Today (December 26) I hit the road to the Atlas Mountains about an hour outside of Marrakech. On the way there we drove through the suburbs and there is construction everywhere; everything from hotels to shanty towns. Much of it stopped midway because funding dried up and demand dropped as economies around the world fell apart. Climbing into the hills, small villages pop up.
The High Atlas is home to the Berber People. Farmers and craftsmen, they are amazingly gracious hosts. I got to share Mint Tea in the home of a Berber Family. It was a remarkable experience to say the least…
The typical Berber house can best be described as “spartan” and there is little in the United States that can compare to this level of poverty. The people here are poor but their homes show pride, importance of family and a total respect for order. This is more than I can say for many middle class American homes, much less those of our poor people in the United States.
Homes are usually passed down through families and it is not unusual to find multiple generations living under one roof. The structures are simple and lack modern conveniences like plumbing, heating and weather protection. Seasonal rains can bring misery to the families living in these homes. They must climb the roof during the rains to patch the holes
Moving further up the mountain I visited a women’s coop where they process the Argon nut to make various Moroccan-Exclusive products. The women working here are divorced, widowed or without financial support. Moroccan culture does not lend many rights to women and many of them are left with no means of support after marriages fail or spouses die unexpectedly.
Processing the Argon Nut is cold and difficult work. The women sit for hours in a cold damp room shelling and grinding the seed of the nut to produce the precious oil and paste. Arthritis is a common ailment here. Co-ops such as the one seen to the left give women shelter, income and value. The proceeds of products sold go to the cost of operation and the wages for the women working there. Compared to our standards in the US; this is a very hard life. But keeping things in perspective; these co-ops present a path for women to achieve independence and security. There was little pressure to buy the products produced here but you would need to be devoid of compassion to not to want to support this very important community. As a business person, it was hard not to think of ways to increase sales and productivity. Resources are very limited here. There are no phone lines to run credit card machines that would allow for higher sales volume. The cost of wood and fuel is very high.
No matter where you turn in Morocco you will find people selling local (and sometimes not so local) wares to tourists. With 1 in 3 people unemployed; it is hard not to appreciate the survival instincts of these people. the Berber people farm, herd sheep and raise some cattle. They also make rugs that range in price from $10 to thousands of dollars based on the process used for making them.
In the hot summer months, people from Marrakech flock to the Atlas Mountains, seeking relief from temperatures as high as 120 degrees. There are outdoor cafe’s lining the banks of the mountain river along the road. I could easily pictures hundreds of families enjoying the cool water, shade and a delicious tagine.
I hope that I can make it back to the Atlas Mountains on a future trip to Morocco. I would like do some trekking through this region and experience the culture in a more personal way. There is a big difference between staying in the luxury Riad’s of Marrakech and staying in some of the modest hotels lining the Atlas Mountains. One thing I am however certain of, is that hospitality level of the hosts will be equal, regardless of the place I stay there. The Moroccan people are the most gracious hosts imaginable and they want visitors to feel welcome and safe. My deepest respect goes to the people here.
My journey continues but part of my heart remains…