, I’m happy to be helping my host dad out while his wife is away. The water project has made a huge jump forward, however. The commune said they would put forward 260,000 Dhs (of 312,200 Dhs). I can get a little bit of money from Peace Corps. I’ve found a couple organizations that might give a little. And now I’m trying to fill in the rest. So if anyone wants to give a couple thousand dollars (or knows where I might apply for it) let me know.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Frannys post

First Ill respond to the political question. Its tough. I agree with my Dad; both sides are wrong. Hamas is provoking Israel and I think that they expected such a response from Israel. Having public opinion turn against Israel world wide is perhaps good for their cause.

But of course Israels reaction has been competely disproportionate. The UN bombing is, in my mind, absurd. How does that happen?

Someone that I have more nuanced conversations about this subject asked me, "who is the biggest winner of this conflict." I thought for a little bit and said, "Iran." He agrees.

But without any further delay, here is my sisters blog on her experience of Morocco.

On January 7th my mom and I left Duncan in Rabat and we set off alone for Marrakech where we would fly out the next day for Madrid. We went back to the same hotel we had stayed in while we were waiting for my baggage to come. The guy who ran the hotel loved Duncan because Dunc spoke Tamazight and so we hoped he would remember us even if he couldn’t communicate with us. As it turns out, the guy did remember us and in fact spoke really great English so we had a nice chat with him. We got checked in and decided to head out to Jamaa El Fna, which gets packed at night. There are many different food stands, all serving great soup that we loved to eat and all trying to get you to their stand and not their neighbors'. I once saw a guy get pulled to a table by a server who would not let go of this guy's hand. It’s a great place to hang out at. So mom and I set out for this place, which was very close to our hotel (down a short alleyway, turn right on the street which will take you in two short minutes to the destination). As we stepped out of the hotel into the alleyway, there was a young man (probably in his 20's) leaning up against the wall of the hotel. He looked at me and said, "inshallah" which I took for a greeting and so responded, "inshallah." As soon as I spoke the word, I realized that he had not said a standard greeting to me. No, he had said, "God willing" as in "God willing I will marry you" and I had repeated the phrase. Horrified, I started walking as fast as I could toward the busy street up ahead but this young man did not seem to care that I was practically running away from him as he fell in step behind my mom and me and started to ask me where I was from. "Where are you from? Where do you live?" I could only respond with a laugh as I sped up even more. My mom meanwhile thought this was hilarious and I think slowed down on purpose so the interaction would take longer. This fact might have led to him to switch from talking to me to trying to convince my mom to let him marry me. First he offered her $2,000 and then $4,000 and when that wasn’t working, he said that we could have anything in his house. My mom just laughed and thankfully said no to his offers. But this guy was persistent. He followed us all the way to the street and at this point I thought he was going to follow us until I agreed to marry him but as we turned onto the street he said his farewell, "I will remember you for the rest of my life" and turned around and went back down the alley. Thankfully this was the last time someone wanted to marry me while I we were in Morocco.

Duncan had warned me this might happen. In fact while my mom and Duncan were emailing each other trying to come up with plans, he even said that we would go to his CVT site so that I could "fend off marriage proposals." However when the conversations turned to marriage it was still very bizarre and uncomfortable. On the other hand, by Moroccan standards, I am still in my marriage prime (I am 20) although approaching an unmarriageable age (25 is normally way too old). Once while we were in a grand taxi being taken up to Duncan's site, the men in the taxi had a very loud and apparently funny conversation with my brother about marrying me. As I could hear everything they said but could not understand it, Duncan told me later that this happened. He thought this would be a good opportunity to explain to these Moroccan men that American women expect more from their husbands and that I would not want to stay home and cook all day and I would want to go out and travel around. I thought this was a pretty good argument until Duncan told me that it had backfired when the guy responded, "I don’t care! I'll cook… she can work!"

All in all, I am very glad that neither my mom nor my brother broke down and tried to sell me off.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


Different communities and groups of people have different ideas about what it means to be poor. In the United States, the poverty line is something like $18,000 per year, which works out to about $50 a day. Worldwide, a person is considered impoverished if he/she lives on $1 per day or less.

Here in my community, the people are mostly somewhere in between those two figures. It’s harder to measure people’s wealth here, as most are self-employed farmers whose product is not sold, but consumed within the house. Some men work outside of the community in bigger cities and have a salary, but not much of that money makes it back here. The main source of income generation is herding sheep and goats and selling them when they get big. A goat might sell for 400 Dhs ($50) while a big ram will sell for as much as 1200 Dhs ($150). Some people have smaller flocks (5-20) while there are others who have herds as big as 80 or 100. But having such a big flock doesn’t mean that you can sell them all every year. Obviously some sheep must saved in order to reproduce. So it’s difficult for me to estimate how much a family with a big flock can make, but seems to be decent money.

