How to Contact Me

Life on the central plains can get awfully lonely at times, so feel free to drop me a line! Here's how:

D'Abravanel, Jed
B.P. 6



Thursday, June 19, 2008

Mr. Saids Wild Ride

Now the thing about transportation in morocco is that all that matters is if you have it: safety, liability, pollution, cleanliness, none of these things matter when confronted with the twin choices of driving or walking under the beating sun. In a country where the temperature routinely breaks 100, you really don't want to be walking under the hot southern sun (tafusht) so maybe you put yourself into circumstances that back in the states wouldn't be your first choice - or that wouldn't have even made your top 100 choices. But in Morocco, they really are your only choice. Especially when you are with your host family and they see nothing wrong with your transportation option - no matter how "interesting" it may seem to you.

So I was standing by the wall to nowhere on monday, more about this wall to come later, waiting for the noon bus from Fez - sitting on a nice little pile of rocks basking in the shade of the wall to nowhere. Now, if I was travelling in to souk on my own I would have waited for the bus, but with my host mom and host brother - all bets are off. It was at this point that Said and his late eighties vintage Renault (the car of the Moroccan People) bounced his way down the road from Zeida and into my life. I say bounced because rather than, as most cars do, driving down the middle of the road his rust colored chariot careened from side to side - turning towards the center only when Said noticed the change in the grade between the asphalt road base and the volcanic fields that surround the road.

Suffice it to say at this point while I was entertained, I was not expecting to enter Mr. Saids wild ride, but after a y'alla (come here) from my host mom I piled into the car with the six other intrepid souls. Bouncing aside, the car ride was not unlike any of the other seven person taxi rides i've taken over the last four months. The ride got interesting though as we went down one hill and started to ascend the next hill, and Saids car being a stick shift he shifted - and the shifter snapped in two. This is the point at which people would get concerned in the United States, but in Morocco - one doesn't bat an eyelash - rather one just sits back, smiles and laugh as the car comes to a natural stop at the crest of the next hill.

Now how is a situation like this solved in two minutes or less, without spending even a single dirham? Why with a steel rod strategically discarded at the same point we slid to a stop at of course! Said, using only a large rock, delicately pounded the steel rod into the shifter case - and away we bounced down the road towards Zaida, souk and safety. As a postscript after arriving in Zeida we each paid our five dirhams for the ride and Said turned right around and bounced into the sunset to pick up another load of intrepid travelers to ride in his wild ride.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Sheep Shearing

It’s been a bit since my last update, and that means a lot has happened: last days in CBT, lightning storms, language proficiency exams, hours spent in seedy Moroccan bars (which do exist), karaoke, hunts for ice cream, a talent show (including fire dancing and musical comedy), swear in (in Ouarzazates only 5 star hotel, the Berber Palace), host family members stuffing plastic bags full of food, pool games, tearful goodbyes to now old friends, the meeting and making of new friends, the invention of card games, the sacrifice of watermelons to bu-itran (bu, means owner, while itran means stars– so that particular god phrase literally translates as owner of the stars) and the slow process of integrating into a community that has almost no idea why I’m here and even less of an idea what I do; But then for that matter some days neither do I.
That will have to suffice for this posts update because instead of rehashing old events I want to jump right into the events of last Sunday. Now, Tamazight, is for me, far from the easiest language in the world – that said I’m not known for my grasp of languages other than English. This means that a lot of the time in my conversations I’m grasping at straws or carrying water one thimble at a time; which has led to some interesting situations in the past and this time led to me spending a day, mostly watching, occasionally helping, shear 180 sheep in the mountains above my community.
I involved myself in this expedition to the heart of the Middle Atlas through a conversation with a twelve-year old boy in my village, Said, who invited me to accompany him and his family into the mountains to possibly see an alpine lake and possibly go fishing. Somewhere along the line I also got the impression that sheep might be involved, but on that point I was unsure. All I knew for certain when our business was concluded was that I was going to the mountains and that going to the mountains involved leaving the village at 5 am.
A 5 am departure was complicated though as that very morning when we were to depart at 5 am coincided with Morocco’s inaugural use of daylight savings time. This meant that I, in my desire to not be left behind or complicate matters arose at the new 4:30 am, which had previously been 3:30 am – while the reminder of those involved choose not to be concerned by anything as technical as adding an hour and arose at what was now 5:45 am or what had previously been 4:45 am. This confusion of time continued on and off for the reminder of the day, and the next day when government offices were open; was even more interesting to observe.
Precisely at 5:30 am, Said came and collected myself, and my 29-year-old host brother Ismail (who had likely been roped into watching me, foreigners can’t be trusted to guide or watch over themselves after all) and led us to the bitterly cold road to wait for the transit to arrive. I might sound like I minded this, I didn’t, because I had another lightning bolt, or an “I’m in Morocco” moment, as I call them; while watching the sun paint the sky above the plains at the edge of Atlas Mountains surrounded by some of the most welcoming people I have ever spent time with.
Soon 12 others and myself were piled into a Transit, a topic for another time, traveling into the mountains. We took the road to Itzer, turned up the road to Timhadit and Azrou, before turning off of the main road onto a tiny dirt track, a track that was soon eaten by the rolling hills and endless grass meadows of the Middle Atlas. A landscape whose bleak beauty, was given life and warmth through the patches of red and purple wild flowers which dotted the hills upon which one could see distant Shepard’s flocks. Into this transplanted Scottish or Irish moor we traveled along increasingly erratic tracks, the only reminder of my location the occasional mud brick house and the dozen Moroccans slumbering by my side. The men slumbering by my sides were themselves a cross section of modern Morocco: the older men dressed in traditional djilbas, the younger generation in either Italian designer or addidas tracksuit knockoffs, and those in between dressed in a purely Moroccan syncrinistic fashion: djilbas mixing with baseball caps, three piece suits with turbans, and the footwear anything from a pair of crocs to combat boots.
After an hour of travel our carriage came to a halt in a remote mountain hillock, with a house distantly sheltered by the alternately smooth and craggy hilltops. This was our days destination, this house nowhere near anything that could claim to be a pool, let alone a lake – I was suspicious. My suspicions were soon confirmed by the 180 sheep clustered tightly in a corral around the front of the mud brick house. Rather then feeling disappointment at the lack of a lake, I was exhilarated by the presence of so many sheep, as with my limited knowledge of all things related to sheep and to Morocco I deduced could mean only one thing: a sheep shearing party!
What is a sheep shearing party? Why it’s exactly what you would expect it to be: men working hard and singing work songs praising allah as they manhandle sheep from as near to dawn to as close to dusk as it takes to shear 180 sheep. All the while, as the men work in the stuffy, low ceilinged rock barn the women keep the mens stomachs full by feeding them delicious, mouthwateringly greasy fry bread while keeping their energy up with enough tea to drown the Persian army – but only after giving it diabetes (this is because Moroccan tea, while wonderful and offering a window into the Moroccan way of life, is still more parts sugar than tea).