An old classmate from Dartmouth College wrote me this year asking if I would like to contribute to a compilation of articles about the service that the Class of ‘67, my class, made to the Peace Corps. My submission is printed below. The contribution of my classmate and friend Jim Humphrey has already been published on this blog in a previous post Dartmouth in Morocco.

Fantasia in Sefrou. 1970.

Fifty years ago, there were few academic courses at Dartmouth that focused on Islam, let alone on the newly independent Islamic country of Morocco. Foreign language programs focused narrowly on a few European languages, and very narrowly at that. When I asked, as a student, about a course in French Canadian literature, a member of the French department replied sarcastically, “Is there any?” Today, according to Dartmouth Life (Fall 2018), Dartmouth not only provides students with a foreign living experience in Fes, Morocco, but one that includes learning the local Arabic dialect, which Moroccans refer to as darija. These students will not live there long enough to experience earthquakes, repeated winter floods and landslides, or attempted coups, nor will they probably perceive Morocco as the majority of Moroccans do: a never ending struggle to obtain enough money to survive. Still, the initiative is a welcome one, and to be applauded.

This 2018 issue of Dartmouth Life outlines the foreign study program in Morocco, and quotes some of the participants.

My Peace Corps service and my own exposure to Morocco owes multiple debts to my alma mater. Not only did Dartmouth provide me with two valuable foreign living experiences, one in France and the other in French Canada, the College also introduced me to a friend who encouraged me to go to Morocco. He swore that I would love his country. He was right.

Dartmouth’s semester abroad, offered through The Experiment in International Living, provided my first opportunity for a long stay outside the United States. Though I graduated from Exeter, I had lived in poverty as a youth and there was no foreign travel in my life before Dartmouth.

On the summit of Pic du Midi d’Ossau. August, 1965. Dartmouth enabled me to spend the summer in Pau and the autumn in Montpellier.

Dartmouth, with its language requirement, forced me to get serious about learning a second language. I first began Spanish in high school and then added French and Russian. Arriving at Dartmouth in the autumn of 1963 with no decent command of any of the languages that I had studied, I chose to continue with French. Today I credit Dartmouth with my lifelong love of French, in particular, and of foreign languages in general, though I can’t honestly say that the undergraduate instructors, junior faculty members, and visitors were particularly inspiring. My excitement came from Racine and Balzac and the traditional corpus of French literature, and, like most literature that I was forced to read in my youth, I have come to love it much later, after multiple readings and more cultural context.

In the fall of 1964, I needed a job to make ends meet, and found one involving work at the Reserve Desk in Baker Library. I suppose I can give Dartmouth a bit of credit for my interest in libraries, too, as I ended my working life as a librarian.

With modern technology, reserve desks have been replaced by online services, but in the mid-nineteen sixties, photocopying was in its infancy and expensive. The reserve desk loaned assigned readings for use in Baker, and most students used them in the basement, surrounded by the remarkable murals of the Mexican revolutionary artist, Orozco.

The Reserve Desk in the basement of Baker. WikiCommons photo.

I worked nights, and often weekends. The Reserve Desk was seldom busy except near exam time. A perk of the job was that my supervisor would sometimes let me leave early on Saturday nights when there was little demand, and she could handle the closing hour alone.

One my coworkers was Loretta Comstock. Loretta and her husband, Kurt, a student, were returned volunteers who had served in the first Peace Corps program in Morocco.

Loretta and Curt served in Morocco I. They also worked in a Dartmouth training program for West Africa in the summer of 1966.

I babysat for them, and remember seeing a picture in their apartment of one of the monumental gates of the city of Meknes. I knew nothing about Morocco at the time, and do not remember talking with them much about their service or Morocco. What I do remember was Loretta complaining bitterly about facing discrimination while growing up Hispanic in Colorado. I still consider my introduction at the College to the civil rights struggle, discrimination, and prejudice as important as anything else I learned there.

Dartmouth in France: Montpellier

In 1965, when I went to France for six months, the important news of the autumn for us students was the escalation of the war in Vietnam, the huge power failure in the U.S. Northeast, and the Dartmouth football team’s perfect season.

Guy and Magali Richardot in their yard at Vermontin, in Castelnau-le-Lez. Tom Vosteen, Class of ‘67 looks on. Guy directed the Experiment in International Living program in Montpelier. The door to the Richardot home was always open, and Magali somehow found time for us Dartmouth students despite the demands of their many children.
French fairy tales end, “…et ils avaient beaucoup d’enfants.” Not “…they lived happily ever after,” but “…and they had many children!”
À table ! Chez Jouty. I was a terrible house guest, and certainly tried the family’s patience. Today, Little Rémi, on the right, is head of France’s air transportation safety organization, Bureau d’enquêtes et d’analyses (BEA) as well as president of the European Network of Civil Aviation Safety Investigation Authorities. I think the feeling here was “…let’s get this photo over with and eat.” Mme Jouty was afraid that her children would pick up the local accent. As a measure of the changed times in France, a law was presently proposed making discrimination against a regional accent a crime! What has not changed is educational inequality: few French students can make it into the schools that educate the country’s elite.

The French news, on the other hand, prominently featured stories about Mehdi Ben Barka, Morocco’s most significant opposition leader, who had been abducted in Paris with the complicity of French police, then tortured and killed. This violation of French sovereignty enraged then President De Gaulle and soured Franco-Moroccan relations for a time, but it barely registered with me. L’affaire Ben Barka was truly off my radar.

I scarcely noticed Ben Barka’s name in France. I don’t think I ever heard it mentioned in Morocco. Peace Corps was not about politics.

Cutter-North Dorms

Outside North Hall. From left, Bob Hill, ‘66, Xavier Mendoza, ‘67, Bob Wood, ‘67, and Claude Burnett, ‘66. Bob Wood, an international relations major as I was, served as a volunteer in Thailand.

Returning to campus in early 1966, I took up residence in North Hall, and then moved to Cutter in the spring of my senior year. The Cutter-North complex was intended for international students and American students who had an interest in foreign affairs. My dorm room in Cutter was across the hall from that of a Moroccan, Badreddine Bennani, Class of ‘68, whom everyone called Ben.

Ben. Class of ‘68. At home in Tangiers.

There were returned Peace Corps volunteers in the Cutter-North complex, and, as I began to think of taking a break from future study (as well as looking for a deferment from the war in Southeast Asia), I became friends with Ben who pushed me to go to Morocco. My friends were also considering the Peace Corps. Bob Wood ‘67 went to Thailand, and Jim Humphrey ‘67 ended up in my Morocco X program. I have since learned, that at least a half-dozen volunteers from the Class of 1967 lived in Cutter-North.

Bob Wood ‘67 at home in Mae Hong Son, a small village in northwest Thailand, in 1968. Bob, an International Relations major with emphasis on geography, returned to the States and received an M.A. from Yale, married, and worked as a county administrator in Pennsylvania until his young and untimely death. He was one of my closest friends at Dartmouth. These few pictures, which he sent to me in Morocco, are his contribution to this volume.
Bob’s home was among the trees in the lower left of this photo.
Even today, Mae Hong Son is a relatively small and remote place. Bob sent this photo of his team preparing breakfast taken during a long trip into the mountains.

Peace Corps at Dartmouth

Before graduation, the campus Peace Corps office, run by Phil Boserman, was hiring for summer training programs in Quebec.

Phil Bosserman directed the Peace Corps programs at Dartmouth.

The previous fall I had studied at the French-speaking Université de Montréal and I had written my senior honors thesis on La révolution tranquille in Quebec. With a better than average knowledge of French Canada, I was hired as a program assistant before graduation. In the spring of 1967 I was sent to Quebec City to explore potential training sites. Bob Wood came along.


In the end, the next summer training site turned out to be at a Catholic collège in La Pocatière, about 80 miles downstream from Quebec City, in a small village on the banks of the St. Lawrence. I worked in programs training volunteers for Senegal and Cameroon.

A typical small French-Canadian town along the St. Lawrence. A town the anthropologist Horace Miner studied and wrote up in a famous monograph, Saint-Denis, is nearby.
The College at La Pocatière.
Posing with the secretary and a couple of the clergy who ran the school. The Christian Brothers were interested, friendly, and served the best institutional food I have ever eaten.


I applied for the Peace Corps at Dartmouth, and while at La Pocatière, I received an invitation to train for a program in Senegal. I wanted to be sent to Morocco, so I declined, thanking the Peace Corps for the invitation, and restating my interest in Morocco. Late in the summer, I learned that I had been accepted to train for an agricultural program, Morocco X. Dartmouth friend, Jim Humphrey wrote saying he had been accepted, too, and was excited. I was, too.

Morocco X trained in Hemet, California, a sleepy town in an inland valley near Riverside. The idea behind the program was providing extension agents who would work with the Moroccan Ministry of Agriculture and farmers to introduce new varieties of wheat.

Posing with a farmer and a driver for an agricultural station outside of Meknes. See what happens when you use fertilizer! The only problem was that you had to have enough money, and be able to risk it, to buy fertilizer.

Before the two-year program was half over, however, most of the volunteers who had not already returned home early, were working in different fields ranging from fisheries to teaching English as a second language. The ambitious program was a disaster despite great training and hardworking administrative staffs.

Peace Corps Morocco had few really successful programs in its first decade. It was unrealistic to think that volunteers without an agricultural background could become extension agents overnight, all the more so since the Moroccan Ministry of Agriculture not only lacked the means to use the volunteers effectively, but was structured in such a way that made agricultural extension as Americans know it difficult if not impossible.

Newly independent Morocco was still mired in political conflicts of colonial origin and managed by a French-educated elite feeling its way, and looking after its own. The early days of Peace Corps administration were endowed with a surfeit of enthusiasm and idealism, but often flawed by a serious deficit of realism and a host country still learning to self-govern.

Sefrou and Fes

I quickly moved from my post in a rural agricultural center outside Meknes to a primary school cooperative in Sefrou. When the director of the school died, the cooperative no longer had its sponsor and folded. I found a new job doing audiovisual extension work for the Ministry of Agriculture in Fes, and worked there for two years.

The poulailler and my first house, in the far background on the left. Students were receiving a lesson on animal care.

The poultry cooperative was in Sefrou, a small city on the edge of the Middle Atlas Mountains, about 20 miles from Fes. Despite changing jobs, I continued to live in Sefrou, commuting to Fes by shared. taxi and bus.

My work life in Fes, which involved other foreign nationals, was quite separate from my home life.

A main street in the ville nouvelle, where the Ministry provincial offices were located. In those days, Fes Province stretched from the pre-Rif mountains in the north to the Upper Moulouya river valley in the south.
Lunch with Spanish and Yugoslav colleagues.
A French coopérant and a Yugoslav technician at lunch.
Moroccan colleagues. This sequence of photos seems to suggest that my work life was nothing but a series of lunches. That is not true, but I will confess that I have never eaten better food.