My host family, on the other hand, is an exception as they are on a fixed income. My host Dad used to cut wood for a logging company and now receives a quarterly pension of about 2,500 Dhs, or 10,000 Dhs ($1250) per year. That works out to $1.71 per person per day. They just sold the bull that their cow birthed for around 6,000 Dhs, but that is an event that happens irregularly, perhaps once every two years. They get milk from their cow and eggs from their three chickens. They harvest wheat and barley every year, but the harvest is only enough for half a year’s worth of bread. My family here is fairly well off. They are never worried about running out of food. They don’t have much money for extras or luxuries, but they live comfortably enough.

There are some families who are wealthier than mine, but most are probably poorer. My host cousin, for example, has no external source of income. His family has a small flock of sheep, but it’s not enough to generate very much money. Mostly they live on the wheat, barley, and vegetables that their fields generate. And they have several chickens and a cow for milk. I found myself unexpectedly at their house for dinner one day and all we had was this greasy flat bread and butter.

I am probably the wealthiest person in my village, earning 2,000 ($250) Dhs a month ($8.33/day) from Peace Corps. However, this is more money than I need here; on average I spend 44 Dhs/day ($5.5/day) on non-work related expenses. I travel far more than anyone else in my village and I spend more money on food. Also, I’ve had to furnish my house, while most people have families to inherit things from.

While life in my village is difficult for American standards, it is nothing like some of the outer communities of my commune. I recently visited a douar that was much poorer. Poorer soil quality and colder temperatures mean that they are unable to grow any vegetables other than potatoes and turnips. This also means that there is less land for grazing, so people are unable to have big flocks of sheep. Most difficult of all is the fact that there is hardly any wood in the nearby mountains for stoves. So people’s houses are cold. These people have a much lower standard of living.

In my communities, no one (that I’ve seen) is dying of hunger. It may just be bread, but I believe that people can always feed themselves. There are some health problems due to malnutrition, but not severe. Water borne illnesses are a problem, but nothing like other parts of the third world. Living in a mountainous, sparsely populated place means that most water is coming from springs without facing too much threat of contamination. As there is little access (and people don’t take advantage of what is available to them) to health care, infant and maternal health is a problem, but I don’t believe that infant/maternal mortality rates are as high as other places.

What I’m trying to say is that life in my community is hard and people are impoverished, but there are other parts of the world where it’s much worse. Getting by on subsistence agriculture and herding doesn’t provide a lot of surplus, but people do have enough to get by.

News Commentary and Update

The effect that the conflict in Gaza has on Morocco is huge. There are protests all across the country. When I was in Rabat, there was a protest there. There was also a protest in Tounfite, my 6,000 person souq town. People are angry. When I was in Midelt, someone approached me and started talking to me in English about the conflict. Then he said, “Tell your Jew friends that there is a message from Morocco. Fuck Israel.” Whoa. I saw on the news that there was a large protest in Istanbul, Turkey. When moderate Muslim countries like Turkey and Morocco are so angry, that is a bad sign.

People here in Agoudim ask me what I think of the conflict. I tell them Israel is wrong. They ask me why Israel wants to kill women and children. I say that it is an accident. Then they ask why they would blow up a school. I say I don’t know. Talk often turns to America; people ask why George Bush isn’t saying anything. They say that if America told Israel to stop they would stop. They ask why Obama doesn’t say anything and if he will when he becomes President. I say I am worried that he will not say anything.

This kind of incident really fans the flames of anti-Semitism in the Muslim world. It’s the kind of thing that turns moderates to extremists. Popular opinion in countries such as Morocco probably isn’t Israel’s first priority, but given that we are trying to win “hearts and minds,” you would think that America would be a little more concerned about the lasting consequences of such a conflict. America is seen as siding with Israel and thus siding with the slaughter of innocents.

In other, more personal news, I’ve been on vacation for the last three weeks. My mom, sister and I went to Marrakech, K’lah Mgouna, Hdida, Midelt, my site, Meknes and Rabat. They flew back to America on Thursday the 8th. It was a great trip. Most of all, it was good to spend time with my family, but it was also nice to see other parts of the country. There wasn’t nearly enough time to do everything we wanted (or even everything we had planned on doing). I really like Meknes and hope to go back there. It’s a city with a ton of history, but doesn’t have the constant nagging of tourists. As someone who lives in Morocco, it can be frustrating to go somewhere and be identified as just another European tourist. But at the same time, when I was able to make connections with people, they were really excited to meet an American who lived here and spoke Tamazight.

I hope all is well at home.