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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Day 10 – A Day in the Life of Tineghir

Overview of Tineghir from my hotel room

Today we participated in OAT's special program of feeling a part of a place by going shopping for our dinner. That meant that we would go into the market with a list of food items we were to buy and they would be sent to the restaurant that would cook them. Yemani divided us into three teams: meat, vegetables, and fruits. I was on the vegetable team.

The thought of this exercise didn't appeal to me at first. I was having a culture shock type of day where I was tiring of all the differences around me—and my cold is lingering and/or coming back. I'm also finding the trip to be so intensive and so full of information that I was getting tired. It's been 10 days of travel and constant movement on and off the bus, up and down stairways, in and out of hotels. It is also a bit difficult relating to a group of people every day. Thank God we are only 14 in the group! I've been in travel groups of 50. The trick is to rotate hanging out with different people on different days. Although this is the kind of thing I like to do, it gets a little wearying about this point of the trip. We have had very little down time. Keeping up a journal doesn't make it any easier. But I would later take some time off in the afternoon by myself and that would revive me.

As it turned out, the shopping exercise was fun. Our vegetable group dove right into it and it wasn't too difficult communicating with the vendors. They spoke French and that helped. Pointing at items helped, too. The chef had made a list of items that included numbers like 1 kilo or 2 kilos, and we'd show them in order to buy what we needed. The vendors were also used to travel groups coming through and they were especially nice to us. I think they are curious about us or at least find us amusing as they try to figure out what we are saying. It also wasn't very busy. It was not like being in the Medina in Fez where there is so much going on all around you.

So our mission was to buy 2 kilos of potatoes and onions, 1 kilo of tomatoes and green beans. Yemani gave us 200 dh and we still had a lot left, so we bought eggplant and red peppers with the hope that the chefs would add garlic and make that special dish. (They did and it was delicious!) Then we found some peanuts, which we had enjoyed at the desert camp, and bought them. In all we spent 80 dh or $10.

Mawktar, a “blue man,” joined our group today as our local contact as we would go through the oasis and meet some of the people who farmed there. A “blue man” is a Berber who wears traditional blue clothing. They live mostly in south Morocco and are descendants of the Tware tribe that originally comes from Mali. They first interacted with the Moroccans in the 16th century. One big difference in their clothing between them and the Arabs is that men wear veils and not the women. This is for the sand storm.

After our shopping expedition, Mawktar took us to the Jewish section of the old town. Some of them left in the early 20th century and went to Casablanca. About 100 families were left and they emigrated to Israel, France, the U.S. in the 1960s along with the 600,000 other Jews. They were a real loss to Morocco because they had founded various industries and employed people in their factories. Now their old mud homes were “melting down.” We saw some poor kids were playing among the ruins while a couple of them sat around a charcoal fire on this fine, warm morning. It turned out that many of the Jews who went to Israel found life there difficult. They missed the warm temperatures and the friendliness of the people here. In fact, some of the Jewish families return here from time to time to visit their old friends and see their old homes.

Alfalfa grass is cut by hand. Nancy, dressed in traditional garb does the work.
The Berbers seem to be a very friendly and jovial people who love life. They have easy smiles and are willing to be especially helpful to others. Maybe because life is more leisurely here in an oasis town. They certainly do not live the harried lives of the larger cities we have visited. We would find this warmth especially in the oasis as we walked on a dusty path through date palms and small plots of wheat, barley, fava beans and alfalfa (for the livestock) that were separated by foot-high banks. Each family that owns a plot takes care of it. That includes owning a cow and spreading its dung on the plot. All the food here is grown organically. Men typically do the plowing while the women cut the alfalfa. However, many of the men are working job abroad in Europe, so the women do most of the agriculture here.
The oasis is huge measuring 50 km long and 200 meters wide. Our walk through it was refreshing and cool. The path was dusty and it got on my socks more than the sands of the Sahara. As we left it, I thought of the biblical advice that if you are not accepted in a town, to shake the dust off your feet and move on to the next one. While I like this town, the meaning of the quote makes me think that I really need to plan a trip to the Holy Land soon. Morocco has given me a taste of a desert culture and I think going to the Middle East would immerse me in it totally.

A donkey is used as a beast of burden and it can carry up to 100 kilos on its back.

