Saturday, February 28, 2009

Community Assesment

Community Assesment

The following is an assesment written by a local community leader. He wrote this in response to my community health assesment, which has been posted in these pages. Sorry about the quality of the writing. The man wrote the assesment in Arabic and I had it translated. I didnt know if the mistakes were made by the writer or the translator, so I didnt want to change them.

The Communes of both Agoudim and Anemzi are situated not only in the south-west side of Khenifra’s region, but also in the east of both Tounfite and Titawin’s Commune and in the west of Beni Milal and Errachidia in the south. Its location in this place has made life very hard because of the weather, which is very cold throughout the year.
Most of the places here, in Agoudim and Anemzi, are in between mountains, surrounded by very huge forests. The later consists of many kinds of tress such as oak trees, cedar, and other kinds. According to statistics from 1999, its area exceeds more than 18,243 HA. The forest here plays an important role since it captures and provides raw materials for many man-made activities, and it helps in creating job opportunities for many people, without forgetting the huge income that is brought to the Commune. If we are to read its role from the ecological point of view, we find that it keeps the weather normal, it stops erosion, and it facilitates the penetration of rain to the underground. It also provides the inhabitants with firewood.
The importance of the forest is not limited to only human activities, but it extends to cover animals such as camels, pigs, wild and domestic rabbits, doves, and eagles.
The region is known by its hard weather that causes it many problems, especially in both spring and autumn. Snows, storms, and floods turn the life of the inhabitants upside down because it destroys their harvest, roads, and isolates them from other regions for many days if not months. As for people here, they’re ignorant; they don’t know how to read or write and they speak Tamazight. They make poetry and songs with it and many singers and poets are famous despite the isolation and marginalization of their culture.
As for the historical monuments of this land, people celebrated an annual feast of a battle that took a name of a place called Tazizawt in which many of the jihadist members of this city died to defend their homeland and to spread freedom.
This place has many roads for Moroccan and non-Moroccan tourists from all over the world. The Limsef road is between Agoudim and Errachidia. The Boulalou road exists in AlMasker and it is used mostly by sheppards to climb down and bring water.
Back to the activities of the people here: they depend on farming as a main source of income in which they still use very traditional methods that automatically influence their annual harvest. Also they used to plant wheat and barley in waterless and sterile fields while potatoes and crops in fertile fields.
Concerning sheep, they are very influenced by the place or by the weather. Shepherds used to bring them to the top of mountains to cut them branches of trees because the prices are very expensive and in the winter they used to rent lands in warm areas in the desert.
Shepherds are not satisfied, but they have nothing to do. They don’t know a rest, they don’t fear warm or cold. They always look for herds. Fathers and sons strive hard, but the annual income is determined by the rain and the market demands.
The rural woman is a hero in all the activities thanks to her participation not only in the household affairs, but also outside of the home. She aides her husband in performing many activities such as farming, milking, bringing firewood (even on her back), preparing fod, embroidering, weaving, taking care of the children, and making clothes. All these remain without value since they don’t have a market for marketing their products.
The rural girl is educated and taken care of by her mother until marriage. She is not allowed to pursue her studies because of conventional and traditional reasons. Her role in the family is similar to her mom’s since she participates in all the activities inside or outside the home.
If you like to give a definition to poverty here you will be puzzled since it is not only limited to the low-income of a person, but includes many sore and bad facts of society such as: societal integration, illiteracy, employment of children, unemployment, malnutrition, and specific illnesses. All this is back to many things the government must strive hard to fight since the development of rural areas is neither words on paper, nor is it false promises, but following words with actions.
We cannot talk about problems of this are without mentioning the problem of education, which is embodied in the over-crowded classrooms, in addition to the usual absence of teachers, with false certificates under the pretext of illness to justify his absence.
As for health care, it is horrible to write of some of the causes among many. If the previous kings Hassan II and Mohammed V were still with Mohammed VI measuring the capital of a nation with the citizens health, we are sorry to say that things are not taken into consideration by the government since we still find problems such as the absence of nurses and ambulances, along with the shortage of medicine.
Most people question why the inauguration of roads and administration buildings didn’t help to solve problems and put an end to the segregation the people live in. It is simply because the government members don’t take into consideration the criteria of weather and the total absence of control and the main example of this is the center of diverse specialities in Agoudim. Also the Commune doesn’t hold matters as it should do since it was given the responsibility of rural development.
More than that, the Commune doesn’t respect the deals signed with health care programs, education, and environment and instead they are concerned only with furnishing administration buildings with very rich cars, chairs, and computers and desks, which really and truly hint an answer at many unanswerable questions, but people still look for answers in the street.
Your report depends on the confessions of employees of this area and members of local authority and the confessions aspire to cover up and put a veil on facts of deteriorated conditions of the citizens.
The daily life and the sufferings of people say the reverse. And here lies your job: to compare what is fact and what is not. Hoping you take note about your standpoint.
In brief, what was presented to you as civilian society was not enough.


