When I was a little kid I went camping with some friends for a few nights. I remembered vividly how my body was covered in mosquito bites, dirt, and having to use nature as my bathroom. You could say that nature and I don’t exactly get along. For those of you who know me or are getting to know me, my personality and demeanor don’t exactly scream “Bear Grills” or “rough-and-tough.” I am content with my Starbucks white chocolate mocha in the morning, going to an art museum, and going to a friend’s apartment to watch Netflix. Yet, something changed in my urban-socialite life this past week. I went to Zaouia Ahansel.
During a tenuous four-hour drive with everyone from my Amideast program through the winding, rocky roads of Morocco, I saw nothing but rocks, mountains, and herds of goats for miles-upon-miles in all directions. Just as I was about to assume that village couldn’t possibly exist out in this barren land, I saw it. Hidden in the deep Atlas Mountains of southern Morocco lied dozens of brown, rectangular houses on slanted slopes adjacent to a clear blue mountain stream, turning the valley a vibrant green. This Amazigh village of 500 people gave me the challenge of my life.
After hiking to our boarding houses and settling in, like any normal human-being who had been traveling for a long time, I needed to relieve myself. The reality of where I was located couldn’t have hit me faster as I stared blankly at the hole in the floor. Coming from a place of privilege living in the West, I have never encountered a “squat-potty” before in my life except for seeing them in movies or reading about them. Let me tell you, these mysterious contraptions are very real, and when they are the only form of relief in the entire village you do what you need to do. After five minutes of giving myself a pep talk and humming the entire song of “Eye of the Tiger,” my mission was accomplished plus I got a great thigh workout!
Aside from the mysteries of “squat-potties,” Zaouia Ahansel is one of few places during my entire travels where I felt like I was truly in Morocco based on a specific experience. It occurred when I finally got an hour of free time from hiking and eating copious amounts of tajine. A few friends and I grabbed the soccer ball I brought with me from Rabat, headed to the town center near the stream, and started up a game of keep-away. Without realizing it, a gang of 10 village boys dropped their backpacks and joined in playing keep-away, aka keeping the ball away from us!
After an hour of playing, we finally packed up and started to head back to our home when I realized something. I don’t need this soccer ball and I’m certainly not taking it back to America with me, so I called the boys over and gave them the ball as a gift. Before I could even walk away, I had all of the boys giving me cheek kisses and hugging me saying “Shukren” (“thank you”). It was a weird feeling because I don’t want this moment to be interpreted as a typical “White Savior” moment, which is constantly a problem among tourists in remote, impoverished areas. That is not my intention, but rather my intention was to give a gift to someone who will appreciate it much more than I would.
The hospitality I received from the villagers during my stay is something I’ve never experienced anywhere else. In a town where everyone says “Salaam” and ‘Labas?” to me and genuinely care is something I’ve grown to love about Morocco. The least I can do is make some kids’ day by giving them a soccer ball. Sometimes that is just enough.