MEDA Blog - Stories from the Field

What's the Attitude

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We went to Rabat on Saturday; what amazed me, after Casablanca, was how clean it seemed. There were still some parts that were less than beautiful, but the streets, the buildings, and the tourist sites were all really well-kept. Casablanca has grown on me a little, in the way that familiarity grows on you, but it's definitely a city in progress, trying to bridge that gap between community and progress, trying to find its character. The city itself is almost bipolar; shantytowns aside clothing stores, major fast-fashion chains on palm-lined boulevards only minutes from boarded-up storefronts, Africa's biggest "destination mall" in a city with crumbling infrastructure. I'm sure all of this is present in Rabat, but it seemed less stark, at least. We saw workers maintaining palm trees, the site of a new café on the waterfront. The royal mausoleum, where guards in full formal dress sat on horses. An art gallery, in the old casbah. * Work has been really great so far this week. We have a contingent of people here from MEDA Waterloo, and one of our staff from MEDA Egypt, and we are doing a clinic on a training that MEDA is developing for creating youth financial products with MFIs and other financial institutions. The idea is to teach staff how to effectively go through the product development cycle in order to offer targeted youth products, which benefits both the youth in question as well as the institution. I don't know much about training, so this has been really interesting to me. There are materials available from places like CGAP, but MEDA adds value to these kinds of trainings by having in-country networks, experts, and the focus on youth that many microfinance organizations lack. Going through all the presentations, both from the perspective of staff and the perspective of trainers and trainees, has been really helpful for me in learning more about MEDA's actual programs – which I know is going to help me do my job in impact assessment! I've really liked getting to know the team better. Also, it's been really nice to work in an English-speaking environment for a few days. * Left:The Royal MausoleumCenter: French protectorate=era achitectureRight: The main boulevard I feel myself changing as I'm here. Parts of me keep chipping away; I'm not sure if it's a good thing, yet, because I don't know what will replace them, but it's an intellectually interesting process. I think it comes from being continually challenged, by losing the context through which I had always defined myself. In Canada and the States, everything visible about me meant something to others, defined my role: My glasses, my hair, my gender, my name, my clothes all spoke to where I belonged – to whom I belonged, my friends and family, my country, my company. Here, those things are true too, but in a completely different way; here, they mean outsider. It's not a loss of internal identity so much as an absence of an external one, which in turn is challenging my internal identity. It's making me question how much of how I act was performative in North America, done because that's how I thought it should be done, and how much is integral to me as a person. It's not that I think of myself as a fake sort of person (actually, I am hilariously transparent most of the time), but I do think that knowing where your 'place' is in a society affects how you behave. In this case, I don't have any idea of where my place is – still – so I'm often at a loss.
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The Oriental Express 2.0

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I recently got to experience my first trip on the night train to Oujda, where the satellite office of MEDA Maroc is located. It is a 10 hour overnight trip from Casablanca to Oujda by train, which travels via Rabat, Fes and a few smaller stops before reaching the end of the line in Oujda, a mere 15 kms from the Algerian border, and 60 kms from the Mediterranean. Because it is the easternmost part of Morocco, this region is referred to as the Oriental region - hence the Oriental Express 2.0 title. Not the original, but not inaccurate!

Left: A mural near the Moulay Slimane Foundation centre for sustaining traditional arts I set off on my adventure in good company, one of the other interns from our office was heading up to Oujda along with her YEN supervisor who played a role in starting the impact assessment of the "100 hours to success" program MEDA Maroc has successfully been running since 2009. Other staff had already arrived in Oujda earlier in the week, while we were at the YEN clinic my co-intern co-organized, and the pilot of the impact assessment study was starting the following morning. We boarded the train in the dark - E. and I were lucky to be booked together into a compartment with a small couch to sit on between the beds, rather than the very tight bunk bed set-up in the adjacent compartments. Not to say there was a lot of room to stretch. I tried to get a decent night's sleep but I found the noise and the motion and the foreign-ness of the whole experience too distracting. I think I mostly cat-napped.

