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.