My water project looks like it is going to happen, which is exciting. Also, tomorrow another volunteer and I are meeting with someone in a prostitution town to talk about doing STI education. Exciting. Hope all is well

Sunday, February 22, 2009

HIV/AIDS in Morocco

First to respond to a question from a reader. Yes, the grant for my water project is SPA.

The last World Health Organization report (that I’ve heard about) estimated that there are something like 20,000 cases of HIV/AIDS in Morocco. In a country of 30 million, that’s only 0.06%. It’s, fortunately, a very low percentage. However, I believe that it is a great public health risk to the country as a whole. There are a number of factors that make the country vulnerable to the disease becoming wide spread.

First is ignorance about the disease. Speaking generally, people don’t know what it is. If people have heard of it they know no specifics and what they know might very well be wrong. They don’t know how it is transmitted. People say that the disease is transmitted by sharing toothbrushes, going to the hammam (public bath), and by being breathed on. I’ve never heard someone say that sex is a mode of transmission for the disease.

Second is that cultural boundaries that discourage honest discussion of the topic. This is a very religious society where appearing pure is very important to fitting into one’s community. So this makes it difficult to bring up such important issues as condom use.

Third (seemingly contradicting the previous issue) is the prevalence of prostitution in the country. This is particularly the case for my province, Khenifra, which is known for its prostitution. I’ve heard that the province has three of the four biggest prostitutions towns in the country. One of these centers is very close to me and I know that men from my village visit prostitutes there. They’ve told me. Compounding this problem is the fact that many of the sex workers in these prostitution centers come from out of town. I believe these places could easily become spreading points for the disease.

In sum, it’s a topic that people are ashamed to talk about and no one knows anything about. And prostitution means that large numbers of men are sleeping with a small number of women. I know that sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis are common even in a small community like mine, so it’s easy to imagine how this could happen with HIV/AIDS.

A volunteer in my market town works with a women’s association. The women of the association were interested in learning more about “SIDA” (the French acronym for the disease). The volunteer asked for my help, so I talked to the doctor in the local health clinic and she agreed to do education with the women. This seemed like a good way to spread important information through the community because the doctor would know how to talk about the issue in a culturally sensitive way. I was not at the workshop, but the report I heard on the doctor’s talk was that it did not even broach the topic of sexual intercourse as a mode of transmission for HIV/AIDS. Apparently, she told the women that they could get the disease from sharing mascara or toothbrushes.

It’s disappointing to find out that you cannot count on a doctor to transmit accurate information about HIV/AIDS. I remember reading about Ministry of Health officials in South Africa spreading misinformation about the disease, but being this close to the ignorance (and being associated with the training) is much more astounding. If doctors can’t/won’t/don’t take the lead in the fight against HIV/AIDS, who will? And what is the reason this doctor ignored the meat of the issue? Is she uninformed (which suggests a Ministry-wide training problem)? Is she embarrassed (culture-wide problem)? Maybe it’s just this one doctor who has the problem; I hope so.

So what to do? Well another volunteer is currently in the middle of a ‘Training of Trainers’ workshop. The idea is to empower local leaders to educate their communities on the dangers of HIV/AIDS. I think it’s a great way to tackle the problem; I’m curious to see how the trainers do.