Overlooking the oasis is the Glaoua Kasbah. The Glaoua (pronounced glowie) people owned salt mines and they exchanged it 1:1 for gold, skins, and other goods from Marrakech. Tineghir was a caravan town, so it provided caravan hotels with bedrooms upstairs for the merchant travelers and stalls downstairs for their goods and their dromedaries. Sultans ruled the day at the time. They were like kings with power because they collected taxes in goods from the different tribes that passed through town. There is a story about a sultan who lived at the end of the 19th century who went on a tax collecting trip. He caught a cold and stayed with a family here. He left behind a cannon with the family who lived in the Glaoua Kasbah. This cannon gave the family a decided advantage and it became powerful. After the French conquered Algeria and then moved into Morocco in 1908, they used this family to subdue the people here. When Morocco gained independence in 1954, they expelled this family. Hassan II invited the family to return. A book was written by Gavin Maxwell about this family. It is called The Lords of the Atlas. Sounds like a fascinating book I'd like to read.

We stopped to see the ruins of a Koran School or madrasa, a Muslim boarding school that adjoins a mosque. Although it is “melting down,” especially after being affected by a small earthquake 15 years ago, a caretaker lives in one of the rooms. He has, in fact, restored the prayer area. The government is not interested in restoring a mud building because it is concentrating on building new buildings and mosques in concrete and steel that will last.
The niche (mihrab) faces the direction of Mecca as the Immam leads prayers to rows of prayerful people behind him. His chair (minbar) is where he stands when he gives his Friday sermon.

The boys In Koran schools, usually between 8-10 years old, learned the Koran by heart. Then they are able to work in mosques as immams or as teachers in Koran schools. There were 50 students at this school at one time.

This Berber shower was in the courtyard outside the madrasa. To use it, you crawl through the entry way and sit inside it. It was covered with mud on the outside while heated water was poured into it.

Today, people don't think that madrasas are a good idea for education. They prefer modern schools. Immams were not traditionally trained in a seminary as priests and ministers are. They would set up shop on their own and be accountable to no overseeing body. Today, would-be immams must have a degree and go to school. They get scholarships and “licenses” from the Ministry of Religious Affairs.

After we refreshed ourselves at our hotel, we went to Dar Et-Taleb Education Center to meet some high school students and have lunch with them. This center is actually a place where 120 boys were boarded while they go to school elsewhere. (There is another center for girls, but we didn't visit it.) The center is one of the Grand Circle Foundation's projects. (They are associated with OAT.) Grand Circle has provided funds for showers, restrooms, and a soccer field.

Three of us met with three boys at our table. They were selected because they spoke English. Only one boy spoke it well. Some of the boys here come from town while others come from a distance. They get help with their studies and they have a place to stay so that they are more likely to complete them. Education is key to developing a country!!

The boys were very polite and obviously prepared for our visit. They came up to us and invited us to their tables. They were quite open about their lives. Most of them we met wanted to be teachers or engineers. The center is giving them the chance to do so.

Before we had the afternoon off, we stopped at a Berber carpet cooperative. The head man there spoke excellent English and was very entertaining as he explained how carpets are made, what they are made of (camel hair), and what their designs and colors mean. Then he took us to a showroom, served us tea (with an explanation about how it was made), and then treated us to see all the different kinds of carpets they sell. This was all a warm up for us to buy. I wished I could get a wall hanging, but the expense was way too great, and the pressure to buy was way too high. They started at $1800. I baulked, as a good bargainer should, but I didn't come back with a counter offer because I was not in the least interested. He forced it out of me and I said $500. He asked me my name and told me his: Abdullah. As I tried to leave, he chased me around the two-story store to make me buy not one, but “three carpets for a good price.” He called after me: “Canada, Canada.” (I was wearing my red jacket that had Canada written on its back.) This was a little too much for me and I ran to Yemani to rescue me. He told me how to get to the bus. I had expected a more suave approach from the salesmen, like in the leather goods store in Fez. This was a good experience, nonetheless.

We met for dinner at 6:30 and drove to a hotel that had prepared our dinner from the groceries we purchased that morning. We had a delicious potato/tomato/??? soup, grilled lamb chops, eggplant/red pepper gnash, a tajine of potatoes, onions, green beans. For desert we had fruit, chocolate wafer cookies, chocolate sandwich cookies, and peanuts. I felt more full than I have been feeling at our meals during the whole trip. I think it was the cookies that did me in.

We also had some entertainment by a “blue man” band. Sylvia, who has been taking Middle Eastern dance, performed a dance for us. A couple other people joined in. She is really good at it!!

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