Saturday, July 11, 2009


Reading about development in books, a common theme to explain some countries lack of progress is poor governance, corruption, and general bureaucratic inertia. Experiencing those things first hand has made them much more real. I’ve already written about corruption and political troubles, so I’ll stick to simple bureaucratic headaches this time. I’m sure that these frustrations exist in other countries, but Morocco is the first country that I have tried to do this kind of work so it’s all that I know.

I was inspired to write this post by a conversation that I had with the doctor at my health clinic the other day. She was complaining about bureaucratic hoops and obstacles and how they hindered her work; I was glad to know that Moroccans weren’t happy with the status quo either. I told her that Ministry obstacles have slowed my work at every step. Every project, anything I have done here has been made more difficult by needless technicalities.

The project that has best exemplified these frustrations is the hammam project. Quick summary: in order to reduce wood consumption demand, another volunteer and I are trying to convince hammam owners to convert their water heating systems to a more efficient stove with the help of a branch of the Ministry of Energy. Before the project could get started, a “national convention” had to be written up that formalized Peace Corps’ relationship with the Ministry. At first I was kind of excited by the whole deal, but it turned into a timewaster that was just a formality. Once that was done, we could move onto formal meetings with the Ministry. After the meetings, communication with the representative at the Ministry has been frustratingly difficult. We’re doing work in our province to prepare for a meeting that the representative will lead. It’s impossible for us to communicate quickly with the Ministry. We have to go through our Peace Corps staff representative, who sends a message to the Ministry, who has to get permission from higher up to release the requested information. It takes a long time, if it happens at all. For example, we requested the address of a hammam that had made the conversion in a nearby city (Ifrane) 3 weeks ago and still have not gotten an answer – I do not expect one. Another frustration came when the Ministry rescheduled the meeting that we had been planning for a month from July 7th to July 29th – after we had told the hammam owners to expect the meeting on the 7th. Finally, the Ministry has asked us to do a survey of rural wood use (repeat: they asked us). We have been trying to figure out their goals for the survey and what information they want us to collect, but it’s impossible to get an answer. If it’s to be done correctly, the survey requires information collected from all times of year; we need to start collecting data before the summer ends if we want to finish the survey before we leave Morocco. I don’t expect them to get the information to us.

Almost two months ago, another volunteer and I wrote up a proposal to the Ministry of Health for them to send doctors to Boumia to do pelvic exams on sex workers there. When the doctors came, they did not do exams, but just interviews, which was nearly useless. Their excuse was that there were too many women – not even a good excuse. I went back to the Ministry to see what could be done. They promised me that if there was a small group of women, they would come back and do the exams – but I had to write up another formal proposal. So I wrote it up and went to seek authorization. I was then informed that the delegue (head health official for the province) was on vacation for the rest of the month (July) and that I could not get permission until he came back. He had already given approval to an identical proposal that was simply not followed through on.

Several months ago, two other volunteers and I wrote up a STI HIV/AIDS curriculum that we wanted to teach in local high schools. We got permission from the Ministry of the Interior and needed permission from the Ministry of Education. I went to the Ministry of Health and asked our representative there what to do. He told me that he would take care of it. We waited at least a month and no response. I went back and asked him what the deal was. The rep told me that he had dropped off the proposal and was waiting for a response. He said it wouldn’t be more than a week. That was in April. No response.

For my water project in a nearby community, I was hassled by the person (call him Mohamed) I was working with to hurry up and get my grant approved. Well Peace Corps sped the grant through and it was approved in April. I went off with Mohamed to get the project started before I went to America in May. We went to the bank in a town 3-4 hours away and got the money out and counted it. When we finished counting the money, Mohamed told me that we could not submit the project for auction that day (the main purpose of our trip, or so I thought) because the place was closed for the day. It came out that he knew the place was closed before we left; his purpose for the trip was to accompany me to the bank and see if I had the money or not. Soon after, I left for America. When I got back from America, Mohamed told me that we could not get the project started because of the proximity of the elections. OK. Once the elections were finished, he told me that we could not get the project started because the association that I was working with had to get some of its paperwork in order: two more weeks. Before those two weeks were up, I went out to the community and was talking to the water association president about another project. I brought up our water project and the president said, “Didn’t Mohamed tell you? The project is cancelled.” A couple days later I went to the Commune and asked Mohamed what the deal with the association’s papers was, two weeks had passed. I didn’t mention what the president of the water association had told me. Mohamed said, “It will be another week before the association gets its paperwork in order.” Then I told him what the president had just told me about the project being finished. He said, “Oh, yes, the project will not happen.” How long has this guy (who had once been hurrying me to get the grant money in) known the project was dead and done, but hadn’t told me? For a reason unbeknownst to me, he hid the fact that the project was not viable behind a wall of bureaucratic excuses. How long was he going to continue to hide it?