A different volunteer and I will (hopefully) ourselves be doing HIV/AIDS education in local schools. We have gotten permission from the local government and are now waiting on permission from the Ministry of Education. Some of the people who attended the ‘Training of Trainers’ workshop may be working alongside us, which would be great. The idea is to educate kids so that they can at least protect themselves. I would really like to do education with people in the sex industry at some point, but that would be very difficult to do.

I want to say that although my posts are consistently negative and critical, that doesn’t mean that I dislike the country, the culture, or the people. The things that I write about in my posts are exceptions. The norm is positive interactions with people. I’m sure that no matter what country I was in, I would be finding problems and critiquing them.

An addendum to my previous post about deforestation. I forgot to mention that, during the winter, people cut down the branches of live oak trees to bring back to their barns to feed their sheep and other animals. This is another big killer of trees. The other day my host dad went out to cut down branches and he was late coming back. I asked my host mom why he was late and she said that he waits to come back until the sun comes down because otherwise an official from the Ministry of Forest and Water will fine him. So there is some government effort to police the resources, but it’s ineffective and insufficient.

I’ve been talking to more people about the problems of deforestation and erosion. People say it’s a huge problem. Someone today said, “The trees have gone, the soil has gone, the community will soon be gone.” So I think there is a consensus on the issue. However, getting collective action on the issue is incredibly difficult.

Other than that, things are going well. Winter may be coming to an end, which would be nice. I’ve just started a water source project. I go around and map places where people collect drinking water, take a photo, get information, and take a sample of the water with me. The Ministry of Health will send the sample to a nearby facility to be tested. When the result comes back I’ll go and talk to the people and try to convince them to treat their water (bleach is free). In addition to hopefully having a benefit on public health, I like the project because it forces me to meet people I otherwise wouldn’t. Most of the people who have decentralized water sources live outside of towns, so I haven’t me them yet.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Environmental Degradation in My Community

I’ve been in my community for nearly nine months now, learning about the comings and goings. My focus as directed by Peace Corps is to learn about health problems and to educate the community about solutions. So far my health education here has gone all right. I’ve done some small projects and some larger ones, with varying success. I’m going to continue with that, however I’ve recently decided that the greatest threat to my community is not health related, but environmental.

Probably a better way to put it is that my community is a threat to the environment. I wrote a post about this topic several months ago, but I think I understand the situation a little better now.

The problem as identified by the community is the deterioration of soil quality. It’s easy to see what’s happening when you look at a river or stream: the water runs brown here. Topsoil is flowing off the earth, leaving rocks behind. Poorer soil quality has a number of deleterious effects on people’s lives here. As sheepherding is the primary source of income here, people need grass for the sheep to eat. Since the soil is in such bad shape, less grass grows. Agriculture is also key to people’s lives here and poorer soil means that output from the land decreases. Poorer soil also means that trees are less likely to sprout, making it harder for people to collect wood. Finally, less water is absorbed by the earth, meaning that reservoir fed springs go dry quicker.

I recently visited one of my outer douars. It is 28km from my village along a terrible road. On a truck it took us nearly five hours to get from this village to souq, which gives you a sense of how isolated these people are. They hardly have any trees to cut down for wood. They have exhausted their supply. People buy wood from a nearby village (which is more expensive than they can afford) or they burn little bushes and sticks. 10 years ago this village had wood and now they have none. I worry that the entire region could become like this if the resources are not better managed. No wood for burning, no grass for sheep, no soil for farming. The region would become uninhabitable.

What’s the cause of all this? One major issue is woodcutting. Trees and their roots hold the soil together, so when they’re cut down, the soil can be washed away by rain or snow melt. Everyone in my community has a wood stove in their house (or two or three). The stoves are running nearly all day during the winter, keeping the house warm. The stoves are used in the summer as well for cooking. So that has a big impact on trees. Individuals aren’t the only ones at fault, however. The Commune (local government) sells licenses to woodcutting companies who come back into our mountains with big trucks and chainsaws. Everyday I see truckloads of wood leaving the community.

