A day trip to Maghraoua. September 23-October 6, 2019 (3 of 3)
Maghraoua is a small village, far from everything, and the folks we were visiting were out even further. I accompanied 2 of my host sisters, and my youngest niece, to visit some family of the girl’s father. I was invited so that I would pay for the trip, and told we would visit Taza on the way home, a city I had been wanting to see. I thought we were only going to visit the great-aunt and uncle. That they are elderly and he has been sick, and wanted to see the little girl. We actually visited several homes while we were there, and no Taza.
Still, it was more interesting than had we seen another city. I have no idea how much money these people did/did not have, but they lived very simply. We stopped at a hanoot in the town for a few supplies that my sister wanted to bring, including TP. The hanoot had lots of bees flying around, but I did not see what they were after.
A rocky, dirt track from town took us to a cluster of about 10 homes. I gathered that even though my host sister had never lived here, she had visited often with her ex, as she knew most everyone. As Mohammed parked the taxi, our first sight was a woman rising from her corn. She was shelling the kernels from the ears on one blanket, to another, to dry in the sun. The women greeted each other warmly. The next building was the home of the ex when he was growing up. I know my sister lived with the in-laws for a time, but it must have been elsewhere. We passed a few more homes and a very old stone building, likely once a home, but now used for animals. Most of the homes were stones of varying sizes with no apparent means of support. We came to the Great Aunt and Uncle’s home, where we were greeted warmly, by them and another woman helping them. These buildings were very old, as evidenced by the use of wood beams, at least a foot in diameter, for the ceiling, along with wood doors. There were also fireplaces, in the kitchen, and the one bedroom I saw. Wood is very scarce now in Morocco, but there was a time it was plentiful. And, the government is making great efforts to re-forest large areas.
The kitchen was open to one side, onto an interior courtyard, and appeared to be so year-round, as the opening was too large for a door, nearly the entire wall. This, despite the fact it snows here. The lodge-pole ceilings were a bit low, but not so much as you needed to duck. The large room had the stovetops on one side, the fireplace, with the large, round caldron straight out of the middle ages, on the other. Near the fireplace was the large, flat basket where they had been sifting the hand ground grain, corn or wheat. The room was large, with plenty of seating. Large, hand woven, wool carpets hung from poles near the entryway and likely they were moved to help close off the area in cold weather. Off the courtyard was the toilet room, with many barrels and jugs of water a testament to the intermittent water service that is not uncommon in very rural areas.
A second table was brought in to accommodate the mountain of baked goods brought by my sister. A third woman arrived to help. Tea was served, baked goods eaten. The Great Aunt was completely bent at the waist. She needed a cane to keep her head above her knees when walking. What kind of work had she done all her life to get in such a state? But when she sat and talked with us, her face had a youthful glow of happiness.
Between tea and lunch, my sister asked to borrow a plate, upon which she heaped baked goods. We then delivered these treats to the home of elderly neighbors, who lived in the one modern block house. This process was repeated 3-4 times. Most visits were only a door or two away. Mohammed drove the Great Uncle into town to attend prayers at the mosque. Likely a rare treat for him. The kids here have to walk all the way in to school, like stories from my great grandfather’s day. After a fine lunch of lamb with prunes, we made a few more visits. My sister asked how many small children were there, and the four of them came out to receive gifts of yogurts and packaged treats. For the last visit, we walked a trail up a steep mountain, passing a flock of sheep, more houses, a large olive oil mill. The small group of houses actually had two of these that I saw. Not electric, but donkey powered, though there was electricity in some if not all the houses. These mills were exactly like the ones found at the ancient Roman ruins of Volubilis, from 2000 years ago, but still in use today, as evidenced by last year’s olive waste. But I did not really see enough olive trees nearby to justify the size of the mills. The house at the top of the hill was modern, with fruit trees, various fowl, including Guinee hens, a dog and two kids. These two girls were wearing wool caps on a warm day. We vigorously declined tea and food, explaining we just had a few minutes before needing to return to lunch. Still, we were served fresh honey comb from their bees. The man showed me his young olive orchard. He told me he has 1000 trees. Many spaces were missing, but that could have been due to the rocky terrain.
I got careless and left my backpack in the kitchen with the three women at the Great Aunt’s house. I knew it was a mistake, as soon as I started up the steep hill. But I was lucky, they only stole 200 dirham ($20). I looked at the women, their effusiveness gone, knowing I knew. But I said nothing. What could I say? Not only did my 200 dirham note look like every other 200 dirham note, so impossible to prove, but they seemed so poor. It would have been humiliating to raise a fuss. Had they taken everything, or gotten into the pocket with my passport or US dollars, it would have been another story. Instead, they took one of the notes, leaving me another 200 and a 50, from the purse inside the bag, without searching every pocket. Thankfully, it was time to go. One more stop on the way out of town, more of my niece’s family.
My sister needed this day. Her ex-husband had returned to America, with his money, car, job and US citizenship, leaving her to care for their daughter with no help. She needed her chance to show his family that she was a good cook, that the daughter was beautiful, that she was beautiful and to tell her side of the story.
While there was no Taza, we did pass through interesting countryside, most of which I had seen when my sister was here. On the first trip through, we speculated that they were harvesting rocks, but now I can see that those many piles of rocks are the product of creating and clearing terraces for winter grains or grazing. There was a lot of road construction, and every so often, new little structures along the road. Likely they were shelters for students waiting for school busses in the middle of nowhere. A very desolate area, but you could see clusters of homes here and there. The part I had not seen included yet another huge, high desert agricultural valley. There were big patches of very purple soil. Also, the far side of Tazekka park included the famed Grotto. I requested we stop on the way back. When we came to the top of the hill, we found it, closed as reported. Young men there showed us a short trail to get a bird’s eye view, but we need to return in December if we want to go inside. A short time later, we stopped at an area developed as a picnic area with a playground. The tea put us home just a few minutes after sunset, but still fairly light. Today’s memorable picture in my head…coming around a corner, at a roadside spring, there were at least 20 children, none older than 12, maybe 3 mules or donkeys, and 50 or more plastic jugs. The kids were having a grand time, in no particular hurry, sent by their folks to fetch water for the house, like city kids are sent for bread.
Well, this is a very big week! More soon.