MEDA Blog - Stories from the Field

Another taste of Morocco

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Camel for Lunch

Three Saturdays ago, I went to explore Habbous, the new Medina area created by the French during the Protectorate in the 1920's, with my friend and her boyfriend who was visiting from Canada. We walked through Maarif in the general direction of Habbous, then up through a very local neighbourhood that included several butcher shops with huge chunks of raw meat (or indeed most of a cow) hanging in front of the shops. We also passed numerous flocks of 20 or so sheep every few streets. These had arrived all over the city about 10 days before Eid (October 26th), including a flock that was installed in the garage next to my apartment building.

This is because Eid-al-Adha is the Festival of Sacrifice - to commemorate Ibrahim (Abraham)'s willingness to sacrifice his son (with the son's permission) to God. As a reward for his faith, God switched out Abraham's son for a ram, so Muslims celebrate this event by sacrificing a sheep, goat or cow, and share the meat with neighbours, family, and supposedly the homeless as well (I didn't observe this but I did read about this). So this means, going out and selecting a ram for your family ahead of time from one of the flocks shepherds bring in to the city, and bringing it home a day or so before Eid. We're talking millions of sheep being sacrificed on a single day in Morocco, let alone across the Muslim world. In fact, half of the sheep in Morocco are slaughtered on this single day (according to the daily newspaper).

Back to Habbous - we finally took a taxi to get the rest of the way to Habbous as we were turned around from exploring this small Moroccan neighbourhood, and we promptly arrived about 10 minutes later. The walled area is clearly newer, and is next to a royal palace (always closed to the public), a park and a mosque. We browsed the shops, the olive souk (barrels and barrels of numerous varieties of olives), and continued to the area past the walls that is the only market where you can buy camel meat in Casablanca.  We bought it some ground camel meat (it is unclear whether it is mixed with beef or not) straight from one of a street of butchers - while we stood next to the furry head of said camel hanging from the awning, which was flanked by the camel's bare hump. Sorry - no photos of that! Then we walked around the corner, to a row of small "restaurants" that cook your meat for you, and serve it to you with cooked onions and tomatoes and bread. We had a couple pots of mint tea too. The meat was surprisingly good! You sit practically in the street, with the smoke from all these little restaurants blowing in your face. We then headed back through the market area and had a look at the carpets and clothing stalls before walking back to Twin Centre (a good 25 minute walk at least), through a nice neighbourhood and park.  Eid-al-AdhaSo, seeing all these sheep chilling out (AKA unknowingly awaiting their imminent deaths) on every second street, I figured the actual sacrifice on the feast day would be equally visual, possibly in the street (my street is filled with apartment buildings - where else would you do the act itself? I thought). Especially since entrepreneurial folks started selling charcoal, rope and knives, or knife-sharpening services, all over the place suddenly. Friday morning, Eid, was a holiday, so I woke up a bit later than usual, but to a much quieter street than usual. The "bah"ing I'd heard all week was gradually silenced, over the course of the morning, but not in an obvious way. It was raining as well. There were virtually no cars driving by on the busy road behind the building - I think it was the quietest I have ever heard Casablanca - even at night.  From my balcony I could see a couple sets of families up on the rooftop larger balconies off their apartments who were obviously going about the sacrifice business, although I couldn't see much looking up, but there were few people in the streets.  A co-worker invited me to come to her family's place in the late afternoon for the holiday, so I left my apartment just after 1:45 pm to try and locate a rare taxi. As I went past my building I saw families working on cutting up their sheep carcasses in the basement/parking garage of my building - aha, this is where they must be doing it! I also saw the carts of sheepskins that men were collecting, most people don't tan their own sheep skins anymore, they give them away. The taxi ride through Casa was eerie - very few people and very very few cars. The smoke from the charcoal fires used to cook the sheep heads on street corners wafted down the empty streets, making me think of an abandoned city in a war zone perhaps. The meal at my co-worker's was much more informal than I expected - I had visualized something akin to Thanksgiving or Easter - lots of family, lots of food. But we ate a late lunch of tripe, bread, onion-tomato salad and french fries, with tea and homemade cookies accompanied by fruit to round it off. I had to leave before supper was served in order to get back to my apartment on one of the last trains (within Casa) and I was a bit worried about the number of taxis that would be available. Perhaps supper is the larger meal with more dishes.  Those who know me well know that I'm a picky eater - I don't like or eat fish, seafood, sushi, hardly like eggs, and rarely eat weird things. There was even a year or so when the only meat I would eat was chicken. So I would like to congratulate myself for trying both camel meat and sheep tripe, within a week. I only managed one mouthful of tripe, and did not find it my liking, but I think it is likely something you have to grow up on to enjoy.
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Bon Appetit!