Another cause is overgrazing. It’s hard to get a straight answer on the question, but I believe that the number of sheep has grown in recent years as people’s standard of living has improved. More sheep puts a greater strain on the existing resources, depleting them quicker. Trees are less likely to make it from seedling to adult.

So what’s the solution? Earlier I wrote that changing stoves in people’s houses to more efficient models was the best solution, but I’m not so sure now. The savings on wood would be marginal and convincing people to make the switch would be difficult or impossible. Furthermore, that wouldn’t really get to the root of the problem.

Another solution is reforestation. The Ministry of Forests and Water will give trees away to communities for free. They have millions of dollars budgeted for reforestation. If the sheepherders of a community join together and agree to not herd their sheep on the area that has been reforested, the Ministry will compensate the herders. This doesn’t solve the issue of rapid deforestation on the part of companies and individuals, but it is a start. Any successful reforestation would require the community to think about resource management, which would be greatly beneficial.

One problem with this solution is that the money will probably not be distributed fairly or equitably throughout the community. People with power will probably be better compensated than those without.

Another problem is the lack of alternative income generating sources in the region. There really aren’t many options for work. So if people give up herding, how are they going to feed their family? It’s a legitimate issue.

But for me, the biggest obstacle is how ingrained sheepherding is in the culture here. Herding has been here for hundreds of years. Flocks of sheep have been explained to me as bank accounts. When a family has extra money, they buy some sheep and add to their flock. When a family is short on money, they sell sheep. This mentality suggests that even if an alternative income-generating source were found, it would not displace sheepherding. In fact, it’s conceivable that with more money coming in, people would simply deposit their extra money in their bank accounts (by buying more sheep).

This issue is fascinating because it’s similar to the issue facing the planet and its inhabitants at the moment. The population is facing a long-term threat (but size and time of the treat are vague) due to excesses. Any worthwhile solution will require collective sacrifice. Compounding the issue, the benefits and sacrifices of fixing the problem are disproportionately distributed throughout the population. And just like the planet, my Commune faces a lack of central government to take control of the problem and strategic rivalries that further complicate it.

So what to do? Not sure. The threat is an existential one and I think people understand that. I haven’t sat down with anyone and tried to figure out a solution, but I’m going to start that process soon. The health issues are nice and bring marginal improvements to people’s lives, but this is the real issue for the community. Also, since this is a problem identified by the community (rather than by me), it’s a better issue to focus on.


This past week has been warmer. It gives me (false) hope that winter is coming to an end. Not just my community, but the entire country has been getting tons of precipitation recently. Crops in the north of the country have been ruined. My house had some serious leaks for a while. My community collected money from everyone to buy a sheep. We’re going to slaughter the sheep and ask God for less rain.

My work has been picking up, which is nice. Probably from now until next winter should be my most productive period as a volunteer. I might even be busy at times.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Capacity-Building and Water Infrastructure Project in L

My mom said she was interested in hearing about my water project, so here is the grant that i had to write for Peace Corps. i think it explains the project pretty well.

A. Brief Summary
• The water association of L is currently responsible for drinking water in the community. However, it lacks both the infrastructure and capacity in order to ensure the quality of the water. Therefore, there are two aspects of the project. First is the training and capacity building of members of the water association. Second is the actual infrastructure project. In L, there are currently water fountains connected to a chateau. However, the chateau is empty because there is no nearby viable source to fill it. The project, therefore, is to use water from spring some 5 km away to fill the chateau. A spring capture needs to be built, along with pipes connecting the spring and the chateau. Since the spring is far away, the majority of the cost of the project will go towards the construction of the pipes.
• In doing my initial assessment of the community, this project was one of the first things that came up. Every step of the way, someone from the community member has been instrumental in furthering the project. Now that the project appears to be imminent, the community has promised both financial and labor support. There is already a water association established that will ensure the upkeep of the infrastructure once the project is completed.

