Well I have a home for the next two years, and it’s in the north. My site is at the edge of the Middle Atlas Mountains, at the base of a black mountain from which a spring named El Rais flows. The spring is used to irrigate many of the fields in my site and is used as a source of drinking water in some of the Douars. What I didn’t mention about the mountain from which El Rais flows the three kilometers to my village, is why it is the only black mountain in a line of brown hills: it is a volcano. Before you get concerned though let me reassure that I’ve been informed by reliable sources that it is in fact inactive, possibly dormant, and hopefully extinct. Though a little bit of me has to admit that it would love to wake up one morning to see it smoking – among other reasons, so that when I’m old and grey I can say I’ve lived in the shadow of a fiery giant.
Another reason I wouldn’t mind an active volcano would be the winter – because apparently ill be needing all the winter clothes I brought and then some, just to keep from freezing when using my bit lama (turkish toilet) – which makes a volcano capable of keeping the snow down a lot more attractive. Just because my site is on a plain doesn’t mean I don’t get the cold, as while my site is located on a plain –the plain itself is nestled between the High Atlas and Middle Atlas at an elevation higher then that of Denver. That said I still have it pretty good – I’ll just need to take precautions in my house : like buying a wood burning stove to keep my bit lama from freezing over in the winter.
The people in my site seem incredibly welcoming and kind – and those who speak Berber are defiantly filled with Amazigh pride. The Province my site is located in, Khenifra, is known throughout Morocco as a locus for Berber pride, and during the French period and early years after independence as a center for Amazigh resistance to the central, Arab dominated, government in Rabat. As a result of this history the king, Mohammad the 6th, has only recently paid his first visit to Khenifra province – an event of much excitement in this country as a visit by the King is viewed much like that of a rockstar is viewed back in the states – except the king has power and can make things happen.
This first visit of his to Khenifra province led to the transformation of any town he might possibly pass through or see from an adjoining road – a transformation that included the sudden appearance of hundreds, if not thousands, of Moroccan flags hanging from any and every possible surface, bathing the towns of the province in a red and green glow. In addition to a spike in flag sales the Kings visit also brought a shake up in the Provincial capital, Khenifra, where both the Governor and Minister of Health were shown unceremoniously out of their own offices and into the street. The reason for these sudden forced retirements is shaded in “official” mystery, though the word on the street is both administrative inefficiency and corruption on the part of the governor and Minister. The new Minister of Health is an unknown figure, but the new governor is a native of the province and a Berber and so his appointment has elicited wild joy within the majority Berber province.
The Province of Khenifra though is not entirely Berber, or Amazigh as Berbers prefer to be called (Berber is derived from the Greek word Barbarian), a reality that exists within even my small slice of Amazigh heaven. Of the eleven Douars in my site, which contains roughly 4,200 people, three of my Douars speak only Arabic and an additional two are mixed. My site itself is spread out over 28 Kilometers, with my furthest Douar 15 Kilometers from my Sbitar (rural health clinic). This area is serviced by one male nurse so I’ll be doing a lot of traveling, on my Peace Corps issued Trek Mountain Bike, to get the lay of the land before starting any big projects. As no matter how dedicated your healthcare professional, that’s a lot of space and a fair amount of people.
4 years ago