We work at the grassroots level throughout the Muslim World to counter violent extremism before it takes hold, to promote tolerance and understanding, and to foster better relations with the United States.
From the moment I stepped off that plane in Casablanca I have been constantly on the move and I feel as if time is flying by me faster than I’d like. At the same time I feel as if I’ve been here for months with all the people I’ve met, relationships I’ve built, work I’ve accomplished, and places I’ve visited.
Just to recapture the past few weeks, it’s important to explain all the little details: I am staying in the town of Ifrane, an odd Swiss-ski-lodge-mountain-village look-alike, which gives credence to its nickname: “Little Switzerland.” This town not only looks like Switzerland, but also embraces its Swiss-French food and culture and unforgiving winters. Yes…apparently it snows and gets incredibly cold. Thankfully I am here during its normal Moroccan hot dry summer heat. Al-Akhawayn University, my home for the past three weeks, takes the form of the rest of “Little Switzerland,” with ski-lodge-like buildings. However, there is a large mosque in the center of campus, which one might reason was placed there as a reminder to students that they are in fact, still in Morocco.
I am living in the dorms at Al-Akhawayn University, which makes me feel like I’m in college again, with a Moroccan roommate. At first she and I quietly held the same space, with the occasional awkward question to make sure no toes were stepped on. However, you can bet that our relationship has drastically changed since then, built on a common love of stand up comedy, the Spanish language, and food…of course. Now that her summer session is over, I have found that I am incredibly sad to see her go.
On the weekends my fellow AUA volunteers and I have been trying to see as much of Morocco as possible while we are here and have managed to visit several places already. We’ve travelled to places such as Chef Chaouen, the blue city embedded on the side of a mountain; Tangier, a port city where my grandparents first met; and Rabat, the beautiful capital showing off the new and old Morocco, yet surprisingly not with tourists. At first, six weeks seemed like it might be too long, but now I’ve realized that there isn’t time left to see everything I’d like, in addition to completing my work for the park center.
Professionally, I feel that I have really progressed with my work at the park center and my goals are slowly being fulfilled. I put emphasis on slowly because Morocco has it’s own sense of time. Moroccans are rather laid back and do things at there own pace. “Insha’Allah,” meaning “God willing” is usually the answer for everything. In addition, it really doesn’t help that they simply love nodding “yes” at the girl who can’t speak Arabic just to keep everyone happy. I have learned to never assume my question has been answered or something is being done to fulfill a request. I am really starting to love the phrase “if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.”
The most rewarding part of my work for the park center is looking forward to the end result. This past year I was working with five other people on a similar eco-tourism project in a rural town in Colombia, however at the end of it all I didn’t get the sense that I was leaving this town with anything concrete to work off of. Using my expertise from the past year, I was able to easily picture my work for the park center before I even arrived. Except this time, I intended to leave the park with concrete materials and plans for improving their marketing and implementing long-term goals.
As of now, my design for a park website is under construction with a new park center logo; my social media accounts have been made; and I am filming to make a promotional video to be placed on the website. More importantly I was able to set up a meeting between the park center eco-tourism department and local tourism associations to learn about the importance of collaboration. Despite my inability to understand the associations’ queries, let alone communicate with them, the meeting was a huge success. Each association in attendance signed on to be collaborators, which I owe a great deal to my newly acquired intern, Najia, who managed to translate my speech into Arabic in a matter of hours, translate their questions to me in English, and teach me to say a few Arabic sentences. Thanks to her hard work smiles were exchanged among us all and my ultimate goal of acquiring partners for the park center was accomplished. In the next three weeks that I have left, I will be continuing to work on the website, social media, and creating a groundwork report to further their marketing efforts after I leave. I think the most significant thing I will leave behind is my work with Najia. She is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever known and this internship means more to her than any internship would have meant to me in the US. I have set this internship up in a way that gives her the opportunity to receive a letter of recommendation from an American NGO and carry on with the park center for three months as their Social Media Engagement Intern/Associate. As a Moroccan Muslim woman it is incredibly hard to get a good job without an education, at least four languages, and work experience. My hope is that this experience will give her the expertise to add something new to her résumé and get her one step closer to landing her dream job.