A few years later, returning to Fes, I bumped into my former colleague, Mr. Mernissi, whom I had trained in photography, and I was pleased to learn that he was continuing the work that I had started.

Mr. Mernissi and Mr. Martinez, on a work day north of Fes.

Who are the people in my neighborhood, the people that I meet each day?

In Sefrou, I only associated with Moroccans, largely teachers, students, and the shopkeepers around my home in the medina, the old walled city.

Mohammedi in front of his vegetable shop in Seti Messaouda. He wholesaled vegetables, too. He left for France in the seventies. His shop faced my front door.
The shopkeeper’s kids
While remodeling his storefront, Mohammedi briefly used the entrance to my house for a temporary place to do business.
A dinner at the house of my friend and Arabic teacher, Hammad Hsein (speaking). He was a primary school teacher, and emigrated to France for a better life. as did Mohammedi.
Hsein’s brothers and sisters on the rooftop of his parent’s Seti Messaouda home in Sefrou.
Miloud Soussi at his shop in Derb el Mitre, with one of his sons. I bought most of my groceries from him. He was from the Souss in southwest Morocco. Sadly one of his sons was murdered while I lived in Sefrou, a rare occurrence where everyone knows everyone and the police have many ears.
I often bought sfinge, donuts, for breakfast. This shop was just outside the wall next to Moulay Hamid’s grocery. Arising early, I would throw my djellaba over my pyjamas, and walk over in my slippers (bellegha.) Fresh milk was sold next door, and Mohammedi had huge navel oranges for a couple of cents a kilo.

I think he picked up garbage.

Life in Sefrou

Sefrou was an old Arab-Jewish city, but changing rapidly with an influx of Berber-speaking country people and a final exodus of local Jews and colonial French. While I was there, the Catholic church closed and was sold.

The main street of the ville nouvelle, as well as the main road south, the modern center was only a few blocks long. Residential areas were on streets up the hill on the right.

The colonial French were packing up, to be replaced by young French doing their national service. One missionary, two or three Peace Corps volunteers, a series of American anthropology students directed by the eminent scholar, Clifford Geertz, and some odd European expatriates, rounded out the foreign population.

Sefrou occupies a shallow valley on the limestone edge of Middle Atlas plateaus that gradually rise from three to six thousand feet. The paved road that passed through the city connected Fes, an imperial capital, with the heartland of the ruling dynasty south of the High Atlas Mountains on the edge of the Sahara. The route was known traditionally as the treq-es-sultan, the Sultan’s way.

The shrine of Sidi Ali Bouserghine. Sefrou. Horseback riding above the city courtesy of the Supercaid who lent us his policemen’s horses.

In 1968 the city consisted of a quiet and spacious new town of villas on the hill, built by the French in this century during the protectoratea, and a noisy, bustling old walled city, cut by a river, below it.

The main mosque, where one of the old city bridges crosses the river, a short walk from my house.

My house, just inside a city gate, was only a few minutes walk from countryside, and locals often would spend good weather days picnicking in the orchards and cemeteries surrounding the city, walking, eating and drinking tea while taking in the fresh air and sun, or, in the case of students, studying.

Women strolling on a spring day on a path by the Jewish cemetery.
Picking fresh strawberries in Sefrou. The city was more well-known for its cherries.

Within the old city was a mellah, or Jewish Quarter, and one of the traditional sights had been Jewish women washing clothes alongside it. When I arrived, newer quarters were growing up around the old city, but its gardens and orchards, famous for cherries, still stretched beyond the built-up areas.

A winter street scene. Just a guy packing his saddle bags.

Change as it happened

As Morocco’s population grew rapidly, the economy did not keep pace, and wage labor migration to Europe, which had begun in the early 20th century, increased rapidly. At first characterized by its temporary nature, men left their families behind in Morocco, a traditional form of migration in North Africa. As time went on, however, more and more families emigrated. Moroccan Arabs, like Moroccan Jews, were forsaking the land of their ancestors for new lives around the world.

Until the Peace Corps arrived, few Moroccans had much contact with Americans. The Cold War SAC bases, near Casablanca, were gone. Only a couple of small U.S. Navy bases remained. There were consulates in the largest cities, a USAID mission, USIA libraries, again only in a few large cities, and a couple of schools for American dependents. American tourists were everywhere in major centers, of course, the wealthy seeking the exotic, and the young looking for adventure. The fact that Tangiers was a quick ferry trip from Spain made a visit to Africa a convenient addition to any European vacation or tour.

In smaller places, such as Sefrou, Americans were rare. Moroccans were quite interested in who we were, though it was not always clear why we were there. Volunteerism was not characteristic of family-oriented Moroccan life, where most people struggled just to make their way. Many Moroccans categorized us as trainees or spies.

Since many early programs in Morocco were unsuccessful, the Peace Corps’ first goal, to provide valuable manpower to developing countries often went unmet, though not for lack,of trying. The second and third goals, fostering cross-cultural understanding, succeeded brilliantly. For a young American, what could provide a better knowledge of a foreign country than living a life among its people, a level of society far below the upper class. For Moroccans, in turn, volunteers provided flesh and blood representatives of a country they all had heard of, but scarcely knew.

The volunteers in my group learned dialectical Arabic, which facilitated interaction on a personal level. Other foreigners, such as the French and Spanish, could get by in their native tongues, both former colonial languages in Morocco. Moroccans were surprised, and, many I think, honored by our knowledge of their dialect, though some wondered why volunteers who were supposedly educated did not know French or Modern Standard Arabic, the written dialect.

The “Posh” Corps

I have heard volunteers from other countries describe service in Morocco as the “posh” corps. Living there certainly did not have the isolation and deprivations of some Peace Corps assignments.

I saw this firsthand traveling to many West African countries after hitching across the Sahara in the spring of 1971. Volunteers south of the Sahara often had to travel hundreds of miles over bumpy dirt roads just to get anywhere!

With Libyan truckers somewhere south of Tamanrasset, hitchhiking across the Sahara. Where we stopped and slept that night.
A West African market, in Agadez, Niger.
Drinking fresh beer somewhere in Ghana. It was fine!

Sefrou was a great place.On the other hand, life in smaller more isolated Moroccan towns and hamlets wasn’t easy at all, especially for women volunteers.

My bedroom in Sefrou.
The courtyard of the house I shared with another volunteer.

I suppose that posh is how you look at it. I shared a traditional house with another volunteer and had a housekeeper who made bread daily, cooked one meal a day, did laundry, and kept the house spotless. She also provided a window into the world of women, and a source of information, advice, and important superstitions.

Khadija with her husband, Ali. Ali fought for the French in Vietnam, and was a source of endless stories about the ‘chinois.
From the window of my house, I watched processions go by my front door. Here Mohammedi has temporarily jumped into the festivities as a procession passes his shop.

The masonry house had no heat, no hot water, no true kitchen, and no shower. Posh? Not at an elevation of over 3,000 feet where the cold settled in for months in the darkest days of the year and the damp caused my bamboo shelves to mildew. Moroccan personal warmth, traditional hospitality and lifestyle made those tribulations bearable.

Sefrou. 1970. Street in Seti Messaouda during a rare snowfall.

No shower? Every city neighborhood had a hammam, a public bath, in which one got squeaky clean, could socialize with friends, and acquired a warmth that lasted long after emerging into the cold winter night.

The hammam in Seti Messaouda, outside the wall, but not far from my house. The men and women had separate sections.

Morocco was well furnished with roads. Like the Romans, the French built roads for conquest and commerce. Dick Holbrook, one of the country directors and a refugee from the State Department at that time, once confided to me that one of his ambitions was to drive every paved road in the country. I doubt that he ever succeeded, but most volunteers, who usually had no vehicles, could reach a major city in a few hours, and almost no one was farther than a day’s travel from Rabat, site of the Peace Corps office.

The then Peace Corps office on rue Van Vollenhoven, later renamed rue Moulay Rachid, after an Alouite sultan. Moroccans were still renaming their streets a dozen years after Independence.

Still, many volunteers were isolated. Telephones were rare, TVs scarce, radio emissions limited, and, unless one read French, newspapers were published in an unreadable foreign language since standard written Arabic differs greatly from the Moroccan dialect. Furthermore, as non-Muslims, volunteers were excluded from participation in religious events which,were far more important than in our secular society. In the quiet nights, listening to shortwave broadcasts, I came to love the BBC World Service, and relied on it for both entertainment and news of the world. The program Desert Island Disks still has a special meaning in my life.


Liz Carpenter and daughter, outside my house, which was just inside the gate to the right.

Close to the U.S. and Europe, Morocco had frequent official and semi-official visitors. One U.S. senator on a junket stumbled off his plane in Tangier quite drunk, and declared how happy he was to be in Tunisia. David Rockefeller, who had a long and personal involvement in Morocco and who made many trips there, once declared to his hosts that he was tired of official government views. For a dinner in Fes, the local police literally pulled volunteers from the streets and cafés to attend a dinner for Rockefeller.

I myself was invited to a dinner with Lady Bird Johnson’s press secretary, Liz Carpenter in Fes. In return, I hosted her and her daughter at my home in Sefrou where she was able to watch couscous made from scratch and eat a true Moroccan meal.

Carpenter and daughter with my housekeeper Khadija, who was preparing couscous from scratch–—there was no other way.

Carpenter was a genuine Texan, warm, down-to-earth, and tough, not at all bothered by a house with no sit-down toilet. Her visit was fun.

Dartmouth visited me once as a volunteer. In Fes, I had missed a bus that had my checked baggage, including my passport, stowed away. I was on my way to Kenitra, for a medical evacuation flight to the then U.S. Air Force airbase at Torrejón in Spain. Desperate, I tried to beat the bus to Rabat by hitchhiking; a white Peugeot 504 stopped and the driver, who spoke perfect French, offered a lift. To my great surprise—and delight—he was a U.S. military officer from the “secret” U.S. base at Sidi Slimane in the Gharb. He turned out to be Dartmouth Class of ‘68, and he got me to Rabat before the bus. To my great relief, I was able to retrieve my suitcase and passport.

The Goals of the Peace Corps

Did my service have long-lasting effects on the development of Morocco? To say yes would be presumptuous, if not outright mendacious. Just the same, two of the students I knew as friends ended up as university professors, an achievement that was made possible to some degree by not only being taught, but also by being befriended by Americans, and, in particular, the PCV English teacher at the local lycée with whom I shared the Sefrou house, Gaylord Barr. They succeeded and live happily in Morocco today, but most of the people who lived around me did not have the educational opportunities of those students, and emigrated to France seeking a better life.

Peace Corps taught lycée students in 1970. Both Ali and Mohammed are university professors today.

Recently, one of those students wrote me asking about life in America today.

Hi Dave,

In case you didn’t get it! Check out this article about Sefrioui Jews published by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. I was really touched by it; it brought back many happy memories, especially your pictures of the gate of the Jewish cemetery, which, if you remember, is across the road from my house, and that of “Kef al-Moumen” (The Cave of the Believer). It’s so weird that while reading this excellent article about the peaceful coexistence and tolerance…that existed, I suddenly hear the breaking news on CNN about the El Paso and Dayton.

