Saturday, March 11
Breakfast at 7:30 and on the road around 9.
Another glorious day—blue sky and no hint of cloud. Again, though the air was cool, the sun was hot.
We were surprised (pleasantly) to see our drivers again. We had tipped them and said farewell last night, and we thought they were gone. They 4x4s were transformed—spotlessly clean (they had been completely covered in sand and dust when we last saw them). We climbed in and were off on the day’s adventures.
The first stop of the day was at a douar, a small village and farming collective. A douar is similar to a ksar, from the standpoint of being a tight cluster of mud-brick buildings, but the douar is larger and has more families. A douar also has a mosque and a common well. There is a council of elderly people who handle problems in the douar. The douar we visited was 500 years old, though the buildings are not all ancient, as mud-brick houses are abandoned if damaged by heavy rains—it is easier to build new than to repair. (We saw a few old homes melting back into the landscape.)
The douar was situated in the middle of the broad, communal fields, rising evenly tan and smooth amid the myriad shades of shapes of green trees and plants on the lush farm. We walked along paths bordered by irrigation ditches, among olive, peach, and palm trees, and numerous crops. Hundreds of birds were twittering among the trees, and little white and yellow butterflies wove deliriously through the patches of sunlight.
We saw a group of women harvesting barley, with their children sitting nearby in the shade. The field was small and overhung by branches, the ripe barley was vividly green, and the whole, lovely scene had an air of serenity and community.
Men do the plowing and spreading of dung. Women do pruning and weeding. Both do harvesting.
As we walked along the narrow pathways, we heard with surprising frequency the now-familiar cry of “balak,” and each time we stepped aside to allow a heavily burdened donkey to pass. We were also passed by a few cyclists. One cyclist who passed me on the narrow, dirt path called out, “Good morning. American? Welcome!”
We walked out of the heavily shaded area into broad fields and crossed in the direction of the river from which the irrigation ditches are filled. As we crossed a small, plank bridge, we saw off to our left the village’s women at the water’s edge, doing their families’ laundry in the river.
Berbers (including Berber Jews) in this douar made their fortunes from the nearby silver mines.
Turning back toward town, we walked through the very small red light district—no photos permitted. Prostitution is illegal in Morocco, but it still occurs. It is often the outcome of rebellion: a girl does something the family finds unacceptable, and the family won’t accept her anymore. With nowhere to go, and usually with no education, there is nothing else left for these girls. Sometimes, the women have done nothing wrong, but have been divorced by their husbands simply because they have not borne children. They, too, often have nowhere to go and no prospects for the future. The district was both small and discrete, looking little different from other clusters of mud-brick buildings, except more of the women were in Western attire, jeans and tank tops—not the sort of things a proper young woman would wear. I felt so sad for the grim-looking young women we saw in doorways or on steps. How tragic.
We stopped at a café in the main square, where we ordered coffee or soft drinks, and sat and enjoyed the sun. We were surrounded by local men (women don’t generally hang out in public in Muslim countries). Here, we saw the first Internet cafés we’ve seen since arriving, and there were several, with great banners telling the world they now have DSL.
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Come along as I travel through Morocco, from ancient city to endless desert. Enjoy the history and beauty -- as well as the excellent food (I'm food historian -- I have to write about the food) as I circle this wonderful and ancient country full of...