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



Monday, June 22, 2009

Summers Days

It is now summer time in Morocco, the start of my second summer here. The sun is starting to heat the dusty plains on which I live, while the snow continues to disappear from the mountains that hover far in the distance. The sun now rises earlier and earlier every day, calling to those who make this place home through its messengers, the rooster, donkey and sparrow. The village brought to life by these first stirrings of nature, slowly rouses itself - first the mothers, then their eldest daughters, followed by the men of the house and finally the children wipe the web of dreams from their eyes and emerge, blinking into the new day. The pace of the day is slow, languid, but the air is pregnant, bursting with the promise of activity.
The water is gathered, brought either from well or from the five public fountains that dot Sehba Roha, breathing life into the sun cracked soil. The bread is mixed and kneaded on ceramic bowls by the village women: Fatima, Khadija, Rebeha, Lazhore. Women of all ages, from the first blossoming of youth to the withered husk of old age, and of all shades from cream to coco and beyond to shades so dark as to absorb the light from the space around them. The bread after kneading is shaped into 10 inch wide round loaves and left to rise. While the bread rises wood is gathered and brought to the outdoor mud ovens in which the bread will be baked, the wood has been gathered from the apple orchards that surround my village, and which are themselves surrounded by scrub desert.
A desert that the young men and boys of the houses of Sehba Roha are preparing to leave for, to spend the day tending the family flock of sheep. But first a breakfast of mint tea, so pungent without sugar as to force a full body pucker upon you - and so sweet after the sugar is added so as to melt not just your teeth but the very bones of your jaw. Accompanying the tea, or whisky berber, is a square shaped fried bread named Milhwi, slathered in apricot jam and butter, margarine, olive oil or a fermented butter made from goat or cow milk, agaou. So reinforced the young men, often with a dog, and carrying a small tea pot and loaf of bread leave their homes and their village to spend the day wandering the high plateau in search of fodder for their sheep.

By this time the women have returned to their mud ovens, the bread has risen and the fires, stoked by the clippings from the apple trees, sufficiently hot. So Zeneb, Ito, Lahcena, Latifa and Najit sit upon their ankles, as they place loaf after loaf into the honey colored oven, blackened from the smoke and flames that lick its mouth. The sun rises ever higher and with it the temperature, 80 degrees by ten, 90 by noon, 100 by two - and still it rises. The five to ten loaves of bread needed for the day are soon baked and alerted by the call to prayer, the women move to the kitchen to begin the preparations for lunch.
Meanwhile the men of the household, after a breakfast similar to that of the boys and young men are having their mid morning snack in the fields, of tea and bread. It is June so the men are in the fields with hand scythes, bent at the back and sore in their right hand - from the circular motion they must make over and over to separate the head of the barley from the stalk. They mostly wear wide brimmed hats, woven from stalks - though some have wrapped scarves around their heads - creating a type of farmers turban. As they hear the mid day call to prayer they turn their backs on the fields and return to their houses, for it is time to turn their heads to the east and prostrate themselves towards Mecca, as well as time to sit out the hottest part of the day after lunch. Though after the next call to prayer they will return to the fields, often in the afternoon accompanied by the family donkey - so as to gather that days harvest from the fields and bring it home for storage and for eventual grinding.

Afternoon has now come, and the women of the village are now congregating outside of their homes, on their stoops to do certain low intensity tasks and chat with one another. Possibly they are unrolling the yarn from sweaters they have purchased at weekly market - to be used in making blankets, rugs and djeelaba's or they could be sifting through dry-goods, also purchased at weekly market, to separate the small stones and clumps of dried mud from the lentils, beans, or any of a dozen other food items. This is the women's chance to visit and gossip - after a day of cleaning the house and washing clothes, gathering water, gathering wood for the bread oven, cooking breakfast and lunch, baking bread, making carpets and often working in the fields and gathering fodder for the animals as well.
Meanwhile the men and boys start to trickle in from the fields and desert. The children and younger men will congregate by the school to play soccer - and watch others play soccer, depending on age a forcefulness of personality. Meanwhile the men will find their way to the road that abuts the village on one side, and will balance on their ankles and walk up and down the road - stopping and greeting those they encounter. Moving from group to group, groups that congregate outside the village cafe, Rachid's store, Mustapha's store and Mohammeds store. Eventually as the sun begins to kiss the mountains and the sky turns from blue to pink to orange and then blood red and purple the men will find their way either home or to the cafe. If they find their way to the cafe they will not find coffee or tea, but they will find cigarette smoke, soda and cards being played - for hours on end, for as long as the village equivalent of the dive bar is open. For those who make their way home they will find tea and bread for a afternoon snack waiting.
So ends another day in the Berber village of Sehba Roha, population 671, at the edge of the Middle Atlas Mtns...

