by Ryan Powell, Ait Yaddou, Morocco
In my last few weeks of training, before I was sworn in as a Volunteer, I was told that the site I had been assigned was closed and that I'd be assigned to a new one. This new site would be in a Berber-speaking area. I didn't speak Berber, having learned Arabic throughout training. I had never seen the site nor met my Moroccan work counterpart, both of which I had done at my original site. Needless to say, I was a bit upset and nervous.
Thankfully, a third-year Volunteer named Karima offered to accompany me to my site. After about a five-hour cameo ride, we arrived at the nearby forestry post. The forestry post is a 2.5-hour walk away from the village of Ait Yaddou, where I chose to live. Since neither Karima nor I had ever been to Ait Yaddou, we hoped that the forest guardian might assist us.
A forest guardian named Mazooze greeted us at the forestry post and offered us some mint tea. When we told him about my situation, he said that we would leave the next morning for Ait Yaddou and that he knew someone who had a house that was not being used. Mazooze fed us dinner and set up sleeping arrangements for us in the forestry post.
We arrived in Ait Yaddou in mid-morning and were brought into my soon-to-be landlord's house. We were served mint tea and ate apples and walnuts, which were being harvested in the village and were plentiful. He showed me a large room attached to an unused house that would be mine. We agreed that I would return in one week to move in, and he would put in a window and door and level out the floor. We ate a lunch of tagine at his house, and Karima and I left Mazooze there to do some work while we headed back to the forestry post.
On our way back to the forestry post, we were caught in a hailstorm. A man brought us into his house and served us mint tea, bread, and honey. Honey is very expensive, so Karima and I were taken aback by this hospitality. Apparently the man and his wife were so pleased that Karima spoke Berber that they honored us by bringing out the honey, and they even offered us accommodations for the night. We waited out the hailstorm, graciously thanked them, and made our way back to the forestry post.
Since my site had been changed, I had been brooding about whether I should just keep studying Arabic, not looking forward to learning a new language. But seeing how impressed the people were when Karima spoke to themin Berber made me realize how important it would be to learn it. And I was so overwhelmed by the Berber hospitality and genuineness that I felt I owed it to them to speak their language.
by Jennifer Bohman, Souss Massa National Park, Morocco
Water serves another all-important purpose in my area; it is home to all the fish and shellfish we eat. From October to February, the women in my village spend three days a week collecting mussels from the tide pools near the village. Each family brings home about two bucketfuls that they boil, take out of the shell, and then sun dry. Fishermen rummage around the misty coast with their long poles, hoping for something to put into the tajine (Moroccan stew) for dinner. At night when I look out to the ocean from my balcony, I can see the solitary lights of small fishing boats. My village depends on the ocean being clean and never overfished.
My village is contained within a national park. The north of the park borders a major city. That city dumps a lot of its sewage into one of the rivers of the national park. Pollution here is particularly dangerous because this river is the winter home of many migratory birds.
by Erin Olson, Agadir L'henna, Morocco
One of the most noticeable cultural differences in Morocco is the cuisine. Let me just say it's wonderful! But one day when I came home from school to my host family, I found two sheep heads in the kitchen. I was excited because I had just learned the Arabic word for sheep that day, but I was also quite stunned to find sheep heads sitting on the kitchen floor.
We spent the afternoon laughing and they explained the different Arabic words for eyes, ears, nose, etc. by pointing to the sheep face. The next afternoon when a friend of mine came to visit I wanted to show her our sheep, but to my dismay they were gone. I asked my host mother where our sheep had gone and she said that they ate them for lunch while I was at school because she didn't think Americans ate sheep heads. I explained that I usually don't, but we could.
She was so excited by this that she said she'd make some for dinner. Realizing what I had done, and not really wanting to eat sheep head, I tried to back out. "No, no, that's okay," I said. "Please don't go to any trouble."
Well, it was too late by that point. So we went to the market, bought some sheep heads and put them on to boil. So, wanting to embrace all aspects of the culture, I ate sheep head for dinner. My host family loved it. My mother would feed me a piece out of the pot and say, "Mmmm, wasn't that good? That was a piece of ear," or "Here's some cheek."
And you know, it wasn't half-bad!