Trip Start Jun 06, 2006
12Trip End Jun 23, 2006
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We bounced, jostled, and wound our way over a little 4 wheel drive trail IN OUR MERCEDES VAN as it groaned and plugged its way back and back and back. The 30-35 km took over two hours to traverse. The scenery was beautiful (zweena) -the land much like Prescott - and then it was like the North Rim...the transit van is completely void of seats behind the front seat...just wooden benches along the sides so there is plenty of room for goats, cows, people,...usually just standing for the duration of the ride
Three of the young girls in Mohammed's family were waiting for us to arrive at the school. We began our descent into the village via a narrow, winding trail that the girls sacampered down in their leggings covered by dresses layered with a colorful apron in cheap, plastic flip flops, lugging the watermelon we had purchased at the market, and never missing a beat to stare at us, giggle, and smile! Meanwhile Shannon and I were trying to pick up our long skirts without being indecent (in their terms) and pick our way over the rocks and other natural items (use your imagination at times) without stepping on our dresses as well as we slowly passed homes and garden plots. Ever so often Mohammed would stop to point out his family's field of harvested wheat or the corn
Mohammed and his extended family are probably the most progressive in the village. They own the van and he makes the drive in and out from Ribat El Kheir at least once per day - every day. His father, papa, referred to as "haj" (a term of respect for elderly men who have made the trip to Mecca) helped to homestead this area when he was a little boy. One of the sons lives in France and sends money back home, the rest are near by. One son runs a hanut in Benjamin's town and the others were all home to help with the harvest. Lots of extra women and children (all family members) were out at the farm to help with the huge task. There is a thresher that the co-op leases out that will be brought up as far as they can bring it....all the farmers will then take their crop down to it on their donkeys. If the crop isn't very good, they thresh in the village using the huge stone grist and the donkeys or the flowing water...it is truly like going back in time....except Mohammed's family has a solar panel on their roof and a little television satellite dish.
We were welcomed by the men, introductions made, pleasantries exchanged, "mushterfeen - pleased to meet you" and placed in the receiving room
Soon we were served with the washing pitcher and towel to prepare our hands for eating. A delicious coffee (half steaming sweet goat milk and the other half very dark coffee) was poured for each and course one began. The children peered in through the windows constantly and soon I couldn't wink anymore....they would smile, we would wave...Light flaky bread (like crouissant dough) was served with freshly pressed olive oil and the staple bread
The moths congregated throughout the night (I have yet to see one screen in all Morocco) and a delicious course of two chickens, broth, and olives was next on the menu. Mohammed broke bread and laid it out for each of us and our right-handed method began. You don't eat the meat until Mohammed begins to pick it off and lay it out in the bowl...then that is your signal to go for it, otherwise you are dipping in the broth and eating the vegetables. I was already completely shbet (full) but soon came another course of goat meat and prunes. After that came homemade goat yogurt and spoons....I had to make myself eat that...and then fresh fruit...constantly interspersed with coffee or tea, and at the last a soda...oh my! This dinner lasted over several hours and we conversed back and forth about everything...Benjamin had to interpret back and forth throughout the evening....I know he was exhausted
I told Papa about my grandfather's farm, how corn knee high by July 4th was considered good, and how much my mother would enjoy visiting their farm and the family's homestead. It truly did remind me of my childhood visits, and the smells and sounds were very familiar as well....Benjamin's brain was growing dendrites every which way as trying to express a sentiment or concept in a different culture and language is not easy. After a while even I was beginning to run out of questions, so out came the gifts Bruce and I had brought for them. We had an Arizona Highway's photograph book of Arizona we gave them and the questions began about Arizona and America. Thank goodness we had a new topic to talk about!!! We also had a glass saguaro cactus on red sandstone that we gave along with candies for the kids. Soon the kids were sucking on the candies from America
Because it is such a remote village, none of the young teachers (usually from the cities) want to be there. Often the teachers are sent out, but they leave after a month or so and the kids are without a teacher more than they have one. The girls asked me to come and be their teacher and I said that would be a challenge for sure!!! The girl that spoke some english was very attentive, trying to pick up english words she knew, sitting next to papa interpreting for him at times as well. This family is the only Berber family in the village and they speak both berber and dereja and a combination of the two. Most children that attend highschool (from here they must go into Ribat El Kheir and stay either with family or at a boarding school) are taught french as it is the language used for business. Everywhere we've been people assume we speak French because we are foreigners...not many Americans are over here....a few english/Aussies...but many french.
The little boys were falling asleep, but they didn't want to miss out on anything! The family rises and retires early, and we were well past their usual bedtime
The moths were attacking our faces and hair as we snuggled into our blankets on the pawnjes....I handed out bounce sheets to everyone as they are reported to help ward away bugs. I think moths are immune to them. I'm sure the cleaning ladies of our different hotel rooms wondered what the white things tied to doorhandles and windows were for....I've used them everywhere!!! Finally I had to put my jean jacket over my head and hold up a tiny end to breathe....I couldn't take the moth attacks any longer. All night long I "rested" as my mother often says while I listened to all the animals and thought about Benjamin out here for 8 months
How did he ever adjust to all the many differences, let alone accomplish any tasks? My appreciation for all he has been doing greatly increased, and my admiration for his resiliency and adaptability soared. His language skills amaze even Moroccans as I had many people on the trains, etc....tell me that his accent is perfect. Moroccans are very polite, but they get really excited when Benjamin speaks to them in dereja and they find out he lives in Ribat El Kheir - helps when he is haggling a price down for me as well!!!! Mohammed had many little stories he wanted Benjamin to tell us throughout our trip to Bat Ha and back. It was evident that a solid friendship had developed between these two. Humor and the ability to laugh at oneself goes far in this culture as well(:
Finally morning came and we were packed and ready to go. Breakfast and coffee was served and Benjamin took off with Mohammed to look at a site for more tree plantings. Bruce, Shannon, and I wandered around taking in views and watching all the herders take their animals off to graze. The girls had the task of separating all the baby lambs and goats from the herds before Mohammed's brother took the herds to graze up over and around the mountain. That was a fun task to observe.
Finally it was time to head for home, the scenic route...down across the valley, and up along the other side so we could see the mosque, the families, the gardens of vegetables, and Benjamin's favorite spots. We also met some of his host family from his first arrival and we visited his house where he lived in his home those months. We saw the two bathrooms that exist here - the peace corps built one onto the home of his host family and one onto the house he lived in...they are barely tall enough for me to stand in - and Benjamin is 6'2!!!!
I can't begin to capture all the images or the experience, but I've tried to give you a little glimpse into these past 24 hours...I will never forget Bat Ha nor the graciousness of papa and his family. Bruce thanked Mohammed from one father to another for being such a good friend to our son while he was so very far from home. People are much more alike than different around the world....and Benjamin's turkish toilet never looked so good(: You quickly appreciate the little things in life!!!!! One day to recuperate and off to Fes we go....bsalama for now!!!