Sunday, 24 June 2007

bears repeating..

This was posted on the blog “View from Fez” back in September. Now that it is tourists season I think it bears repeating. It applies not only to Morocco.

Gifts from Abroad?
Our Social Reporter Lumen has been doing a little thinking about a recent post on Tripadvisor.

There’s a very informative travellers’ website dubbed ‘Get the truth. Then go’ called Tripadvisor ( When I’ve got time I like to browse the topics and will reply if I think I can contribute something to the Morocco pages. The other day an old chestnut of a question hit the pages:

Heading to Morocco with my wife this week from NYC. We were wondering if there was anything "western" we could bring with us- not to trade but to give away to those less fortunate. We are not wealthy by any means but not starving either.
We will be in Fez, Marrakech, and Agadir for about 10 days total.
I hope I don't sound pompous.....just trying to be nice.
Thanks for your help.

Now I seem to remember my son going off to Malawi many years ago, and they took old t-shirts and new bicycle tyres to give away where appropriate. But Malawi was then, and still is, a desperately poor, now AIDS-ravaged, third-world country where the people might benefit from something given in good heart by tourists visiting from rich, first-world countries, or in our case, visiting Malawi from South Africa, a better-off, developing country.

XYZ’s question worried me a lot and got me a-pondering. What was it that made me so uncomfortable with the concept?

After a lot of thought, I decided that I really don’t like the idea of rich Americans thinking that doling out something ‘western’ will ease the plight of people in Morocco. There’s an arrogance there that these poor unenlightened Muslims might benefit from something ‘western’ that a rich (or this case, not starving) New Yorker could bring to ease their lot.

While still in pondering mood, I went to Marjane at the weekend and looked around to find something that I couldn’t buy. It’s true, I have to admit, that I can’t find Marmite, at least not in Fez. That’s an English thing, I suppose. But I can find everything else that I could find in my own supermarket in my own home town.

In the end, it’s ignorance on XYZ’s part; he’s showing his total lack of education and knowledge of the world. Morocco isn’t a third-world country. It’s a developing country. Sure, there’s lots of poverty and people from ‘western’ countries could look upon a lot of it with pity in their hearts and wonder what they can do to alleviate the lot of the poor.

In the end, I advised XYZ that bringing himself and his wife to Morocco and spending their tourist dollars here would provide jobs and keep people in employment. I said he should bring smiles and an open mind.

However, someone from Devon in the UK had the opposite reaction. She suggested he should bring pens, pads of paper and MacDonalds toys to give out to the children who are less fortunate. This is a common idea, I’ve seen it from Burma to Nepal to India and is something that perpetuates the common cry of Moroccan children: ‘un dirham’ or ‘un stylo’; something that really grates on my nerves, particularly as most of the time the children don’t actually know what they’re saying. This Devon person even said in her amazingly paternalistic fashion – ‘their faces are a picture – not to be missed’. I don’t like it; if you really want to help children, then find a school and donate some funds or pens and paper for them.

In response to this nauseating suggestion, a wonderfully erudite (but to me, unknown) contributor by the name of Dysfunctional said, ‘How would you feel when Japanese tourists started handing out pens, pads of paper and Macdonalds toys to children in the streets of sunny Devon?’

My sentiments exactly.


Omega Mum said...

Post back and tell him I'd be glad to accept his US charity - we'd like one of those large, double-door US fridges, some oil, and maybe a guaranteed income until Francis gets a job. He doesn't even need to visit us. Job done.

lady macleod said...

omega mum

oh good thinking that! thank you for coming by.

debio said...

The naivete of the do-gooding tourist never fails to amaze. Do they think people have no dignity because they are poor or lacking western education?

Heaven help us!

omega mum, I shall endeavour to send you a barrel of oil when I have run away to a harem - you will not be forgotten!

lady macleod said...


I appreciate good intentions. I appreciate informed intentions more.

thank you for coming by.

KarenO said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
KarenO said...

Sorry about that delete comment, messed it up a bit *blush*

I share your sentiments on this issue Lady M. Had a nice chuckle there (albeit a bit sad!) about Dysfunctional's comment. The same people that want to hand out pens and toys in South Africa also still think there are elephants and lions running loose in our city streets. It's a strange world we live in, and I'm not talking about the animals! :)

About the poll on your blog, I wanted to choose more than one of your options! I try to answer the comments on my blog as often as possible; I leave comments on the blogs I visit when-I'm-not-on-my-way-out-the-door-standing-while-I'm-reading-yours-just-to-see-what-you-got-for-us-this-time; I check back on your response to my comments and I think Paris Hilton is like so out of fashion, mascara or not. ;) And oh yes, my cat would not be ignoring me forever if I adopt an aardvark!

Deep breath, end of this comment! :D

The Good Woman said...

