Szeena Bzeff!!!

Trip Start Jun 06, 2006
Trip End Jun 23, 2006

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Flag of Morocco  ,
Saturday, June 17, 2006

Where to start in describing our last 24 hours???? The phrase, "Oh my gosh - Bsah!" is the only dereja possible.....Muhammed, the transit driver, came by the apartment to pick us up. We were the only passengers (very rare) so Shannon and I had the privelege of sitting in the front...good thing as I would've been sick I'm sure. We headed out of Ribat El Kheir - down the plateau - and across the valley of fields half harvested. Just about the time I thought, "This isn't that bad", we turned off our little road onto a dirt lane and headed up.

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. After passing through two "villages", viewing the trees that have been planted by the Moroccan Department of Forestry and the nursery where Benjamin has projects going, we crested a rise and there was a little building (the school) on the left with terraced fields before us. The mountains enfold all around with rocky ridges lining the scene. I hope the camera can capture it. I know it can't capture the cacophony of sounds: donkeys braying, roosters crowing, goats screaming, and cows mooing. Add to that the welcome rushing of creeks and the call of people to Mohammed and Benjamin ...stereo sound throughout the valley.

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. The harvest has been very good this year, the village is very happy and I thanked God for his blessing upon the village that has been home to Benjamin. Of course the entire village is watching our every move.

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 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. The room is surrounded by pawnjes with pillows and a little table in the middle all placed upon a rug. There was one hutch filled with beautiful tea glasses, trays, pitchers, carafes, and a tiny radio and television. The room had one little light in the middle connected to the solar panel above. Benjamin said this room was definitely the best as it was completely constructed of cement- not the bricks (very much like adobe) most homes are made of in the village. The goats were penned right outside the window to the south and the window to the east looked out over the village perched on the side of the valley slopes. On the other side was the remainder of the barnyard, the sheep were penned up above on the rocky craig and a sleeping room was off the veranda. Benjamin pointed out that we were actually on the second level of the home....all the women and children were below us. Oh, I forgot the barn was behind us where papa does his blacksmithing and the cow was mooing.

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. Benjamin reminded us that there would be many slowly and sparingly even though papa kept saying, "KUL!!!" (eat). Then came all types of little pastries from the bakery in town and Moroccan tea poured three times into a little glass and back into the serving pitcher...finally it meets Mohammed's approval and we are each served our little glass of tea. The youngest son, Hassan, Benjamin's age, is given the job of bringing each tray of delicious courses and taking the previous one back to the women. He was jumping up and down all night long, slipping his shoes on to go out, slipping them off to come back onto the carpet in the room.

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. We had some good laughs. One of the girls has studied english and papa had her come in and we conversed a little. Just the fact that the girls were allowed into the room is a sign of progressive thinking and Benjamin's acceptance into their family. The women, however, were no where to be seen.....busy working to prepare all the delicious food. All the kids look younger than they really are and soon all the grandkids that were there were in just watching. I took pictures of papa and his beautiful family and said I would send them to him via Benjamin.

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. Papa is very affectionate with all the grandkids and they are a lively bunch. Each one's personality is evident and we began to talk about school.

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. Finally the children began to leave, and the men in the family were exiting as well. We expressed our gratitude to papa over and over before he left and finally it was just us. All this time, Shannon and I had been wondering about bathroom facilities. All the jostling on the ride alone was enough to use the w.c., and then all the drinking....don't they ever need to use the restroom???? Benjamin was sent to inquire about this delicate subject with Hassan and soon he came back to escort us to the w.c......remember it is 11:00 with absolutely no lights anywhere...but the light on Benjamin's phone. Up we go behind the barn (built into the side of the mountain) and left. This 50 year old body is not as limber as it should be and once I thought I would tumble face down, but all was well in the end(: It is better to just make your mind stay focused on the little task you have before you.
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. Then the girls took all the little ones to graze down below us on a field that had already been harvested. Nothing goes to waste in this little ecosystem....the irrigation system they have to use every drop from the flowing springs is intricate, Hassan is responsible for much of the water engineering. The delicate subject of the w.c. was once more upon us, but now our w.c. was in plain sight and Shannon and I just couldn't do that. The older girls grabbed our arms and off we went to a new open area(: Just get over it!!!!! They also brought us a water pot with warm water to wash with...lots of questions cross your mind as you wonder how they go about the day to day tasks of living. On the way back we passed the bread oven and Mohammed's wife was tending to the fire. She allowed me to take a picture after we exchanged greetings!

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!!!! It would be interesting to know what they are used for now(: Up, up, and up we went as we worked our way to the school/transit parked at the entrance to the valley. Thankfully there was a strong breeze to keep us cool as I tried to hike in a long, full skirt. I wanted to rip it off as I stepped onto it at least a hundred times trying to climb. We crossed many flowing streams and irrigations flows as we crisscrossed our way to the top. Finally we were there and those making the trip into town began to arrive with Mohammed.

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!!!
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