Letter Home from Morocco

A Letter Home from students on the IHP Climate Change: The Politics of Food, Science, and Water program:

First Impressions (Kenya)

A view of the Moroccan coast greets me from my window seat on the plane. The sky is relatively clear, the sun blaring at me for the first time in 6 days. Buildings are spaced out among trees, farmland, rivers and dirt. I can see minuscule cars and donkey-pulled carts. We see slums in some parts and huge identical developments in other areas. In the airport, we wait for a long time in the baggage claim because several bags are missing. Once we get outside, everyone is loving the dry heat and the manicured foliage. Lunch is at the Center for Cross Cultural Learning. To get there, we walk no more than five minutes through the Medina, a giant 17th century maze, quiet and full of secrets. The CCCL is gorgeous, our breath taken away by the beauty of this place that we will call home for the next 28 days. It doesn’t seem to be long enough. Most of us are close to tears or something. Maybe the two days of travel is getting to us. Maybe this is just culture shock. Maybe this is what true gratitude looks like when exercised in tandem by 30 people. Whatever it is, the energy is palpable, smiles all around. We walk upstairs and we smell lunch before we see it. The food is delicious. We go to the roof to take in the city view then head back to the hotel to rest and prepare for the beach, a mere 5 minute walk. The whole time I am wondering how I ended up in such a beautiful place with such good friends, studying something that I love. I really could not imagine doing anything better. The Atlantic Ocean is fierce. Waves crash with a vengeance. There is a rock outcropping that considerably settles the waves down in one area. We chose this spot, Leah and I slightly nervous about being the only females on the beach. Can we wear bikinis? Can we even swim here? There is no one setting an example. We go for it, Matt joins us. The water seems cold at first touch but once you’re in, it’s perfect. We play for a while and then get dressed to watch the sunset. We are situated on the rock outcropping. The beach is on our left, a lighthouse right on the coast. Big, powerful waves crash menacingly on the beach, seagulls fly, locals fish, the sun sets right in the middle of the scene and the biggest waves break right next to the lighthouse, spouting tall jets of water every few minutes. We are standing in a postcard, ready to accept the challenge this new country presents.

In the Land of Sugar and Bread: Morocco (Kathy)

The two main things you need to know about Morocco are the two food groups: sugar and bread. At every single meal (and there are 4 meals: breakfast, lunch, tea, and dinner) sweet mint tea and khubz or bread will be served without fail. Bread is so prevalent because it is used as a utensil. Food is a huge part of the culture and the meals are varied and colorful from the cous cous to the pastilla (a Moroccan delicacy – a wrapped meal of candied chicken and almonds with powdered sugar and cinnamon on top). A typical Moroccan breakfast will consist of mint tea or coffee with crepes and jam and honey and laughing cow cheese and fruits or yogurt. Then the main meal of the day is lunch served with a Moroccan salad (salad with beets, tomatoes, carrots, and onions), harina (a bean soup) and then the main entrée which is usually a Tagine (a large triangular pot where lamb or chicken and vegetables are cooked and served) or kabobs and kefta (meatballs). An important rule about large tagines is to stay within your zone, so you only eat from the area directly in front of you. Then usually around 6 to 8pm a light tea will be served, usually with cookies and tea and more crepes and breads with jams and cheese. For dinner most households don’t eat until 10pm and sometimes not until 12am! Needless to say, many of us put on a few Moroccan pounds while living in Morocco. We were always encouraged to Kuli! Kuli! (Eat! Eat!) even though we were full!

Homestays (Rachel) 

Living in a homestay for a month, compared to 10 days in Vietnam, proved an invaluable experience, with both challenging and rewarding moments. We met our host families at the end of our second full day in Morocco, after a full day orientation and an hour introduction to homestays where we learned exactly what a “Turkish toilet” was. Another realization was that communication would be different from Vietnam since many families spoke little or no English and we clung to our “Survival Arabic” lessons. Most of us soon became used to a different understanding of personal space since most households had many members moving in and out constantly, oftentimes unclear as to who exactly was whom. Many students shared rooms with family members or did not have doors separating various rooms. Although this lack of privacy took some getting used to, it also allowed us to better integrate with family life. In my household we would get visits from our brothers, our father, and mother several times a day, even if just to say hello (conversation sometimes had trouble moving beyond this with members who did not speak English, and we tended to use many hand gestures and broken Arabic).

The setup of rooms is also very different since homes were set up so that people slept on intricately decorated couches lining the room. One morning I did not realize there was a person lying next to where I was eating breakfast until the blanket started moving and groaning. One wonderful part of the homestay was teatime. Besides being delicious, was also a great opportunity to spend time with the family, meet friends popping in, and play with adorable children. Our time with our families seemed to have flown by, and although there were certainly challenges during our stays, I very much wish we had had more time to spend with them, and I miss my family dearly now.