• The region is primarily an agricultural community. Wheat is the primary crop, although barley, corn, potatoes and some vegetables are also grown. Donkeys and mules are critical to agricultural production. Most families own cows, chickens, and turkeys for milk, eggs, and meat. However, nearly all agricultural production is sustenance farming – little produce is sold outside of the community. Herding sheep and goats is the primary source of income for the community. Flocks range in size from 5 to hundreds of animals. Men often spend several weeks at a time in the mountains, tending their flocks. Tourism and artisan work bring in a modest amount of money to select community members. A few community members work at the Commune. Other work by community members is mostly done outside of the community: construction work in bigger cities, conscription in the military, etc. Students that continue their education in the college in Tounfite often fail out because they are poorly prepared.
L is a small community in the A Commune. It is extremely isolated, particularly in the winter. The road is poorly constructed and often damaged or closed completely by inclement weather. L is a farming community that grows primarily wheat, potatoes, and turnips for their own consumption. Many families also have herds of sheep and other farm animals to supplement their diets and income. There are approximately 100 families in L and about 800 people (50-60% women). There are approximately 200 youth in the community.
The water association of L was created to manage water resources in the community. In an agricultural community, water rights for fields have been their primary responsibility. This involves a lot of conflict resolution and managing of the community. Additionally, they have been responsible for the upkeep and improvement of several drinking sources around town. The water association is made up of seven men. The president, Sidi Khaja, has the most responsibility and power in the group. He is also the mulsheikh of the village, so he is a prominent member of the community. This activity is the biggest one that the association has taken on, but they have so far received good training, and will continue to receive training to improve their capacity. The A Commune is also taking responsibility for the project. A governmental group, they are well established and have done similar projects before, most notably a spring capture project in the nearby community of Ait Bouarbi. The Secretary-General of the Commune has the most responsibility in terms of organizing projects. The President of the Commune makes final decisions in terms of finance and support. A Commune Technician provides the technical support for infrastructure projects. Given that the Commune has already completed a similar project before, I believe they have the capacity to manage this project in conjunction with the water association. Furthermore, assisting in this project and increasing their capacity increases the likelihood of similar projects being done in other communities within the Commune.
• The need as identified by the PCV and the community is the inability of the water association to supply its community with clean, running water. Currently, most people collect their water from nearby wells and streams. The nurse at the local health clinic believes that water sanitation is a public health risk, leading to diarrhea. Additionally, the collection of water is task that demands a lot of time from women and young children.

• The goal of this project is to build the capacity of both the A Commune and the water association in L. Specifically, it is to improve their ability to provide their communities with clean, running water. L is a very isolated community; anything that can be done to improve its self-sufficiency will be helpful.
• Measuring the capacity of the water association will be difficult to do, however there are some indicators that will be helpful in assessing the success of the project. One intermediate objective is to reduce the incidence of water borne illnesses. If the association is doing its job of treating the water, the local health clinic will see a reduction in such diseases. The nurse will be responsible for tracking and monitoring this trend. Another intermediate objective will be to reduce the time spent by women and children collecting water. If the system is maintained, public fountains will allow women and children to access water much more easily. It will be impossible to accurately measure the amount of time spent gathering water, but the frequency of people at other sources of water should be a good indicator of the success of the new system.
• The most direct beneficiaries of the project will be the president and other members of the water association. Hopefully, they will gain the skills and knowledge necessary to ensure the provision of clean water to their community. Furthermore, they will have received extensive training in the planning and implementation of a large project. The Secretary-General of the Commune has also benefited from the project. He has assisted in searching for finance of the project and generally in the overall management of the project. Indirect beneficiaries include the entire community, which will benefit from improved water. Women and children will benefit greatly, as they are the primary gatherers of water.
• In terms of capacity, the project will build upon the water association’s current skills in dealing with water issues in the community. They already work with drinking water; this project will just increase and centralize the scope of their responsibility. In terms of infrastructure, the project is utilizing existing infrastructure (water tower, pipes, public fountains) to complete the objective of providing clean water to the community. These infrastructure assets currently sit unused as there is no water in the water tower.

