Privilege, Confusion, Miscommunication

New contributor Farrah Seucharan explores what it means (and what it doesn’t mean) when Westerners go east.


Farrah Seucharan is a student and freelance writer. 1 comment

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

In the film The Motorcycle Diaries, a young Che Guevara, adventuring across South America with his best friend Alberto Granado, comes across a copper mine in which hundreds of people are lined up looking for work. In an attempt to make an extra few dollars for their travels, they join the line, striking up a conversation with a poor young couple. After relaying their tale of persecution and starvation, they ask the young men why they are traveling; sensing that perhaps, they, too, are doing so to survive. Che, immediately recognizing his privilege, hesitantly and shamefully replies: “We travel just to travel”.

As a young woman starting her career in international development, I can certainly relate to young Che’s situation, and I know for a fact that many of my peers feel the same way. I am far from wealthy, but I’ve been university-educated in a Western country with a gracious social net, strong health care system, and a great record for women’s rights in comparison with the majority of the world. Yet this same education has made me curious about the developing world, and it is my goal to one day work in Morocco, as I’ve spent many years studying the nation. Firsthand experience seems to be the natural next step.

Of course, I am not the first to want to do so, and despite the legendary Moroccan hospitality, life can be downright hostile if you present yourself the wrong way – in other words, if you’re not a tourist. And why shouldn’t it be? Though large NGOs and “volunteer tourism” organizations are present and profitable in Morocco, the fact is that many ill-trained foreigners looking to move to there for paid work may be taking work away from a native Moroccan who desperately needs the money. Additionally, while it may not be easy for a Westerner to live and work in Morocco, it is even harder for a struggling Moroccan to secure a visa to Europe or North America simply to look for a job. In my experience, welcoming as they may be, Moroccans are quite wary of Westerners moving to their nation. They are willing to deal with the influx of tourists who choose to stay a week in Marrakech, but much less welcoming to the possibly naive Western immigrant who has exoticized their country. For all they know, this person may be wealthy and has better opportunities at home, but chose to come to Morocco to live out his or her camel-riding, Casablanca dreams – far from reality for most Moroccans. And after all, even in aid work, aren’t Moroccans more qualified to develop their country than any foreigner would be?

While it’s true that unfortunate and ignorant creatures do exist, there are a growing number of people who have pertinent skills, a healthy curiosity, and good intentions at heart. The problem is that misinformation exists on all levels and on both sides of the fence. As is often mentioned on this forum, Morocco is quite the shlada, and so one account of Moroccan life can differ greatly from another, regardless of whether the story comes from a Moroccan or Western mouth. Truth in communication is also lacking on both ends: each side wants to present their country in a favourable light, while failing to understand that what one person considers positive may not been seen as such by another. The need to be defensive can also arise, especially in terms of religion and culture. A Canadian may boast to his newly-immigrated Moroccan friend that Canada is an open, free, and understanding country; the Moroccan may not see it that way when his Canadian friends invite him out for a beer during the month of Ramadan. An American woman conversing with a female Moroccan exchange student may not realize that in parts of Morocco, some women are disempowered and illiterate, and will never have the chance to attain such education; in her Moroccan friend’s mind, this is not the case. It is scarcely any wonder, then, that so many Western-developed aid projects fail horribly, and take Moroccans down with them. Additionally, just as how some close-minded Westerners believe that immigrants will insult and degrade their country, there exist Moroccans who feel that their culture, religion, and beliefs will be eroded by Western immigrants with a pompous attitude who will eventually try to take power. It is indeed a personal affront to have an outsider come into your homeland and tell you what to do, if that is the case. Even worse may be the fact that arguments can arise among Moroccans themselves about whether or not the Western world really is better educated and more affluent, as this can create divisions about who should lead projects.

Thankfully, the world of development work is beginning to smarten up and realize that aid projects tend to work best when they are locally driven, run by not only development experts but by locals who can keep the project running long after their Western coworkers depart. However, keeping an open line of communication and lowering hostility is the key here. Privilege is relative, and does not have to be a bad thing – developing relationships and mutual understanding will lead to progress rather than exploitation. It is dangerous to let fear and anger become pervading emotions in any population, as it so often is when it comes to migration issues. While it is clear that migration laws take time to change, whether in North America, Europe, and Morocco, keeping lines of communication open and not treating Western workers as rich tourists will go a long way in terms of educating both sides. These days, knowledge travels quickly, but so does misinformation. Increased cooperation will simply make sure that the message is clear and complete.

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Posted on Thursday, July 29th, 2010

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One comment on “Privilege, Confusion, Miscommunication”

  1. thanks for this post. This made me think on the value of Patriotism. It is not a wonder why some of the Asian countries like Japan and China had improved their economy status and lifestyle because they believe on their own resources. They closed their country and rediscover their riches, utilize and polish it. Now we can see that they are experts in their culture and products.
    For the part of the Moroccans, insecurity is inevitable especially when the harsh push of fate is obvious. I guess they have the right to feel it. But everything is changing, and one will stay stagnant if he is unable to cope up the change. I would consider it a better idea if they learn to embrace the change and act in positive response to the current events.

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