Hijrah Diaries: Into the High Atlas Mountains

Mountains in the distance with a sprinkling of trees and shrubbery in front in a valley, from SISTERS Magazine’s November ’12 issue.

Day 2: While I was in a fairly frantic speed-settling mode, first thing this morning The Kids (#1- #5) burst out of the house with their homemade arsenal of wooden weaponry and introduced themselves to the neighbourhood. Though I was happy to get them out of my way, I really didn’t feel this was the most effective approach to meeting the neighbours, you know, sharing cookies maybe… but it actually went really well, which just reinforces how little I understand the male species. They were happy, their new friends were happy; the injuries were few and superficial, and still, I got next to nothing done. Perhaps this is because I have a continually nursing one month old and unrealistic expectations.

A small circle of men had gathered round and were discussing a pressing problem in the village – our children.

This is one of the many things I am hoping our move up here into the mountains will do for me. I am hoping that I will learn to let go, to “hand it over to Allah (SWT)” as they say. Though I certainly don’t consider myself a “control freak,” I am open to the possibility that I could be wrong. I know that I do too much, but I don’t know what else to do – or not do! The problem can’t be prioritising as there is nothing on my list that I can give up: I cannot give up nursing Asiya – it is her right and was extended to all of her siblings, so that would just be too wrong for me to do. I do truly feel that nursing her is a blessing and our relationship is symbiotic. I don’t interrupt her feedings for anything, and I also don’t walk around while feeding her (I am lacking in grace and coordination) so at least breastfeeding forces me to SIT. I also cannot give up on working, and even though I sometimes fantasise about giving up homeschooling, the kids won’t let me at this point, as they say “We won’t get on the yellow bus!” Obviously I cannot give up the bare essentials: praying – I already don’t feel that I do enough acts of ‘ibadah and should be adding in this area; eating – I am perfectly content to eat simple foods, but the family has been really spoiled by my SIL and trying to one-up each other in the kitchen the last couple of years. I’m sure eating gruel three times a day isn’t going to be an easy adjustment for the husband and kids to make (though I will serve it up); and sleeping – even though for decades I have tried to reduce my sleep time, Alhamdulillah my body won’t deny me that right. And there is so much more I want to do, like hiking in these beautiful mountains, and everyone else manages somehow. So ultimately I lean towards thinking that my problem is about time management, though I have an inkling that it is worse than that – it’s a problem with my belief. I believe that I can do it all and just haven’t found a way yet, but I may be wrong there. Allah (SWT) may just show me what I have to let go of – I hope!

Day 7: Zaynab, the nearly six years old, has quickly assimilated the local schedule. She knows exactly when the bread starts to be baked in the outdoor ovens and makes the rounds looking for scraps. “Please don’t let your children go around begging for food,” the Husband whined. Of course I assumed the ladies just gave it to her because she’s so cute, masha Allah, but upon questioning it turns out she demands it. In her limited Tshilhit, Zaynab goes around saying “Give me bread.” Lovely, she’s not a beggar, she’s a forty pound bully. And today I saw her coaching the three year old on how it’s done.
Day 9: Husband went back to Casablanca after Fajr this morning and I just want to bawl about it, but I am really too tired and dehydrated to shed a tear. There is just so, so much not the way I want it. I have no idea how to refill the prepaid electricity card and no idea how long it will last, and neither does the landlord or anyone else because who knows how excessive we Americans will be in our use? And I don’t even know where he lives or how to use the phone to call him or anyone else! I forgot to ask husband to explain how this phone works as it has a passcode and uff!

My biggest concern is the kids. Salams, my name Brooke is and I am a permissive parent. And if I don’t get a hold on things fast we are all going to really suffer. They are completely out of the habit of doing any chores as the extended family did everything for them. And even though I insisted to the husband that “I can do this with or without you,” since he needs to take care of things in the city too, truth is, it’s less than ideal to be out here all alone (but I know that I am not alone, I just have to remember that). Many of the women around me have husbands and other relatives who emigrate to Morocco’s cities and beyond for work, but they also have extended family to help with everything from chores to dealing with the kids, and I just moved away from that help. I am having plenty of doubts, but then I just look around me at the incredible beauty of this valley and the amazing opportunities to learn hands-on so much about nature and life… I’m continuing to make a lot of du’a and begging for guidance.

Day 15: I am exhausted. Snoring and drooling into my pillow exhausted. The domestic workload around here is just too much. I said I could do it without a fridge and a washing machine, as it was too much of commitment to drag them up here in case we didn’t like it and did only stay a month, and I am doing it – but exhaustedly. Yesterday, I finally “let something go” and got out of the house for the first time in nearly a week! I went for a walk in the orchards and fields with my friend who lives in the valley and came into the village for Jumu’ah. She was shocked to hear that I am handwashing nappies – every other day! But how could I not?! How could I distribute my toxic disposable nappies into these (nearly) pristine hills? And just as I was asking her that, we serendipitously passed by a plastic nappy caught up in a blackberry bush. And then we came upon a few more along with other non-biodegradable debris caught in the branches above the river. These signs did not encourage me to quit, but less than 12 hours after my friend insisted that “all the locals use disposables” (as evidenced by them hanging about!) I sent one of the kids to the hanoot to get me some. I am weak. And tired. And plotting how to get a washing machine, insha Allah.

Day 19: Husband is back less than a day and walked into one of his worst possible nightmares this afternoon. Turning to leave the mosque after Dhuhr prayer, a man pointed at him and called out “There’s the father!” A small circle of men had gathered round and were discussing a pressing problem in the village – our children. Seems they had a blast in the communal irrigation canal – the Splash Mountain meets Children’s Museum Water Table kind of fun. They ran through it and filled it with rocks and opened all the gates to let the water rush out into the fields. Yeah. It never occurred to anyone of them this may be bad, even when they vaguely understood the village children’s admonitions that “the water is bad for the plants.” How could water be bad for plants my smart children insisted? I have read that home-schooled children can occasionally be a little too self-confident.

The community was very understanding, and explained to my husband that the kids were welcome to play in the water as the other children do, just not to interrupt the flow in any way, such as blocking it with small boulders or bodies and not to open the gates. What a great teachable moment about the sunnah of shura, the history of aquaducts, the importance of being humble – after my husband recovered from his mortification, of course.

Day 21: Camp is over! The Husband has installed a gas water heater and has therefore redeemed himself of every wrong he has even considered committing towards me. Even though it vacillated between scalding and freezing, it was still the best shower I have ever taken. I had to seriously resist making cooing Mr. Bean like noises while I was in there. Instant hot water is such a luxurious blessing, Alhamdulillah.

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 November ’12 issue of SISTERS Magazine- the magazine for fabulous Muslim Women.