• Action Plan
1. Identify need, June and July 2008. PCV, local moqadem, association members, local nurse.
2. Discuss project and funding with Commune officials August 2008-present. PCV, President of Commune, President of water association, Secretary-General of Commune.
3. Analyze the content of the water, August 2008. Secretary-General of Commune, President of water association.
4. Prepare estimate for project, October 2008. PCV, Secretary-General of Commune, Commune Technician.
5. Visit nearby project for exchange of ideas, October 2008. PCV, President of water association.
6. Discuss labor needs of project, November 2008-present. PCV, members of water association, community members.
7. Seek funding sources, November 2008-present, PCV, Secretary-General of Commune, President of Commune, President of water association.
8. Further exchange of ideas between community members and nearby community, now at site of project, February 2009. PCV, members of water association.
9. Acquiring materials March/April 2009. This will be done in Tounfite and Boumia, two nearby towns. Commune will help with transport. PCV, community members, Commune Technician.
10. Construction of infrastructure March/April 2009-May 2009. PCV, Commune Technician, Secretary-General of the Commune, members of water association, community members.
11. Capacity building workshop for upkeep of infrastructure, May 2009. The Commune Technician will be largely responsible for informing community members on how to maintain the infrastructure. Training will take place in the house of the President of the water association. He will provide food. PCV, Commune Technician, members of water association.
12. Capacity building workshop for treatment of water, May 2009. The training will be held in the President of the water association’s house. PCV and nurse will explain the importance of water treatment the means of measuring the necessary quantity of bleach. Secretary-General of Commune and President of water association will make plan for transporting bleach from Commune seat (A) to site (L). PCV, local nurse, Secretary-General of the Commune, members of water association.
13. Review of project, June 2009. PCV, President of Commune, Secretary-General of Commune, President of water association.
• Oversight of the project will be the responsibility of the PCV, the President of the water association and the Secretary-General of the Commune, particularly in regards to arranging trainings and ensuring the timeliness of the project. The President of the water association and the Commune Technician will take a great deal of responsibility for the actual construction of the infrastructure.
• The greatest potential recurring cost of the project is upkeep of the infrastructure. The materials we are using are sturdy, but inevitably something will go wrong, requiring community investment. Having spoken with community members, I am confident that they will take responsibility for upkeep. Furthermore, community members are investing a great deal in the construction of the project; therefore I believe they will see to its maintenance. A second recurring cost of the project is the supply of bleach to treat the water. Ensuring a regular supply of bleach will require some effort from a community member. In the long-term, the upkeep and success of this project is bound to the willingness of the water association to care for it. I have seen the lengths that these men have gone to already to plan for the project so I am hopeful that their enthusiasm will continue.
• Weather is the biggest potential obstacle for this project. The mountainous Commune of A is prone to big storms. Given the distance from the site to the spring (5km), inclement weather could make construction difficult. The road to and from the site is sometimes temporarily cut, which could delay the project. Other smaller obstacles include variables that are difficult to control. The fluctuating exchange rate makes it difficult to estimate how many dollars I need to raise in order to have the necessary amount of dirhams. Although labor for the project has been promised, it’s always possible that the demanding work of a farmer will draw the laborers attention away from the project. However, the project has been scheduled to coincide with a time of little work in the fields. Finally, in such a complex project relying upon so many different inputs, there are many unknowns that can impede the progress of the project.

• The community will be contributing labor, finance, and expertise. The cost of labor for the project has been estimated at $1,000. The local water association will be organizing the construction of the infrastructure and providing labor. The A Commune will be contributing approximately 260,000 Dhs (of 312,000). And a technician from the Commune will be providing technical expertise.
• There is no question that the project is expensive, however the payoff is tremendous. I have taken the estimate for the project to several different material suppliers, and I have yet to find lower prices than the ones quoted for me by the Commune.
• American NGOs will be contributing approximately $3,030.
• Please note that SPA money will not be physically used to purchase one portion of the project. The money will be pooled and all the materials will be bought together. I can provide receipts for each individual item in addition to the items nominally paid by SPA. The majority of the cost of the project is in the piping that will transport the water from the source to the water tower. SPA will be funding a portion of that piping. A meter of piping is estimated at 40 Dhs. SPA money ($3,500 * 8Dhs/dollar = 28,000 Dhs) will buy 700 units of piping. The piping is expensive polyethylene. I feel that this investment is justified and necessary to ensure the long term survival of the infrastructure.
• Total cost of the project is 312,240 Dhs ($39,030). The $3,500 from SPA will be approximately 9% of the cost. The Commune will be providing approximately 260,000 Dhs ($32,500) or 83%. American NGOs will be responsible for the final $3,030, or approximately 8%.

