I wake up early in the morning. This whole thing of giving and receiving has been going round my head all night. I don’t think it’s very healthy for the people here, no matter how poor they are, to be asking and randomly receiving stuff from foreigners. We play a part in this as well, and I don’t want to be encouraging this kind of dynamic. Of course I’d love to give something, but not like this. Frank is still asleep and I’m hatching a plan…
I’d like us to inspire the kids to make their own balls from stuff that they have available to them. We could show them how to sew a ball, to fill it with grains or beans and then show them how to juggle. If we did this in a school, we might make it a little project in French or English, depending on what language they are studying, and use the time to communicate with each other and get to know each other.
Frank wakes up, and together we spin this idea a bit further. By the time the sun is up and it’s school time, we are ready.
The boy comes past, offering us some hand woven cushion covers, probably hand-made by his mother, however, we are more interested in meeting his teachers.
There are three teachers and they arrive together in a car from Khenifra, closely followed by a mini-bus full of children.
We start talking to the teachers, explaining our idea. The teacher stops us in our tracks. The problem is, you can’t just come into the school, you’ll have to found a charity, and then we need to ask for permission from the state, but yes, let’s stay in contact per email and we’ll see what we can do for next year. I see our idea belly-flopping, but Frank continues to talk, explaining that we are just passing by, not sure what will happen next year, we are here now to meet and exchange ideas.
He likes where our idea comes from, he also doesn’t think it a good thing if the children get in the habit of asking strangers for gifts. Eventually he says, come and have a look at the school, and for the second time in 4 days, we’ve managed to short-circuit the correct procedures for getting inside a school. We witness a lovely, lively Arabic lesson from a very passionate teacher (he is very proud to say that some of his students from this very remote community have gone on to University). We communicate with the children and Frank eases his way into drawing onto the blackboard the items needed to make a ball oneself. Using his clowning skills, he mimes throwing a ball to the children, getting them involved. The teacher is hooked too and we have free reign for a few minutes. We present our idea to the children, complete with where it came from, and we thank the young boy for having inspired us, by asking for a ball.
By the time we leave it is break time, and the teachers invite us to the staff room for tea, a cosily decorated space near the school (they leave the kids to their own devices during break time). Tea turns out to be a very tasty meal, prepared by the bus driver who doubles up as a more than competent cook. We check today’s route with him (a policeman had already described it as la misère, but we wanted a second opinion), and he convinces us to return to Khenifra rather than attempting the treacherous mountain route, which we had our sights on. Rather grudgingly we heed his advice and wend our way through the forest and beautiful valley all the way back to Khenifra.
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One valley further on, a young man is running across the fields to hitch a lift with us, leaving his sheep behind. He lives in the next village, and on the way he tells us (this conversation is by far the hardest one to understand yet, maybe he spoke Tamazirgh, the local Berber language) that the lake is beautiful, that it’s safe to stay there, and many other things too, which I don’t understand. We pass a few nomad encampments, wooden structures wrapped on the outside with plastic, often bits taken from large advertising hoardings. One such house is completely wrapped in a Maroc Telecom advert, another in a car safety advert. The road peters out and our passenger hops out and leaves us to our own devices, after having led us up a cul-de-sac. We get out and decide to have a cup of tea at the one of the outdoor cafés, leaving the problem of how to turn around til later.
Two cyclists pass by. They must have worked hard to get here, it’s quite high up in the mountains, so we call out in different languages to invite them for a cuppa and it turns out they’re English. We sit together for a while, sharing stories and admiring their energy to be crossing this country on bikes. They are heading for Merzougha, so quite possibly we’ll bump into them again.
There is a Berber village by the lake. We chat to several families and are invited into their homes. They may look pretty stark on the outside, but inside, these houses are warm (a stove is chucking out heat), clean and spacious, with kitchen utensils neatly hung away on the wall and the carpets all brushed. In one, a young woman is sitting by a loom, weaving and knot-tying a carpet, her young son hiding behind the threads.
The older son is sent to get water with the donkey. Rather than leading it, he decides to ride down to the well but the donkey won’t have any of it and chucks him and the empty canisters off and scarpers over the brow of the hill, leaving the boy to run after him. The husband/father stands by the entrance of the house, looking at his family proudly and fondly, and watching over our visit.
As the sun starts to set, we return from the lake back through the forest to a large clearing where we find the police station that we were told about, opposite a tiny school. There are no other houses right there, but we spot a number of scattered Tamazirgh encampments in the distance on the edge of the forest.
We arrive just in time for sunset. There are a number of people sitting by the road or further away, watching the sun go down. It is as if work stops for that moment. Eventually they rise and disappear. A young boy lingers by the van, leaning on his bicycle. We get talking and he is happy to practice his French. We chat for a few minutes, asking about his family and his school, and then he says good bye and is off home across the hill.
Night settles in with a beautiful starlit firmament. There is no light pollution up here and the night skies are to die for. We go out and search for all the constellations we know. It takes us a while to find the polar star as it’s quite a bit further down than I am used to. A slow shooting star makes a majestic arch across a quarter of the sky. It’s been a long day and we’re off to sleep by 8pm.
A loud knock pulls us both out of deep sleep. Frank answers the door to find the boy from the afternoon, wrapped tightly in jacket, scarf and hat. Wordlessly, he hands a basket to Frank, containing a little metal pot with chicken soup in it. We thank him and give him a jar of marmalade to give to his mother in return. Just as Frank is closing the door, the boy says donne-moi un ballon. We don’t want to give our only ball away, so Frank gives him a pen instead and he seems happy.
For more photos of this chapter, click here
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