Cut, Fit, Stitch: From Ourika to the OR
By Cyrena Matingou
We spent two days this week in the mountains of Ourika Valley on vast plots of land. On Tuesday, we were more engaged with the tree planting team, and I genuinely felt I was helping further HAF’s mission, but Monday presented me with an invaluable learning experience. Abdeljalil Ait Ali introduced us to the farmers working in the area and informed us that we would learn about the specific irrigation practice used on the plot of land and how fruit-bearing carob trees are produced. This was my first in-person exposure to farming, a vocation I knew required diligence and dedication, but the level of precision I saw on Monday’s trip amazed me.
When we reached the top of the hill where the trees were being planted, the terrain was rocky and dry, so the young carob and almond trees were hidden from my sight. It took the trained eye of the community partner to point out the holes with saplings in them, waiting to be watered and grafted. The farmer squatted down next to a carob tree and explained that it had grown for about three years without any fruit, an indicator that the plant was male. He then pulled out some branches cut from a female tree and a clunky handheld tool. At first glance, it reminded me of a can-opener, but I soon realized the purpose of the device. I squatted down in the dirt to get a better view, disregarding the cleanliness of the slacks I carefully laid out the night before. I noticed how the device pierced the plant as the cut was made and asked to take pictures of the tool to understand how it worked. I was enthralled as he removed a triangular piece of the branch then made a corresponding incision was made on a branch of the plant in the ground. The cuts were clean, and everyone in my group audibly “WOWWW”ed when he put and taped the two parts together; they fit like puzzle pieces.
When I first heard that we were grafting trees, my mind went back to my medical summer camp during high school when I learned about various surgical techniques and practiced dissecting pigs. Most people would say that being a surgeon is a job that requires more skill and attention than farming, and before this trip, I would have, too. However, the day in Ourika Valley opened my eyes to how trivial of a comparison this is. Surgery or farming? Spending the day in an operating room or in the intense Moroccan heat? Instead, it is more productive to consider the similarities between the occupations. Both require a skill set of physical stamina, attention to detail, long-term planning, and adaptability. A field of trees could flourish despite inadequate environmental conditions. A patient having undergone multiple unsuccessful surgeries could make a shocking recovery. Both rely heavily on careful forethought and monitoring of their practice but have elements of chance – or possibly miracles.
I’ve spent the majority of my life in an academic bubble. While eternally grateful for the gift of a formal education from primary school to university (and graduate school, Inshallah), I’ve realized that I comparatively have much less knowledge of life outside the classroom. Besides limiting the breadth of information I have access to, not having these experiences also prevents me from making connections between ideas and practices that span across different spheres of life. Despite learning about how plants can be manipulated to produce fruit in my introductory biology class, I would not have made the connection to surgery without examining the shears and seeing the care the farmer took when he placed the two branches together. Perhaps the most important similarity between these two fields is the ultimate goal to serve their community. While there are practical differences between these two fields, this is a unifying and leveling idea. Everything else falls away when you realize sustaining life is at the center of farming and surgery. Keeping this simple fact in mind will be crucial to grounding myself as I pursue a career in medicine by emphasizing that I should not value my hard work over someone else who is working towards a similar goal of serving those we care about.