America's Unofficial Ambassadors

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.

Work, Family, and this Beautiful Culture

Favorite Blog Throwback #8 – Originally posted October 4, 2013

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The following post has been written by AUA Summer Service Intern Caiti Goodman reflecting on her experiences in Morocco.

It’s been almost two months since I returned from Morocco, and there hasn’t been a day that I haven’t thought about my time there. When I first returned, I was a little lost. Not only did I no longer have school or a job or frankly anything to do, I also didn’t have any of my new friends I had met, I didn’t have my project I had spent everyday for 6 weeks working on, and I didn’t have the culture, which I missed most of all.

Helping the Ifrane National Park center increase their marketing and communications potential was one of the most rewarding experiences, yet not without its stressful moments. What it needed to start with was enhancing their regional reach, before it could actively reach further, for which I was there to do…reach further. However my biggest struggle was knowing how to “reach further” when I had no idea how to even start to reach regionally. I didn’t understand how I was going to help them realize their regional potential when I myself knew very little about their region, language and culture.

With that said, it only took a few days in that first week to grasp that Moroccans are incredibly competitive and when setting up a business or building a particular department, each person fends for themselves. This simply doesn’t work in eco-tourism when the industry is built on having a community, or in this case a province, work together to show tourists all the cherished landscape has to offer. It all came down to collaboration and advising the park center to collaborate and communicate with local associations, but more importantly understand why collaboration is so important: to foster the community.

Admittedly, the second struggle was that, as a woman, it’s hard to advise on a particular issue in a culture that is very man centric. It was also made apparent, funnily enough by my friends back home, that I might stick out. This only augmented my own perception that there was the possibility that my ideas would be rejected on the basis of my race and gender. In the end, I was proved wrong. I realized that they wanted to learn as much about us and how we do things, as we should have wanted to learn about them and how they do things. Unfortunately, this is the essential problem with foreign assistance, where volunteers will go into a country and hold strong to their beliefs that their way is the right way, without paying attention to the views of the people its actually impacting. What I eventually realized was that it was more important to learn a way to communicate with Moroccans and participate in their culture, than hinder my mind and purpose with fanciful thoughts of how I might fail. I needed to see myself as nothing else but an outside perspective on a project that had been stared at too long by its creator, so that my perspective was not forced upon them, but was gently placed alongside theirs.

One of the last weekends I received the opportunity to stay with a Moroccan family in a traditional Amazight (Berber) village, outside of Ifrane, where the inhabitants primarily spoke Imazighan (the Berber language). It was in this town where I saw one of the many possible impacts of my service. Although a small part, it was enough to fill my heart with joy and allow me to let go. This particular weekend was also a time where I felt closest to the culture and the people whom we stayed with. In three days these people became my family and my home away from home. It’s this generosity and hospitality that amazed me the most about the Moroccan culture.

This town was well known for its caves and the beautiful waterfall nearby, which happened to source much of the town’s water formed into a creek. By this creek women scrubbed their clothes, children splashed around for fun, and men carried heavy buckets full to drink or wash their hands. The majority of the women have traditional symbols of peace and freedom tattooed on their faces. The older women in the family we stayed with also had similar tattoos along their jawline, which they described was shameful mistake in their early teens, before they could read the Koran. On my last day there, I received a tour of the town, walking past the youth center, the cemetery and exploring the caves embedded in many homes. At the end of the street we came across a quaint, fairy-like cottage, a tourist accommodation called Gîte Ifri, where we stopped to see one of the better-preserved caves in town. I recognized the name and realized this had been one of the accommodations I added to the ‘Where To Stay’ tab of the national park website, which I spent 6 months creating. Greeting us at the front door was a tall, beautiful woman dressed in a Jilaba and holding her hand, reaching only the tips of her fingers, was her mini-version. They came towards us and gently kissed us cheek-by-cheek, a common Moroccan greeting, and proceeded to show us the rooms and, of course, the cave. She explained that the Gîte was created by her family because they loved their town and wanted tourists, whether Moroccans or international tourists, to see the beauty and heart of this little town on the edge of the national park. By the end of the tour I mustered up enough courage and Moroccan Arabic to let this family know that their Gîte was now displayed on the new national park website. She grabbed my hand and shook it, not saying a word. However she put on a smile so vibrant, no ‘thank you’ would have compared. The Gîte was one of 50 other accommodations added to the ‘Where To Stay’ tab, yet it was more than anything that had ever been done to advertise their dream. I walked out with that smile engraved on the forefront of my mind, giving me the courage to pass my work on, but more importantly walking away with content that my service made that small amount of difference when there were no results yet to show.


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This entry was posted on December 6, 2013 by in Volunteer Related.
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