The Wisdom of Goats and Mountains and Things

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I want to take us all back to Morocco and my life there circa 2008. Seems like just yesterday but when I see pictures of myself from then I realize how much time has passed and how much I have aged. Kids will do that to you, hell life will do that to you. So here is a journal entry from late January 2008, more or less verbatim. Enjoy!

Its Sunday. Souk (market) day. A beautiful cloudless day with a strong sun. We just finished cleaning some of our house – did the dishes, swept and mopped. Mud houses are dirty, especially in winter when we bring a lot of dirt and mud into the house via our feet.

Two nights ago we celebrated another Moroccan holiday called Ashor. Apparently Ashor was originally a Jewish holiday that celebrates Moses “parting the Red Sea”. It is also celebrated by Muslims. Given the very small, in my opinion, differences between Judaism, Christianity and Islam, I just don’t get what all the hatred and fighting is about. All three have the same god, typically capitalized as God, Yahweh or Allah (different names, same god) and all three groups of followers are known as “People of the Book”. Perhaps its like species that occupy very similar niches and that must either create a new niche through adaptation or out compete each other. Seems as though the three monotheistic religions have gone the competition route. This is an overly simplistic explanation and surely there is more going on. I digress. In order to celebrate Ashor, we went over to our  family’s house and ate couscous with tikhordasine, which is something quite unique. It is salted meat, organs (like the lungs, yum) and fat that has been stuffed into the stomach and then wrapped in the small intestine. It is then dried and left out for some duration of time (months).  Sounds delicious eh? It actually wasn’t too bad but not good either. Incredibly salty but with a mix of spices in it, so it was edible for sure. It looks like a small bomb and I remember Moroccans telling me that they traveled with these in their luggage to visit ex-pat relatives in Europe and the U.S. Lucky they didn’t end up in Guantanamo.

Yesterday we went for a hike up a new mountain for us – Jbel Lkars, the mountain north of Tounfite. We left at 9:30am and it took us quite a while to get out of town what with meeting friends and getting besieged by children and all. It was a beautiful, cloudless day. The walk took us through the winding streets of the oldest part of Tounfite with its ancient, multi-storied mud houses and narrow alleyways. We soon crossed the river on a tiliguid (bridge but I love the softness of the word) and wound our way through cultivated fields before crossing the road that leads into town. From there the walk became a hike as we started our first ascent. Starting off tree-less (due to overgrazing and firewood collection), we soon entered a forest of dwarf oaks. We continued up to the first ridge and then turned south-southwest climbing steadily upward towards the next summit. This mountain, like all the mountains in our area, consists of a series of summits along a rolling ridge. In our area this is the first mountain in the High Atlas range – the Middle Atlas Mountains can be seen off in the distance to the north and northeast across the wide Zaida plain, in which lies the dusty town of Boumia. And to the south and west the High Atlas Mountains loom. As we continued to follow a sheep trail, climbing higher and higher, the trees got larger and more numerous. The dwarf-oak woodland transitioned into an Atlas cedar forest and suddenly the air was alive with the sound of bird song. We made our way through the majestic cedars and soon found ourselves on a bald mountain ridge surrounded by the large, Frankenstein-like Atlas cedars and near-panoramic views. To the north the Zaida plain was tiger-striped in red earth and white snow with the forested Middle Atlas beyond. To the southeast lay the majestic giant, Jbel Ayachi (over 12,000 feet tall), sleeping quietly beneath a soft blanket of snow. And to the south lay the town of Tounfite nestled against slate-gray foothills, buzzing with the activity of a souk (market) day. Jbel Maasker loomed over the gray foothills and Tounfite like a giant protector waiting silently. The rest of the snow-capped High Atlas Mountains, the Idrar n Idrarn (the “Mountain of Mountains”) extended farther than the eye could see to the southwest all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. Oh how lucky we are to call this place home, even for ever so short a period of time.

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Jbel Ayachi (over 12,000 feet) screened by gnarled, old Atlas cedars.

We decided to stop and have lunch. At this most beautiful of restaurants, we lit a fire and brewed strong mountain (green) tea and ate our lunch of local bread, La Vache Qui Rit (The Laughing Cow cheese), and hard boiled eggs. We soon met an old Berber man shepherding his flock of thirty goats or so who was accompanied by two dogs and his grandson. We greeted each other in the local manner of “Peace be upon you”, “And also upon you”, “How are you”, “How is your health”, “How are yours”, and on and on.  Greetings here can be quite complex, formal and lengthy. He smelled pleasantly of animals and wood smoke which would become a very comforting smell by the end of our two years living here.  He kissed my hand (a sign of respect) and I returned the gesture (thus returning the respect) before we parted ways and they headed off in the opposite direction of our route. I could hear him talking to his grandson as they walked along. Perhaps they were discussion the meeting with the strange arumin (foreigners) or maybe he was imparting the wisdom of his man years on this earth – the wisdom of goats and mountains and things.

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Running up a snow-field on Jbel Lkars.

As the late afternoon light started to fade, we headed back down the same way we had come. Through the Atlas cedar forest and the dwarf oaks and on into town which had come alive and swelled with interesting mountains folks who have come into town for the weekly souk. What an interesting and charming life we are living in this dusty little corner of the world!

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