Tuesday, June 17, 2008

So That's What a Drought Looks Like...

I’ve talked to a lot of PCV’s from my stage who, in their first days at site, wondered just what work they had. They surveyed their community’s well-organized health center, irrigation canals, and active community organizations and doubted whether their village needed them at all. Wasn’t there someplace else they might be more helpful, more of use?

One of my pals, a health volunteer, wasn’t sure she’d have anything to do in her next two years. Her sbitar (health center) seemed well run and everyone she met maintained good health practices – what contribution could she make? We met for coffee last week, and where she first had her doubts, in the past month at her site she’s seen enough to know that there is, in fact, a mountain of work to be done.

She said her moment of revelation came when, ill herself and requesting bread and tea for dinner, her family presented her with misnmn and butter with milk, insisting it would cure her stomach ailments. Oh-ho. (Think of misnmn as a crepe, but deep-fried. It’s usually served with jelly and butter. Absolutely delicious, but the last thing you’d ever want on a weak stomach). After that she took real notice of community health assumptions – like mothers prescribing milk and eggs to treat their children’s diarrhea – and realized just how much she could do.

My moment came a few days ago. We learned in training that Morocco is in the throes of a major drought, one that has had real impact on the way people live. In CBT we interviewed community members who lamented the lack of water, but with running taps and lush fields it was hard to imagine times were really that tough. Here in the south the change in weather patterns over the past decade has been even more pronounced, though without hard data (and rather weak Tash), I had no idea just what sort of impact these changes may have had on my community.

I was at a neighbor’s house drinking tea when she offered to show me her family photo album. I paged through, smiling as I picked out familiar faces and homes. I came to a photo, maybe ten years old, of the family standing on the terrace in front of their house. Only this looked nothing like the terrace I walked that afternoon. It was green. Lush. With grass standing waist high. In the distance the mountainside I see every morning as I walk to the road, barren but for the occasional fruitless argan, was green with short grasses and shrub. I wasn’t smiling anymore.

As I left that evening I looked again at my town. Where I’d initially seen green fields I saw the stark demarcation between irrigated and non-irrigated crops. I saw dusty barren terraces cut into mountainsides. My first day here, thinking it impossible there was ever enough water to grow crops (pashaw, it’s the desert!), I assumed they were meant as a type of erosion or rockslide barrier. Now I knew otherwise. I even looked again at the dry riverbed – just how much water used to flow here? And when? Am I really assuming correctly that there’s a trickle in winter, or am I in for a surprise? I kicked a stone on the terrace outside the house. The breeze blew dust and sand out over the road. What the hell happened?

I still don’t know what I’m going to do here. I have a lot more to learn about my community before I can even think about project proposals. But that photo was my misnmn and milk.

Climate change sucks, yo.


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