What’s happening to the America that I learned so many good things about from Gaylord, you, and other PCVs? What happened to the great American values and the ideals of John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan? Surely, something is rotten in Denmark! What is the difference between white supremacists and ISIS terrorists? In my younger days, my wish was to migrate to America, but now I say to myself ‘I’m glad my wish did not come true.’

Letter from old friend, Ali, last year. He did graduate work and graduated from SUNY Binghamton in the late eighties.

I have not been back to Morocco since the nineteen seventies. When I visited Ben Bennani at his family home in Tangiers in 1971, the city had a population of 275,000. Today it has over two million! And Ben, when I last checked, lived in Arizona. My Peace Corps service was over fifty years ago. Sometimes those days seem as far away as the pre-colonial times when Europeans nations vied for control of Africa. Still, sitting in my yard, watching freighters heading for the Atlantic, I occasionally wonder if one of them will stop in Morocco. When I reflect on my days in the Peace Corps, they often seem like yesterday. I have Dartmouth to thank for an experience that as a young adult, I could scarcely have imagined, and will never forget.

My jellaba and my Willys Jeep. I still have the jellaba, which kept me warm in the cold winter and dry in the heaviest rain.

Dartmouth in Morocco

In Rabat, with my bike. Photo by Gaylord Barr.

In 1968, my first year as a Morocco X Peace Corps volunteer, I and the other volunteers in this program worked as agricultural extension agents assigned to Moroccan government farming centers, in my case near the town of Sidi Kacem. Towards the end of this first year, the PC volunteers in this ag-focused program were widely dissatisfied. Generally the program and our assignments were not working. With participation by the Morocco Peace Corps director, the volunteers met and successfully insisted that the program be terminated with volunteers free either to stay at their current assignment or transfer to another job somewhere in the country. Thus in my second year of Peace Corps service, I ended up in the capital city, Rabat, teaching English to university students in a modest program which I really enjoyed.

Rabat was a mix of the new and the old. Here the late King Hassan II, pictured golfing, adorns a street in the ville nouvelle in celebration of the King’s Birthday, a national holiday.
A view of the mid-twelfth century Qasbah of the Udaya from the Hassan Tower. 1968.

For the first time, people were no longer puzzled by my presence. Suddenly my being in Morocco made sense, both to them and to me. I loved Rabat, an absolutely beautiful city. I walked or bicycled its streets daily. Though fellow volunteers and a few British adventurers were my steady friends, two quite different Moroccans also became friends.

One was a high school student who invited me more than once to his home and who had long conversations with me in Arabic. I wrote back home to my father’s Rotary club in Montana asking for the club to make a donation to help this student go on to the university. I got no response. I ended up making a secret donation of my own which I pretended was from the club.

The other Moroccan friend was originally from the Sous, a dry, poorer southern region of Morocco. When I met him, he was working in his father’s café located near the entrance to Rabat’s medina, the part of the city that existed before the French arrived and built their adjoining French quarter.

A medina street in Rabat, festooned with banners and flags for a holiday. 1973.

Mohammed could always be found sitting behind the cash register at the entrance to the café. He had become friends with some of my British friends and had taught himself English, being more accomplished in English than French, which was astounding, because French was the default second language in Morocco.

Mohammed eventually led me to understand that in some ways he felt imprisoned by the patriarchal culture of his family. For example, he could not marry until his older brother married, and his role in his family’s business was mandatory. ln addition I also began to wonder whether, coming as he did from a poorer region of the country, he also felt a little alienated from the Rabat city culture. So in searching for his way forward, he had not only cultivated friendships with Brits and Americans, but also eventually (after my Peace Corps tour was over) moved to London and found himself totally overwhelmed by the enormity and impersonal nature of that world metropolis. He lasted there for six months and when he returned to Morocco and got off the plane, he kissed the ground, so grateful to be back.

I know this because nine years after the end of my 1968-1970 Peace Corps tour, my wife and I visited Morocco and we looked Mohammed up. We found him still sitting behind that damn cash register. He was happy to see us and arranged to meet after work, and over the course of the next several days, we had extended visits. He gave me considerable insight into his own situation as well as commentary on Morocco seen from within the tensions of his own perspective.
He started out by telling me I had changed his life. How, I asked, astonished. He said I had left him my Peace Corps book locker and he had read a lot of the books, including books on philosophy. He said this reading, plus his time in England, had helped him understand the Western idea of individualism—an idea alien to his own family and upbringing and to some extent to the Morocco he knew. He had later returned to London a second time for a more extended stay but did again eventually return home to Rabat. He explained that he was not going to introduce my wife and me to his family because the tension between his relationship to his family and his relationship to us made him too uncomfortable.

He also commented that there were people in Rabat today (in 1979) who thought the Tour Hassan, an enormous abandoned mosque tower, was so high that it could only have been built by jnun, the powerful invisible sprites that a great many Moroccans believed in.

Though some may think only jnun could build such a structure, this unfinished minaret was really built by a ruler of the Almohad dynasty at the very end of the 12th century. The mosque it served, also never completed, was destroyed by the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755. The minaret has contemporaneous sister structures in Marrakesh and Sevilla, Spain. The Hassan Tower is a landmark visible from much of Rabat. 1968.

He also said that gleaming Europe, a stone’s throw away on the other side of the Mediterranean, seemed to many Moroccans (at least in his estimation) not merely a more advanced civilization but a different planet inhabited by a different species with superhuman powers.

The narrow Strait of Gibraltar separates Morocco from Spain, in the distance. 1976.

Morocco harbors a very wide variation in its population, ranging from cosmopolitan people who often speak French rather than Arabic at home, to peasant farmers who, at least in my day, were still living with an almost medieval understanding of the world. I don’t present my friend Mohammed’s comments as an accurate or even fair portrayal of a complex and very interesting country. I do think, however, that they show the uncomfortable tension that he carried, as a Moroccan, between the patriarchal culture of his upbringing and the individualistic culture of the West. I would guess these tensions are widespread and shed at least indirect light on the clash in recent decades between the Arab world and the West.

Visiting another Peace Corps volunteer, Gaylord Barr, in the city of Sefrou, Lunch on the roof. 1970.

Like most former volunteers, I remember my years in the Peace Corps and the country in which I served with gratitude and affection.

An afternoon in the country with English language students from the local lycée. Sefrou, 1970. Ali, on the left, went on to study in England and America, and became a university professor. Photo by Gaylord Barr.

Living in Morocco changed my life for the better. I came to realize how very different cultures in other parts of the world could be, that the standards of my American culture were not bindingly final, and how irredeemably American I was.

Jim Humphrey
1968-1970 Peace Corps, Morocco X program

Rabat seen from the end of the Bou Regreg breakwater.

Morocco bound…but still in Canada.

Moraine Lake is iconic. A view of the lake used to be featured on $20 bills. The name of the lake is a misnomer. A landslide created the lake, not a glacial moraine. Surrounding the lake is The Valley of Ten Peaks.

Having returned from Mount Robson, and spent a comfortable night under a roof, we turned out attention to what we would do next. The weather around Jasper had become wet and cloudy, so Jim and I started south on the Icefields Parkway. We decided to try our luck hiking in Banff National Park and chose the Moraine Lake area. Along the way we admired the scenery.

Typical roadside scenery on the Jasper to Banff trip.
The aspens are little flashes of gold in the evergreen forests.

The rainy skies of the previous night eventually gave way to periods of sun and clouds. The spells of sunshine showed off stands of aspens in their autumn foliage, and the golden aspens sharply contrasted with the dark evergreen forests.

Heading toward the Columbia Ice Fields.

The parkway was virtually deserted. We stopped at the waterfalls and the animal lookouts, as well as at the Athabaska Glacier.

This goat was remote, but many are approachable near salt licks. Just the same, they are wild and tourists should keep their distance.
In 1967, there were already markers showing the recession of the Athabaska Glacier, but there are many more today, and, perhaps, farther apart.

We briefly stopped at Lake Louise before camping near Moraine Lake.

Lake Louise, site of an expensive railroad hotel, has been popular for a century. Clouds shroud Mount Victoria at the end of the valley. An artist paints the scene. The hotel is posh.

I recall Moraine Lake and the Valley of Ten Peaks as being less developed than on my last visit, but Banff, except for the townsite, was too. The Trans-Canada Highway, completed in the nineteen sixties, and increases in the Canadian population and foreign tourism have changed that.

Near the beginning of the lake, with one of the 10 peaks that surround it.

In 1989, when I revisited the area, there were tourist accommodations in the form of a motel or cottages, but at the end of September 1967, there were few visitors, and I don’t remember anyone else on the trails. Off season hiking accentuates the wilderness as one often seems to have parks all to oneself. That’s what it felt like in Mount Robson.

Jim and I decided to hike up to Sentinel Pass, through Larch Valley. Larch Valley owes its popularity to a relatively easy hike and, in the autumn, the color of its trees, which turn color before losing their needles.

Looking across Larch Valley. The larches are past their prime, but still have their needles.

Larches are common coniferous trees in the northern hemisphere, with many species. If you visit the Alps in October, where the European larches cover whole mountainsides, you will be struck by the color.

The European larch has naturalized where I live in New York, and is common, but in Europe it is a mountain species.

Larches in the Alps, October 1965.

Like its European cousin, the alpine larch of North America also grows at high altitudes, and has the distinction of being the oldest living tree in Canada, with one specimen thought to be 2,000 years old.

Jim looks across Larch Valley toward the route to Sentinel Pass.

The October skies were overcast, but some of the high peaks were visible. The alpine larches had turned color, and as we continued up the long switchbacks to Sentinel pass, the highest peaks such as Mount Temple became cloud bound and the visibility decreased. At one point, a mountain wall provided echoes and we spent some time shouting out nonsense and then listening for it.

The echoing wall was ahead.

I think that there may have been snowflakes when we arrived at the pass, but there wasn’t much wind and the weather was mild, considering that high passes are often windy places. I have since read that Sentinel Pass, at an elevation of 8,528ft., has the reputation of being the highest point in Canada that can be reached by a hiking trail. We did not know that at the time, but chose the hike for the views because of its high altitude. As it turned out, the views were limited, but it was an interesting hike, and Larch Valley, a bit past its peak color, was still beautiful.

Jim is ahead on the switchback to Sentinel Pass. Barely visible, he has turned the corner.
Nearing the pass, Jim is on the lowest switchback.
On Sentinel Pass, Jim surveys the scene as clouds close in.
Here I am on the pass. Behind the trail descends into Paradise Valley. The clothes I am wearing all went to Morocco, as well as the “Atocha” boots.

Hiking back down was uneventful. Jim took me to the train station, probably in Calgary, and then drove back to Montana. I got on a CN Pullman car for the two-day ride east. In a few days, both of us would meet again in Hemet, California, to train for Peace Corps service in Morocco, and new adventures in a much less familiar place.

