Before I began my service here in Morocco, I was unaware that an entire village could hibernate. I mean, sure there’s Silverton that gets snowbound every winter and Lake City as well, but for the most part, American cities and towns just change activities. In Durango, kayaks are put away in the fall and swapped for skis and beacons, the climbing harnesses stay out but the medium changes from rock to ice. Or people go to Utah and claw their way up the sun warmed walls at Indian Creek.
My village, however, hibernates. I didn’t fully appreciate this until I had the pleasure of watching it begin to stir this past week. Shops are getting new awnings painted and the café owners are renovating to best accommodate the tourist rush that we all hope will come. Today, I went down to my favorite café, run by a host cousin of mine, and brought my hookah with me. We sat upstairs in his newly refurbished seating area and smoked the hookah and talked about various things, such as when I was planning on getting married (a frequent question here, in the marriage capital of the Atlas). As I sat with my tea glass in hand, I looked around at the newly painted walls depicting various scenes from around the region. To my right was the lush shores of Lake Tislit and the sweeping expanse of the Plateau du Lacs; before me was a scene from the annual wedding festival depicting fully decked out amaizighn and Tamazight. The women in the painting were depicted in wedding garb resplendent in tribal cloaks and colorful headscarves, both signifying their belonging the Ait Yaza and Ait Brahim, the two tribes that make up the Ait Haddidou. The men wore white jelabas and head coverings; behind them all loomed a towering Kasbah.
The painting that interested me most was that to my immediate right, of a moss shrouded waterfall. Cascade Agouni, the waterfall that I am currently writing grants and proposals to build a permanent trail to; anything to increase tourism. I have not yet seen it, though I will go up to survey it any day now with one of the local guides. I am sure I can find it myself, if you have been reading this regularly you know that I have been in far sticker situations in the wild Atlas, but I would prefer some company even if I have to speak Tamazight the entire day, an activity that wears me out far more than any physical exertion.
I went on my first run in a long while early this morning. The sun was not yet up and red dust still hung thick in the air from the recent Saharan sandstorm that howled around my house for three days prior (try sleeping through one of those, it ain’t easy). The snow was almost gone from the mountains and the fields were green with new wheat. I reached the end of my run and encountered a dog who woofed at me halfheartedly; I didn’t want to try him so I turned around. I’ll bring him some bread tomorrow and see how that goes. Dogs, like elected officials, accept bribes. The college (middle school) was free of kids since most of them are on holiday right now; Moroccan spring break and the remainder of the run was quiet except for a few confused farmers that jumped at the aromi (foreigner) that ran by them in sweatpants and a soccer jersey. Just wait till I start wearing shorts next month…
The poplars are beginning to leaf out and the willows along the river are drooping with innumerable grey catkins, birds are beginning to return and as I run by the stands of poplars Hoopoes hurl shrill warnings at my back. Sometimes if I am sitting in my study reading, with the windows open to let in the warm spring air, sparrows will perch on the ornate iron bars and chirp at me tentatively as if asking to be let in. Not that this is unheard of, in the house that I lived in down in the Dades Valley, a year ago now, I often shared my afternoon tea with a couple of small birds and several gorgeous calico cats.
Looking up at the mountains this afternoon, I realized that the snow is almost gone and suddenly I was back at the point in the seasons that I was first introduced to my high mountain village. I have come full circle and now I know what comes next. The gentle warm of Atlas summer, the glorious golden light of fall, and then once again a harrowing winter; I suppose it’s time for an encore. I have grown to love it here, and am loath to spend much time in my house anymore. If I am not walking in the mountains above the village, I am sitting in a café surrounded by Moroccan men and we talk about, well, everything. Projects are moving along slowly, but at least they exist. I am slated to start teaching at the secondary school next month, and have a few other things going as well.
A few days ago, I also got to work in the fields for the first time. I loved it. I accompanied a friend of mine to his fields in the shadow of the rock fin that houses the Qaida and he taught me the finer points of irrigation. We diverted ditches and watched as the water rushed around the tender young wheat shoots. It was a beautiful morning and I went home to lunch thoroughly muddy and satisfied. My friend Ali has told me recently that he would teach me about farming in his fields as well. He has apple orchards and I can’t wait to learn about their upkeep and management, not to mention snag a few apples in the fall to make apple butter with.
I am finally reaching the point that I am fully comfortable in my village, and reaching it makes me realize how uncomfortable I was initially. It was incredibly intimidating being here all alone, with barely function language surrounded by people that were different from me in so many ways. It’s hard to describe how one can feel alone surrounded by people, but I assure you it’s possible.
A friend of mine recently commented that I was having an easy time over here because all my blog entries are so positive and “uplifting”. I know this is true and the reason behind it was that I didn’t think anybody wanted to hear me complain. So, in attempt to bridge this gap in communication with you all, I will now try to convey some of the difficulties I have experienced throughout my service. This is not complaining, please understand, but a matter of fact reality check.
First and foremost, is language. Imagine having communication taken away from you and then having to learn it all over again. Speech, hand gestures, and even etiquette. I was suddenly in a place where I couldn’t use my left hand for much of anything in public, since that is the hand people use to clean up after a visit to the bathroom. I have even been shamed by an old man who saw me writing with my left hand while sitting in a café! The language has been incredibly tough, Tamazight berber is even more difficult than Arabic, and little is actually written town about it. Not to mention it changes every fifty miles or so.
The second hurdle vies for dominance with the first and that is illness. Not many people realize that I was sick for the first seven months in Morocco! I wrote about my brush with Typhoid last year, but otherwise I haven’t really mentioned it. Well, I will now: I have had at least 4 intestinal infections and 3 different parasites, I have been or more medications taken in tandem than I have ever before had to consume, and happily, got over it six months ago. I have been well ever since then. The last parasite that I had back in October was never identified, and the Peace Corps medical staff and I simply called it “The Kraken”. It took three days of the pharmaceutical equivalent of a hydrogen bomb to slay it. I can take one more round of that medication this year if need be, but no more than that due to its other damaging effects.
Third hurdle: isolation. I have been alone more in the past year than I have ever before. I got a lot of reading done I suppose, and am more in tune with myself than I have ever been. But there were days, sometimes weeks, that went by when I really needed a friend to talk to (in ENGLISH) and had no one to turn to. My neighboring volunteers have been amazing. We really look out for eachother and are willing to drop what we’re doing to go nurse someone that’s sick, or to cook them dinner if they’re in a funk. We are all in this together.
So, there are other things as well, and they vary from day to day; even easy days here are more difficult than being back in America. But those are the three big ones, and I hope they clarify for you “why this is the toughest job I’ll ever love”
Happy spring, and thanks for reading,