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Synching up with Mother Nature in Southwestern Morocco

Before we embarked on our journey to Morocco, I have to admit I didn’t know a whole lot about what we’d be getting into, as Haruka does most of the research for our travels and I sort of relish in the sensation of being genuinely surprised by what we encounter. It’s an arrangement that works out sweetly for both of us. And it’s not just in travel that I prefer to be surprised, but in most things in life. When we’re itching to watch a movie, but don’t know what to watch, Haruka will pour through reviews and movie trailers, whereas I want to know nothing about the flick except for maybe who’s in it and if people generally seem to like it. It’s not that I don’t see the value in informing myself before doing or buying something, as certainly I will do some research when it come to major purchases, like the new phone I’m about to buy. However, in the realm of our travels, there’s something very magical about entering a new location with few expectations and little knowledge of the details that tends to open me up for mind-blowing experiences. Of course I’m a huge beneficiary of the fact that Haruka genuinely delights in researching to make sure we don’t get ourselves into anything stupid or boring, without divulging too many details that she knows I’d rather not know. So thank you Haruka, for being my well-informed safety net!

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Rock formation in Tafraoute

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Do you know where your chicken comes from? -A day in the life of a Berber family by Haruka Oatis

I was finishing up washing the breakfast dishes when Anir and Lina came excitedly toward me. Anir was holding a plump chicken by the wings and he exclaimed, “Do you want to see chicken killing? ” Although I had read accounts of chicken slaughters and seen photos of farm friends cleaning their chickens, I had never witnessed an actual slaughter before so I said, “Sure, why not? ”

We are staying a couple hours southwest of Marrakech at the Berber Culture Center in Imintanoute. We wanted to get first hand experience on how the Berber people live, so we signed up for a brief 7 day workaway stay with a Berber family. Mohammed, our host lives with his family of 9…a few aunties, an uncle, his wife and 3 kids, Anir, Lina, Asea, and another one on the way. Cooking classes, hiking in the Atlas Mountains and playing Berber music are just some of the programs that they offer.

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The beautiful courtyard at the Berber Cultural Center. Photo credit Jason.

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Dipping our toes into the Sahara

The Sahara desert, at 9.2 million square kilometers is the largest desert on the earth, spanning through 14 different countries in North Africa. The southeastern edge of Morocco makes up the western edge of the Sahara, and the city of Zagora is considered one of the gateways into the desert, from where it is proclaimed that one can reach Timbuktu in 52 days by camel. Unfortunately desert nomads are no longer able to take that journey due to tense political situations in the region that make it prohibitively dangerous. The indigenous people of North Africa are Berbers, who have their own language, quite distinct from Arabic, and this language has been spoken for many centuries throughout the entire Sahara region, but the Berber people have no nation of their own. Fifty-three kilometers south of Zagora sits the desert town of Tagounite, where we settled in for a 10 day workaway stay.

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Erg Chigaga sand dunes

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Embracing Inshallah

Inshallah. As we get deeper into Morocco and get increasingly comfortable with our surroundings and increasingly aware of what’s going on around us, I’ve come to realize how often I hear this word, and how ingrained it is in the culture here. It translates as “God willing…”, or even more literally as “If Allah wills it, then it will be…”. While Islam is the predominant religion here, and certainly many Moroccans are devout practitioners, the vibe I get from most Moroccans that we’ve encountered is a sense of deep spirituality without being heavily religious, at least not toward us. I suspect that many folks are deeply religious within their own practice, which is rather personal, and mostly between them and Allah, but not necessary to bring into their dealings with us. In keeping with that, the word Inshallah does not carry much religious weight, but is rather a sort of mantra for life here… a reminder that the flow of life is real and it is here to guide us through our trials and tribulations. What will be, will be. Inshallah.

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Corridor in the Palace in Marrakech

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Filtering Through the Frazzle in Fez

Fez is an ancient city, which is home to the world’s first University and serves as Morocco’s spiritual capital with it’s many mosques and koranic schools. The medina (old city) is massive.  Four square kilometers of high-walled alleys connecting residential neighborhoods with sprawling markets  selling everything imaginable along its winding walkways that are closed off to cars. The entire medina is literally a huge labyrinth that is as confusing as it is mesmerizing, and as hectic as it is inviting. This combination earns Fez a reputation among tourists as a tourist trap that can effortlessly lighten one’s wallet in the blink of an eye.

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The University of al-Qarawiyyin

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Welcome in Morocco!

“Welcome”. The single most English-spoken word I’ve heard in Morocco. “Welcome in Morocco!”, “Welcome”,  “Welcome my friend”, “Welcome”, “Welcome”, “Welcome”. The immigration officer said it, which was a little shocking, since those guys usually say nothing. The guy at the currency exchange counter said it way more than a couple times. Saad, our Airbnb host, who picked us up at the airport said it multiple times as well, and he definitely meant it. As I write this, we’ve been in Morocco for nearly two weeks, and we still hear the lovely ring of this inviting word several times a day, easily.

Genuine “welcomes”. If they’re being faked, then they’re very well rehearsed, as they almost always come accompanied by giant, deep smiles and gentle hand gestures. Whenever we enter a restaurant, shop or a small street, we are serenaded by a  series of “welcomes”. we even get welcomed when we turn people down.  A common conversation in the street may go something like this…  “Welcome. Something to smoke maybe?”   “No, thank you.”   “Yes, I have the best hash in town. Power flower.”   “No thanks. I’m good.”   “We smoke first and if no good, you don’t buy. No problem, welcome.”   “No, really. I don’t want hash right now.”   “OK welcome! Welcome in Morocco. Welcome my friend.”   “Thank you.”   “Welcome.”   So how do we feel two weeks into Morocco? Welcome. Very welcome indeed.

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Montenegro>Dalmatia Reprise

Our visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina was one of our very favorite stops along this journey so far. The terrain is breathtaking, the people are kind, generous and so very resilient, and the recent history is heartbreaking but also inspirational when you see what these people have been able to overcome. It is a place that I feel like I needed to experience in order to grow my soul a bit, and at times it was undeniably heavy. Montenegro, it’s neighbor to the south was much lighter and fluffier by contrast, which was also very welcome at this stage in our travels.

While Montenegro aligned with Serbia during the Yugoslav wars, their forces did relatively little fighting and there was no real conflict on its home turf during the war. One might even say that Montenegro was rather indifferent during that period, and if you asked for my impression of Montenegrans, the word ‘indifferent’ would probably describe them as well as any. This isn’t to say that they’re unpleasant in any way, because they’re not. They’re fine, polite even. They just didn’t seem to care much whether we were there or not, which suits me just fine, as I never really felt like we were standing out as foreigners or tourists.

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