It’s the coldest night so far this winter in the High Atlas and the stars themselves seem frozen in place as my friend “Moha” and I walk back to the village center from his family’s house on the hill. The trees along the river are bare and silver by the starlight, and the snow on the mountains seems to glow with an ethereal light. Our breath spreads out before us in clouds as we pass beneath a streetlight, and turn onto the deserted main street. Nearly all the cafés are closed at this hour, save for a few that cast slabs of light out onto the night-dark pavement. I sigh slightly, thinking of the cold (it’s only gonna get colder) and of the five months that remain of my time here.
I have been here for twenty-one months. According to the tally in my journal, this is approximately 642 days. As I have said before in this blog, the longest I had lived away from home, prior to Peace Corps, was about seven months when I was working off of the coast in North Carolina. 642 days; this is a long time. I consider my home in the Southwest to be nothing short of paradise (not exaggerating). When I close my eyes I can still see endless ranges of snow-capped peaks festooned with dark forests of evergreen and carpeted with nodding summer wildflowers. Trout leap in the streams and cougars stalk the night-haunted forests. Farther west, canyons brood in perfect red silence, a shining ribbon of water along their bottom the only movements save for the gentle sighing of a few luminously green cottonwood trees. The mountains lavish and fecund with life, the deserts spare and perfectly balanced; beautiful opposites they are yin and yang. The Navajos call it hozho, harmony, and if you sit still long enough in my Southwest, you will feel it seeping into your very bones.
Morocco is beautiful as well, stunningly so, but the balance is broken; the scales are tipped. It manifests in my psyche as a vague tiredness, a heaviness. I still find joy in my day-to-day life here, I still love my friends and host family, but when five months is up, I will be ready to go. For now, it’s time to enjoy my last Atlas winter, so I turn my thoughts to something else. I think back on the past hour spent with Moha in his house.
Turns out that my friend is one of the only people here in the valley that has internet and I desperately needed to check my email; I had some important stuff coming in. It took awhile as I had to learn to navigate the French keyboard and menus, and the welcome interruption of Moha’s large, exuberant mother (my host-auntie) who came in to fuss over me and ply me with tea and food.
Our teeth were chattering by the time we got to my street, and Moha bade me goodnight before for going off to a café. I continued the additional hundred feet to my front door, numb from head to toe, and could barely turn the key in the lock. I tromped coldly up the stairs, trying not to trip over my frozen feet, and made my way into the study. The woodstove I had made for me last year sat sadly in the corner, grey with dust and rust-spotted from a leak near the pipe. That sight was normal to me, but next to it… was wood.
Wood is rather difficult to acquire in the Eastern High Atlas, an area that has been deforested for close to three hundred years. It is trucked in from afar, or poached from the National Park; I try not to ask which at this point. A friend of mine in the village, “Mehdi”, had been trying to sell me firewood since the summer, and I finally acquiesced to his frequent requests last month. It had been awhile since then, and neither of us could seem to get a date nailed down to do it. As of this writing, it’s still not entirely done (we’re chainsawing the large pieces down to size tomorrow so they will actually fit up my stairs), but I do have enough wood for tonight.
I looked at the stove for a moment before gently lifting off the top panel and easing an entire ifssi (a shrub-like and extremely flammable High Atlas plant) into it. On top of that, I placed a few chunks wood and held a lighter to the bottom of the ifssi. It went up like a firework, and within five minutes I was shedding layer after layer of clothing. After an hour, the room was comfortable and all of my extremities were alive and accounted for. First fire of the year, and based on the huge amount of wood being delivered tomorrow, this will be the first of many. If this is a vision of days to come, I am ready for you winter! Let’s go one more round!
Thanks for reading,