Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Parable of the Lost Shepherd

In order to get a different voice on my blog, ive asked my mom and sister to post their impressions of Morocco during their trip here. Here is a post from my mom.

So Franny and I had an uneventful flight to Marrakesh, although Fran’s luggage had a vacation in Orlando and Madrid. The extra days spent in Marrakesh meant that we didn’t get to do some of the hikes we had sort of planned. But it was GREAT to see Duncan / Sma3eel! He’s gone so native! But in a very respectful way: he’s super conscientious about what is polite and what is not, very adapted to the cold (although his feet look rather sketchy) and folks light up when they hear a Westerner speaking the Berber language. Folks here are immensely polite as well. A hawker (in M-kesh) might come up to press us to go to this hotel or that restaurant, but when they discover Dunc knows ‘Tash,’ they give us the addresses of their families back home and tell us we are welcome to stay with their families on our travels. It was also fun to meet up with other Peace Corps volunteers traveling for the holidays.

After Fran’s luggage arrived, we bussed 8 hours through mountain passes to arrive at the home of Dunc’s first home stay family outside of the rose capital of Morocco. You can read more about this family in Dunc’s previous posts, but suffice it to say we were feted with food, tea, henna and evenings of relaxing with a complex array of family members. This would be an ideal homestay situation [aside from the generosity of the hosts], because the children are available for language training! We were served a delicious wheat / sugar / spice mixture scooped up with a spoon for breakfast, which went immensely well with the milky coffee served as well. That was followed by a thick chicken broth with spices and barley. Lunch was a tajine of root vegetables and a chunk of chicken or beef, which was divided for all sharing the pot. The veggies and juices were scooped with a yummy bread. Dinner was couscous with veggies and meat. All meals are eaten from a common plate or pot.

What with all the eating and drinking, it was a challenge to get away for a hike. The first day we had a tour of the family fields where beans, grains and vegetables are cultivated. The little plots are lined with fruit and nut trees (apricot, peach, figs) and rose bushes. A ‘rock garden’ is laid out for drying everything for storage. One of the funny little items ‘lost in translation’ is that I wondered if we could have some almonds for our travels; of course they gave us a bagful, but alas, they were still in their husks. I guess I expected them to come shelled the way they are at Kroger’s! We also hiked along the river valley that separates them from the next series of mountain ridges.

Family members arrived and departed on mysterious errands to and from other households or other towns. Actually just about everything was mysterious to me, given that the only thing I could say is “I don’t know Tash!” On our second day there, a story came from across the river and up the mountain that a sheep had wandered over the edge of the mountain facing us, and the shepherd had followed it over the edge. They were now stuck on the side of the mountain, and had been for 15 days, where apparently the shepherd had gone without food or water. I went up on the roof of our compound with some of the young adults and they were able to find the guy in my binoculars. They said they thought that the sheep must have given birth, as there seemed to be a lamb with the sheep. No one knew how the guy was going to get off the mountain. I could see a tall figure in a dark jellaba, but I’m not sure I saw any sheep.

It is hard to express both the sumptuousness of family life, the extent to which the rhythms of life are connected to harvest and food preparation and the raw simplicity of the family we visited. Nobody has anything of their own aside from their clothes, and these folks are relatively affluent for rural Moroccans. But they have this complex web of relationships that links them to their place and their time. It is good to be here in the harshness of the winter so that it is impossible to romanticize the easy life of a semi-nomadic people based on the bounty of the harvest. These folks work hard in extreme circumstances. We have just landed in Duncan’s permanent site, where there is far, far less than we have experienced so far. All of us are stuck on a mountain somewhere. The lesson of the parable eludes me at this point.

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