Hi there Lady M.

While I agree that giving Mac D plastic toys to any child cannot really do much good, I am more hesitant to criticise 'do-gooding' tourists. Perhaps this is driven by my experience in Zambia - which faces similar problems to Malawi. When we had friends visiting and they asked if they could bring things we usually suggested that they decide on something when there and we would help them source it. For example, I took one couple with me to a local orphanage where I volunteered. They were struck by the incredible nappy requirement of the place and donated 100 cloth nappies which we bought at a local wholesaler. They knew where their gift had gone and how useful it would be. They also supported a local wholesaler!

Bringing a whole lot of useless tat to any country is a waste of time but I would stop short of suggesting that a desire to leave something of value in a country you have visited, particularly a poverty stricken country, is to be dismissed. Or judged.

I think the Americans got a poor rap in this post - their intentions were good, and they were seeking information.

lady macleod said...


I edited the Poll. I think it is clear now, you may choose as many as you like!
wonderful to see you, and thank you for coming by.

good woman

I see exactly what you mean. That is why I said above I appreciate good intentions, but I more appreciate informed intentions - which by the by sounds is the choice your friends, with your help,, made. My care is that we who know, spread the word there are ways to help, and how to find them. If all you do is donate to the economics of the country by buying up local creations like mad - that is a help. If you should choose to take the time to find a school, or renovation project to which to contribute all the better.

I do not dismiss nor mock good intentions, but neither do I endorse mindless bestowal of hand-outs.

I appreciate your thoughtful comment, and as always thank you for coming by.

taamarbuuta said...


This Dysfunctional you speak of is the creator of my blog and the creator of (the hotel search). You got me all excited that he had posted, but I can't find any new posts from him. Sadly, he hasn't posted on his blog or showed up on any forums since March, and I'm actually really worried about him.

dulwichmum said...

Oh dear Lady MacLeod,

You are so much more cosmopolitan than I (sigh). It seems as though I shall never leave the UK again, as my husband is obsessed with global warming. If it were not for the detail you provide me with, I would be living in complete darkness...

Mama Zen said...

"Informed good intentions-" classic! This is an excellent post.

lady macleod said...


oh dear, perhaps you could find out through The View From Fez? That is where I found the posting...or like many bloggers he was short term? I hope you find him.
thank you for coming by.


It is part of my goal in life, to be able to provide your life with a little more sparkle.
thank you for coming by, and letting me know i am needed.

mama zen

thank you and thank you for coming by.

Morocco Time said...

Dysfunctional isn't short term - he's been posting on the Thorn Tree for eons. His blog was off to a good start, but he had a bit of a dust up with some others in the Moroccan blogosphere about story sources, and I think it soured him on the whole thing.

Anyway, he's from the Netherlands, and knows a shocking amount about Morocco - I'll send him and email and see if everything's OK....

I Beatrice said...

Poor old Americans -they can never get it right, can they?

(The "Greeks bearing gifts" adage springs to mind here...)

And yes ok, it was ill-informed perhaps - but on the generous side of ill-informed, don't you think?

And you never know, the Moroccan children might actually enjoy receiving gifts from NYC? I know my grandkids wouldn't turn up their noses at it!

pluto said...

Great post!
They sound a couple of really nice Americans, and I reckon your advice to them was spot on. (And I bet they're sensitive enough to pick up your broader point.)

lady macleod said...

morocco time

good news there! please let us know he is fine. thank you for letting us know, and thank you for coming by.

i beatrice

i'm sure you are right that it was intended generous, i agree. the point of disagreement is that it is not generous or kind to teach (and make no mistake that is what occurs) children to beg for money or toys. it is generous and kind to make a contribution either to the economy (shopping) or to a private institution that will improve the lot of the entire city or country. it is a matter of attempting to inform people not insult them. i really can't imagine how a dirham for candy or a plastic toy will improve their life. i could be wrong, i always leave room for that; but how much better to contribute to their well being for the same cost?
thank you for coming by and for your comments.

monsieur mike said...

LM an excellent post and great discussion.

Certainly XYZ seem to have good intentions, to the point of taking the time to enquire about what to do. Fortunately you were able to point out that the intention was somewhat misguided.

I'm in agreement that a dirham for candy or a cheap plastic toy will in no way improve the lot or life of the children or the country. Not only does it teach them that it is acceptable to beg, but more dangerously sets up an expectation that tourist will and should provide these gifts. Further, setting up a cycle where begging is normal and acceptable has the potential to be very damaging as these kids grow older.

jmb said...

An interesting provacative post Lady M, but since I'm late to the party everything has been said. I do think XYZ's heart was in the right place, he just needed to have his consciousness raised.

Morocco Time said...

I haven't had a reply from Dys yet - now I'm getting worried as well!