Back to Fes

Took another trip to Fes.  I won’t bore you with details, because this trip was mostly meetings on how to fill out volunteer survey forms, safety and medical information, you know, the usual.  I will say, though, that part of the time was spent reviewing our project ideas.  You guys probably all know about the glasses project by now – you know, the project where I ended up writing the princess of Morocco to get permission to partner with an organization for blind people.  I haven’t yet gotten a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on that, so I’m beginning to brainstorm “Plan F” or “G” or “H” or whatever version of trying to make this project happen we’re down to… maybe “Plan Z”?  You could say it’s temporarily on the back burner until I can find an association that will partner with me.

Instead, my new, ridiculous project plan is all about diabetes.  Modeling off of the recent success of our HIV/AIDs education project, I’m wanting to do something in my site that educates Moroccans about diabetes prevention.  I’ve been emailing around and contacted the International Diabetes Federation via the American Diabetes Association, and they are sending me a resource CD with diabetes information in Arabic, English, and French.  I’ll probably print that material to begin organizing a large booklet on diabetes that we can use during our workshop.  Right now, I’m envisioning the project happening over two days: the first day includes a morning lecture from a nurse to a group of fifty students.  The students will then be sent out with booklets before lunch to educate local hanut (store) owners about diabetes, leaving them with information packets.  The afternoon will then give students a chance to write skits and theater about diabetes and perform it to their peers.  Then, the next evening, we will invite members of the community to come to the youth center, where our youth will perform their skits and talents and educate the community about diabetes.

(I’m also sort of thinking about a tea time with artificial sweeteners replacing sugar.  But that’s turning into its own side project writing artificial sweetener companies, trying to figure out if sweeteners are available in my site or even in Morocco, etc.).

That said, diabetes is kind of a big deal here, and I don’t mean that in the Ron Burgandy kind of way.  I read somewhere that over 8% of the population of Morocco has Type II Diabetes (that’s over two million people in thirty million total), and that doesn’t begin to consider the number of people in a developing country who aren’t tested for diabetes.  Then, compare that figure with the 0.1% of the population infected with HIV.  It’s interesting, because gobs of money is thrown at HIV, which isn’t a bad thing – it’s something that needs to be addressed.  But given all the time Peace Corps tells us to focus on the needs of our community, it’s strange to me that I’m struggling to find information on diabetes projects volunteers have done in Morocco.  I shouldn’t feel like I’m starting from scratch here.

As for those numbers, I’m not sure if that’s because of the amount of bread Moroccans consume (instead of using forks and knives), or if it’s got something to do with the sweet, mint tea.  Maybe it has something to do with the fact that sugar is subsidized, cheap, and a typical gift at weddings and baby showers.  Whatever the reason, I think it’s safe to say that diabetes is the number one cause of death in Morocco.  So a project on diabetes is really important to me, and I’m hoping whatever information we develop for this project can be replicated by other volunteers after me.

So that was Fes.  I spent a healthy chunk of that time consuming delicious fruit salads with ice cream – perhaps my favorite thing about Fes (nevermind everything I just said about doing a project educating people on diabetes), and when it came time to leave, I caught a ride with Avery and his dad back to my site.  That’s actually a big part of what I wanted to talk about here, because it was a bit of a culture shock in some ways, and I kind of want to explore what I mean by that.

Transit in Morocco usually means a taxi with seven people crammed into it.  My “seat belt” is usually a matter of just being sandwiched between two heavyset Berber women.  In fact, I can’t remember the last time I wore a seat belt, let alone the last time I rode for several miles in a car comfortably.  Riding with Avery’s dad was a treat; there was even air conditioning.  Some part of me had forgotten that life is more comfortable when you have money, almost to the degree that it’s insulting to think about people in this world who do have enough money to enjoy even little things like that.  It’s like I had been conditioned to just think that seven people crammed into a taxi for four hours, backaches, and loud Chaabi music were completely normal.    When I get glimpses here that remind me what it’s like to be an American, I’m both thankful that I will have those… amenities… again, and I’m completely insulted by our lack of gratitude at the same time.  Our society demands more, is never happy with “normal,” and never thankful for what we have, no matter how many times or how many Thanksgivings we stand around a huge turkey and say we are grateful.  It almost makes me think that every American should be required to do something like Peace Corps or some mission opportunity where they are forced to come face-to-face with poverty or the developing world for a lengthy amount of time.  Trust me, it really puts a lot into perspective when you hear people complaining about the economy.  First World Problem.

And yet, in a bit of a hypocritical move, I write all of that less than a week away from a “much-needed” vacation to Portugal (even though the plane ticket was paid for, and I’m doing this trip incredibly cheaply).  I’ve been experiencing a bit of “site guilt” about my trip, as though I either haven’t done enough in my site to “earn” this or as though my language and integration aren’t at a level that I “deserve” it.  I keep telling myself and hoping that this will be the rejuvenating thing I need to dig in and work hard when I return.  That’s how I rationalize it to myself.

But the more I think about it, the more certain I am that I don’t deserve this.  None of us deserve most of the things we have or get to do as Americans.  But going to live with the poor and pretending I don’t have any money is probably equally insulting.  My friend here who is an English teacher recently explained to me how it bothers him how many Moroccans he knows who probably have the money and the means to live better than they are but they choose, instead, this simple “bumpkin” life (I think he might have actually even used the word “bumpkin”).  If we’re privileged, let’s live at our means and be honest about what we have, but at the same time, do so with gratitude and a willingness to share and help those in need.

So, I’ll go to Porto.  And I will eat bacon.  And I will walk around on a beautiful pebble beach and weave in and out old cobblestone alleyways.  And every second of it, every single little second of it, I’ll try to view it with gratitude and remember Morocco and why I’m there doing what I’m doing.

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