Site Visits (Hayley)

During our time in Morocco, we travelled to site visits all around the country. We visited many of ONEE’s facilities, including the National Office for Electricity and the National Dispatching Center in Casablanca, the Melloussa Wind Farm near Tangiers, and the Afourer Hydropower Station. These sites gave us a detailed overview of energy production and use in Morocco. We learned that Morocco is trying to meet its increasing energy demand using renewable resources. Morocco’s goal is to have 43% of its energy coming from renewable resources by 2020.  We were also able to visit the controlled landfill in Fes, run by the American company, ECOMED. At this landfill, methane is captured from the decaying waste using a series of perforated pipes and burned to create clean energy to light the street lamps in the city of Fes. Among our favorite site visits were those around the village of Ben Smim. We visited a dam that is being built to control flooding and provide water for irrigation in Ben Smim. We also visited the Ain Ifran Water Bottling Plant that gets its water from the same sources that will feed into the reservoir of that dam. One night during our stay in Ben Smim we exchanged presentations and ate dinner with students from Alakhawayn University in Ifrane. Among our other site visits were the Ras El Ma Fish Culture Station, the Justice and Development Party, and the National Institute for Agricultural Research. All of these site visits greatly contributed to our understanding of climate change in Morocco.

Ben Smim (Matt)

Our stay in the Mid-Atlas began upon our arrival at a guesthouse in Ben Smim on Sunday night, with a performance of traditional folk songs by young musicians.  The next morning we visited a group of engineers, who consulted us on the transformation from traditional irrigation to intensive cultivation methods. From there we travelled to a small dam, the Barrago Tlat Jamaa. The dam was almost finished and was intended to increase local irrigation as well as implement the government’s plan to price water consumption.  Ben Smim Bottling Company was next on the agenda. The plant represented a new incursion of the water industry, as well as a sizeable portion of the popular “Ain Ifrane” bottling production in Morocco. Lastly, we travelled to Al-Akawayan University, modeled after small, private American colleges. We discussed the prospects of and solutions to climate change in Morocco with students there. Luckily we had some downtime with the students, and some of us tossed a Frisbee and others listened to some musical performances. On day two, we visited the Ras El-Ma Fish Culture Station, which the government uses to actively control fish populations for local sport as well as research.  After that, we toured a waste disposal site and company outside of Fez. The facility is the first of its kind in Morocco and represents the prospect of using waste as a natural gas resource. Finally, after dinner, the manager of the guesthouse lectured us about local resistance to the privatization of water in Ben Smim. On day three, we left the guesthouse to visit the Afourer Dam, the second largest station in Africa. The purpose of the station is to store potential energy to meet demand at peak hours. The last night was spent at a comfortable ecolodge tucked in the mountains, with hot showers, incredible food, and ample stargazing opportunities. This night was a welcome chance for us all to relax, chill together, and reflect. Despite most of the group falling ill, the trip was an incredible window into the more rural areas of Morocco, as well as the actors at play. Despite the hectic schedule, we all found time to hang out between blocks. No rest for the weary!

Guest Lectures (Brittany)

We did a lot of traveling in Morocco for various site visits and excursions, but we also had some great guest lectures. Mr. Omar Radi was a leader of the February 20th, which was Morocco’s “Arab Spring”, and he explained the situation of Morocco during that time and up until today. We also saw a documentary on Morocco’s Arab Spring that his friend had made, called “My Makhzen and Me,” which opened all of our eyes to what happened in Morocco, since most world news media didn’t cover the country’s revolt. On one of our last days in Morocco, Mr. Taha Balafrej came in to talk to us about the personal side of climate change, relating everything we had been learning about back to the reality for individuals. A lot of his focus was on the inequality of carbon emission production, the varying responsibility the world has to deal with in mitigating and adapting to climate change, and what climate change looks like on an individual scale.

Vacations (Meron)

During our time in Morocco, we were lucky enough to have a few days off, and many of us used these days to explore areas all over Morocco. We had three breaks in all: one day off on our first weekend, a four day mid-fall session break, and another two days off on our last weekend in Morocco. Many of us had the opportunity to travel to places like the Sahara desert, Marrakech, Chefchaouen, Fez, Tangier, and more! People in the group were able to do things like ride camels through the Sahara during sunset, wander through the massive Fez medina, spend a day in the beautiful beach town of Essouira, and walk through the gorgeous blue painted streets in Chefchaouen. All of our travel and time off really gave us a chance to explore new cities and environments, learn more about one of our host countries, and create even more wonderful memories!

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