Et des monarques pour spectateurs de cette scène transcendante

Du prologue de Henri V de William Shakespeare

Monarques sur les verges d’or

Pendant que ma femme et moi nous détendions sur notre terrasse l’autre soir, à contempler le lac Ontario, des papillons faisaient des va-et-vient dans notre champ de vision voletant au-dessus de nos têtes ou se posant sur les feuilles des arbres au-dessus de nous. Dans le soleil couchant et dans le crépuscule qui a suivi, ils se sont couchés pour la nuit.

Le déclencheur de leur voyage, c’est un front froid qui les pousse sur la houle du lac Ontario. Le lendemain, notre cour était pleine de papillons dont beaucoup se regroupaient autour des verges d’or qui poussent à l’état sauvage sous le frêne mort près de notre porte arrière.

Ces papillons sont connus sous le nom de monarques. C’est un papillon commun que l’on trouve tant en Amérique du Nord qu’en Eurasie. Une seule particularité distingue les monarques de l’Ancien et du Nouveau Monde : ceux de l’Amérique du Nord font de longues migrations. En ce qui nous concerne, ils se déplacent vers le Sud à partir de l’État du New York et du sud du Canada.

Le nom de ce papillon provient de sa couleur orangée, celle de Guillaume d’Orange. Il se nourrit de nombreuses fleurs, mais les chenilles du monarque se nourrissent uniquement de l’asclépiade. Cette nourriture s’avère à la fois une force et une vulnérabilité car l’asclépiade est considérée comme une mauvaise herbe que l’on a donc tendance à arracher. Du côté positif, cette plante donne à l’insecte un goût amer, ce qui fait que les oiseaux ne mangent que rarement plus d’un monarque. En effet, un autre papillon, le vice-roi, profite du goût amer du monarque en imitant ses couleurs et ses habitudes. Les oiseaux évitent donc le vice-roi par peur du goût infect du monarque.

​Il y a quelques années, j’avais voulu éliminer les verges d’or. On croit, à tort, que le pollen de cette plante irrite les gens souffrant du rhume des foins. Ma femme m’en a dissuadé et je suis content que son opinion ait prévalu, car la migration annuelle des monarques constitue tout à spectacle pour nous. Quoique l’échelle et le drame de ce spectacle ne se compareraient pas au champ de bataille à Azincourt, les nuées de papillons ont un charme pour nous, spécialement parce qu’ils annoncent le changement de saisons alors que la fin de l’été glisse doucement vers le début de l’automne.

De nos jours, la migration des monarques est menacée. Non seulement leur source de nourriture se fait de plus en plus rare et leurs trajets remplis d’autoroutes dangereuses et d’autres obstacles, mais encore leurs aires d’hivernage au Mexique sont dévastées par la déforestation et peut-être par le changement climatique. Quand nous voyons le déplacement des monarques, nous ressentons à la fois de la joie et de la tristesse, une tristesse issue des difficultés de leur voyage et de leur réception problématique à la fin.

La tristesse pour moi vient aussi de la connaissance personnelle des épreuves et du sort des migrants humains autour de la planète. Poussés par la faim et la guerre, et ce sans qu’il y ait faute de leur part, ces migrants du monde entier sont attirés par les sociétés riches où on les accueille à bras ouverts comme main d’œuvre bon marché, alors qu’en même temps on les craint à cause de la couleur de leur peau et de leur religion.

À l’époque où je vivais au Maroc, la migration, quoiqu’en mutation, était principalement à caractère temporaire et concernait des célibataires, un schéma ancien où les Souassa (ou chleuh) migraient depuis longtemps de leur vallées arides couvertes d’arganiers vers les villes impériales du Nord, à l’instar des Mzabis et des Djerbans en Algérie et en Tunisie. Éloignés de leurs familles, ils vivaient frugalement tout en conservant une réputation de probité. Dans leur vieillesse, ils retournaient au Souss, ou au Mzab ou à l’île de Djerba, à la patrie qu’ils aimaient et qui leur manquait, pour vivre une retraite confortable.

Milous Soussi devant sa boutique à Derb el Mitre, avec l’un de ses fils. 1973.

Pendant la Première Guerre mondiale, faisant face à une grave pénurie d’hommes occasionnée par l’interminable carnage sur les champs de bataille, la France a trouvé une source de main d’œuvre au Maroc, et comme disent les Français, rien ne dure comme le provisoire. Au fil du temps, les migrants nord-africains de partout dans le Maghreb ont commencé à amener leurs familles pour s’établir en France et dans d’autres pays européens. En pesant le pour et le contre, beaucoup avaient décidé qu’une vie en France valait mieux que celle dans leur patrie, quelles qu’en soient les difficultés dans le nouveau pays.

Mohamed devant sa boutique de légumes à Seti Messaouda. Il est parti pour le France dans les années 1970.

Aujourd’hui j’ai lu dans Le Monde que de plus en plus de petites embarcations tentent de traverser la Manche, défiant les dures mesures des autorités côtières, des eaux périlleuses et des voies maritimes dangereuses. Dans le détroit de Gibraltar, la situation est pareille. Des migrants de l’Afrique occidentale franchissent des distances encore plus redoutables pour atteindre les Canaries. Et qui peut oublier la photo déchirante d’Alan Kurdi, trois ans, allongé sans vie sur une plage turque ?

Hammad Hsein, Sefrou, 1973. Enseignant au primaire à Habouna, il a fini par émigrer en France. Sa famille restait à Seti Messaouda.

Dernièrement j’ai envoyé à mon ami Reed, d’anciennes directives de l’ambassade américaine pour la traversée du Sahara à partir du Maroc. Dans les années 1960 et 1970, des touristes traversaient, quoique peu fréquemment, cette immensité désertique. Reed m’a répondu en racontant les difficultés qu’il avait à trouver un transport pour ensuite, après en avoir trouvé un, passer deux jours dans une Land Rover bondée sur la piste non asphaltée et parfois sans signalisation de Tamanrasset jusqu’à Agadez. De nos jours, cette route, bien que partiellement revêtue, s’avère bien trop dangereuse pour les touristes, mais des milliers de migrants la suivent vers le Nord tous les jours, à grands frais et au péril de leur vie. Quand et si ils arrivent sur la côte méditerranéenne de l’Afrique du Nord, ils font alors face à un voyage maritime périlleux, dans l’espoir de trouver un refuge mais se voient souvent refoulés. Et certains, comme le petit Alan, n’arrive jamais.

Des migrants travailleurs à Agadez

À mesure que le climat de la Terre change, que des guerres absurdes continuent de faire rage, et que la pauvreté devient insupportable, les flux de migrants gonflent et se multiplient, attirés par le rêve d’une vie meilleure pour eux-mêmes et pour leurs familles. Si je me trouvais aujourd’hui sur une plage dans le nord du Maroc, je verrais peut-être une migration, non pas de papillons, mais d’êtres humains. En tant que frères et sœurs humains, ils sont bien plus beaux et plus précieux que les monarques, et mes pensées, alors que nous contemplons les papillons, vont souvent vers mes compagnons, pauvres et persécutés, de la Terre.

Auteur : David Brooks

Traduction : Jim Erickson

The Guardian

I read The Guardian daily for its perspective and honesty, and not so much for its editorial opinions. The paper, even in its American incarnation, has more UK news than one usually finds on this side of the Atlantic, and a host of interesting articles on food, travel, the arts, and areas of the world neglected by the American press.

A few days ago, I came across a review of a retrospective of the Michael Palin travel series. A fan of Palin since his Monty Python days, and having watched and enjoyed several of his travelogues, I read The Guardian review with interest. Palin’s following comments about his travels in Morocco spoke directly to me, and drew me into memories of my youth:

“This is something I did entirely on my own. I wanted to go to a place called Taroudant, which is across the Atlas mountains from Marrakech. They said: ‘Oh, you must hire a car.’ I said: ‘Is there any public transport?’ They were like: ‘You must be joking. There is a bus service, but it leaves at about 3am and takes hours.’ And I said: ‘That’s the one for me.’”

Taroudant sits in the upper Souss Valley, on the western side of the high pass, Tizi n’ Test. On the pinnacle on the left of the photo, the ruins of the mosque of Tinmel, cradle of the Almohad dynasty overlooks the route.
A view near the crest of the route Palin took, at the Tizi n’ Test pass, looking back down the road to Marrakesh. The Toubkal massif looms in the distance.

“It was the most fantastic journey. We did keep stopping. We stopped for people to get off for a pee, have some tea and stretch their legs. By the time we got to the top of the Atlas Mountains we knew each other quite well. There were no westerners there at all. It was entirely Moroccans, which I think was great. I felt very privileged to be there.”

The city of Taroudant, in the spring of 1973. Almonds are in blossom.

Every Peace Corp volunteer could tell this story. Certainly most would admit to feeling privileged, too. Volunteers normally never traveled any other way.

Washed out roads in places like the pre-Rif were not uncommon. Note the ladder. Luggage was stored on top of the bus.

Those trained in dialectical Arabic or Berber never had a problem conversing with the other travelers. Those volunteers who only knew French could usually find a French speaker nearby. Palin’s preferred travel was what we took for granted. Shared taxis, buses, and second- and third-class trains fit both our tastes and our pocket books, and always provided something more than exotic locales and beautiful scenery. We were either traveling for work or sightseeing, but either way we always traveled as Moroccans did.

Most of my travel in life was based on specific goals, usually business, historical, or recreational, but some of the best trips came after spur-of-the-moment decisions.

The senior staff of the college at La Pocatière.

In 1967, finishing up my summer work at the Peace Corps training site in La Pocatière, Quebec, I planned to go to Finland to visit an old girl friend. I had a couple of weeks free before the start of my own training in Hemet. A Dear John letter dashed my hopes for a reunion so I looked for something else to do.

A fish trap on the St. Lawrence near La Pocatière.

My college friend Jim had been accepted to the same Peace Corps training program as myself, and he had time to kill, too. I suggested that we do some short hikes in the Canadian Rockies. I had never hiked in any wilderness area before so it would be a new experience for me, though I had traveled through the Canadian Rockies more than once. Though Jim lived in Montana, he had never visited the Canadian Rockies, so he was interested. He agreed to drive north to Jasper, Alberta in his Volkswagen Beetle, where we would meet for a few days of backpacking.

Jim and his Beetle on the Icefields Parkway.

Jim was there to meet me when I got off the Canadian National train. The train pulled in after midnight, and it was very dark. Jasper was a small place, and there wasn’t much around the station. It was a great place to watch the skies, but not such a great place to miss a rendez-vous late at night.

The train station in Jasper.
Another view of the CN station in Jasper. Mount Edith Cavell is visible behind the station.

Our first hike was to be in Mount Robson Provincial Park, in British Columbia, which in 1967 was less well known than the big Canadian national parks. I think I had learned about it from a tourism magazine, Beautiful B.C., which had a stunning photo of the Emperor Falls.

