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Memories of my travels between 1972 and 1982

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

June 28th: Tafraoute in Southern Morocco

On June 28th 1977 I was in Tafraoute in Southern Morocco.

Tafraoute is a small market town which serves as a hub for the villages around.  The people live in the villages rather than the town.  Tafraoute is in the Anti-Atlas, which is the last range of mountains before the Sahara as you go south.  The area is dry and the people cultivate gardens in their terraces, designed to catch the rain when it falls, which is not often; in 1977 it had not rained significantly for seven years.

Ali in his house: My picture

I had met Ali in the souk one day, an old man with a sad lined faced who lived in the village with tower-houses you could see from town.  I was a bit suspicious at first, afraid of hustlers as always, but Ali was lonely and just wanted company.  I knewt a Swedish couple who were travelling in a VW camper and together we spent time with him.  I liked Ali's house which was one of the tower-houses, with a fine facade, a staircase which lead up to the cool rooms at the top and a terrace where life was lived.  Lower rooms were kept unrendered and only finished when the need arose.   I spent hours in the peacefulness of his terrace with just the noise of donkeys and the muezzin breaking in from outside, the endless mint tea, and the stories of his religion and his family, the 1933 pre-colonial history of Tafraoute and the marriage customs, all told between us to me in French and translated into English and Swedish.

On this day we drove Ali to visit relatives in the Valley of Ameln a few miles to the north.  We were made welcome outside in the garden, happy proud people, the children approaching us shyly, the wife unseen in the house.  I found the opportunity to write in my notebook:
The Valley of Ameln:  My picture
The valley of Ameln, sitting under the shade of argan tree by a little village where the asphalt road has ended.  Looking at the too sweet fruit and the smooth skins of the nuts and the frond patterns inside. There is a slightly cooler wind today which makes it a little more pleasant in the midday.  Only the sound of the wind, a few birds' noises, maybe a distant truck for the valley is quite well populated.  An argan fruit falls and a bee passes.

The valley is less uniform here: we have passed beyond the highest straight ridge, at the place where there was a hidden side valley higher up, and past a place where the palms were thicker - they also have palm-bushes in this place.  Red earth mixes with the white, and there is more "green " grass and green bushes on the hills.  The traditional stone walls covered with brushwood surrounding watered fields and stone or earth terraces for that elusive rain. Villages on the edge of the hills or more rambling in the valley, like this one, old houses of earth, newer ones of brick and painted pink, sometimes with walled gardens, plenty of money here.  The life is simple and timeless, the few animals in good shape.  A house with a metal windmill, the traditional baked earth circle for threshing.
I liked to walk along the valley which Tafraoute sits in.  It was good to sit on the rocks in the early morning or late afternoon and watch the goatherds and the lizards and the bulbuls and the shrikes, and the women going to a well or collecting brushwood and the men riding on the tail ends of their donkeys to and from town.  I wrote this one day:
Tafraoute Valley:  My picture
Have walked out a couple of miles on the Irghem road, which goes through dry mountains along a dry river-course marked by a sandy stony bed and frangipani.  Not much out here but flies and argan-trees, and a few desert plants, a many branched cactus and what looks like tumbleweed.  A few squirrels on the way and I can hear tweeting birds in the background.  A grey shrike came to stop in the tree I'm sitting under only 3 feet from me - birds are so tame here.  A breeze blowing up the valley makes it cooler, though I left too late today and am getting thirsty.  Otherwise there is a nice desert silence, and only one car has come along the road.

Walking back now, getting thirsty, sitting on a water-chute by a dry well, just by the village of Donar Aguerd-ou-Dad, one of the Berber villages of Tafraoute.  All the women and children have gone up a little way in the rocks to pass the hot morning; maybe there's a well and they are washing.  Here there are tilled fields with nut trees, almonds I think, and date-palms and perhaps they grow a grain in the short fertile period.  More life here, but less than in the early morning.  Blackbirds and bulbuls and pigeons cooing.  The dusty incomplete rows of terraces which may be green in the rainy season but now just have a few palms and almonds. Where there are more crops the fileds are carefully fenced in with stone and adobe walls and brushwood on top, while inside they're green, with maize and squash, melons, palms and fruit-trees, and a little gate with a door and a lock.
Market at Tafraoute:  My Picture
There was a new concrete souk in the town with a weekly market.  Then it was full of white turbans and the men's heads turning to money as the animals changed hands.  They bought fruit and staples and luxuries for the coming week and had a good chinwag with people they hadn't seen since the last souk or maybe the one before, and then sat down for a tea and a 
soup├žis to feel better about the world.  An old man who came up to me in the souk.  "De quel pays vous etes, Monsieur?"  He was very old with horn-rimmed glasses, a grizzled grey beard and a white turban.  "Do you know Southampton?" he continued in French.   "And Earls Court, big exhibition, nineteen hundred twelve."  "I have been there, and in Germany, with the circus.  We were acrobats, one year.  Very long time ago.  This is the first time you come here?"  "Yes."   "And you like our country?  Ah, good, I am glad.  Monsieur, I wish you good luck.  Goodbye."

I left with the Swedes on the direct route to Agadir, enjoying the opportunity to stop where we pleased as we drove along, something I could not do on public transport.  It was a beautiful semi-desert drive and we passed several of the kasbahs, fortified towns or villages, on the hills and ridges near the road.

 Ali outside his house:  My picture

Kasbah on road to Agadir: My picture

View tafraoute in a larger map

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