So one thing, everyone likes is food, right? If, for some weird reason you have no interest whatsoever in food, then by all means, feel free to skip this post.Anyways, to start off with, I knew coming to Morocco, that food would be different. I know they eat a lot of breads, I know they don't eat pork, but I never thought much about breakfast foods...Milk SnobIn my first few days in Casablanca, my roommate took me to the local equivalent of a mini-mart, where we get some staple supplies. She warned me about the cereal selection. Uh oh. I happen to really like cereal - I like to eat it every day in fact. We approached the cereal section and I am aghast - the main cereals to be found all have chocolate in the name...eek! But we're in a small store, so I brush it off and find some yogourt and some other items. Then we get to the dairy section, but I can't find a single carton of milk in the fridges...there is leben and another type of buttermilk-like dairy product people here drink but no ordinary pasteurized, homogenized cold milk. This could is a problem.Coming from a dairy farm, I know that bought milk will never taste like home milk since it has to be treated. I know this. I tolerate this, but I like my milk on cereal. Having bought milk in Europe, I never thought I wouldn't be able to get fresh milk at the store. The only milk to be found is UHT milk in cartons that look like juice tetra packs, and they aren't refrigerated until after opening. What IS this? I have never heard of UHT milk before, so I decided to avoid it until I knew how it could keep, unrefrigerated - to me that just sounded wrong. I went home to look it up.CerealSince avoiding the chocolate-coma cereal and shelf milk seemed like a good idea, I go with the flow and buy a "petit pain au chocolat" (Chocolate croissant) from the local bakery for breakfast each morning to go with some orange juice, and this is working out for me still (into week 3). Yum! The bakeries here are fantastic. Last weekend, we did another trip to the Acima, a larger grocery store, further away. This time I bought some Frosties (not Frosted Flakes, Frosties) which should be the French equivalent of Frosted Flakes since they are Kellogg's, have Tony the Tiger on the box and the packaging looks the same, right? Wrong. Along with the Frosties I bought some whole milk (it's either whole or skim), and have some for breakfast one morning in lieu of a croissant.The cereal doesn't taste the same. The "pétales" of corn (not "flocons") are different, texture- and size-wise. The milk also has a different, heavier taste to it. I'm not sure if it is the sweeteners from the cereal or the milk flavour, but something is TOO sweet. I've tried it again to see if I can pinpoint it, but I can't. Maybe trying the Special K equivalent next will be an improvement.Local cuisineA lovely entrance in Rabat's Oudaya KasbahBeing so close to Europe and as the 6th largest city on the continent (fun fact), Casablanca has considerable Western influences on the menus of local restaurants. In terms of Moroccan foods, I have tried a chicken couscous, their version of pizza (on a flatbread rather than a dough), and msemen with dried meat (kind of like a crepe). At a work lunch between meetings today we ate in a hotel restaurant, where they served a delicious lamb tagine with raisins and caramelized onions. I look forward to trying more dishes like this. I must say, the orange juice here is very good. None of the oranges I see in the market look particularly nice for eating, but the juice is sweet and smooth. I'm personally surprised not to see more clementines (all the ones we bought in Quebec came from Morocco!) but maybe it is not the season?

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Carb overload



Last night I had dinner with E., the other intern currently here (C. will be joining us in September!). It was iftar, the traditional meal breaking the fast at the end of each day of Ramadan. The food was delicious, but one thing that was different was the number of bread-based food items served to us in this enormous meal! Here's a picture of courses 3 and 4:

Pictured left: Course 3: Savory bread; course 4: dessert bread

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First week adventures: cockroaches, communications and coordination




First impressionsPictured left: This is the view of my street from my balconyI arrived just over a week ago in sunny Casablanca, and noticed a few things right away:-it is hot. We're talking 28-30 degrees Celsius on a daily basis. They're predicting 31 for this weekend. And the sun is brighter that I've ever seen it. On the walk to work at 9 a.m. it is high in the sky, and on the way home, it is blinding. I even got a bit of a sunburn on my 3rd day. There's only been one semi-cloudy day so far in 10 days, and it cleared out to allow the afternoon blinding to begin. -it is big. The city is 3 million people and you definitely can get lost if you're not paying attention. Luckily I live about a 7 minute walk from work, so that is an easy daily commute. We (myself and another MEDA intern) have a lovely large apartment, in a Moroccan neighbourhood (I think we are the only Westerners). But there is a market down the street and tons of local shops. You don't have to go far to get what you need, despite it being a huge city.-it can be smelly. With this heat, and that many people, there is a lot of garbage in the streets. Of course, that can create a certain aroma...They do collect it regularly, and there are street cleaners, but you appreciate your recycling and compost at home more when you don't have access to either. -there are feral cats! This might seem obvious to some people but I've seen dozens of cats all over the city. Not house cats, wild cats. A mother cat even gave birth in the hall in our office building. The kittens were adorable, but sadly, they had been displaced when we came in on Monday.