At that time, the park was accessible by a thirty- or forty-mile drive on the Yellowhead Highway, an excellent road, but unpaved and definitely not all-season. Talking with Jim today, I found out that his recollection was that the road wasn’t great at all and that he complained about it at the time, I stand corrected there. Memory is a funny thing. Since that time, I have driven a lot of unimproved roads, including a long stretch of the ALCAN Highway, but Jim drove the Yellowhead, so he, a Montanan and no stranger to unpaved roads, would have the better memory.

The road crossed the Continental Divide through Yellowhead Pass at 1133 meters, on the border of Alberta and British Columbia, and then descended following the Fraser River. The name Yellowhead supposedly came from a blonde Métis trapper, Pierre Bostonais, and further down the highway, past Mount Robson Provincial Park, there is a town called Tête Jaune Cache.

The Yellowhead highway was gravel in 1967. It has since been moved slightly and paved so that today it is an all-weather road.

I was reminded of this trip by a second recent Guardian article, this one featuring the Mount Robson Provincial Park. The park is more accessible today, though still a bit off the main tourist circuit.

Railroad travelers are treated to a splendid view of Mount Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies, as the Via Rail trains climb toward the Continental Divide on their way east. In the summer of 1972, I rode a CN train from Vancouver to Toronto and awoke on the second day of the trip to a sunrise view of that magnificent mountain. The railroad parallels Highway 16 much of the way, and tourists can also take a train excursion from Jasper to the Mount Robson area.

When Jim picked me up at the station in Jasper, he really was a sight for sore eyes. I had worried just a bit that he might be late, wondering how I might contact him if he were not there. We now take cell phones for granted, but before they existed communication was certainly more difficult. I don’t recall that we made any special arrangements for the possibility of a late train or a flat tire, but I had known Jim for four years, and I knew that he was dependable.

Great Falls is almost 600 miles from the town site where the CN train station is located. Jim’s quickest route was up to Calgary and through Banff Park and over the newly completed and spectacular Icefields Pakway. Our plan was to camp the night in Jasper, and leave early in the morning for Mount Robson. Though I was weary from a two-day train ride, I was excited to see Jim. Jasper’s air was fresh and fragrant, a great contrast to the Pullman car I had just left. The campground, within the Jasper town site, was simply a series of concrete slabs, with places to pitch tents, on the edge of a forest.

Though I was tired, I found it hard to sleep. It was late September or early October, the rutting season of elk, and the bulls were bugling in the surrounding forests. I had never heard elk bugle before, and I found the silvery whisking sound strange and eerie.

A bull elk in Jasper.

After finally drifting off to sleep, Jim and I were awakened by the sound of a loud crash. Unable to see anything in the dark, I went back to sleep. In the morning we found that a black bear had broken into the supplies of the campers next to us. Hearing the noise outside their tent, they had opened the fly to come face to face with the bear. They zipped the tent back up, and hoped that the bear would be satisfied with their provisions. Jim and I had no tent. We had spread our sleeping bags in the open, and we were thankful that we had escaped the midnight snack visit. Our provisions were stored in the VW.

Jasper was a very small town, with some fancy resorts, connected to the park. Pyramid Mountain overlooks Jasper.
One measure of its proximity to the mountains and its wilderness location was the presence of what are not normally thought of as urban creatures.
Normally visitors do not feed the local beasts, and I’m not sure why Jim was doing this. Perhaps the deer expected it.

Our plan was to do two hikes, one in Mount Robson Provincial Park and the other in the Tonquin Valley-Amethyst Lakes area of Jasper National Park. We set off early for Mount Robson and I enjoyed the easy drive while Jim worried about his car.

We saw this moose along the Yellowhead Highway.
A view from the Yellowhead Highway.

We arrived at the trailhead before noon, with plenty of time to begin our hike. In those days the park was far less developed than it is today. Now one needs permits for day hikes and overnight campers must sign in, and there are many more facilities for campers. The trail to Berg Lake and back was about 20 or 25 miles round trip, I think. We had neither tent nor rain gear, and we were counting on good weather. Luckily, the weather cooperated with clear skies and warm sunshine.

Jim near the trailhead of the Berg Lake trail, beside the Yellowhead Highway.
At its beginning, the trail crossed the Robson River via a bridge wide enough for horses. Packing in with horses was a popular excursion for those who could afford it, and is still popular. While it makes the trip possible for some who might not be able to manage the hike, sharing trails with horses is not desirable.
Crossing the Robson River on the bridge. The river is light colored as it carries a load of glacier scour.

After an easy start, the trail rose quickly. By the time we reached Berg Lake we had climbed about 800 meters on a trail that rose rather steeply. On the first day, as the sun set, we were not near any campground, so we stepped off the trail and camped above the Robson River. To be truthful, I don’t know that we even had a trail map that showed campgrounds.

Today, a trail map by B.C. parks shows several campgrounds. I don’t remember passing any at all.

In a forested area, just off the path, the rushing water in the gorge beside us made for a damp evening as well as a loud one. In the morning, we noticed bear tracks on the trail. We had no protection against bears, but Jim put a rock in a tin can, the idea of which is that the rattle might prevent us from startling a bear. We jangled along and never saw any bears.

Everything was all rather casual, and certainly would not be permitted today. I don’t know if campfires were permitted then, but we made them where we camped. Today they are strictly forbidden.

Jim at an overlook on the Robson River.

The scenery was spectacular: shining lakes, hanging glaciers, and waterfall after waterfall, all set among high glaciated peaks.

At one point we saw a party on horses in the distance. The horses shared our trail in places, and where they did, their hooves tore it up so that the trail was sometimes muddy or boggy, and unpleasant for those of us on foot. Since the horses could easily cross fords where the river was braided, they made much better time.

In the three days we were out, we met no other hikers, but perhaps that was just a question of how late in the season we were there. In any case, we weren’t unhappy for the solitude. The trail was ours for a few days, and it was a gem.

Crossing the river on a log bridge.

The second day out was beautiful, once again warm with a clear sky, and the mountain scenery was terrific.

Grabbing a canteen of water along the Robson River. The boots that I am wearing are the same ones that I left behind in the Atocha Hotel in Madrid in 1969. By then I had worn them out, and since then I have always hiked in real French or Swiss mountain boots.
On the shore of Kinney Lake, Whitehorn Mountain is reflected in the still morning waters.
Horse trails cross the outwash plain at the other end of Kinney Lake. The hiking trail climbed along the side of the slope on the left, while the horses took an easier route as they were easily able to ford the cold, swift waters.
Water and ice fell over the edges of the u-shaped Valley of a Thousand Falls. The icefalls were loud and frequent.

We passed the Emperor Falls, a spectacular waterfall, under the shoulder of Mount Robson.

The Emperor Falls and Mount Robson.
Whitehorn Mountain and the Robson River seen from the Berg Lake area.
Approaching our campsite, the second night out.

The Berg Lake trail is not demanding, but we carried heavy gear. The days of lightweight synthetics were still in the future. Jim was in good shape, but I struggled a bit to keep up. By the time we climbed out of The Valley of a Thousand Falls, I was beat and we camped at a spot near the exit of the Robson River from Berg Lake. The sun was setting. The September days were still warm, but they were growing short, and long before the last light disappeared from the high peaks, the valleys had fallen into darkness.

Camping in the shadow of a magnificent peak. My old Kodachrome film had neither the speed nor the latitude to capture Jim, but the mountain was still reflecting twilight.

In the morning we hiked a bit further to get some pictures of Mount Robson’s face and Berg Lake. There was some haze, possibly from forest fires, a regular occurrence, though not on today’s scale.

Early morning, along the shore of Berg Lake.
Mount Robson and Berg Lake. The glacier fell directly into the lake leaving large floating pieces of ice, hence the lake’s name.
Mount Robson is the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies. Only serious, skilled and experience climbers climb this alpine peak. There are many easy ascents in the Canadian Rockies but Robson is not one of them.

With the weather changing and with no tent, we headed back to the trailhead. The walk down was easy and we were able to spend the night, a rainy one, in a Jasper motel. The warm shower there felt great, and I was fortunate to find a large tick before it had a chance to settle in and make a meal from me.

We decided that the weather and the distance would not permit the Tonquin Valley-Amythist Lakes trip, a long hike in, so we headed south along the Icefields Parkway to the Lake Louise area in Banff National Park where we could do an interesting day hike, but that’s for another post.

Time was running out. Summer had ended. The Peace Corps beckoned. And snow was beginning to fall at higher elevations.

Here are a few views from the drive south to Banff. They really do not do the scenery justice. The splendor is continuous.

Along the Icefields Parkway, the Athabaska Falls is a cauldron.
Mount Athabaska and the Columbia Icefields. The Columbia Icefields are the largest of the Rockies, and mark a point where the Continental Divide meets the Arctic watershed. Waters from the ice fields flow toward the Atlantic, the Pacific, and the Arctic oceans
I’m standing at the toe of the Athabaska Glacier, which has shrunk greatly. Today it is much farther from the road than it was in 1966 when I first visited. In those days, the glacier was a relatively short walk from the road. Not so much today, and its recession is speeding up. I was last there in 1989, and I wish I had documented how far it had receded since my first visit.
There is no danger that the Athabaska will disappear soon, though some predict that 500 miles south in the American Glacier National Park, the glaciers that give the park its name may disappear by the end of the decade. Near Jasper, the Angel Glacier, which seems to float on the side of Mount Edith Cavell, has visibly changed shape since I first saw it in 1966.


This cover from one of Needham’s collections was drawn by Duncan Macpherson (now there’s an old style Canadian name), a truly great editorial cartoonist.

My old Morocco X friend, Reed Erskine just left a thoughtful comment on my last post, And Monarchs to behold the swelling scene, and I began to reply to it only to find my response demanded more space than a simple comment, so I am adding it as a new post.

People all over the world should do what they can for the health of the planet. Reed crossed the Atlantic in a sailboat, sailed the Mediterranean, crossed the Sahara by vehicle, worked in Guinea, and God knows what else, so the fragility of the natural world is one he knows personally and intimately.

Monarchs are becoming endangered and often cannot help themselves. We as individuals can help them by doing simple things such as letting the goldenrod grow and growing patches of milkweed. Two years ago a professor of biology from the University of Maryland gave a public lecture at Niagara University, just a few miles from here. He presented his research showing that many suburban areas had become food deserts for native birds, and adding to the many other man-made hazards for migrating species. Since most birds feed their young with insects, even seed-eating species, having trees that produce those insects in abundance, especially caterpillars, and, at the right season, is crucial to the survival of their nestlings. In the same vein, migrating in the autumn, birds often eat berries. Having berries with the right nutrients and food value at the right time is important for their survival. Suburban gardens often have the wrong types of shrubs and trees, coming as they do from other regions of the States or even other continents, and even local species vary greatly as to the quality and quantity of food they offer.

