Gaining Perspective...Volume 2
Two Years in the Kingdom of Morocco
By Charlie Kolb
When I woke up the other morning I could see my breath. It hung in the air before me like a low-lying cloud that had invaded my study. I forget about this phenomenon every year during the warm months, but then all of the memories of winters past come flooding back whenever I see that first wisp of steam in the fall. I remember when I used to try to guess how cold it was by the volume and consistency of the vapor and how quickly it disappeared in the pale winter sunlight. At such times, when I am thrown back into
more about relationships than being on time for a meeting. In America, time tends to center around the individual, while, in many agrarian societies, like this one, time centers around the group. This was described to me at the beginning of my service as the difference between Monochrome and Polychrome time. I saw this in the Southwest growing up and spending time with my Navajo friends; "Rez Time", as I have heard it referred to, is polychrome time. I feel I have made the time transition well, although I am still very
the familiar past, I forget that I am no longer in Colorado; I am in Africa.
My village is said to be the coldest site in Morocco, or at least the coldest place that Peace Corps places its volunteers. While many of my friends are still sweating in the Palm Oases on the Saharan Fringe, or comfortably cool in the lower mountains near Fes and Meknes, I am already beginning to shiver. The aged Berber men who drink tea with me on Souq (Market) day tell me that this is to be a very cold winter. I tend to believe them; indeed, looking at their weathered hands and faces, they seem to be more a part of the Atlas than anything else. They are one with the mountains and I think they can feel it coming.
The poplars along the River Melloul have lit up like roman candles; they are the only trees in this landscape and shine golden against the grey mountains above them and the brown fields be-
punctual; if people ask me what I am doing on a given day, I usually cannot tell them. I answer in a string of maybes. I think it will be hard to switch back when I finally return to the states.
I have very little time-related stress here in the village. Whenever I go anywhere, I never count on the transport being where it is supposed to be when it is supposed to be there, and allow several days to go anywhere. This was tough at first, but now I have really gotten used to waiting for hours on end for a taxi or minibus to take me to the next leg of my journey. So many things that seemed strange during those first couple of months now seem commonplace and I am beginning to forget what it was like to own a car, have a daily commute, or have set times to be anywhere more specific than "morning", "afternoon", or "tomorrow". After living here for 8 months, I am beginning to realize the peace of
low. My American friends and family tell me that, back on the Colorado Plateau, the Aspens are changing on the hillsides in broad bands of pale yellow and the first snow of the season has just dusted the high peaks of the San Juans. In the canyons, the cottonwoods are beginning their transition as well and the washes run gold with their heart shaped leaves. I remember the descent of a slot canyon some years ago and a brief moment in the narrows near the canyon mouth. The walls were dark with desert varnish and late afternoon sunlight was high up on the northern face. It was cold down on the gravel of the canyon floor. Cold, still, and silent. I stood there quietly as a gentle breeze sighed over head and sent down a shower of golden serviceberry leaves from a bush on the rim. They fell slowly through the sunbeam, spinning and winking like coins.
mind that comes with a loose schedule. In the States, I was ruled by my calendar and mapped out every detail of my life in a painfully meticulous fashion. I remember feeling as if I was always late or early but never really on time for anything. Living here is an entirely different feeling.
My village has only had electricity for 3 years. It still only has running water for four hours a day. But the western world is slowing encroaching on this ancient culture and I see signs of it every day. Most of the kids here run around in knock-offs of Nike and Adidas sportswear and hats sport slogans like "I Love NY" or "Budweiser;" the last one is particularly ironic in a culture that prohibits alcohol consumption. Everywhere there are logos and labels representing French or American Corporations. Everything Western is often idolized and the image of life in places like America is elevated to mythic proportions. A Moroccan teenager approached me the other day an asked me to explain what "50 cent" was saying in his rap song "The Candy Shop". I declined to explain.
Many people wear sport coats and wristwatches, although I often leave my watch at home. Everyone has a cellular phone and most hotels have internet. Yet down the street there is a mule-drawn plough turning the earth and readying the fields for winter. The collision between these two worlds has been a sudden one. Some things are brand new, and others have remained unchanged for millennia.
I remember when I used to try to guess how cold it was
by the volume and consistency of the vapor and
how quickly it disappeared in the pale winter sunlight.
At such times, when I am thrown back
into the familiar past,
I forget that I am no longer in Colorado;
I am in Africa.
In America, time tends to center around the individual, while, in many agrarian societies, like this one, time centers around the group.
This was described to me at the beginning of my service as the difference between Monochrome and Polychrome time.
Here in Morocco the feeling of fall is not so different from what I am used to on the plateau; it is the feeling of slowing down, as if the earth is being put to sleep for a season. Now all that is left to do is to watch the leaves fall from the poplars and wait for the frosts to come and the snows to follow. I climb up to my rooftop every morning to drink my coffee in the sunlight and scan the valley to see what may have changed overnight. I see people and animals moving over the fields—harvesting the last of the year's potatoes and turning over the earth with mule-drawn plows. In the village across the river, smoke rises from the same chimney each morning and I wonder if the women are making bread in the kitchen.
I had tea with an elderly woman in her kitchen a week or so ago and discovered that she was the one who made bread for all of the cafes and shops in my village, sometimes up to 60 loaves a day. I have learned plenty of other things like this; recently I befriended the local metalworkers and acquired a woodstove and hand forged axe from them. They do everything from shoeing stock to making tools—anything to do with metal. It is fascinating to be in a place where people have a specific role in the community, contributing to the group as a whole. Not many people leave this place and family businesses often pass down through generations; one 30' x 30' field may have been owned by the same family for centuries.
The rhythm of life is different here as well; it is so much slower than the frenetic pace of America and the rest of the Western world. Time just flows differently, and people care
I have to wonder how completely this culture will be changed by westernization. I am sure that my village will be a different place by the time I leave Morocco in 2012. To some extent, I feel that the more modern a society becomes, the less cultural diversity is retained. As we advance, we seem to let go of and disregard the past as opposed to keeping it alive and sacred through stories and traditions. Here I live in this ancient, storied society and get to witness firsthand the effect of the old and the new meeting every time I venture out into my village.
As I have written before, the human-caused environmental degradation has been extreme and the ecology of the High-Atlas has been severely damaged by the ancient, traditional way of life. Much of the technology taking root in my village is efficient and occasionally "green", and the Moroccan Government seems to have a favorable view