The “Development” Factor (1)

The magic of Morocco

                I remember my last week in Belgium, just a couple of years ago, I was sitting on a taxi, crossing through one the unmistakable traffic jams of the European capital lost on my thoughts when the Taxi driver suddenly broke the silence by asking me if I was living in Belgium or just visiting. I just answered him I was living there but not for long, not interested on telling the whole story about the reason why I was leaving.  Then, I was just shocked by his next words: “I’m happy you are not staying here for long, in Europe there is no future”. I just started wondering why this man, someone that had apparently been hosted in Europe and managed to have a decent way of earning his life, was so negative.

                It just took me a couple of days to realize that was not a single case, what this man told me summarized the whole state of mind of the European citizen deepened with pesimism. The word “crisis”, “fear” was just part of this contagious illness spreading out without borders. At that moment, I just decided I wanted to be outside the “bubble”, at least temporarily, to appreciate the real dimension of the problem.  Since Europe couldn’t offer me that, I focused all my interest on having an experience “in the field” in a developing country in order to have a vision from outside the box.

                Two years later, here I am in Morocco, next week, it’s going to be my fifth month on this country and I can’t be more thankful. The experience I am getting here is not only about learning from other cultures or discovering the hidden treasures of this wonder land along with all its problems, but it’s basically about adapting myself to a different way of living than no other developed country could have offered me.  Since It’s hard to summarize on a single word all I have learnt so far, I just decided to create one expression based on the incredible book of John Carlin: “The Human factor”, I would call it the “Development” Factor. The Development factor just represents a combination of all those biased views, that altogether make you part of this abstract concept called the “First World”. In this first article I will talk about how I have learned to deal with those feelings. The second part will be based on other examples and the possible drawbacks of getting used to that.

  1. The incapacity to deal with the unpredictable:

                Well, that might sound pretty obvious, but in Europe unpredictability is associated with risk, and despite all this pro-entrepreneurship propaganda over and over again on social media, the truth is still there: If you have the choice, nobody wants to deal with the unpredictable. In a country like Morocco, where the average salary is around 300 Euros/month with no social insurance and hardly any social services, you can’t even have that choice. The famous motto “live the present, because nobody knows what is going to happen tomorrow” takes here a much more dramatic meaning. I remember asking myself when I was a kid, why that many Moroccans took the car to go back home in summer, it took me time to realize the sacrifice of paying an “airplane ticket” for much more than 100 Euros in many cases, something in Europe we wouldn’t even consider with the hard competition among “low-cost” airlines.  The importance of health is another factor, when you take into consideration that the cost of a medical treatment can reach half of the whole salary you get for a month. Therefore, going to the hospital is only done on extreme cases, and basic cares are not always known by most of the population. In that case, we were more than pleased to finance the treatment of the woman working with us.

               The same can be said in a positive way. When visiting Tetuan, I had been told this city was known for drug dealers and the revolutionary spirit of "Rif" Region. Tetuan was much more than that, a city full a history with the incredible legacy of "moriscos" andalusi art. as the landlord of our Riad told us: "Every spanish city has a quarter called Tetuan, but nobody knows where Tetuan really is". The possibility to attend a concert in the middle of the Medina with our friend Mohammed without even expecting it was certainly a unique experience. 

Moroccan Ftor "Brunch". A great way of wasting your time.

     2. There is nothing worse than wasting your time:

                The time concept is really relative and it varies according to each culture. From a “westerner” point of view, time which is non productive, it’s wasted. As a consequence, wasting your time is not only something you must avoid by all means but it’s also economically counterproductive. The equation that Time=Money is not exactly like that in every country. I still remember one of the commercial agenda I prepared for a Spanish company visiting Morocco.  Two weeks before the date, they were anxious about the final outcome of the meetings: “You know, I think you need to rush, there are only 5 meetings and just 10 days left”. In order to reduce the rising panic, I just told them than in Morocco, there is no way to plan anything in advance, so they would need to wait until the very last day to have all the meetings confirmed.
                  When the date arrived, I noticed they were a bit disappointed and complained about the lack of time to prepare the meetings”, I couldn’t do anything but wish them the best luck for the Agenda. During their stay, two meetings were cancelled due to unpredicted “business travel”, two were added due to a sudden interest coming out of the blue, and two had to be rescheduled just an hour before the set time. That experience just showed them that they couldn’t handle this market just as if they were in Germany and next time, they would definitely come to Morocco with another approach.  

The same happened in a local bar, after having a delicious brunch at 1 PM in a sunny terrace and waiting for the bill to come for more than two hours. After several times asking for it, the waiter finally came and said “Well you need to go the counter and it’s Sunday man, What else would you like to do?” In that situation, any complain would have been useless, it was just a matter of perception; they didn’t think we were in a hurry.

Conference on Smart cities and Marque Maroc
3. Small achievements for you can be huge for someone else:

                Since I have been in Morocco, I have learned to put everything “into context”, meaning the standard you might use to criticise something that is not working in your own country can’t be done in the same way here.  For example, I did notice, especially among expats,  (yes a smart way to call white immigrants”) a certain trend that consisted of complaining about everything such as traffic, recycling, education or even religion as long as it doesn’t meet our European standards. However something that doesn’t work according to European standards can be a “work in process” according to local standards.  
A couple of weeks ago, I attended a seminar on smart cities, and  someone responsible for the local government talked about the massive investment that had been carried out in the last five years in order to promote E-Administration.

                One of the main successful projects was the existence since 2015 of the first online service to have a doctor appointment online. That would reduce the time spent on long queues and fight against existing corruption. I had the thought.”Well, that’s not such a big achievement; in Europe we have had that for the last 20 years”. But I was absolutely wrong, and didn’t seize the importance of this change. The same happened with a local school that offered in his advertisement for next year that for the first time, they would offer “private transportation” for all his students making possible to bring all the kids back home after classes.

                All those experiences just showed me why sometimes it’s important to change your glasses when you go somewhere else, and the “development” factor can usually be an inconvenient if you don’t place things into context. That was just the first part of the article, on the next one I will keep describing some of those situations and analyse the possible drawbacks.

                ¿What are your experiences on that? I am looking forward to hear from you all:

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