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In the Field: Meeting Clients, Practising my German





The past two weeks have been a flurry of activities throughout MEDA Maroc's offices, which was marked by visits from MEDA staff from Europe and Canada, a Monitoring & Evaluation Clinic organized by the two YEN interns in Morocco (Elena and Rémi, my fellow Canadians), a field trip to Tiflet and Rabat to meet with beneficiaries and partners, and a trip to our Oujda office for interviews and to observe the start of our impact assessment baseline survey. I'll start with the trip to Tiflet and Rabat, and write about the Oujda trip will be my next blog post.Tiflet and Rabat with MEDA Europe

Germans having lunch at Sqala, a Moroccan restaurantTo start off, two weeks ago, I spend Friday and Saturday assisting a small group of Germans engaged in MEDA activities in Europe tour Casablanca, Rabat and Tiflet. The group was led by the main MEDA Europe staffperson, my Communications supervisor, and a tour guide to translate from Arabic to German. We hired a bus to take us around, and late on Friday afternoon, after stopping to ask a dozen people for directions, we arrived at the Tiflet ARDI (one of our partner organizations) office, where the group was introduced to over a dozen beneficiaries of one of our financial services training programs.  We then visited the bakery of one of the beneficiaries, which he learned to better manage and thus make it more profitable, before heading back to Rabat for supper and a good night's rest.  Saturday saw us heading back to Tiflet (about 1 hour from Rabat, further inland) to visit the "kindergarten" and after-school program another client created after his training. The have approximately 50 kids benefiting from the program, from pre-school aged to high school aged children. We also got a magic show from a beneficiary who animates events and birthday parties.   Our next stop was a carpet store, where a brother and sister who took the training do some interesting business. The brother creates contemporary carpet designs, and sends them to women weavers in the area, who produce the carpets. The sister designs and makes clothing as well as household bamboo furniture. The two also source traditional Berber carpets, and sell them. I was very tempted to buy something, but I was too indecisive!    Left: Beneficiaries at the Tiflet ARDI office  Right: Some of the carpet designs the young man created        It was great to see what young people, my contemporaries, are able to do, and how they have created innovative ways to support themselves and their families. They're not rich - but they're not unemployed (unlike 30% of Moroccan youth aged 15-29 according to World Bank estimates) and they're doing something that they enjoy and is productive - that sounds like success! The Germans were very interested in the youths' businesses, and asked tons of questions. Unfortunately (and I must say for the first time really since coming here), I was the person who went around but understood very little - the kids and partners would speak Arabic, then the interpreter would directly translate into German. Since I only know a handful of Arabic, and I seem to have forgotten all the important words I once-upon-a-time knew from two semesters in Herr Schmidt's class, I mostly just followed along and asked for explanations from my co-worker when she was nearby. Since I talk to everyone here in French, I kept trying to ask the Germans questions in French - but mostly they spoke English as a second language, not French, which again was confusing. It felt very odd to be "that person," but the trip was very interesting and gave me a chance to meet youth who benefited from our trainings.  What I found really intriguing was the fact that, of the group of 11 Germans, several of the men had brought their teenaged children along. In fact 4 of the 11 were under the age of 20. One of the dads explained to be on the first day that they had brought them along because they thought it would a good chance for their kids to learn about the lives of youth in another country. To make them aware of the differences in daily life, work, education, life style, everything. For their part, the German teens were great: interested and engaged. They even swapped Facebook contact info with a number of the youth we met.  How many parents take their kids on trips like that? Where they see the end results of MEDA's work firsthand? Very few. Kudos to them for expanding their children's knowledge, while also being engaged enough to care how and where funding is spent (Some visitors were already MEDA donors).
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A Week of Firsts: La Corniche, Cooking, Oriental Dancing, Bstilla and Pétanque


"A whole new world Every turn a surprise With new horizons to pursue..." This week was an especially full week of firsts - I had my first trip to La Corniche, an area of Casa along the waterfront, I cooked my first real, acceptable dinner completely from scratch, I tried bstilla and found it delicious, and learned how to play Pétanque at a costume party in Maarif quartier.

