After Zebzat, we cross the Atlas Mountains, or what is the North eastern end of them. The road zigzags up for about 8km amongst rolling hills covered with rosemary before we arrive on another high plateau.
I am in need of a quiet space, somewhere to digest various bits of distressing news I have received in the last few days. We stop in the middle of nowhere so I can go for a walk into the desert landscape. But within three minutes of stopping, we are surrounded by an unruly bunch of feral kids, asking for money, clothes, food, toys etc. There is a tinge of menace in the air, something that could easily end with a stone being thrown at Emma. Instead of going for a walk, I try to engage with them, to catch their curiosity, by showing them how to juggle. Interestingly, the boys that were so cocky beforehand actually shrink back and it’s the girls who give it a try. One of them is pretty good.
But any genuine connection is quickly superseded by more demands. I take out a loaf of bread and some apples and make them wait until I have cut and arranged these nicely on a board and make them sit around me. But as soon as I give the go ahead, they just grab as many pieces as they can. I demand that everything be put back on the plate and we start again. The boys think it’s funny, the girls are a bit ashamed. This kind of crowd control takes energy and is the last thing we need right now, so we decide to drive on and go to a camp-site.
The Jurassic Hotel/Camping lies at the mouth of the Ziz Gorge and is run by Said, a member of a large Berber family (they are over 100 when they meet for family gatherings). His wife and daughter-in-law run the kitchen with the help of young Mohammed, training to be a chef. We spend a few nights here, making friends with the family, with Frank catching glimpses of the local Berber cuisine whilst teaching Mohammed English. He dreams of moving to Europe and we try to give him a more realistic picture of what kind of life he could expect there. Essentially, we encourage him to go travelling to broaden his horizons but try to dissuade him from thinking of Europe as his new home. There is so much to do here and Morocco needs to keep its young and motivated people.
The Ziz gorge is absolutely stunning. The river has dug deep into the high plain and by the Jurassic Hotel, it makes a large bend, giving you the impression that you are at the bottom of a circular valley. One day, I’d like to hire a donkey to go for a ride through an Oasis, but maybe not today, we are quite tired and need some down time.
We walk along the river-bank foraging for wood, but there’s not a branch to be found. However, coming back to the hotel, we spot quite a lot by the wayside. Wood seems to be in short supply here, every little bit is spoken for, so we ask Said before taking any, and he is very generous and lets us stock up our reserves.
The nights get bitterly cold here – don’t be fooled by the sunny daytime pictures!
We make friends with Said’s brother Hussaine, who tells us interesting stories about local folks and customs. He explains to us his partridge trap, which involves a process of tempting the birds with grain, placed in strategic places over a number of days, until the birds feel safe. He then arranges a funnel-shaped net near the feeding place and lies in wait. When the birds come to feed, he takes a couple of stones and makes a tiny noise, just enough to make the birds a little nervous and move away from the noise, but into the trap. He says that on good days he may catch 15 in one go!
We speak a lot about the challenges facing the younger generation in Morocco. I ask if young people have a choice in who they want to marry or if it’s all arranged by the family. Yes, these days, someone might choose a partner and then get his family to ask the other family’s approval. A man has to prove that he can provide for his new wife and he has to pay for everything, the wedding, furnishing the new apartment etc. To make the marriage legal, he also has to pay the parents of the bride a certain sum, it may not be much, could even be as low as a few Dirham, but it is essential in order to legalise the marriage.
Hussaine tells us that not far from here there is a town where every year in September there is a marriage festival. A marriage may be agreed upon at any time in the year, but often the families wait until the festival to get married. It is a matter of convenience – here, everything is in one place; the registrar and whatever person or institution is needed to create the right documents. Since one would need to see the same authorities for a divorce, they also happen during the marriage festival, and they too may have been agreed upon any time during the year but only acted upon during September. This festival must be quite something to watch.
A few more pictures about this chapter can be found here
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