I talked in a previous post about arrogance; how easy it is to think that the way I’ve learned about the world, and how to take care of it, is the best way. When I first came here, I noticed the great deal of litter on the ground, and especially outside my house. That’s because throwing trash away on the ground is not as taboo in this community as it is in the U.S.
Currently, I divide my trash into two categories—food-related trash, which I throw away in an open area next to my house, and non-food-related trash, which I bring to my neighbor’s fire pit so they can burn it for hot water in their hamam (sauna). Food-related trash is often thrown away in a plastic bag—so now there is a giant, communal pile of plastic bags, mixed with food trash just a few yards from my front door (see photo).
Since there’s more trash on the ground in Sidi Bouzid, you might think that my community full of trashcans back home is much more environmentally friendly. Yet given this topic’s complexity and scale, it is impossible to measure the environmental impact of an entire community on just one singular practice. After all, are our giant landfills in the U.S. any better than the little trash piles outside my door?
Indeed, many argue that litter is not the real trash-related “villain” in the U.S.; instead, it is how much trash we are producing (we are one of the world’s leading trash generators). The anti-littering campaign that was so “successful” in the U.S. was actually started by the very manufacturers who were producing the non-refillable packaging that still contributes to 1/3 of our trash today. The campaign, called Keep American Beautiful, is meant to “rail against bad environmental habits on the part of individuals rather than businesses.” But personally, I produce by far less trash here in Sidi Bouzid than I did back home.
Practicing Over Preaching
As an individual in the U.S., I ended up supporting climate change in words but ignoring it in actions. If I did recycle or refrain from littering, it was out of social obligation more than individual care. Because there are “green,” “eco-friendly,” and “environmentally conscious” people who have taken ownership of the global warming problem, it was just as easy to quietly position myself outside of those labels.
In Sidi Bouzid, removed from politics but not from reality, those labels are absent; no one here walks around saying that they are going green or trying to reduce their environmental footprint. The hour-long Earth Day activity I did last year was the first thing anyone here had heard about the UN-sanctioned holiday.
Yet in Sidi Bouzid, people wash fewer dishes, because everyone eats from the same one. At parties, they always use glass cups and plates—never paper or plastic. If someone does use something plastic, it is washed and used again, never thrown away. From water bottles to ziplock bags, everything has a second use. I have barely ever seen anyone throw away empty packaging. And thanks to Morocco’s Zero Mika campaign, almost everyone brings reusable bags with them to go shopping. Lastly—and I will get pushback on this—using the hamam once a week uses far less water than your daily showers.
My Personal Consciousness
I am not saying that people in Sidi Bouzid are overall better at taking care of the environment than my community back home. Yet on a personal level, I feel my own consciousness and perspective on climate change shifting. In my white collar DC bubble, where every coffee shop, office, and mode of transport had heating, it was easy to take a passive, surface-level responsibility in preserving the environment. As an American who does not understand the exact science behind climate change, I could leave taking care of the environment to a small, dedicated group of passionate people.
Now, in my relatively rural site, thinking about the environment has become a necessity in daily life. Without heating, I have taken to sitting in front of an electric heater that Peace Corps bought me. Yet since my electricity bill multiplied by five this month, I need to become more judicious with my energy usage. Living in farmland, I hear about how the long summer hurt the olive season; I see the difference in the wheat fields when we don’t have rain for a month. I can only imagine how villages further south, not equipped for the snow, dealt with their first snowfall in fifty years.
I am seeing now that even though youth in Sidi Bouzid are not trying to go green, it may be more natural for them to think about their environment than for someone living in a city. It was easy to hide behind my class privilege, and the fact that I’m not a “science” person, to join the bandwagon verbally and absolve myself of more active responsibility. But just as fighting racism should not be the sole responsibility of People of Color, preserving the environment should not be the sole responsibility of those in more rural communities affected by climate change in the U.S. and around the world.
It is positive that caring for the environment is the “socially acceptable” thing to do back home. Yet during a time when my country is the only one in the world to reject the Paris Agreement on climate change, the President does not take the threat of climate change seriously, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is lifting regulations on carbon and clean water regulations, it is time for me to stop hiding behind my ignorance and start actually learning more about how to make myself and my own country greener.
And as my time as a PCV has shown me, the first steps to learning more are humility and critical thinking. Just because I don’t litter, does not mean I’m any better at taking care of the environment than my neighbors. And a Whole Foods reusable bag that says, “I love my home, planet earth” is no better than the cheaper, striped ones that people use here.
It’s safe to say that caring for the environment is a global, borderless issue that merits personal awareness and political action in every country and every community in the world. While this dangerous reality is universal, there is no one-size-fits-all way to be an environmental advocate; there are admirable practices and people doing their parts all over the world—including in Sidi Bouzid, Chichaoua and Washington, DC. That is why I’m learning, in Morocco in a village, how as an American in a city I can finally claim my individual responsibility towards caring for the planet.
My name is Julie, in Turkish it's Jülide. Right now I'm serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco, and I'll write my thoughts here!