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Economics Of Apples

For those in the dark about the agricultural output of Morocco let me put worry out of your minds, this country is a breadbasket and while prices have risen due to the global Food Crisis no one is in danger of starvation. That said, it is about time I said something specific about the crop that graces the fields that surround my village; namely apples.

The apple while common to my area is not well adapted to the nvironment, as the raising of apples is a water intensive activity - more so then other fruits such as peaches or cherries - but it is exceptionally profitable. A kilo of apples in a Rabat or Tangier routinely sells for 25 dirhams a kilo - or roughly 5 dollars a pound - not a bad price when one considers the cost of living in rural Morocco. For example my weekly groceries, purchased at my weekly market, are only rarely more then 25 dirhams total with vegtables normally going for around 3 - 5 dirhams a kilo. In short raising apples a family can make a comfortable living.

One of the major apple related problems though is that most families can't make a living from them - as most apple orchards in my area aren't owned by the local inhabitants of the rural villages - but rather by absentee landlords living in the urban centers of modern Morocco, whose first priority is not reinvesting their profits in the local community. Another issue is water - while this year has been wet and filled with snow - most years arent. This is an issue as apples are one of the most irrigation intensive fruit crops - especially when drip irrigation is not used. It is an even more serious concern where I live as most springs are used for irrigation, while private wells are used for drinking water. Alarming when weells run dry as they did last summer. But a useful starting point in discussing projects with people in my village.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Only Thing That Stays the Same is Change...

I was gone for some 20 days from my village, and when I arrived home on Tuesday afternoon after racing a blizzard through the Middle Atlas I had a few surprises:

1. My host brother, Smail, has moved to Oujda on the border with Algeria to string power lines. This after nearly a year at home and no prospect of work when I left for Italy - I know, we had a very specific conversation on the subject. He didn't really want to leave home - but the problem with rural Morocco - especially if you don't own a farm, is that if their are no jobs their really is no money.

2. A 20 year old man who lives in the mountains above my village died last week from exposure after being trapped on my volcano in a storm. Yes, I do live in Africa - but yes it is also cold. Also, I do not understand how the shepherds and their flocks of sheep do it - living at or below zero exposed to the elements wearing little clothing and carrying even less gear.

3. The new Imam, Ali, left the village. My village has now had six Imams since June. This might tell you something about my village and my villagers. Sometimes they argue - a lot. The old Imam, Hassan, the first one I met, has moved back to Zeida - a way of rubbing it in the face of my village that he was a good Imam. Or at least I think that might be part of his motivation...

4. Nora, my 23 year old host sister accompanied her husband and his family to Casablanca to see some of the family off on the Haj to Mecca. Afterwards she decided to stay - just because. Possibly just because she had never been in a place with weather as nice as that of Rabat's. Anyway - no one is sure when she is coming back, though they are pretty sure she is...

5. In personal news I finally got my Carte De Sejour today, right after I got back from the reason I needed it - travelling outside Morocco! Thanks red tape! How I love efficiency!

So that's the news from the foot of La Rais. Their might be more - after all when I first asked my host dad what was new in the village he said "Kif Waloo" - nothing.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Florence and Rome - Or a Return to the West

Well, it has come off. Or at least it has been pulled off, my great holiday season escape to the western world went off without a hitch. Granted their were a few small discomforts along the way - especially on either end during my independent travel sections. But all and all - a fantastic trip. For 15 days I travelled with my friend Emelia and her family - and for 15 days I forgot all about the worries, nuisances and stresses of everyday life in my developing world village. Now for the hardest part: going back.

As soon as I process THAT, i'll update. Suffice it to say that - after two weeks of hot showers, cheese, wine, mushrooms, functional public transportation, uncovered women, friendship, holiday festivities, good espresso, warmth, good conversation and an overall constant feeling of ease and relaxation - the transition may be rough. But if for no other reason then to recharge my batteries and remind me that i'm loved and have good friends and people in my life, who believe i'm doing something important and couragous - it was worth it.

I also learned the importance of treating myself well, that I don't always need to be testing myself - or taking the difficult path. That sometimes it's alright to treat yourself and just be yourself. So I return - recharged, recommitted and ready to not burn out. To instead do what it takes to keep myself going strong. Because before this trip - I was about ready to call it quits, throw in the towel and give up (both on Morocco, and on my self - my ability to create change and hence my reason and value in this world).

And so I must say thanks to Emelia and her entire family: Ken, Mary-Beth, Halie and Christine. You helped me more then you know, and I appriciate your generosity and kind hearts more then you can fathom.

Now back to work!