July 20, 2003 - Glimpse Magazine: Imagining Reality by Jonathan Bringewatt and his wife, Becky, who were Peace Corps Volunteers in Morocco from 1999-2001.

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Morocco: Peace Corps Morocco : The Peace Corps in Morocco: July 20, 2003 - Glimpse Magazine: Imagining Reality by Jonathan Bringewatt and his wife, Becky, who were Peace Corps Volunteers in Morocco from 1999-2001.

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Imagining Reality by Jonathan Bringewatt and his wife, Becky, who were Peace Corps Volunteers in Morocco from 1999-2001.

Imagining Reality by Jonathan Bringewatt and his wife, Becky, who were Peace Corps Volunteers in Morocco from 1999-2001.

Imagining Reality MOROCCO
Reflections on Development
Jonathan Bringewatt >> To have and to hold...
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I had spent two days at another Peace Corps volunteer's site in the High Atlas, Morocco. He lived in a one-room house without electricity or running water. We collected water from a nearby natural spring. Isn't it strange that I should have to categorize the stream as "natural?" Perhaps that is a reflection of just how "urbanized" I was: down in the provincial capital, where I was living, I could access the internet and listen to the BBC before going to bed every night. The people in this village were farmers, growing wheat, corn, apples, and walnuts.

I went up to the village with two friends; we rode for four hours on top of a truckload of hay to get there. We traveled with four sheep and eight other men. We learned that binding sheep's feet for the ride doesn't keep them from shitting at will.

During our stay, the local religious leader gave us a warm welcome. We bought a sheep, which he in turn slaughtered. We ate roasted heart, stomach, and liver. On our way back to the volunteer's house to sleep, we heard a woman scream. We were startled, but were soon informed by a local that we shouldn't be alarmed. A woman's baby had died. It was to be expected. These things happen. I thought about the sheep we had just devoured, and I knew I wouldn't sleep well that night.

I had to return to the city before the others in order to teach my English classes. Unfortunately, I missed the truck going back out, and there wouldn't be another one for two days. Not wanting to miss my classes or worry my wife, Becky, as to my whereabouts, I pulled on my boots and hiked for seven hours through the Atlas to reach the nearest form of transportation. I destroyed my legs in the process, but it was worth it. Walking alone through the mountains, I felt like a man: wide open to the beauty around me.

When I returned to town, I encountered bad news. The knitting machine project that Becky and I had been working on with a local association had gone down the tubes. The machines had arrived from Casablanca and were 60% paid for, but they couldn't be delivered to the association. Apparently, some association members (all men, the same men who claimed to want to help the illiterate women in the community) had approached the vendor and asked him to give them televisions and VCRs instead of one of the machines. The vendor was an honest soul and told us what happened. We were disappointed and frustrated and angry. Perhaps we should have stuck to our English teaching duties alone.

One of the most difficult things I've ever done was to go to the next meeting of the association and announce our intentions to discontinue the project. I prepared a speech in Arabic with my tutor. I expected to be met with anger or ridicule, but instead my former friends in the association tried to convince me to continue with the project. After all, it wasn't fair to those who had nothing to do with the television incident. At this point, my tutor, who happened to be the secretary of the association, took over. He said that there was no recovering the lost trust and that they should be ashamed. Strangely, I was the one who felt nothing but shame.

I kept thinking about packing my bags and going home. I'd started a twelve-month countdown, marking off each day on the calendar. It was all just a bunch of time, shuffling back and forth from one foot to another. I continually questioned my role as an English teacher in the community. Why should my students learn English? I was sick of English! I wished that I could go to class and learn Arabic from my students instead.

It seemed that "development" was just a lot of politically motivated propaganda. The whole concept was a joke played on us and the people we were supposedly helping, a joke played on us by our so-called "developed" country: "first" world, "first" class, ha!

Human beings are basically resourceful folks who can take care of themselves and their communities as they see fit. Development is a lie we have been told and tell ourselves. I realized this after a ten-hour bus ride from Errachidia to Marrakesh. As we passed through towns and countryside, I realized that everything was fine, perfect, just as sufficient as American society, anyway. Perfection in imperfection.

I guess you could say that my idealist self had come crashing down to reality. After I dusted myself off, I decided to stay in Morocco. Why? I stayed for a hike in the Atlas, for a ride with a herd of sheep for traveling companions, for a meal and conversation with kind people. I stayed to finish the knitting machine project, a final experiment in "development," with another local association comprised of women only. I stayed to become friends with my students, friends with whom I still correspond today.

There is something eternally true about these experiences, as eternally true as you can get when talking about temporal existence. Governments, ministries, delegates, and functionaries do not contrive these experiences in the same way they invent our economies of power. These experiences have the flavor of reality, and this is, perhaps, what we fragmented Americans seek when we choose to live in another land. Despite the disappointments therein, I was granted opportunities unimaginable in the United States. Some were as simple as learning to fully appreciate a cup of hot tea.
Jonathan Bringewatt and his wife, Becky, were Peace Corps Volunteers in Morocco from 1999-2001. They currently reside in Denver, Colorado.

This article was a runner-up in the Glimpse Fall 2002 Writing Contest, "Fish Out of Water."

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Story Source: Glimpse Magazine

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Morocco; Development



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