• In terms of training of community members, the PCV, the local nurse, and the Secretary-General will be responsible for monitoring the activity. They will ensure that trainings are held as scheduled. In terms of infrastructure, the PCV, Secretary-General, and President of the water association will be responsible for overseeing the activity. Members of the Commune will accompany the PCV to construction site to ensure timely completion of project. The timeline provided in the action plan above will be the indicators used to determine the progress of the activity. Since the objectives of the activity, as listed above, will not be measurable until the full completion of the project, I feel they are better tracked in the evaluation plan.
• As noted in the goals and objectives above, the primary indicators of success will be reduction water borne illnesses and reduction of time spent gathering water. The local nurse currently tracks the incidence of water borne illnesses, so it will be easy for him to compare the current statistics to those following the completion of the project. Together with the PCV, this will be done on a monthly basis to ensure that the project has continuing success. Measuring time spent collecting water will be more difficult to do. The PCV and the President of the water association will conduct surveys with different households in the month following the project in order to measure the community’s satisfaction with the project. Finally, in a separate evaluation, the PCV, the Secretary-General of the Commune, and the President of the water association will conduct a formal evaluation upon the completion of the project. The activity’s progress will be compared the plans made prior to the project (as listed in action plan above) to evaluate the objectives set and whether or not they were met. Particularly important to this meeting will be measuring the President of the water association’s understanding of the upkeep of the infrastructure and treatment of the water.
• The most important continuing activity is the preservation of the infrastructure and the treatment of water. In terms of water treatment, this is going to require a member of the water association to regularly obtain bleach and deliver it to the water tower. In the long-term, this is the responsibility of the water association. Hopefully, trainings will impress upon the association the importance of these activities and provide them with the necessary tools to ensure their success. Doing this project could also lead to similar projects being done in nearby communities. I believe that by building the capacity of the Commune as this project progresses, the likelihood of the Commune doing other projects have grown.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Fitting In

Throughout Peace Corps training, cultural integration is greatly stressed. We were warned over and over again about the differences between Moroccan and American culture and how we might greatly offend people here if we weren’t careful. This being a Muslim country, religious beliefs and their effect on behavior were emphasized. Fitting in is very important for a volunteer because the success of our job is based upon having the trust of our community. Largely agreeing with what Peace Corps had told us, I have worked very hard to fit in here in my community. This has meant a number of changes for me and the way that I act.

The biggest change for me is the way that I talk about religion. During PC training, I asked a Moroccan member of the Peace Corps staff what he thought about nonbelievers and how our communities might react to a nonbeliever. This was during a session on religion in Morocco, in front of thirty other volunteers. He told me that anyone who doesn’t believe in God is going to hell. End of story. It was at that point I decided I needed to be careful about how I talked about my own beliefs. So, despite not believing in God in any traditional sense of the word, I tell people in my community that I do. They are often trying to get me to convert, but I tell them how important my Christian religion is to me and how it would be a betrayal of my parents if I were to convert. Early on in my service, I briefly considered converting. My thought was: if I’m lying about my beliefs in order to be accepted, why not lie an even more acceptable lie? But somehow that felt more dishonest that pretending to be a Christian. When people talk to me about Mohamed (Muslims believe that Mohamed is God’s last prophet; he is the central figure in Islam) I agree with them that he is a prophet and that he is good. I say he is God’s last prophet. If I were to hold true to my lie of being a good Christian, I should probably reject Mohamed as a prophet. But saying that I agree that Mohamed is a prophet like Jesus is actually closer to my real beliefs than my pretend Christian ones, so I say it.

