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.
After working intensely for five weeks on the website and Facebook page for the park, it’s hard to imagine that I only have a week left. Similar to teaching English to a group of Moroccan children and forming a bond with those children, I formed a bond with my work. The only difference is that instead of being able to have a final performance or ceremony to show off the results of the past five weeks, I have to just leave my work, as if hanging my clothes on someone else’s clothing rack…in another country. The website has almost all of its content and thanks to my tech guru, Ayoub, a Moroccan student at Al-Akhawayn University, looks better than most websites of more established national parks. The most exciting part about this website is that tourists will be able to plan an eco-tourism vacation with information ranging from ‘where to stay,’ to ‘what to do,’ to ‘safety regulations,’ and so on. However there is still an issue with the domain name and thus the Facebook page has been standing in for the time being. It’s interesting how many comments, shares, and likes each post has been getting. At first I thought that my friends and family were just being overly supportive and liking everything they knew I posted, but I’ve realized it’s already spread past that.
Through this progress and waiting on the not-so-far foreseen end has made me think about development and what our purpose, as foreign assistance, is all about. Foreign assistance is based on providing a particular service abroad and everybody thinks it is wonderful if it can help people in need. However what happens after that service is provided? That’s the question that has been drilling through my brain and hitting every emotional sensor. One minute I’m happy and smiling, the next minute I’m a one-man reenactment of Les Miserables.
During our reflection sessions, held once a week, many of the volunteers have felt lost in how purposeful they feel, including myself. However digging deep to find that answer has made me realize that after all is said and done, it’s up to them (the partnering organization or community) to carry on what I created. It’s a hard concept for me to grasp, because if I had more time, I feel as if I could give them so much more and provide results, and also, selfishly, be able to see them. However, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I am laying the groundwork to improve eco-tourism for the national park and there is not much I can do. The one thing that really gives me hope is leaving it in the hands of my intern, Najia, although this week has been exceptionally tricky, training someone to continue my work and attempting to leave my control-freakishness at the door. However she was able to withstand my insanity so far, and truly understands the “nature” of it all better than I ever could. I can only imagine how much better she will be next week and the next, when I hand her the reigns.
Ramadan has also not really made the past few weeks easy, although it is something that I think most people should observe or at least try to understand. Ramadan started a week after we arrived and after successfully fasting for one day, it was unclear to me how people would manage to really do anything else but sleep or watch soap operas all day (a common past-time for most Moroccans during Ramadan). I knew that Ramadan was part of Islam and was a time when people would, in a way, purify their bodies. However, I found out later from my Moroccan roommate that it is so much more. It is a time when Moroccans (and the rest of the Muslim World) attempt to connect with people less privileged than themselves. By not eating or drinking, they can experience starvation; and by remaining kind, patient, respectful, soft-spoken, amongst other things during this time, they can truly connect with people that don’t have the luxury to complain about their lives, because that’s just the way it is. She of course taught me more than the reasoning for Ramadan and even managed to pry my eyes open at 3am to have breakfast with her. At 3:30 she prays and dawn breaks, when fasting officially begins. At 7:45pm, you can hear chanting from the mosque, giving everyone permission to eat again for Iftour (breaking of the fast). I have been invited to several Iftours already, where I have gotten to see everyone diving into their food, except the only people really diving into food were the girls and I. Everyone else ate their food calmly and with minimal crumbs, which is smart if we had even taken a moment from the amazing food to think about it. You’d think we’d learn after being doubled over in pain from fullness after five minutes.
It’s hard to imagine any of us [volunteers] leaving and going our separate ways. I know the other girls are trying very hard not to think about their last week, because they too have made some very strong connections with their placements, some teaching English, teaching French, providing a soccer camp, micro-financing, in which we were all involved in some way or another. Aside from some truly breath-taking experiences in Morocco so far, the most extraordinary, is meeting this group of young women. At first I must admit I was a little worried and thought the estrogen levels might get too high and someone might explode. However I have never met a group of women so intelligent and more importantly, so passionate, where I have felt my perspectives change a little. We formed a bond that allowed us to support one another no matter the issue. We pushed each other to accomplish things some of us didn’t think we could accomplish and experienced Morocco without skipping a beat. It’s truly amazing to find not only people, but also Americans who care about other people, who want to learn about other cultures, and are interested in learning another language; people who are not so stuck in their ways that they are willing to step outside of the bubble and get slapped with reality.