Marrakech, Morocco, is a place where you can charm snakes, ride camels, and work with local government officials to develop integrated solid waste management (SWM) plans; and I was fortunate to be able to do all three during a brief vacation last week. The snake charming and camel riding were my idea, while the training program was sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
I was contacted a few weeks ago by Laura Hagg, a colleague at the International City-County Management Association (ICMA) and asked if I would be interested in helping with some training that an EPA team planned to conduct in Marrakech. A member of the team had some health issues, and a last-minute replacement was needed to assist with the project. I have extensive experience as the volunteer of last resort; so I was willing, flattered, and pleased to be invited.
Morocco was new territory for me, although I have worked in several Arab countries and have developed a deep affection for most of the people and much of the culture in this part of the world. The streets and souks (markets) are vibrantly alive with people of all ages engaging in activities that tend to overwhelm me whenever I visit. The picture below shows me seated next to a snake charmer I stumbled across in the Jmal Fnaa Square, located in the heart of Marrakech’s old city, or medina. I really wasn’t involved in charming the snakes except for allowing a couple of harmless ones to be placed around my neck for picture taking. The snakes’ owners believed I should contribute about $40 for this privilege, but I was able to get away with a $2 contribution and no snake bites.
The real purpose of my visit, of course, was to participate in a five-day training session where I was asked to facilitate four sessions on developing an integrated SWM plan. I have never worked with a more engaged and thoughtful group of people than the 18 Moroccan officials who participated in the course. I was also fortunate to be the least part of an experienced team that included Francesca DiCosmo, the international program manager for EPA’s Region 3; Jeff Burke, the executive director of the National Pollution Prevention Roundtable; and Camille Heaton, an environmental scientist with RTI International. The experience reminded me how easy training can be when you are working with people who are eager to learn and enthusiastic about the subject.
Most of my time was spent in the training program, but I was able to take several long walks through Marrakech’s souks; and I made of point of taking an hour-long camel ride in the desert on the northern edge of the city. My camel was well-behaved, and I spent a fair amount of the ride trying to reassure the Canadian woman on the camel behind mine that she was not in any real danger.
I always find these trips refreshing because they renew my faith in people by reminding me that even when there are differences in language and cultural norms, we have more in common than we do issues that divide us. At a time when Albany is facing a number of divisive challenges, it’s important to remember the need to get along.