Pictured right: I walked to the Hassan II Mosque one evening, it is stunningCommunication Development Internship The whole reason I am in Casablanca for six months is to work as the Communication Development Intern with MEDA (Mennonite Economic Development Associates) Maroc office. I started on Monday, and they've been letting me get acclimatized, but I did learn what my tasks will be for the duration of the internship and they sound both challenging and fun. I'll be writing up financial success stories about youth that have participated in the YouthInvest program (3 per month) which will involve monthly trips to Oujda, where MEDA Maroc has a regional office, to interview youth. Did I mention it is a 10 hour train ride overnight to get there? It will be a great opportunity to travel and see more of the country. I'll also work on the English version of the newsletter, help with a study they will be doing, and help put together a document that details all of the financial services for youth in Morocco. This will be the biggest job to take on. I'll also help with additional communications work as needed, and help do some knowledge management for MEDA. CockroachesNow you want to know why I put cockroaches in the title. That's because, having never seen any before arriving in Morocco, I have now had to dispose of two of these intensely gross, huge, FAST bugs. The first was pretty dopey, so maybe it was on the way out anyways, but I helped him out by tossing him out the window. The second was much more creepy as I watched it race through our apartment living room and into the kitchen. Then, while I tried to figure out how to catch or kill it, it raced to our bathroom. Crouching under the sink with the cabinets open, I managed to stun/hit it several times with the dustpan before quickly scooping it up and flushing it down the toilet. No one warned me about cockroaches before I arrived. *Shudder*Coordination I am quickly getting settled in to life here in Morocco. Having a roommate who is also an intern has been really helpful - she arrived before me and has helped me learn and adapt quickly to the neighbourhood. The apartment is furnished but, for my own peace of mind, I bought sheets and a new pillow for my bed. I don't know where Moroccans buy their linens, but it definitely wasn't where I bought mine! The cost me 3 times what they would have in Canada! Oh, wal-mart, how I miss you! Everything else here is very cheap. A chocolate croissant (they love bread and it seems to be the staple of all meals) is only 3 dirhams (about 30 cents) and everything else (other than American bedsheets I suppose!) is similarly priced.Pictured left: The Hassan II Mosque from the seawall, it is one of the largest in the world, about 15 mins walk from the apartment

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What is it that you do, exactly?


I think everyone in international development has been asked that question, and almost everyone dreads it! People have an idea of aid work as handing out rations to starving children (usually the ones in those old school Sally Struthers commercials) while wearing khaki. The truth is, though, that there are a ton of different paths you can take in development. The one I've chosen is monitoring and evaluation, and the internship I'm currently doing is in impact assessment.Impact assessment is exactly what it sounds like: A way to evaluate whether a program is working as intended. It's part of the "Monitoring & Evaluation" (M&E) (and sometimes "Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning") umbrella. Though some development firms only include M&E as required by the terms of reference in their government contracts, many are moving toward more rigorous in-house methods in order to track and improve program effects. (Since the 2008 recession, government agencies like CIDA, DFID, and USAID are also requiring better M&E from bidders on grants and contracts, since M&E can improve program efficiency.)How can you tell if something's working? Well, in my case, data analysis is an essential part of impact assessment. The project I'm working on right now is an evaluation study of MEDA Maroc's training programs. These programs - most notably the 100 Hours to Success training course - are meant to improve youth access to financial services. In September last year, about a year into the program, they gave surveys to clients who had participated in training programs, asking about a range of topics the programs had covered, such as savings, loans, and employment. They also asked about how the clients and their families had changed in the last year; for example, had they bought a refrigerator? A car? Had their monthly household income increased? This kind of data, can tell us a lot about possible program effects.A lot of it is descriptive statistics - anyone who's ever taken a research method course knows the drill on that one! But you have to be smart about what you run; you can't just describe a couple of variables and get useful information. One of MEDA's particular focuses, for example, is gender; when you ask, "What did people think about this program?", you also want to know, "What did girls think about this program?" and, "Compared to boys, how did girls perceive this factor?" You want to know what girls in urban areas thought versus girls in rural areas; you want to disaggregate the data as much as possible so that you know as much as possible. Part of data analysis is turning over rocks in the data set, looking for results that are unexpected or interesting.(If you're super nerdy, like me, that's the fun part. Other than making beautiful graphs in Excel.)Numbers can tell you a lot, but you also need the other side of the coin - qualitative data in the form of open-ended questions, focus groups, and case studies. It's really important to get as much depth as possible; although I believe in the power of quantitative data for giving a big-picture overview of a population, I also think that letting clients speak for themselves, and offer suggestions and solutions that work for their lives, is an integral part of delivering sustainable development solutions. Mistakes aren't always as clean-cut as delivering spoiled food to a refugee population; sometimes, experience shows us that minor tweaks or additions can have a lasting impact on program effectiveness.Anyway, that's a little bit about my job! When we talk about statistics, just remember that they're only as good as the person doing them.Until next time...

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