Hijrah Diaries Update – Into The High Atlas

Brooke Benoit returns to her long running series about gracelessly adjusting to living in Morocco- this time in the bled.

Many people (read my mom and two of my dearest friends) have asked me to update my series about moving with my husband and five children (now six) from Alaska, USA to Casablanca, Morocco.  I’ve been uneager to write since the time in Casablanca was full of hardship for my family as we experienced many of the discomforts familiar to muhajiroon: unfulfilled expectations, too-close quarters, financial strains, new cultural clashes between spouses, culture clashes between three generations of family, and just a whole lot of general discomfort. Let’s not dwell, again, on the heat, the pollution, the unIslamic behaviour, and the bedbugs! But finally I have good news, some relief and a little inspiration to share: we have given up big city living and have moved to a rural village in the High Atlas mountains.

Nearly 2 years in: We are fast coming up to our two year anniversary here in Casablanca and facing my incessant demand of “What next?” I begrudgingly agreed to live in an apartment with too many people that is much-too-small-for-mosts’ comfort for two years – a seemingly infinite amount of time – and though it has crept by quickly enough, I am still very, very ready to move on and out. These last few months, I have really felt the strain of nearly every movement I make being restricted by my worrying about how will it affect someone else. I mean every movement. And while I am uber eager to know what the next move is for us, the husband doesn’t have any idea or tangible options, so I am scurrying around looking for possibilities of what to do with ourselves. I am willing to move either the entire family or just the portion I birthed, but we must move some bodies very, very soon!

A friend of mine has been suggesting for a few years that I go live near her, out in the deep, deep bled (countryside) which she loves so much. While I have been skeptical about what I would do there and how I would manage such a different lifestyle, the idea has really grown on me. Access to nature has been so depressingly lacking in our home-educating experience here in Casablanca and this would surely be remedied by living in a mudhouse in the mountains. Or maybe it’s the only option I can really see happening at this time. Either way, I am pestering the husband to “go get a place there” and not thinking too much about the harrowing logistics of dragging my kids and furnishings up a narrow, windy road into the Atlases. And while I am excruciatingly nervous about actually doing this move, recently I remembered how, when I was a teen, I would frequently drive up the coast of northern California with my mother or friends and dreamed of someday living in a small, rural, artsy community in the woods. Was that dream so far off from what I am anticipating now? Several people have told me that they “would love to do that!” But what is that? Some people want to do the whole live-off-the-earth/back-to-the-land thing, while others want to stockpile for a vacation or a retirement in the relaxing countryside. I can’t and don’t want to do either. While my husband often says that his “hands are tied,” I feel that my hands have been turned.

Access to nature has been so depressingly lacking in our home-educating experience here in Casablanca and this would surely be remedied by living in a mudhouse in the mountains.

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Day 1: I cannot believe the van the husband rented to get us here. It’s rented with a driver- actually three drivers which is problematic considering our family alone is over maximum capacity, plus we have a few tons of stuff and the van is miniscule! The whole while the kids were dragging their stuff downstairs to be loaded into the van, Husband kept saying “Is there more?! Is there more?! It won’t all fit!” Yeah, it didn’t. Ok, I fully admit that while he has agreed to one month with the possibility of two or three more, I have packed for one year, but still. He knew the size of the vehicle he was renting and he knew I was adamant about getting all of the bikes in good working order before we left, so why didn’t he understand that they were supposed to go with us? Alhumdulillah, the bikes, the dozen baby chicks eldest son just bought specifically to take with us and the children’s playstands were the only things left behind. Oh, and of course the box with my books didn’t make it and we brought the power cord but not my laptop! We did bring the other laptop though, so alhumdulillah. Somehow Husband managed to bump off one of the drivers too, so just the two drivers traded off during the several hour drive which we did overnight and I got a little extra leg room while husband squeezed himself up front.

Apparently, these journeys regularly happen by leaving Casablanca at one in the morning to avoid the baking midday heat in the mountains. Sure we missed the scenic drive, but I am so thankful to do it this way as otherwise I would have been horribly carsick and almost completely useless to care for the kids other than being handed the baby to breastfeed. I took motion sickness pills – both over the counter and homeopathic – and slept through most of it along with everyone else, except the incredibly chatty drivers. At about seven in the morning we arrived in the little town that was three-hours from our destination and had a quick breakfast and bathroom breaks before the hardest leg of the journey- the slim (but paved) roads that wind through the Atlas valley, the loveliest bit of the ride I’m sure, but I took more drugs and passed out again. The half hour or so that I was awake to nurse the baby was a sickening enough blur of cameo colours outside the thankfully curtained windows to make me not want to do the drive again for at least a year. We stopped at a little trickle of a waterfall, but I didn’t trust my legs enough to stand and see it. Instead I sat at the side opening of the van staring off to the other side of the valley at a simple lone house nearly blending into the dirt from which it was made. I thought to myself, ‘Why do they chose to live this way?’ then had the sudden realisation: ‘Oh God, why did I choose this?!’

A half dozen ridiculously friendly kids of varying ages met us upon our arrival in the village and helped dragged our dozens and dozens of pieces of luggage and odds and ends into our truly lovely mud and thatched-roof rental house. I was absolutely paranoid about leaving anything of need or value tucked somewhere into a fold or crook of the van, but was too dizzy to do much more than make a silent du’a and bark something incoherent to the husband. Feeling like a stinky disheveled mess, I just wanted to scurry into the nearest room to hide from any and all potential helpers or visitors, but none of the rooms had doors! None of them. Not even the bathroom or the shower. And the bathroom is… a traditional… very common around the world… even luxurious to many people… hole in the ground. With a little porcelain foot base thingy, of course, but not what we (me and the kids) had hoped for. ‘Hope’ being all we could cling to since Husband would not answer any questions about the bathroom, which he had seen when he procured the place a week ago and now we know why he had kept mum. But really- no door?!?! When the homeowner said it was “unfinished”… no bathroom door?!?! And when he said he would finish it before we got there, he didn’t mean to install a bathroom door?!?! And then I remembered that we forgot the water heater, also not provided with the rental…

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Living in the High Atlas mountains with her husband and six home-educated children, Brooke Benoit is (mostly) savouring living in a community where hands-on and doing from scratch are the norm.

  This article originally appeared in the October 2012 of SISTERS Magazine.

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