Another big change concerns interactions with the opposite sex. It’s way different here. I talk to women more than most men here, but still not very much. It’s difficult for me to tell how much of the gender divide is a result of social prohibition and how much is just a gender divide like we have in the States. If I want to have a conversation with a female, is that inappropriate? Or just abnormal? Being overly careful about gender relations has had the unfortunate consequence of me being rude to Moroccan women from outside of the community (I think). Educated women from bigger cities are more comfortable talking with men, but I never know just how comfortable they are. And I don’t know how my interactions with a big city girl should be different depending upon where we are. For example, in my market town the other day I ran into a teacher who is from Khenifra (provincial capital), but teaches in a very isolated douar in my commune. She was very friendly, but I felt weird talking her in a such a public space where people from my community would see. I think I might have been a little curt with her as a result. The other question that I struggle with is how to respond to questions about my relations with females in the States. Can I tell people that I have had girlfriends? And how should I change my answer based upon whether I’m talking to some teenage boys versus my host mom?

Besides that, there are lots of small things. I never play my music too loud because I’m afraid of people hearing it outside of my house. I spend more time than I’d like to in the local (smoky) hangout place because that’s what everyone else does. I am very careful what I say about Palestine and Israel. (One exception is dress: I dress much nicer than people here. I nearly always wear a collared shirt. The one distinctly Moroccan piece of clothing that I have – a jellaba – is a very nice one. Strangely enough, people are always telling me that I dress like them.) Generally speaking, I’m hesitant to upset the status quo. It’s like when I was eleven years old and I changed schools.

And like changing schools, the longer that I am here, the more comfortable I feel acting differently. I feel that my community has pretty well accepted me by now, so I don’t have to be so careful. I’m getting better at (although still struggling) discerning the difference between what’s socially inappropriate and just socially weird. For instance, I’ve started to have short, but frequent conversations with older women in pubic spaces as we pass each other in the street. Other men my age don’t do this, but there’s nothing wrong with me doing it. It’s just strange.

Despite becoming more comfortable, I still have a long way to go. There are some things that I will never be honest about. There are aspects of my behavior that I’m still careful about. I am holding myself back. And I think it’s unfortunate that I do this. By not completely being myself, I’m not having as honest of an exchange as I could. Not offending and fitting in is important, but I’m also missing an opportunity to be a positive example with some aspects of Moroccan culture, such as gender relations, that I don’t like. Additionally, as an outsider, there are some aspects of social life where I have much more freedom than a Moroccan. People think I’m weird and they excuse behavior from me that would be inappropriate coming from a Moroccan. The most obvious example is the work that I’ve done with the Traditional Birth Attendants. You’d never see a Moroccan man doing that, but nonetheless it’s been well received by my community, even males. The trouble in this cultural balancing act is figuring out the line between inappropriate/rude and just plain different. I have an ever-present uncertainty about the acceptability of my actions. I want to greet all females here in a friendly and open way, but I fear I’d be embarrassing the younger ones if I did. And I worry about angering the spouses of the married ones.

This slow, painful discovery of unwritten social rules has naturally made me think more about the expectations in the States and how they are so ingrained in natives’ behavior. How much of discovering these ‘rules’ as a child is explicitly stated by the parents and how much is inferred? I also wonder if after 20 years in my community I would ever feel completely comfortable with social expectations. Is there some sort of developmental period as a child where one absorbs these rules?

As much as I want to let loose, I’m going to continue to be careful. I’ll probably continue to make incremental steps towards a more normal Duncan as I become more familiar with life here. There are some volunteers who are bolder than I and there are others who are much more conservative; each behavioral pattern has its virtues. As you open up you may have a richer experience, but at the same time you risk ostracizing yourself. It’s a tradeoff. I’m really curious to see how I react to coming home in a few months for Zach’s wedding. Will I quickly revert back to the “old me?” Will I be able to talk to girls without feeling uncomfortable?


It’s still cold. We got over a foot of snow the other day and the road was closed for two or three days. I’ve been a little sick recently with some congestion, but hopefully getting better. My host mom is still out of town, so I’m spending lots of time with my host dad. It’s been good to get to know him in this way and I like him better for it. The end of February will make a year in country – it’s hard not to think about that and count the time that I have left. I hope all is well at home.