La CornicheOn Wednesday evening, the staff of MEDA Maroc's Casablanca office went out for dinner, together with our colleagues from Waterloo, Washington and Cairo, who were all here to work on a training program we will be developing for microfinance institutions. I will elaborate more on this developing project in a separate post in the near future, as it extremely relevant and an exciting opportunity for MEDA in the MENA (Middle East North Africa) region, and in general. We went to an Italian restaurant on the ocean's edge in La Corniche, an area filled with restaurants, shopping and big houses. Popular with tourists. The restaurant was positioned between two swimming pools, a stone's throw away from the beach itself. The public can pay to spend a day at the club and the water is filtered salt water from the ocean. Good food, and great company.  On the way to La Corniche by taxi we passed through one of the shanty towns near the lighthouse which were juxtaposed by elegant restaurants with security at the entrances mere metres away. As we drove along the coast we watched the sun set. Pineapple and Pepper Chicken CookingI admit that most of my dinners after work have been pretty simple - sandwiches, bread and veggies, spaghetti with canned sauce or rotisserie chicken or chicken soup that my roommate and I make from the leftovers. While yes, that counts as cooking, I cooked my first creative dinner completely from scratch the other day, and had leftovers to enjoy later this week - chicken breasts with sautée peppers and pineapple. Yum! It feels good to cook something - but what I would give for an oven or a microwave! Oriental DancingFriday night, my friend and I tried oriental dancing at the gym a few blocks from my apartment. I managed to get us a trial class for free before deciding if it is somewhere Iwant to get a membership, and my friend was game. The instructor was very low-key, and not particularly vocal, but we had a lot of fun trying to duplicate what the other women were doing. Similar to belly dancing, there is a lot of lower body movement, hip action and wrist and arm rotations to go with the steps. A fun experience, and a very good workout. The ladies in the class were friendly. The only things we were missing were the jingly scarves everyone was wearing around their hips. BstillaI had to look this name up. While shopping for a few things yesterday with a friend, I bought a bstilla, a sort of chicken "pie" in layers of phyllo dough, and dusted with powdered sugar. The chicken (in researching this it says it could be pigeon - but I'm going to pretend I know for sure it was chicken) is seasoned with cinnamon, nutmeg and other spices, and raisins and something that was perhaps cabbage round it out. Whatever it was, it was filling, delicious, and only cost 5 Dirhams. I have my friend to thank as she pointed out the store where they sold these, along with shrimp filled pastries, sweet pastries, msemen, and other typical Moroccan bread items. I will have to look for these at one of my local shops.PétanqueSaturday night I attended an apéro, then an "M" themed costume party. I got better acquainted with more of the French interns who come to Casablanca on a similar, but much longer program than our CIDA internships. They general work here for 1-2 years. A few of these new friends introduced me to Pétanque, a very popular game from the South of France that is similar to lawn bowling. In teams of 2 or 3, you attempt to get your team's balls closest to the "cochonette" or "bouchon", a much smaller, wooden ball, that you first toss to the other end of the "terrain" (must be thrown 6-10 metres, in the sand). Kind of like curling, you can hit the other team's balls away from the cochonette, but you can also hit the cochonette and send it closer to your balls. You play ends, and calculate points the similar to curling. The team to reach 13 first wins. Lots of fun, and I scored some points! 
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Jet-lag and culture shock

