This blog is a personal publication and does not reflect the views or opinions of the US Peace Corps or US Government...

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Ouarzazate, Morocco

I am back in Ouarzazate; it is evening. The sun is down and the call to prayer echoed from the Mosques all over the city with the appearance of the first star of the night. The Islamic faith seems to place a lot of significance on the sky as the Calendar is lunar and the religious time is based on the stars. This is further exhibited by the necklaces and trinkets sold in the Souk (market) that are reproductions of a device used by Sahara Nomads to navigate by the stars. The Sahara is compared to the ocean and the caravans to ships navigation is similar; both deal with an endless horizon.

I have spent the last four days living with a Tamazigt Berber host family in the tiny village of Ayt Ghamat, a few miles outside of El'Klaa M'gouna, the fabled "city of roses". My host family is wonderful and take good care of me. Their language, the Tamazigt dialect, is completely different than Arabic and is exceptionally strange to my tongue. All of the sounds are made in the back of the throat and the pace is fast... Yet I am learning quickly, I am beginning to understand my family and they me; even after only a few days, I am comfortable around them. I sleep in my on Salon (sitting room) which has been set aside for my use, amenities are few (no running water for instance) but I am so well cared for that it doesn't matter. It's the little things; tea served with bread and olive oil whenever I arrive home, or a tiny steaming teapot of water outside my room in the mornings to wash my face and hands (this morning I used it to shower over the drain in the bathroom). Beautiful tortoiseshell cats join us in the Salon at meal times as we sit on the carpeted floor around a low, round table; chairs are unnecessary.

Strangely I don't miss running water or constant internet, and nothing about this culture has shocked me, although it has shocked some of my fellows. There are a few things that gave me pause, the Turkish toilet for instance, or eating Cous-cous with my hands. The toilet is probably the most foreign aspect for now, mine is a cement hole with two foot platforms to squat on. You always have to use sandals in the bathroom; (trust me, you don't want to wear your chacos) mine are a pair a bartered for in the middle of the Souk, they have Che Guevara on them (I don't know why). Showering with a teapot is somewhat strange too, but refreshing too.

The community is wonderful, it sits up on a hill above the Dades River and is walled in by the High-Atlas on one side and the Jbel Souhara on the other. The lowlands are all fields of wheat shoots bounded by flowering Almond trees and shimmering Olive trees. Aspens too, or at least what I think are Aspens, I have no plant guide and it drives me nuts. These fields have been worked for 2000 years, and the paths have been trodden by countless feet. In the midst of the lowlands rises an ancient Kasbah, a earthen fortress/city. It is ruined now, but some walls still stand at heights of over 6 stories and some rooms are still used by the locals for prayer. A tunnel runs beneath the castle to a pool bounded by Date palms that sway with the breeze that sends almond flowers spinning into the water from a nearby grove. This is an Oasis, a last bastion of green life before the hot, dry Sahara. This country is wonderful and mysterious; I look forward to the next two years, which will be over soon enough.


The Plunge

Marrakech, Morocco

Written on 03/06/2010

The past few days have been a whirlwind of activity and travel. I left Philly on Tuesday night at 7:01 pm eastern time and arrived at 7:40 am Greenwich Mean time, the local time in Casablanca. Thanks to a boost from a sleeping pill, I experienced no jet lag (thanks for the travel advice Dad!). From Casablanca, I boarded a bus to Marrakech with my fellow volunteers and enjoyed a sleepy 3 hour ride across a green and fertile countryside speckled with sheep, patchworked with fields, and punctuated by the sparkling minarets of the village mosques. The fields faded into a line of foothills and behind them loomed the Atlas Mountains.

Even growing up in the San Juans and working in the Teton Range in Wyoming, I was taken aback; they were massive. They loom over Marrakech like a breaking wave, a titanic barrier of rock, ice, and snow. Marrakech itself was my first taste of a Morrocan city, albeit a heavily touristed one (yes, there was an ad for “Mc Arabia”); the city is lovely. Every building is a rust color known as “Marrakech hamraa” that comes from the iron sediments in the soils used in the stucco. Our hotel was a complex of small bungalows and villas as well as some primary buildings around a large, still pool.

The grounds were very lush with many palm trees and blooming hibiscus flowers. Between the simultaneously informative and overwhelming training classes, we relaxed and socialized together; some of my new friends and I played Frisbee on the football (soccer) field.

We left Marrakech early the following morning and drove into the High Atlas, up the Tizi-n-tichka pass, in our buses. The road was serpentine enough that a couple of people in our bus got car-sick; happily, I was not among them. The city gave way to steep valleys dotted with tiny Berber villages which were bordered by terraced fields. The Atlas are quite rugged and their sheer scale and depth was incredible, Colorado prepared me for it somewhat, but was still unexpected. We stopped at the top of the pass for a breather and then continued down increasingly more arid valleys to the city Ouarzazate.

I have been in Ouarzazate for the past few days and have learned much about Moroccan culture climate and language, as well as gaining some small understanding of what I may be doing for the next 2 years. The whirlwind of community based training begins soon, and I move in with my host family on Sunday.