Hello again readers!
To call this last week a busy one would be the understatement of the century. My classmates and I just had our first excursion out of Rabat, which has been a whirlwind of adventure. We had the opportunity to visit an Amazigh village in the mountains of Morocco called “Zawiya Ahansal.” A settlement dated over 700 years old, the people of this town offered my friends and I a warm welcome as we were hosted in the guesthouse of the Sheikh (a village elder and governor). When I was on our way, I truthfully did not know what to expect. I have visited villages and settlements before, but I don’t think I have ever been somewhere quite as beautiful as Zawiya Ahansal was.
Our bus ride was brutally exhausting. Eight hours on the road where I was constantly shifting from fatigue to discomfort was absolutely draining. The discomfort is particularly unfortunate because it spoils what is otherwise a great chance to view the Moroccan countryside. I cannot speak for all of them, but I think my classmates share my opinion that the ride was rougher than we expected. However, it was near the end of our journey did it seem to become worthwhile. When we entered the mountains, the landscape became something that drew my attention and purged my anxieties. This is what we saw when we looked out our windows.And then we actually got within view of the village.
We arrived at sundown, and I’m thankful it wasn’t any later. Pulling up at that minute gave us the perfect opportunity to view the sunset over the mountains of Zawiya. Any later and it would have been too dark to realize the beauty of the landscape of where we were residing.
The architecture of this village complimented the environment wonderfully. The next morning we went on our first hike. An interesting note about the environment of Zawiya is that it seems that the village experiences every season in one day. I left the guesthouse at sunrise wearing a heavy jacket (for its useful pockets) and a long sleeve shirt and expected to overheat. Fifteen minutes later, I was… Then fifteen minutes after that, it was chilly enough I was thankful I wore it. Fifteen minutes after that… Etc.
Zawiya is the first vertical village I have ever been to. Built into the side of the mountain, we had to walk up and down to get from building to building. Running through Zawiya, and into other villages, is a river that acts as a lifeblood of the village. At its mouth exists this interesting mythical spring where it is believed that women may drink from its water to earn good luck in finding a husband. A lot of the people in the village live as subsistence miners. The mountains are rich in resources, including raw clay. The villagers extract this clay and use it to reinforce their homes’ structure.
This picture here is a great opportunity to see the size of the mountainside. Our guides explained to us an interesting development in recent events that involve these mountains: in addition to offering clay, the mountains are rich with metals like lead that mining companies are seeking to harvest. There has actually been some debate over opening the mines, citing environmental concerns.
On the final night of our stay in Zawiya, our hosts surprised my class by inviting us to a traditional Amazigh feast and party. It was an honor to be invited, of course, but being offered this traditional dress made it an unforgettable experience. A party-goer yelled as I walked out in this robe “now you are a Sheikh”. I don’t think I’ve ever received a greater compliment on my attire than that. After the festivities had concluded, I was certain to thank the real Sheikh for hosting us. A kind and informed man, I learned quite a bit about his role in administrating Zawiya Ahansal from him.
I don’t think I’ve ever hiked quite so much in my life. But for all the physical exhaustion we endured, it was made up for by the unforgettable experiences that we had. This included what we had the opportunity to do on our last day in the village: assist in teaching English in a local school. This was a fun, but challenging experience. My partner and I opted to teach the local children English body parts by a game of Simon Says, but before that, we had to go through a crash-course of the one of the dialects of the Amazigh language called Tamizeagh. Speaking some basic phrases helped our students understand us better, and I hope we were both fun and informative teachers for our short stay.
And so that my readers can share in this adventure, I have included a list of a few phrases we learned!
My name is…: Isminu…
Thank you: Saha.
Where are you from?: Mani zigtigeed?
I am American!:Nkeen Merikan.
Yes = Eeeh.
No = Oho
I didn’t exactly have a strong command over the language, being limited to about seven phrases, but I like to think body language and prolific usage of “Saha” allowed me to convey our lessons.
We departed Zawiya on Saturday, and left for a short, one-night-stay, in the city of tourists: Marrakech. While I am certain my classmates had an excellent time exploring the city, I- regretfully- did not. Somehow during my time in Zawiya, I contracted bronchitis- leaving me bedridden in the hotel. It was nothing to mourn over, however, I was thankful my illness did not come during the stay in the village, and that exhausting week of hikes, dancing, and teaching left me in tremendous need for some R&R.
Saha for reading!