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Monday, January 31, 2011


Another bus trip down the Ziz Gorge to Er-Rachidia. I love it, looking down from the high windows of the Souq bus into the sea of Date Palms along the river. Nothing contrasts so brightly from the colors of the Sahara-side Atlas than that of green palm fronds and dark Oleander. It was sunset as I rode through, the sun was lighting the tops of the cliffs, setting the crumbling French watchtowers aflame with its golden light.

It was dark when the bus trundled into Er-Rachidia and I made the familiar walk through the dusty alleyways to an apartment where I have spent a great deal of time over the course of my service here. The volunteer who lived there had since left the country and been replaced by a new one, and several members of his Staging Group were there to greet me when I walked in.

After an evening spent with them, swapping stories and eating good food, I awoke the next morning to shafting sunlight and made my way out into the city to find breakfast while everyone slept. Not many people were moving this early; Er-Rachidia is never very busy in the daylight. The people here have learned to hide from the sun, a habit that continues even in the milder months of winter here.

I had a layered pastry for breakfast, chased by an avocado smoothie so thick that I had to eat it with a spoon. I was alone at my table on the balcony above the cafe, watching the people below me finish their breakfasts and working on a letter to my brother, who is in school in Seattle. Paying the waiter a few dirhams and offering my thanks, I walked back out into the sunlight. I went back past the market to another Cafe, this once named for my village, and went into the back garden to enjoy the towering green trees and listen to the birds singing unseen among their boughs. A puppy tottered among the tables begging for scraps and another snoozed in the sun beneath a table at the rear of the garden. Cats mewed from the rooftop of the cafe and everywhere was cool breeze and dappled sunlight. I sipped my coffee slowly and waited for my friend arrive, a Moroccan who I had been introduced to some months before by the volunteer now gone.

When I saw him in the doorway, I motioned him back and he sat with me for some time. We discussed our lives, and work, and ideas that we could collaborate on in the future. He is university educated and knows perfect english, and I enjoy spending time with him. After awhile, he left and I waited for another friend to meet me.


When she came into the cafe, I waved to her excitedly and she sat down. In the cities, women can sit in most cafes free from suspicion or ridicule. This is not the case in the rural areas like my village where even come female volunteers will not sit in the cafes for fear of attracting negative attention. My friend Malika grew up in Er-rachidia and her family still lives in the city. While in the states, I had picked up a computer power supply from a generous friend of mine to replace Malika’s which had been fried on the powerful electrical current found here. I know this all too well, having toted a pair of speakers all the way to Morocco only to have them sizzle and smoke and then die. It was not a good death.

I handed Malika the power supply and she thanked me and invited me to have tea with her family. I followed her as we walked across the city, across the dry riverbed and past the Muslim and Jewish cemeteries to an area of Er-Rachidia I had never before seen, passing between the cool cement houses, with the hot desert sun beating down on our heads, it was easy to forget the brutal cold of the village and the fact that it was January. We arrived in front of a beautiful home draped with crimson bougainvillea, and Malika ushered me into the cool interior of the house where I met her mother and sister.

Tea was soon served and, I confess, it was some of the best tea that I have yet tasted here in Morocco. It was not overly sugared and was flavored with a winter herb that Malika said was called merd’dduš. Almost all Moroccan tea has a base of black tea and sugar, but it is the herbs added that make them unique, and they change according to the seasons. Now, winter, was the time of merd’dduš and, up on the mountain, shiba which is a spicy green herb said to encourage warmth. In the summer the tea is flavored with cooling nana (mint) and it is this variation that makes Moroccan tea famous. Although I am a fan of flio (peppermint).

Accompanying the tea was a variety of delicious edibles, including mascota a moroccan cake, fresh bread (aġrum), fresh olive oil (ziit-ziitun), and locally rendered date syrup (tahaloute) which proved to be absolutely amazing. After a long time talking and laughing in both Tamazight and English, I got up to leave and Malika walked me to the door, but not before her mother put up a hand and walked into her bedroom, motioning for me to wait. She emerged clutching a small parcel to her chest which she handed to me smiling. I removed the plastic wrappings and found myself holding a small shallow bowl made of fossil-filled dark stone. It was beautiful.

I was speechless, a thousand things to say in English flowed through my head, but nothing came in Tam but a simple thank you. It was impossible to convey that this was likely the most meaningful gift I had received in Morocco. I stammered my thanks, several times, and then Malika led me out into the sunlight.

We parted ways at the main road and I walked along under the sun, retracing my route back across the dry riverbed and toward the part of the city that I knew. I drew plenty of stares as a tall, blond aromi (foreigner) was a bit of an anomaly, but I didn’t notice. After nearly a year in the fishbowl, standing out is just a simple fact of my life here.


That night I sat on the roof of the apartment building up among the satellite dishes watching the city come alive as people flooded out onto the streets for their evening shopping and socializing. Meanwhile I watched the sun setting crimson on the desert horizon and watched as scores of white egrets soared in from their daytime haunts along the River Ziz, searching for food among the palms. I sat for a long time and watched the city move and the stars come out. I smiled to myself thinking back over the 11 months I have spent here and realizing how much I love this place.

Thanks again for reading,