All the Waterworks

Dan Brown

A Greyshirt reflects on proud moments from his time responding to the Morocco earthquake, and how a water filter and tea with an elder nearly broke his composure.

My dad is an old movie buff. Some of my favorite times growing up were with him, watching classics during my formative years. So, as I walked into a hotel in Marrakech, I smiled, remembering how Peter O’Toole strolled out of the desert and into the British Officer’s Mess in “Lawrence of Arabia.” 

I was in Morocco as part of Team Rubicon’s response to the magnitude 6.8 magnitude earthquake that struck the Atlas Mountains at 11:11 p.m. local time on September 8, 2023. We were at the hotel for a WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) NGO cluster meeting. At that point, 12 of us Team Rubicon Greyshirts had been working in-country for a week—sleeping in tents in an olive farm an hour outside the city, working in the villages, talking with people, handing out solar lamps and Sawyer water filters, and testing local wells and streams for bacteria. I hadn’t showered in several days, and despite attempting to find my cleanest grey shirt for that important meeting in that swanky hotel, it was quite obvious to others that we did not have a room there.

Greyshirts inspect damage from the 2023 earthquake in Morocco.

We sat down in the conference room and, after some pleasantries, went around the horn. The first NGO said nonchalantly that they had been in-country for only a week and were still conducting assessments in a few villages. The next group said they had made some headway in making latrines but had issues disbursing them. A third stood up, said they were still looking for a local NGO to partner with, and asked if anyone had any leads. 

Then, my team leader stood up and put up a map of the region dotted with color-coded pins.

“Team Rubicon’s WASH team has been partnering with our local NGO friends Rawafid Insanya in the Chichaoua province, southwest of Marrakech. At this time, we have assessed 36 villages; 21 were deemed in need of, and requested, WASH training,” he explained. “We have distributed half of our supply of Sawyer water filters and solar lights and have a plan to distribute the rest. We also plan to supply villages with plastic sheeting to weatherproof their canvas tents to prepare for the rainy season.”

He then referenced the map and pointed out which villages had been assessed, which had been trained, and which we had planned to visit in the coming days to provide more training.

You could have heard one of those color-coded pins drop. While others were assessing, we had assessed. We had assessed and acted. We had gotten shit done. It would be my second proudest moment as a Greyshirt on that deployment.

Greyshirt Dan Brown tests water in Morocco during Team Rubicon’s 2023 earthquake response.

The proudest moment, the most fulfilling moment, was sitting and having a cup of tea with a village elder. We had come out to check on his village and the Sawyer filters we had given them and also to deliver some of that plastic sheeting. As the elder and I talked, I noticed a disassembled filter hanging from a nail on the wall. I wondered how that could be since we spent almost every night in camp assembling these sawyer filters in order to expedite training the next day.

“How did that one get delivered disassembled?” I thought.

So, I asked him if he needed any help with his filter and if he had used it yet. He replied in Berber to our interpreter, “Oh yes, I use it every day. This tea that we’re drinking is made with it.” 

He then took the filter off the wall and began to put it together, poured water from a pitcher into the gravity bag, and began running clean water through the filter into a glass. Then, he drank it.

I was speechless. Holding back tears, I thanked him for his time and hospitality and made my way to the truck to head down the mountain and on to the next village.

Greyshirts conduct WASH training in Morocco in 2023.
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