My response to this was to resolve to plant only the most helpful species that met our garden needs, and over the last two years I have planted a dozen red oaks and catalpas, the latter known in some places in the States as “bait” trees, as they were once planted intentionally to provide fishermen with caterpillars. The next trees I plant will be pin oaks and maples. Our home is in a rural area, but recent development along the lake tends to echo suburban tastes, clearing brush and forest for lawns, and making formal ornamental gardens. Maybe the next owner of this property will cut them all down, but I surely hope not. Along the eastern edge of our lot, I have let the hedgerow expand and encroach upon the lawn, and it harbors many kinds of wildlife. As I write, the wild grape vines are ripening, and there are grapes and berries of various sorts everywhere.

The survival of humanity is a different story. I don’t doubt that we are endangered and that the planet’s sixth great extinction is now happening. Whether humanity is a part of it remains an open question. It certainly will happen if the oceans die, since they are the earth’s greatest source of oxygen.

By way of contrast, this is a humanitarian issue, where survival concerns a group, not the human race. The death of migrants will not lead to extinction. Nor do most of us keep them in our consciousness all the time. They are just another news item, and only when enough of them die does the disaster make the news. Many of us don’t know them. We don’t know the circumstances they left nor what obstacles they face migrating to and settling in new homelands. I think of them often, perhaps because through life in Morocco I came to know some of them personally. And I would never begrudge them their chance for a better life for their families.

Years ago, still in college, I traveled with my Nagra reel-to-reel tape recorder to the offices of the The Globe and Mail, then and still, Canada’s national English language newspaper. I had been traveling about Canada, and actually living for long periods there, collecting interviews for a radio show on our college station, at the time an important one small corner of northern New England. Canada was celebrating one hundred years of nationhood in 1967. Having recently adopted a national flag and anthem, the federal government and the provinces were embroiled in difficult negotations concerning the repatriation of the British North America Act of 1867, an act of the UK parliament which created an independent Canada and provided a constitutional basis for the creation of a federal system of government. The BNA Act was unilaterally repatriated in 1982 without the consent of the Quebec government which, thirty-eight years later, has still not signed on.

The Globe was a conservative paper, read by the bankers and brokers of Bay Street, the Wall Street of Toronto, but conservative in those times meant something more reminiscent of Edmund Burke than Donald Trump. There was an editorial page writer, Richard Needham, who certainly would have looked out of place among the bankers. He wore second-hand suits and lived in an eight-dollar-a-week Chinese boarding house, despite having a regular salary as a humorist for Canada’s largest newspaper and royalties from publishing collections of his daily articles. Needham loved to poke fun at people, mores, and institutions, not simply to make his readers chuckle, but often with a deeper message about what he thought was important.

Sitting in his office with late-afternoon light streaming through the windows behind him, Needham expressed his confidence in Canada, but also criticized it. He thought that Canada should throw open its borders and open its vastness to much more new emigration. At the time it seemed so radical that I discounted it, but his comments have never left me, and Canada has since been changed, all for the better, by a huge influx of immigrants. The scale has not matched Needham’s hyperbole, but for me, as an observer, it seems to have confirmed the soundness of his advice, advice that was kind and generous, and born out of common humanity, and not concern for development or economic gain.

Richard Needham is gone now, but I will never forget him, nor the Moroccans whom I knew who sought a better life in France. My only regret is that over the many years I have lost touch with them.

If the name of Richard J. Needham is foreign to you, Wikipedia has a sympathetic portrait.

And monarchs to behold the swelling scene

Monarchs on the goldenrod

As my wife and I sat on our deck the other night, looking over Lake Ontario, butterflies drifted in and out of our field of vision, and flew over our heads or alighted on the leaves of the trees above us. In the setting sun and in the twilight that followed, they bedded down for the night.

The cold front driving them over the lake swells triggers their journey. The next day our yard was full of them, and many clustered around the goldenrod plants that grow wild under the dead ash by our back door.

The butterflies are known as Monarchs. They are a common butterfly, and one finds them in both North America and Eurasia. The old-world Monarchs and those from the New World differ only in one respect: the North American Monarchs migrate long distances. In our case they are moving south from New York State and southern Canada.

This butterfly gets its name from its orange coloring, the orange of William of Orange. It feeds on many flowers, but Monarch caterpillars feed only on the milkweed plant. This is a strength and a vulnerability as milkweed is considered a weed and therefore eradicated. On the other hand, the plant imparts a sour taste to the insect, and birds seldom eat more than one Monarch. Indeed, another butterfly, the Viceroy, takes advantage of the Monarch’s bitter taste, by mimicking its colors and patterns. Birds avoid the Viceroy, fearing the taste of a Monarch.

A few years ago I had wanted to cut down the goldenrod. The pollen of the plant irritates people with hay fever, but my wife dissuaded me, and I am happy that her opinion prevailed, as the annual Monarch migration is an annual scene for us to behold. Though the scale and drama would not compare with the battlefield at Agincourt, the clouds of butterflies have a charm for us, especially as they presage and precede the change of seasons as late summer August becomes early autumn.

The Monarch migration is threatened these days. Not only is their food source more scarce and their routes filled with dangerous highways and other obstacles, but their wintering grounds in the mountains of northern Mexico suffer from serious loss of habitat due to deforestation and, perhaps, climate change. When we see the Monarchs on the move, there is sadness as well as joy, a sadness born of the increasing difficulty of their journey and their problematic reception at its end.

The sadness for me also comes from the personal knowledge of the travails and fates of human migrants around the world. Pushed by hunger and war, and that through no fault of their own, migrants everywhere are attracted to the richer societies around them where they are welcomed for their inexpensive labor, but feared for their skin color and religion.

When I lived in Morocco, the migration, though changing, was primarily a temporary one of single men, an age-old pattern for Moroccans where Swassa has long migrated from their arid, argan tree valleys to the imperial cities of the north, in the same manner as the Mzabis and the Djerbans in Algeria and Tunisia. Far from their families, they lived frugally, and maintained a reputation for probity. In old age, they returned to the Souss, or the Mzab, or the isle of Djerba, to the homelands they loved and missed, to retire in comfort.

Miloud Soussi at his shop in Derb el Mitre, with one of his sons. 1973.

During the First World War, with a dire shortage of men due to their continual slaughter on the battledfield, France found a temporary source of factory labor in Morocco, and, as the French say, rien ne dure comme le provisoire. And over time, North African migrants from all over the Maghreb began to bring their families and settl in France and other European countries. Weighing the pros and cons, many decided that a life in France was better than one in their homeland, however difficult the former might be.

Mohammedi in front of his vegetable shop in Seti Messaouda. He left for France in the seventies

Today I read in Le Monde that more and more small boats are trying to cross the English Channel, braving harsh enforcement, rough water, and dangerous shipping lanes. In the Strait of Gibraltar, the situation is the same. West African migrants cross even wider reaches to get to the Canaries. And who can forget the heart wrenching photo of 3-year old Alan Kurdi, laying lifeless on a Turkish beach?

Hammad Hsein, Sefrou, 1973. A primary school teacher at the school in Habouna, he migrated to France. His family lived in Seti Messaouda.

I recently sent my friend, Reed, some old American embassy guidelines for crossing the Sahara from Morocco. In the sixties and seventies, tourists routinely, if infrequently, made the crossing, and Reed replied by recounting his difficulties finding a ride and then, having found it, riding for two days in a cram-packed Land Rover on the long unpaved, and sometimes unmarked, track from Tamanrasset to Agadez. Today this route, though partly paved, is far too dangerous for tourists, but thousands of migrants are follow it north every day, at great expense and peril. When and if they arrive on the Mediterranean coast of North Africa, they then face an even more perilous sea journey, hoping to find refuge, but often being turned away. And some like little Alan, never arrive.

Migrant workers in Agadez

As the earth’s climate changes, as senseless wars continue, as poverty becomes unbearable, the streams of migrants grow and multiply, pulled by aspirations to a better life for themselves and their families. If I were sitting on a beach in northern Morocco, I might see a migration not of butterflies but of people. As fellow humans, they are far more beautiful and precious than the Monarchs, and my thoughts, as I watch the butterflies, are often with my poor and persecuted fellow inhabitants of the earth.

John Paulas

A Morocco XII volunteer, John Paulas, recently passed away. I think he might have worked in forestry. If I am wrong, please use the Contact page to write and I will correct any error.

To some John Paulas was “Africa John”

John was stationed in Boured, usually transliterated Bourd, a small hamlet north of Taza. One might say Boured was nowhere. Or one could say it was two or three hours from the nearest city, Taza or Al Hoceima, neither of which were very large at the time. Bourd was a day’s journey from Rabat or Casa or Tangier. The nearest big cities were Fes and Meknes. So after everything is said, Bourd was relatively isolated. It was certainly more isolated than Sefrou, where I could commute to Fes by grand taxi or bus in a half hour or so. And Sefrou was itself a city, if a small one.

This Google Earth view shows Boured’s location near the eastern end of the Rif Mountains.

The remoteness of Bourd probably pleased John, who had graduated from Paul Smith’s College, a small institution located in the northern Adirondack Mountains of New York State, another isolated spot. The landscape around Bourd is hilly. The Ouergha River has its origins nearby. The spine of the Rif mountains is not far off, and in the winter the higher peaks are clad with snow.

Bourd was also small. I have tried to find an old population figure. I suspect that in 1968 Bourd had only few thousand souls, and certainly far fewer than the 10,000 plus inhabitants that it has today.

John the Hiker, in Morocco, age 23 or 24

I met John in 1969. We both were eager to hike Morocco’s mountains, and we had both met the young Peace Corps doctor, Louden Kiracofe, who had developed a love of the outdoors and mountaineering in Colorado. Louden organized a trip to climb Jbel Toubkal, Morocco’s highest peak, and John, fellow Morocco X volunteer Tony Singleton, and myself accompanied Louden and his wife, Ginny. For all of us it was our first trip to the trails of the High Atlas. The trip is partly documented elsewhere in this blog.

John and Tony Singleton on the way to the base of Jbel Toubkal

John had wanted to serve in Nepal and, on his initial Peace Corps travel to Morocco, he mentioned that preference to another new volunteer who was seated next to him on the PanAm flight. The latter replied that he was being sent to Nepal, but that he had wanted to go to Morocco! Such is life and such is the Peace Corps. I had wanted to go to Morocco, and was given a slot in a program to Senegal. I turned it down, and later was offered a slot in Morocco X.

John with Louden Kiracofe en route to the then Neltner Hut
John, on the shoulder of Jbel Toubkal, looking down the long scree slope in the gully that leads up from the Neltner Hut. Having hiked to the summit of Toubkal, we descended the gully in long jumps, sliding along with the scree, then kicking off again. It only took 20 minutes to reach Neltner. On the way up, by way of contrast, slipping and sliding in the scree made progress a chore. Across the valley is Tadat.

Had John gone to Nepal, his relative isolation in Morocco might not have compared to what he would have found in Nepal.