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I think I'm finally recovering from my jet-lag! (Knock on wood.) Now that I've discovered white noise tracks that I can play on my iPod when I go to sleep (to drown out the street noise below!), I'm sleeping a lot better. Today was a holiday, so I slept in and took a nap. I'll have to relate my laundry adventure another time; suffice to say that the little portable washing machine here was not as intuitive as I initially assumed! I'm headed for another early night, which will be nice, since tomorrow at work should be a lot more intense than Monday! (Fortunately, it's a four-day weekend thanks to Eid and the King's birthday. Lots of time to look around Casa and catch up on sleep!) The culture shock is a little bit harder to deal with. I feel quite timid a lot of the time, which is not how I normally am; it's like I've suddenly become extremely shy. Partially, I think I don't want to offend anyone; I'm the newcomer, but it's hard to know what's acceptable. The other part is probably that being a foreigner attracts a lot of attention, and it can be super jarring to have someone yell after you on the street. One guy yelled, "Ça va?" (equivalent to "How are you?", or, in this context, "How you doin'?") after me for a full minute. It's definitely something I've encountered elsewhere, but because here it seems discriminate (that is, because I'm a foreigner, rather than just someone walking by a construction site in NYC), I think I'm finding it more jarring.

It's not just that everything is different; it's that, in this context, I'm different. What I thought was pretty decent French is appallingly insufficient, which has made me - even with English speakers - almost a mute. (My accent is bad, and theirs is indecipherable to me - not a good combination!) I don't know how to be polite; I don't know how to do anything, almost. Sometimes I've even felt nervous about leaving the house, which is so not me, and not reflective of the place I'm in, either - Casablanca is not a dangerous city. But between the language barrier, the stress of moving, jet lag, and adjusting to a new culture, I've felt like everything is out of control. So here's the truth: My French will improve, and my culture shock will get better. Everyone's does. From reading that MEDA sent me to my own research, it's just a necessary phase. I remember going through parts of it when I moved to Baltimore from Calgary, so it's no surprise that I'm feeling it moving from the East Coast to North Africa! The intensity has surprised me, but after a few weeks I'm slowly starting to get my bearings. (Hopefully they'll forgive me at work for doing my best impression of a silent data analyst... I'll stop stuttering eventually.) Here's what I've found the most helpful for combating culture shock: 1. Reach out. Reach out to your family, reach out to your friends. Write letters, Skype, send texts, Facebook - whatever. Some of the websites caution against relying too much on your 'old life' for support, but when I really need to feel grounded, my friends are the ones who provide that. (Love you guys!) 2. Don't hole up. It might be enticing to hide under the covers, but it only delays the inevitable. You will need food, water, diet Coke (if you're an addict like me), etc. Even if it's just for ten minutes, get out of your own space. Say hello to the shopkeepers. Keep your eyes up (unless you are on an uneven sidewalk - in which case, do not do what I did and sprain your ankle!). 3. Don't force it. You will have good days, like I had today, where you get into your project at work and talk to someone you love from home and feel great about the next six months. And you will also have bad days, like I had yesterday, where everything seems impossible. (The things you admit to on the internet... in my defense, I totally felt better afterward!) It's normal. From what I can tell, everyone experiences different levels of this, and nobody is immune from culture shock. It manifests differently for different people - I am prone to worrying, so obviously mine is manifesting in anxiety right now - but it's something that most people experience in different ways. 4. One day at a time. Instead of thinking about how bad you're going to feel for the next six months, focus on getting to the end of one single day. Not only does it prevent self-fulfilling prophecies - I'm miserable because I knew I was going to be miserable! - but it narrows your focus, which makes everything that seems huge and impossible seem smaller. 5. Perspective is important. Six months is nothing. I spent six months transitioning out of my last job! It's not that I want to dismiss this as being 'all in your head', but to some extent, if you're physically safe and your basic needs are provided for, then that knowledge can help to get you out of feeling insecure. 6. Read, read, read. Read everything you can about the culture you're in. A lot of websites suggest doing this before you leave - and that's a great idea - but doing so when you're there can also be really helpful. 7. Go easy on yourself. This is one I struggle with - I really felt like I was "failing" to adjust here, rather than going through the process of adjusting. Give yourself some room to make mistakes or just plain feel homesick, instead of viewing that as some kind of zero-sum loss. Let every day be as clean a slate as possible

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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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