Brooke Benoit returns to her long running series about gracelessly adjusting to living in Morocco – this time in a rural village in the High Atlas mountains.
The landlord brought the water bill over to the husband today and hubby says that the guy was “very shocked” by our excessive water usage. I was so upset by this. It has truly been amazing to see firsthand just how much water we use in our household. For the first few weeks up here, without the water heater, we had to heat water by the potfulls every time we needed it for washing dishes, clothes and bodies. This gave us an opportunity to really see exactly how much water we are using- and wasting! Though we tried to be creative, there was very little we could do with rinse/grey water other than dump it. If I ever a garden again, insha Allah, I want to have a little tank under the kitchen sink (maybe the bathroom too) to catch rinse water for reusing in the garden.
I think that where we have failed up here is in our clothes washing. Even though I have completely reassessed my idea of what exactly are “dirty clothes,” we still used a lot – apparently more than anyone ever in the 4,000 year history of the village – of water to wash our clothes. I mostly blame the teenager who would try to hose off his clothes to a near state of clean with the shower head. We are all hoping to get a washer machine in the next few weeks, as the kids have been helping with the laundry and the husband has been doing a lot of it. I know machines use less water than handwashing, but since nearly all the other women in the village wash in the river, I’m afraid my landlord may be only slightly less freaked-out next billing cycle.
One of my worst I’m-a-monster-city-slicker nightmares came true today. I was left with the task of burning the trash while hubby is back in the city. Though several of my neighbours burn trash right in front of their homes, we were told to do our burning far from houses, which after having toxic burning trash stench fill my home in Casablanca – I can appreciate that suggestion. I had to get the kids to haul the trash up the mountain, then buy petrol from the little hanout during one of the small windows when he is open and rush up the mountain to build my bonfire while the baby is sleeping or otherwise happily preoccupied. I looked out the window to check the kids’ progress and had a good, hearty laugh seeing my 10 year old son carrying bulging plastic bags up the hill while wearing pink kitchen gloves, which is actually a habit their father instilled in the kids for when they do the dishes, but sure – blame the bourgeois-kid-making on the mother. So, they got the trash out and I called to my eldest to run out and get the petrol as the guy was open – and then he suddenly closed, then he opened a few minutes later and seemed to not have petrol or any idea what son was saying and he closed again. Great. Now cats and wild dogs would surely find some smell of interest to warrant tearing through my trash and spreading it across the mostly pristine valley, which is what I am really worried about and why I wanted to do this in one fell swoop. But I couldn’t have foreseen what our nine year old neighbour was about to do… Ignoring the pleas of my son, the boy tore into every single one of our tightly tied up dozen or so small plastic bags and sifted through the entire contents of each, spreading the trash all over the burn site.
The horror! Quickly I realised there wasn’t anything overly embarrassing in there other than a few too many cellophane treat wrappers. But why would he do this?! My son suspects that he was scavenging for something valuable or reusable as many of the local kids make innovative toys with scraps and trash remnants. I was oddly proud to hear that he found nothing of value or interest among our trash – this means we are doing well to reuse everything reusable.
And I’m realising – once again – that while I work myself into a frenzy worrying about things – I really have no control. Now I have to ‘jab‘ up and go figure out where the husband bought that petrol from and pull my evil disposable nappies out of the thorn bushes.
When we first attempted to move to Morocco a decade ago, I very much wanted to simply recreate my US lifestyle in the North African Mediterranean. In Casablanca that was easy enough to do. The few things I missed from the US were mostly food items, and with a little extra work I could I whip up nearly any of those dishes in my Casa kitchen. Before we moved out here to the sticks, I noticed myself doing that same thing again, I was hoarding up every possible thing that I was worried that I would want or need – new shoes, craft supplies, kitchen wares, hair accessories, specialty foods and homeopathic remedies – all these things that are not immediately available on the mountain, but surely my husband or someone could drag them in if we really, really needed them. As I was wondering around another Casa niche shopping district trying to remember what wasn’t on my list, (as there is always something else needed isn’t there?) I finally became aware of my behaviour, immediately stopped shopping and went home. I decided to “just make do” – to truly let go of stuff and just bring in what I could, not worrying about the rest – it would come if we truly needed it.
I began to hope that moving out here to the sticks would help me reevaluate some of my not-so-good dunya habits, such as my materialism as well as my eco practices. If my neighbour can make do without so much that I think is necessary, maybe I could rethink my needs. Maybe we cut our lifestyle down by force, since there really isn’t that much retail and entertainment-for-purchase to do out here, and then slowly we could decide where and if we want to build our… spending, really – it’s mostly about spending and now I have a chance to really see what it is that I value and to prioritise that.
Two months in and The Eldest child is finally trying out this hiking bit. Yesterday we all went for a walk and he decided to climb up the foothills and check out a cave. We could barely see the dot of his red T-shirt as he neared the cave and then seemed to quickly descend back towards us. Turns out it’s some old man’s house! There were a few sheep on the ‘roof’ of it and a low rock building to the side. The old man was headed further up the hill to where a few other animals were. Of course now we are totally obsessed with why and how this man lives up there. Is he that poor or does he chooses to live in a cave? Where is his family and what happened that he is now living like that?
A general curiosity in hiking and discovery seems to have been piqued and The Eldest jaunted off after Fajr this morning with a pack full of snacks and the camera. I fully admit to being mildly jealous at my not being able to just go climb a mountain whenever I want, but then again – it’s no longer about me, at least not entirely.
That old man on the mountain- found out that’s a shepherd’s daytime rest stop – not his home! This is exactly why I didn’t want to come for just a week or even a month. I want for my children (and myself) to have ample opportunity to really explore Allah’s I creation – to “get to know” each other and lots of goodness in between. As we watch tourists hike through town, (and I read their often cringeworthy blog and travel accounts) I become more aware of how travelling through can mostly just reinforce predisposed ideas. I imagine the story that we could have been spun about that mean old man, rejected by his family and left to fend for himself on the hillside. I’m becoming more aware of mine and our biases around class, gender and race, and I’m feeling that the local pace, which we are still acclimating to, is much more accommodating to explore and rectify these biases – insha Allah. And what a bonus that the backdrop for our “studies” is so magnificent.
Hubby keeps asking me if I want to go back to the city, as if I will suddenly change my mind. Things are getting easier and my self-doubts are waning. As he was walking out the door for Thur, he asked for the second or third time today if I am “ready to go back” and then added that the landlord wants us to sign a contract if we plan to stay for a full year. Apparently the homeowner usually stores apples in this house during the winter and wants to be sure he isn’t displacing his harvest for nothing. “Sign it!” I called out to the husband. I am committed. And although I have said that I don’t want to think past one year, today I did walk over to see a little farm that is for sale. Just a little walk, just a little farm, just a little thought.
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.