I don’t mean to make this sound like a laundry list of complaints. I’m trying to illustrate the obstacles hindering progress that are institutionalized by government Ministries. Every volunteer has his/her own list of similar difficulties. Why do we have so many problems? Some of the “delays” are in fact the Ministry indirectly telling us no. For example, I don’t think the Ministry of Health/Education wants us to do STI HIV/AIDS education in local high schools, but rather than telling us “no,” our proposal is lost in a shuffle of papers. Many of our problems are personal rather than institutional. For example, the project with the Ministry of Energy has been met with especially egregious delays. I believe this has a lot to do with the person that we are working with simply not wanting to do work and hiding behind the cover of his Ministry. I think the project with doctors doing exams on sex workers is hindered by the same lack of interest in doing work. Finally, I think volunteers have problems with Ministries because they don’t know the right way to navigate the system. We’re mostly young kids who have no authority or prestige. Just like Moroccans from the communities that we live in, our interests and ideas can be dismissed.

Institutionalized stasis is pernicious because it provides cover for all of the illegitimate obstacles above. Instead of having to admit that they don’t want to do the exams, the doctors can hide behind the monolith that is the Ministry of Health. They know that I have to make a 6 hour trip out to get formal approval and that they can make up an excuse when I do make the trip. Government employees can collect their salaries, shuffle their papers, and go home at the end of the day without having lifted a finger. Even the most honest, hard-working Ministry official is bound by the constraints placed upon him/her.

As a Peace Corps volunteer, I’m supposed to be doing grassroots development. So why am I bothering with government agencies? Even the most “grassroots” actions require the permission of some Ministry. Visiting schools: Ministry of Education. Organizing women for a traditional birthing attendant training: Ministry of Health and Ministry of the Interior. I tried to gather people outside of their homes to talk about dental hygiene, but I needed permission from the Ministry of the Interior first.

I’m not by nature a very angry person, but this kind of thing is getting to me. I cannot get my work done. The bullshit with the water project (that I started working on maybe 9 months ago) is especially frustrating. I have recently been contemplating responding to these obstacles by raising my voice and demanding better treatment. I don’t know what kind of a response that would get; I could either get what I want or be completely shut out.

Like I said, I don’t mean to complain about my situation, but to point out the obstacles to development here. Morocco is moving forward, but problems such as these slow its progress.


Things are good. The recruiting for the TBA training is nearly complete; I will be meeting soon with local doctors to finalize the curriculum for the training. There has been a wedding each of the past two weeks; those are fun.

I was riding my transit to market last week. It was early morning and the transit was crowded. Halfway to market, the transit stopped to pick up a guy along the side of the road. He had two sheep and instead of putting them on top of the transit as per usual, they got inside with us. I was thinking about going on top of the transit myself: the transit was uncomfortable and now I was worried about these sheep shitting on me. Just as I was pondering this option, one of the sheep lifted its head up and sneezed all over my pants. A large amount of snot was concentrated in the area near my right knee. The owner of the sheep grabbed the other sheep’s tail and used it to wipe the snot from my pants. This was the day after I had crapped my pants.

Several weeks ago, Morocco moved its clocks forward an hour – daylight savings time. From my experience with DST last year, I knew that my life would be easier if I didn’t change my clocks; no one in my community observes the time change. However, when I leave my community and go to a bigger town, the time moves forward an hour. Morocco has urban/rural time zones for the summer until the rest of the country changes its clocks back.

A family that I’m good friends with in my community recently bought a sofa for their living room. They are quite proud of it; most people here just sit/lay on the floor. I went to their house one day and the sofa was the most uncomfortable, hardest thing I’d ever sat on. The floor is much better. The next time I was at their house, the sofa was not to be seen. I asked them what was up and they said, “We like the floor better. We’re not used to the sofa.”

Three conversations on religion. First, I was off in another village, recruiting for the midwife training and getting a typical conversion speech from someone. They weren’t pushing me too hard. They asked if people in my community tried to get me to convert and I told them yes. They said that these people are my friends – they want me to convert because they like me and they don’t want my soul to go to hell. Second, I was helping a local girl with English (the one girl from our village that I know of who will go to University) and we were talking about religion. She asked me what religion I thought was true and I told her I thought they were all equal. She told me: no, the prophet Mohamed was the only real way to God and that other religions were inferior. I was disappointed; I was expecting higher levels of tolerance from her because she was educated. Third, I was talking to a friend about life in general. He said, if everyone takes Mohamed’s road and follows it carefully, life is boring (the word he used literally means bland). He said life is better if people take different roads, enjoy their lives, and share their experiences.

This morning I woke up at 6 am. I was out the door by 645. I was on the top of a 10000 foot mountain by 10 am. How awesome is that? I met some sheepherders from my village near the peak, hung out with them til 1230, had lunch, then hiked down the other side of the mountain in order to get to my market town.


mary ellen newport said...

seems like when you stay local or work with women you are ok...this bureaucracy post makes me think you'd be banging your head against a door to stay a 3rd year...

...also, thanks for RANDOM STORIES!

love, ma

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