Dar Si Hmad for Development, Education and Culture is an independent nonprofit organization founded in 2010 promoting local culture and sustainable initiatives through education and the integration of scientific ingenuity in Southwest Morocco. We operate North Africa's largest fog harvesting project, providing villages with access to potable water. Our Water School and Girls' E-Learning Programs build capacity in the Anti-Atlas Mountains. Through our Ethnographic Field School, researchers and students engage with local communities in Agadir, Sidi Ifni, and the rural Aït Baamrane region for meaningful cross-cultural exchange.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Interning at Dar Si Hmad: A Day in the Life

Join Jason Bono, a Seattle University student interning at Dar Si Hmad from January to March 2016, for a reflective journey of a 'typical' day with us.

Most mornings I wake up to the echoing sound of my alarm reverberating about my room and stretching out of my small window into the hollow center of the riad. It’s strange, hearing such a familiar – albeit jarring – sound in such an unfamiliar place. Even after nearly two months the cool tiled floor still feels strange under my bare feet. Switching on my phone and shaking a sock still covered in a thin layer of dust, I go through the messages of the night before. I can’t help but feel a gentle smile spread as I check through the messages; a heart emoji from mom, snapchats from former housemates of their night, a friend recommending yet another Beach Boys album. There’s a sense of longing there, the kind that you only really understand when you are separated by time as well as distance. It is surely one thing to be far from those you love, but to only be able to communicate with them in short bursts is another thing altogether. Another alarm rings impatiently. 7:15 on my phone. I scoop up my jacket and make for the hallway, then, quietly swinging open the thick wooden door I stumble outside.

IMG_0169.JPGThe sound of passing taxis and murmured conversation greet me as I make my way to the street. Pulling up my collar against the still surprising cold, I join the scattered groups of pedestrians making their way about this morning. Mothers with sleepy-eyed children in hand, old parka-clad men plodding slowly along, a group of young boys in Adidas laughing and chasing each other down the sidewalk. At the end of the street a man is sweeping in front of his hanout (a small corner store), and he turns slowly as I call out a broken “Sbah Lkhir”. Nodding, a kind face despite the morning chill, he makes his way behind the counter, and we dive into the usual conversation. My jumbled Darija – not aided in the least by morning grogginess – is met with an immense patience as we exchange niceties and then bread for a few coins. The warm loaf firmly in my hand, I smile and say goodbye as he waves and returns with a “Bislama”.
The whistling of a kettle, a peeled orange, a burnt tongue, a slammed door, and I’m on my way to the office. My flatmates and I, bags under our eyes and bags in our hands, scurry across the asphalt street and flag down a bright orange taxi. Sliding into our seats, the cab takes off, jumping right into the steady stream of pick-up trucks, motorbikes, and tinted cars that flow through the streets of Agadir. One of my housemates, in a much more elegant and structured Darija than my tongue can craft, enters into a quick conversation with the cab driver. They laugh and continue the exchange as a French news program fizzles from the radio, some chifre in Senegal, unemployment in España, a business report from Londres, and all the while my attention is drawn to the blurring scenery. Whipping around roundabouts, and whirring down streets, I still think this is the one part of Morocco that I won’t get used to. Hands gripped firmly on my bag, I turn to see my other flatmate, serenely looking out the window, completely accustomed to the morning race to the office.
Climbing up the stairs – with only a few complaints despite the early hour – we enter into the small office space and are immediately greeted by our coworkers. A “la bas” from a smiling face, shaking hands, “kolchi myzian”, bisous twice on each cheek, a fist bump, “bikhir”, and fluttering laughs fill the stale office air. I make sure to shake hands with everyone, exchanging the phrases I know and smiling and laughing at the ones I don’t. It’s often said that a place is defined by the people that inhabit it, in a way, the true recollection of every place we experience is simply a constellation of people. More than just a professional experience, this internship has been a people experience. Every morning I’m reminded of that, through kind words and clasped hands. I always thought when it came to working abroad in the non-profit sector that I would be driven by the beneficiaries. For me, however, doing what I can to support the passionate and hardworking people I greet every morning has been the drive of my work here. Rather than being a leader, living that fantasy that every student of development work has of jumping into the field, I’ve found a sense of fulfillment in humbling myself to the work of others.
The rest of the day follows in a steady stream of short meetings, data analysis, and writing. As much as I’d love to go on about the lessons I’ve learned about survey design and efficient data presentation, the thought that seems to reoccur is how different this work is from what I expected. You build up all these ideas about what NGO work is like. Going into the field, focus groups, deep conversation, easy to see change; when thinking about working abroad these are the things that drew me in. The reality is so much different. Most of what I do is office work – granted it is office work with a view of palm trees and distant sundrenched hills. Everything from email correspondence to moving equipment. In no way does this diminish the importance of the work I do, though, and I believe that this experience has proved to me that this kind of work so much more meaningful. Working every day in an office until the sun slowly paints the hills pink, I may not feel the immediate effects of what we do, but that isn’t the nature of this variety of developmental work. We focus on the long term, yearlong projects and incremental but sustainable change. Our work builds shwia bi shwia (little by little), small nudges contrasted to large pushes. It’s the kind of work that I can feel proud of just now, writing this, seeing how much the students I’ve worked with have changed or witnessing the plans for this years’ Water School coming to fruition. There is a wide range of non-profit work, with no experience being objectively better than the other if gone about in the right mindset. Broadening our perspective of how to help people, and how to measure our impact, can only make us and the work we do better.
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Around six o’clock, we slowly start saving documents, closing laptops, and packing up teaching materials. I sign out, make sure to lock all the doors, and scurry down the stairs – much easier on the way out due to a downward slope and the promise of home. My housemates and I walk back most nights, diving in and out of conversations about politics or travel or music. We walk abreast in the streets, filing then onto the sidewalk and into the steady pace of people coming back from work or school. The children are there on the street again, this time with a neon blue tricycle. The old man is laughing with his friends, huddled in a small shop. I stop by my friend at the hanout again, and he teaches me a few new words that I’ll hastily try to remember the next morning as I grab some vegetables and eggs. Sometimes we’ll go out for dinner, grabbing a quick quarter of chicken or even going all out at a Lebanese restaurant on the coast. Yet, the nights I like most are the ones spent in our small kitchen, the scent of soup and the soft sounds of guitar mingling with the smells and noises blowing in through our open windows. After talking and laughing and eating, we’ll slowly break off to each of our rooms. Closing the door behind me, I’ll send off a few messages expectant for the overnight responses, and with fatigue closing in, I get ready for bed. Climbing under the covers, I suddenly can’t help but feel a sense of calm belonging. I’ve gotten accustomed to these walls and friends surrounding me faster than I thought I would, and, setting my alarm for 7:00, I can’t help but feel a familiar smile spread across my face as I slowly fall asleep.