Fulbright Hikayat 4: Eastman Johnson
My 15-month Fulbright tenure and research topic in Morocco was an accumulation of multiple obstacles, challenges, successes, and goals I had laid out before myself starting in 2012. It is almost impossible to discuss my Fulbright experience without first mentioning my experience with the U.S. Peace Corps (PC), since they both go hand-in-hand.
From 2014 to 2016, I served as a youth development Volunteer in Morocco and also simultaneously developed my master’s thesis project as a PC Master’s International student through the University of Cincinnati’s (UC) School of Planning.
The thesis project I created while in my small artisan community of Tameslouht involved designing a new pottery kiln powered by solid waste and methane gas. This project was developed in response to the town’s pottery kiln sector’s current methods of burning tires as fuel due to the lack of wood in the area.
When I returned to UC in the Fall of 2016 to finish my classes and write my thesis, I took my experience and knowledge to the College of Engineering to assemble and manage a capstone student team to help me design kiln prototypes while I took a pottery studio and also with remote guidance from the pottery cooperative in Tameslouht. After the school year successfully ended, I had four detailed conceptual kiln designs. I recently used these designs to create two small-scale prototype designs that will be built and tested soon.
As I was wrapping up my thesis, I realized that I needed more reliable data on the composition of the solid waste since it was nowhere to be found on the internet and none of my Moroccan friends knew exactly where to find it. This data is valuable for determining the tonnage of energy sources (paper and carton) we could use to power the kilns as well as supporting any other future recycling and waste reuse projects in the province. This is where Fulbright came into play.
28 months after serving the exact amount of time in PC, I found myself on a plane returning to Morocco to continue what I had started with the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. The first 6 months were spent studying Modern Standard Arabic in Meknes (2 months) and Rabat (4 months) with the Critical Language Enhancement Award (CLEA). Living with a host family in Meknes was slightly reminiscent of my 3-month pre-service language and culture training in PC since I had spent it in a small town called Agourai about 19.5 miles (31.5km) away. The main difference was that I was in an urban setting now, which was an interesting reverse Moroccan culture shock in itself compared to my past rural-living experiences as a Volunteer.
As I neared the end of the CLEA grant, my affiliate program, the High Atlas Foundation (HAF), along with the U.S. Department of State had just released a call for proposals for an “Environmental Challenge” grant. I contacted a Moroccan friend whom I had worked with on several past projects together to apply for this grant to perform environmental and sustainability workshops and also to incorporate a survey to collect the solid waste data that I needed. He agreed to submit the application under his association and we got to work.
I arrived to his apartment and we worked non-stop throughout the night to complete the entire application. We divided up the sections and I typed and proofed the application with most of the content coming from my Fulbright research grant proposal and master’s thesis, including the implementation plan. We both felt confident that we would get the $45,000 grant, and we did.
When March of 2019 arrived, I had completed my CLEA and was ready to begin my 9-month research period! I packed up my things and returned to my “Moroccan hometown” of Tameslouht, where I was met with open arms with multiple invites to dinner and long talks with old friends I would run into as I walked around town. It was if I had never left, the only difference was that my Darija was stronger (thanks to learning MSA during CLEA) and I had the financial means to carry out proper workshops and trainings around the province compared to the $280/month stipend I had in PC.
As workshop phases of the HAF grant were being implemented, I would contact my friend to send me the surveys I had provided. He said, “Yes, I’ll get back to later with these.” While I waited for my data, I continued to perform environmental education and project design management workshops around Morocco, I spoke at an engineering Doctorate colloquium at Cadi Ayyad University about my projects, I managed another UC capstone team to design a methane gas capturing system to place on the wastewater treatment facility in Tameslouht, had meetings with the International Agency for Water and Sanitation and the National Office of Electricity and Potable Water to discuss waste-to-energy reuse projects, did a workshop with CorpsAfrica Volunteers and assisted some of them with project proposals and development, and hosted three different summer exchange programs (CLC Morocco, AMIDEAST, and Morocco Exchange) in Tameslouht by organizing activities in the local neighborhoods, youth center, and orphanage. Needless to say, I kept myself busy.
I was running out of time and I expected the worst, so I looked for alternatives. I had already known that the Al Haouz province was creating a master plan to manage the household solid waste, so I contacted the Regional Directorate of Environment (RDE) for the Marrakech-Safi Region and arranged a meeting with the co-director. I wanted to see if I could access their information and if they could help with my current or future projects in any way. What I found was a very eager co-director that was excited to share anything and everything with me. He shared with me both reconnaissance reports (phases 1 and 2) for the master plan that was done by a private consulting firm. Each report was about 200 pages long and had all the data I needed to begin to extrapolate to determine the composition of solid waste not only in my originally proposed six areas, but for every town and city in the province.
When the time came for my friend’s association to do the HAF grant’s workshop in Tameslouht, I asked the facilitators if they had my surveys. They responded, “What surveys?” then proceeded to explain to me the implementation plan of the project. Months later, I was able to meet with my friend, where he gave me a stack of surveys reformatted from what I gave him and only for one city (his own) with most written in the same handwriting. I threw them away and moved on, creating my own database of solid waste in the province from the reports provided from RDE.
PC gave me the opportunity to explore what I truly wanted to pursue as a career and become completely acculturated in the community with basic understanding of how to navigate the society in the local context while also gaining working proficiency in the Moroccan Arabic dialect called Darija. In contrast, during my Fulbright, I was able to kick-off my career since I had the monetary means to move freely around the country to strengthen my connections and partnerships, learned the developmental processes required to implement projects by speaking directly with an array of location association, government agencies, and private businesses.
Currently, I am managing my own small American NGO/Moroccan association called Resilient Communities. We specialize in providing capacity-building workshops for local associations and we are working on implementing waste-to-energy technology and infrastructure in Moroccan communities growing quickly beyond their means. I am also a consultant for project monitoring and evaluation for CorpsAfrica, and I’m in the process of establishing a new model for rural development coupled with service-learning exchange through Glocal Impacts Services, LLC as their co-director.
Since I first arrived in Morocco in 2014, many things have happened that have grown me into the person and position that I am today, among all of the “bad” things that have happened, I simply take them as learning experiences to make myself better. As for the “good” things that have happened, there are far too many to count.