In my junior or senior year of college, I sat in a dorm room of Cutter Hall listening to a returned Peace Corps volunteer who had served in Nepal in one of the earliest Peace Corps programs. He flew out of Katmandu to his assignment, and, as the plane passed over the village he would serve in, the pilot pointed it out. The volunteer asked how long before they would arrive. The pilot answered that the plane would land in twenty minutes—but the volunteer would then face a three-day walk! The mountains of Nepal are a different order of magnitude.

John on the running board of the Jeep on a rock-strewn part of the road to Taffert, below Bouiblane. We had a bit of trouble with rockfall.

John and I hiked together one other time. If one lives anywhere between Fes and Taza, from most high points the mountains of Bouiblane and Moussa ou Salah, snow capped for more than half the year, dominate the southern horizon. There was a striking view of Bouiblane from the roof of my house in Sefrou.

John, Louden Kiracofe, and myself in the early morning light, on our way to Taffert. The valley below is filled with clouds.

Along with Bou Naceur and Tichoukt, their summits represent the culminating points of the eastern Middle Atlas. John and I wanted to climb Bouiblane. The opportunity presented itself when Louden organized a trip which included Don Brown, Gaylord Barr and, of course, John and myself. That trip is discussed in another blog post. Suffice it to say, la montagne n’a pas voulu, but Louden and John later climbed it on a moonlit night, and I on a bright and fine May morning.

John with a couple of locals and myself, near Taffert.

I hardly ever saw John after that, and we never became close friends, though he did read this blog. His passing saddens me and is a reminder that though in time one can conquer many mountains, in the end it is time which is the ultimate conqueror.

John in rear with Louden Kiracofe and Don Brown. They thought the summit of Moussa ou Salah was near, but Bouiblane has a long summit ridge. They walked for miles and never got to the summit of Moussa ou Salah, which is separated from Bouiblane by a wide saddle. The weather turned.

Here is a link to John’s obituary. May he rest in peace among the mountains of Oregon that he loved.

Chants d’une nuit d’été

La grande mosquée de Sefrou, à quelques pas de la maison

Au Maroc, les nuits étaient silencieuses, sauf, bien sûr, au mois de Ramadan quand la population, après le coucher du soleil, célébrait et mangeait pour souligner la fin du jeûne. Une seule chambre de ma maison donnait sur la rue, une des rues principales de la médina, mais la circulation cessait après 22 heures. Le quartier n’avait pas de café à l’époque, et les camions et les voitures ne le troublaient pas. Depuis longtemps les petits commerçants avaient fermé leurs boutiques pour rentrer chez eux.

De temps en temps on entendait des passants dans la rue en bas, surtout ceux qui revenaient du cinéma ou du hammam, mais cette circulation cessait avant minuit. Sur la terrasse, un hibou se perchait sur la muraille, peut-être pour appeler son compagnon, mais cela n’arrivait pas souvent, et les superstitieux le prenaient pour un signe de malheur. La vieille ville dormait tranquillement. Seti Messaouda ne se réveillait qu’avec le Fajr, qui appelait les fidèles à la prière. La voix toujours belle et attirante du muezzin retentissait sur les pierres dont les murs de la médina étaient constitués. Cet appel à la prière me réveillait souvent. Dans un état semi-conscient, entre le rêve et la veille, je le trouvais très beau. Comme le dit le muezzin: la prière est meilleure que le sommeil (ٱلصَّلَاةُ خَيْرٌ مِنَ ٱلنَّوْمِ).

Cette cigale périodique, qui aura passé 17 ans à se développer sous terre, émerge enfin. Elle laisse sécher les ailes avant de prendre sa place dans le chœur du couvert forestier. Si par chance elle réussit à échapper à ses prédateurs, elle vivra encore deux semaines. Photo prise derrière notre maison.

Aujourd’hui, par contre, bien que nous vivions à la campagne, les nuits sont pleines de bruit, un vacarme dominé surtout par les chants des cigales périodiques. Hautes dans le couvert forestier, les cigales, qui ne sortent du sol qu’après de longues années, chantent toute la nuit en quête, brièvement, d’un compagnon. Là où il n’y a pas d’arbres près de la route, c’est les grillons qui chantent, mais ces nuits-ci, leur chant est étouffé par celui des cigales.

L’été bat son plein, mais il est à la veille de se rafraîchir comme pour annoncer l’automne. Dans le ciel, les Perséides viennent de nous livrer leur spectacle. Les oiseaux migratoires se préparent à s’en voler vers le sud, ou bien, comme les hirondelles, sont déjà partis. Les jours se raccourcissent, et le soleil se couche chaque jour un peu plus tôt et un peu plus au sud. Sur notre terrasse au bord du lac, nous remarquons le point où le soleil couchant disparaît à l’horizon, et nous ne pouvons que constater son mouvement inéluctable.

Au milieu du mois d’août, le soleil couchant se déplace petit à petit vers le sud, s’éloignant de la ville de Toronto, dont les gratte-ciels, loin d’une cinquantaine de kilomètres, semblent flotter à l’horizon.

Les Pirates de Salé ?

Les Maple Leafs de Toronto finissent par marquer un but en deuxième période du deuxième match de leur série trois de cinq contre les Blue Jackets de Columbus.

Me voilà devant la télévision, une bière fraîche à portée de la main. En dehors il fait 30 degrés, ce qui est parfaitement normal au début d’août, la période la plus chaude de l’été, la saison de notre canicule, qui cette année s’éternise. Ce qui n’est pas normal, c’est le match de hockey que je regarde. La saison aurait dû prendre fin il y a longtemps. Mais, ici comme ailleurs, la COVID-19 a bouleversé le monde du sport, et les joueurs commencent à peine à disputer la coupe Stanley, une compétition normalement terminée au début de juin.

Afin de minimiser les risques que pose la COVID-19, la Ligue nationale de hockey avait décidé que tous les matchs auraient lieu dans deux amphithéâtres canadiens, soit dans les villes de Toronto et Edmonton. Elle aurait voulu ajouter Vancouver, mais la province de la Colombie-Britannique s’était opposée à la présence des équipes américaines. En fait, la frontière entre les États-Unis et le Canada est fermée depuis quelques mois déjà, et cette fermeture risque de se poursuivre jusqu’à la fin de l’année. Pour encore mieux isoler et protéger les joueurs, les équipes jouent dans des arénas sans spectateurs. Le spectacle est réservé à ceux qui le regardent sur leurs écrans de télévision.

La glace et la chaleur me rappellent la patinoire que j’ai visitée à Abidjan en Côte d’Ivoire, lors mon voyage à travers l’Afrique occidentale en 1971. Qu’une nation aussi pauvre, où souvent les rues et les routes n’étaient pas encore goudronnées, ait une patinoire m’a bien surpris. Je me demandais combien d’Ivoiriens pouvaient disposer de l’argent nécessaire pour la fréquenter.

Le patinage en Afrique de l’Ouest. Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, 1971

Au Maroc, par contre, la seule glace que j’aie jamais rencontrée était dans le fameux Couloir de Neige sur le versant nord-est du Jbel Tazaghart. Là-haut, au beau milieu de juillet, elle réservait une surprise désagréable pour mon copain Louden et moi, et elle avait fini par nous persuader d’abandonner la route presqu’avant de l’avoir entamée.

Louden Kiracofe, son piolet à la main, au couloir « de glace. » La montagne n’a pas voulu. Juillet 1969.

Mais le temps passe, nous voilà au vingt et unième siècle et le Maroc possède deux patinoires, et même des équipes de hockey! Comme à Abidjan et à West Edmonton au Canada, les patinoires de Rabat et de Casablanca font partie de grands centres commerciaux. Plusieurs équipes participent à des tournois et même à des compétitions internationales. Aidées par les Tchèques et les Canadiens, les équipes marocaines ont même remporté quelques honneurs. Les joueurs sont pour la plupart des jeunes émigrés de souche marocaine qui viennent d’autres pays, du Canada, d’Angleterre, de France, de Suisse, de Finlande ou de Suède. À cet égard des Québécois d’origine marocaine, qui constituent la majorité de ces joueurs, y ont joué un rôle particulièrement important.

En tant que fan de sport, j’en suis ravi. Il y a même une équipe marocaine à Casablanca qui s’appelle les Buffalos, qui est également le nom d’une grande ville près de chez nous. Et cependant, encore une fois je me demande si les ressources consacrées aux patinoires auraient pu être mieux utilisées ailleurs.

Chers amis Marocains, je ne veux ni vous offenser ni vous décourager. Dans le monde du sport, le Maroc a certainement le droit d’élargir ses horizons et de participer au patinage artistique et au hockey sur glace. Je vous félicite, d’ailleurs, d’avoir apporté ces sports en Afrique. Mais même ici aux États-Unis et chez nos voisins canadiens, le hockey demande d’importantes ressources financières dont bien des gens ne disposent pas. De plus, la gestion d’une patinoire coûte cher surtout quand il fait très chaud, sans oublier que le temps de glace disponible avec seulement deux patinoires sera toujours minime. Dans le contexte nord-américain, les groupes sociaux économiquement désavantagés tendent à être exclus du hockey, contrairement au basket et au soccer (football) où le seul équipement nécessaire se résume à un simple ballon. Dans le hockey nord-américain, par exemple, les Noirs et les hispaniques sont carrément sous-représentés.

Tout de même, je continuerai à suivre l’évolution du sport au Maroc, et j’attends la construction de la prochaine patinoire, dont les dimensions seront conformes, espérons-le, aux normes du hockey international. Pourquoi ne pas en bâtir une à Ifrane pour répondre aux besoins des villes de Meknès et de Fès?

Bonne chance et gardez vos bâtons sur la glace !

Note de l’auteur : Compte tenu du manque de commentaires sur ce billet, j’aimerais en ajouter un de mon cru pour mieux expliquer le point d’interrogation de son titre. Au dix-septième siècle, la ville de Salé hébergeait des pirates qui gagnaient leur pain en s’emparant des navires chrétiens au large de la côte marocaine. Les Anglais donnaient à ces pirates l’appellation de « Sallee Rovers ». On compte parmi les captifs réels qu’ils avaient enlevés contre rançon le célèbre héros d’un roman de Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoé.

Le faiseur de pluie et l’ivrogne

Le camp de travail pour migrants à Hemet en Californie, novembre 1967. Je crois qu’aucun d’entre nous, même parmi ceux affectés aux sites les plus reculés, n’ait vécu au Maroc aussi mal que nous avons vécu dans ce camp.

Quand notre groupe de volontaires était en formation à Hemet en Calfornie, nous avons visionné un film documentaire en noir et blanc sur l’islam, intitulé, si ma mémoire est bonne, Au nom de Dieu. Le film avait été produit pour la télévision et j’ai beau essayer de le retrouver, je n’ai pas eu de succès. Je ne me souviens pas si le Maroc était le décor du film ou si seulement quelques-unes des séquences y étaient tournées; je crois que c’est le premier, mais certaines des scènes ont bel et bien eu lieu au moussem annuel à Moulay Bouchta.

