Thursday, July 22, 2010

Old McDonald’s Had a Factory (eeyi eeyi oooh): Learning that time and money do not always have to be the focus... but for where I live they are.

As has been the case during this entire journey, I continuously find myself comparing various aspects of my home culture of the States to that of Morocco. Generally speaking, I have found a few experiences here to be less favorable than that of our Western society, and these times tend to be more comfort driven. Bathrooms would be a prime example. But more often than not I seem to gravitate towards a higher appreciation for some of the social structures I have experienced here in Morocco. That is not to say I find Morocco’s examples to be better. Rather, in this comparative mode of mine, I have looked to Morocco for a modeling of social constructs that I can utilize back in the States.

Yesterday my colleagues and I were led through the comprehensive maze of the medina (old town) here in Fez. After repeating ‘La, la, la’ (No, no, no) to the local children begging for a few durhams (money), our tour guide navigated us through a few of the 9,000 plus walkways that make up this specifically expansive medina, passing by literally a hundred shops, reminiscent of a swapmeet in Los Angeles, to which we arrived at what we found out is the biggest leather tannery in North Africa. This was not obvious at first, however. The very unassuming entrance we were lead to by our entertaining tour guide (whose name escapes me) was at the dead end of a walkway we eventually reached. Having sent a young man standing outside to prepare mint (I originally thought for tea), we walked in and were immediately greeted by a different young man who declared we follow him. He then lead us up what I imagined was a good 5 flights or so, to which the need for the mints was made glaringly clear. The stench of drying animal skin protruded the entire place and good whifs of the scented leaves did as good a job as any to offset that.

Upon reaching the top flight and walking past the vast amount of hand crafted leather products, was what can be described in my Western World lingo as a leather making factory. The problem with labeling it a factory, actually, is the fact that it is the exact antithesis to what we have come to know factories to be. The site was intense (which was obvious with the numerous 'Wows!' heard from my colleagues). Several flights below us were an endless amount of five-person-jacuzzi sized vats. I can only guess the total number of vats to be anywhere between 75 and 100. One half of the vats were a dark brown color with similarly colored liquid found within. The other, somehow a bright white container with a bluish-white tint to the liquid.

Our host, who was the second gentleman that welcomed us into the shop, began detailing the makeup of the tannery and the process that goes into manufacturing the leather products. He began to enlighten us on how the skin is cut and how the hair is removed from the skin using limestone by hand, I believe. He then explained that the leather was placed in the brown liquid tanks for several hours while the men found in them manipulated them to the needs of the process. The skin is treated once again to remove anything originally missed. It is then taken to the white vats, which are filled with naturally produced ammonia as well as other natural elements, where it sits for several more hours. They then use a product they extract from an animal (I do not recall which animal and what it is) that naturally removes the ammonia from the leather, which keeps it from irritating human skin. Our expert goes on further explaining how much more work goes into producing the amazing bags, shoes, wallets and the like that we found surrounding us. This didn’t include the artisans who hand craft the eventually treated hide.

All of this work by hand immediately struck me. The amount of patience one must have in order for this to be their manufacturing technique, and, moreover, what that reflects about the society itself was quite astonishing. The title of this blog refers to the McDonaldization, as it has been aptly named, of America and the individuals in it. It is clear that we live in a society where time, material, and money dictate the rhythm of the social structure. If the driving force here were strictly time and money, this process would have been obsolete long ago. Instead, it is the same process that has been used for centuries...CENTURIES. What does this mean in regards to the general fabric of this society versus ours?

My associate Ben gave a great demonstration of this argument today. When dining in the States, most of us are used to having our waiters in restaurants ready at a moment’s notice (to some degree). If they are not, we, in general, are quick to be frustrated about our service, even tipping them less as a consequence. Is that fair? Our waiters here in Morocco have been much less timely than we are used to in the States. Is that bad service? I don’t believe there is a black and white answer to that. Maybe it is. Or maybe here in Morocco, where time is not as much a factor, there is no need for hurrying. Maybe the patrons here are more into enjoying the moment and less into getting in and out. Though the business wants to make money (make no mistake, money has its importance here), maybe the business is not in a rush to get you out and the next paying customer in. In essence, what I have grown accustomed to in the States is NOT actually the only way, and that has been proven dramatically in my stay in Morocco, and even more so at the tannery here in Fez.

If asked, I would say I definitely wish we were much less time and money focused. I believe our acute attention on them single handedly attributes to much of the imbalance I see in our country, and the world. Our lack of focus on the human factor, and our exceedingly intense obsession with accruing as much as possible has done our people, and our planet, a disservice, to say the very least. With all of the goods we have accumulated, with all the technology we have developed, and with all of the resources and connections we maintain, it is blaringly clear that if you cannot produce some financial reason for why one should help you, a majority of the time you will not be helped. A general statement (as some of my commentary is), but no less actual.

Truthfully, though, it can be argued that it is our country's fierce (and often cruel) attention to time and money that has brought us to this position of having goods, technology, resources and comfort in abundance. How can one use the wind and the currents of the ocean to sail home, then get mad at those same forces if they destroy that home. It is not that simple, I know. But I am living in America, supporting its system, and, it can be reasoned, thriving in it, and thus, for me, the correlation fits. Again, I do not agree with our methods by no means, but my lifestyle is supporting it. Our Director Azeb reminds me that I am doing so in the periphery. Regardless, in my eyes, I am doing so.

One thing is evident, I have given myself/been given the opportunity to see life through a different lens. I am not exactly sure how I will respond to this, both ideologically and in a realistically applicative way. I am glad, though, that I have found something in life worth responding to.

P.S. I ended up giving a few durhams to one of the kids when we were leaving. It is hard not to.

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