Monday, July 13, 2009

The Cows Came Home

So the first week I moved to the village, in November, the Association was really excited about the herd of cows they were about to get. I got all excited about an ice cream project and a cheese project and all the yogurt I was going to make. And then every week for the next seven months the president of the Association told me that we were really close to getting the cows, just one more piece of paper work that had to be submitted in Khenifra, or Midelt or Meknes or Itzer. Well, after about 30 weeks of waiting, the cows finally came home last week. I wasn’t there to see this production, so it all feels a little anti-climactic to me, especially since it turns out we got the kind that don’t even produce that much milk. The one funny thing that happened though is that two of the baby cows (they brought home 16 cows that each had a baby) got switched as the truck was being unloaded, and the two people whose cows suddenly refused to nurse the babies had to find each other and switch them back.

Update on the Kookie/Izzie feud

I found out some more of the history behind what still seems to me to be the silliest feud I’ve ever heard of. It turns out pretty much the entire area, for miles on all sides of the village, was the property of this rich Arab guy a really long time ago, who was descended from some important saint in Fes. He settled the area and brought all of his slaves with him. So basically everyone in the village is descended from either that guy’s family (his descendents have the huge house and include the president of the Commune), or his slaves. And all of the land legally belongs to this family, with the rest of the town basically squatting on it. The people of my village get along well with the rich family, know that they’re all descended from slaves, and continue to all work for the rich family. I used to think everyone had their own plots of land that they farmed, but I’m realizing that really they’re all just working for the rich family and only have really small plots themselves. So the Kookies have come to terms with this arrangement, which feels a lot like serfdom to me. The rich family employs most of the men, and everyone more or less gets along.

The Izzies are another story. Their village is on land that belongs to our rich land owner as well, and they’re all squatting too. However that village was settled by a group of Portuguese people a long time ago, and in the beginning the rich land owners didn’t mind since they had so much land anyways. But then the village grew and grew, until now the Izzies outnumber the Kookies almost 2 to 1. And as the village grew, they became more and more insolent and uncooperative, for example addressing the current rich land owners by their first names, instead of showing them the required respect of calling them by their full names. And not immediately pulling their sheep vans over off the road when the landowners want to pass in their big fancy cars. And I guess they don’t show the proper gratitude to the landowners for widening the road all the way down to their village so that sheep vans could drive on it, when before it was just a narrow donkey path. The most interesting – and horribly disturbing - quote I’ve heard on this topic (from one of the current rich landowners) “If there were no police, we’d march down there and kill them all.” There are times when I feel like I’m very well integrated and understand this culture and know these people really well, and then someone talks seriously of wanting to massacre an entire village of people.

This is the second highest mountain in Africa, really?

A group of us climbed Jbel Toubkal a couple of weeks ago, the highest mountain in North Africa, and second only to Kilamanjaro in Africa. It was surprisingly (and a little disappointingly) easy for being so high, and felt more like an uphill walk than a serious mountain climb. We just set off from Marrakech in our sneakers and whatever clothes we had with us, and walked up almost to the top, slept in the lodge close to the top, got up early, reached the summit, and walked back down and went back to Marrakech.

As easy as the actual hike was, we were not at all prepared for how FREEZING cold it would be at the top. Even in the middle of June there was almost a foot of snow on the ground for the last hour or so of the climb, and the wind was vicious. I survived a pretty cold and miserable winter in the Middle Atlas this past year, but that was nothing compared to how ridiculously cold the top of this mountain was. My fingers hurt now just thinking about it.