Un moussem est un festival marocain, souvent centré sur la célébration annuelle d’un saint. Le terme saint, dans un contexte chrétien, peut évoquer un concept qui n’est pas tout à fait précis. D’habitude je me méfie des analogies religieuses parce qu’elles peuvent comporter un bagage d’information contextuelle qui est inapplicable ou fallacieux. C’est humain, je suppose, de prendre l’inconnu et de le placer dans un contexte qui le rend compréhensible, mais les apparences peuvent être trompeuses. Dans certaines parties du christianisme les saints agissent comme intermédiaires entre le fidèle et Dieu. En islam, du moins dans l’islam sunnite suivi au Maroc, il n’y a pas de place pour des intermédiaires. Le lien entre le musulman et Allah est direct.

De plus, dans le contexte chrétien occidental, les saints sont canonisés, c’est-à-dire légitimés par les autorités religieuses suprêmes. Dans le contexte marocain, les saints sont largement populaires et ruraux et gagnent des adhérents en dehors de l’influence des autorités religieuses urbaines. Comme dans la plus grande partie du monde islamique, ce sont les citadins qui contrôlent ce qui définit l’islam et ils peuvent parfois légitimer des saints ruraux. Les articles de la foi sont bien définis, mais la pratique de l’islam fait généralement l’objet de débats et de tolérance.

Il existe une maison d’édition française établie de longue date, Éditions Marabout, dont le symbole est la cigogne marabout, semblable à celle qui constitue la marque de commerce des Éditions Penguin. Cependant, comme ceux qui connaissent les oiseaux le savent, il ne s’agit pas de l’oiseau qui fait ses nids au Maroc, mais de celui d’un prédateur et charognard subsaharien d’apparence plutôt redoutable.

À l’époque coloniale, les Français utilisaient le terme marabout pour décrire les saints musulmans. Le terme peut aussi s’appliquer à la structure physique où le saint est enterré, et peut comporter également le sens de sage.

Marabout publie des livres pratiques et de loisirs dans un petit format carré.

Une cigogne européenne dans son nid sur le toit d’un bâtiment à Azrou. 1968
Comment devenir champion du sport « national » du sud de la France.

La racine arabe du mot marabout signifie « être lié » et se retrouve dans le nom de la capitale du Maroc, Rabat. Les Almohades, la dynastie berbère qui a fondé la ville, l’appelaient Ribat al-Fatah. Synonyme de forteresse, d’autres dérivés de la racine paraissent dans des noms de famille comme Morabit, et, en espagnol et en portugais, Morabito. La racine du verbe contient le sens d’attelage de chevaux dans un fort et le mot murabit peut signifier soldat ou cavalier. Dans un contexte métaphorique, le mot peut vouloir dire contraignant au sens spirituel. Les disciples du saint sont liés à leur maître par des croyances, des pratiques et par leur dévotion.

La porte de la kasbah des Oudayas à Rabat. Cette entrée massive est plus décorative que défensive et l’arc porte un verset du Coran en écriture koufique qui encourage le djihad. Elle date de la fin du 12e siècle, à l’apogée du pouvoir almohade.

En Afrique septentrionale et occidentale, le terme français marabout se réfère communément aux personnages, qui, de leur vivant, étaient connus pour leur piété, leurs connaissances religieuses spéciales et souvent pour leurs miracles.

Le soufisme est un autre terme associé aux saints musulmans. Le soufisme implique souvent la prétention d’une connaissance personnelle de Dieu moyennant des pratiques ésotériques. Dans les faits, le terme couvre une vaste gamme d’activités allant de simples prières jusqu’à des états de transe. Souvent toléré, le soufisme dans ses formes les plus extrêmes a entraîné des conflits avec les autorités et même la peine de mort pour hérésie. Certains saints marocains étaient des soufis, d’autres non. Au Maroc le soufisme et la sainteté se chevauchent largement.

Un groupe de la confrérie des Aïssawa au festival des cerises à Sefrou en 1968. Les Aïssawa figureront dans un billet ultérieur sur les saints et les confréries.

Les saints sont appelés « sidi » ou, s’ils sont chorfa, c’est-à-dire descendants de la famille du prophète, moulay. Les deux termes sont analogues à « mon seigneur », mais « moulay » indique un héritage qui remonte au prophète Mahomet et est utilisé pour le roi du Maroc et pour tout descendant du prophète, qu’il soit saint ou non. Ceci étant dit, selon la tradition, le pedigree royal de la dynastie des Alaouites qui dirige le Maroc depuis le 17e siècle, prétend posséder également la baraka.

Au Maroc, un saint peut être un soufi ou non, mais c’est certain qu’il prétend posséder la baraka, une puissance spirituelle et sainte qui œuvre ici-bas. Les gens se rendent au tombeau du saint, appelé souvent koubba, apportant des offrandes et demandant des faveurs au saint, une guérison, une grossesse et ainsi de suite. La baraka est transférable, pouvant passer d’une personne à l’autre. Un saint peut, même après sa mort, partager sa baraka avec ses disciples. Sous certaines conditions, la baraka peut même être soutirée ou volée. Pour moi, la baraka, cette force spirituelle qui se trouve partout sous la surface, représente le Maroc.

Vous pouvez aisément apprécier la présence généralisée des saints en regardant une carte de l’Afrique du Nord où les toponymes contenant « Sidi » ou « Moulay » parsèment tout le territoire. Le siège de la Légion étrangère française se trouvait à Sidi Bel Abbès en Algérie.

Les tombeaux de saints, appelés koubbas (en arabe, dôme ou coupole) se présentent sous plusieurs formes et grandeurs, mais n’ont pas toujours de dôme. Le peu de cas que Clifford Geertz fait des koubbas dans Observer l’islam m’a toujours déplu, même si le reste de son ouvrage est une merveilleuse comparaison de l’islam au Maroc et en Indonésie. Les tombeaux des saints montrent une grande variété de styles et de grandeurs. Certains ont des dômes, d’autres des toits en bois ou en tuiles de céramique vertes, la couleur associée au prophète, certains sont des cavernes alors que d’autres ne sont que de simples tombes marquées d’un cairn ou d’un amas de pierres.

Un groupe de tombes très photographiées en route vers Beni Mellal.
Un regroupement de tombes reculées près de Imouzzer des Marmoucha dans le Moyen Atlas.
Le tombeau de Sidi Chamrouch sur le sentier menant de la ville d’Imelil à la vallée au pied de Jbel Toubka. 1969. Le tombeau se trouve sous le grand rocher au centre gauche de la photo. Le tourisme et la croissance démographique ont favorisé ce saint. Les photos récentes montrent un site bien plus visité qu’auparavant.
Le tombeau de Sidi Al Bouseghrine qui donne sur Sefrou. 1969
Le tombeau de chérif Sidi Mouylay Lahcene dans le Sahara algérien en 1971. Des photos récentes semblent le montrer en ruines, peut-être l’œuvre d’islamistes qui considèrent le culte des saints comme non orthodoxe et contraire à leur conception de l’islam.

Si le saint compte de nombreux adeptes, il peut avoir une loge, appelée zawiya, où les adhérents de ses enseignements ou de sa voie (tariqah) célèbrent ensemble leur culte. Les loges sont entretenues par les descendants du saint qui reçoivent des dons de visiteurs ainsi que des offrandes lors des grands pèlerinages.

Le sanctuaire d’Idriss I, le premier souverain islamique du Maroc, dans le village de Moulay Idriss du Zerhoun. Autrefois les non-musulmans n’étaient pas autorisés à passer la nuit dans la ville.

De nombreuses loges sont soutenues par des fiducies religieuses, et certaines, dont Moulay Bouchta, reçoivent de temps à autre des dons du gouvernement. Ma visite à Moulay Bouchta en septembre 1969 ou 1970 est documentée dans les photos qui suivent.

Moulay Bouchta, circa 1970. Une histoire autour du saint raconte que, à cause d’un délit commis dans le passé, les habitants ne peuvent pas blanchir leur maison comme c’est la coutume dans les régions urbaines. Je me pose des questions là-dessus, car les maisons sur cette photo sont typiques de la région et ne gagnent rien à être blanchies à la chaux, mais aujourd’hui les nouvelles constructions sont généralement blanchies dans le nord du Maroc.

À l’époque, je travaillais au ministère de l’Agriculture à Fès et la zawiya de Moulay Bouchta était située dans le territoire de la province de Fès, à environ 60 kilomètres au nord de la ville de Fès. Aujourd’hui la zawiya se trouve dans la nouvelle province de Taounate. Pour la région au nord de Fès, j’utilise souvent le terme géographique pré-Rif, mais on appelle communément Jbala la région de collines et de montagnes qui se trouve à l’extrémité ouest du Rif. La route de Fès qui mène à Tétouan et à Tanger la traverse et, par le passé, constituait pour la ville de Fès un lien important avec l’Andalousie.

Deux de mes collègues, M. Mernissi et M. Martinez. Je suis fier d’avoir enseigné les techniques de la chambre noire à M. Mernissi.
Deux de mes collègues qui entourent notre conducteur lors d’un déjeuner près de Moulay Bouchta sous un soleil printanier.

Des visiteurs montaient des tentes et campaient en plein air autour de la zawiya créant ainsi un croisement entre un village et un souk (marché). Des biens et des services se vendaient ou s’échangeaient entre les commerçants et les locaux, et les rues principales de cette ville de tentes ressemblaient à un marché rural, ou souk, comme on en trouve partout au Maroc. Les visiteurs au moussem avaient besoin de nourriture, de services et, peut-être, d’offrandes. Ce qui est différent, c’est que les vendeurs dans un souk se groupent d’habitude dans un espace central, alors qu’ici ils se plaçaient le long des artères qui passaient à travers les tentes des visiteurs.

Une petite partie du village de tentes autour de Moulay Bouchta. Je suis resté dans une tente semblable à celles-ci quand je suis allé en pèlerinage à un autre saint, Moulay Abdesslam Ben Mechich au sommet du Jbel Alain. Ce sera le sujet d’un prochain billet.

Pour ceux qui ne sont pas familiers avec le terme, un souk est un marché. Dans une zone urbaine, le terme se réfère à un site où certains biens se vendent, ce que les occidentaux appellent souvent bazar. Dans le Maroc traditionnel, les souks étaient des marchés ruraux périodiques et portaient le nom du jour, par exemple Souk el Khamis (marché du jeudi). Comme ces marchés étaient si courants, on y ajoutait un autre nom de lieu qui précisait l’endroit, comme Souk el-Arba (mercredi) du Gharb, un village important dans la région du Gharb.

Un diagramme de J.-F. Troin qui a étudié les marchés ruraux. Dans son diagramme, il indique le jour du marché par un chiffre. Dimanche = 1. Lundi = 2, et ainsi de suite. Ces souks sont centrés sur Tiflet, un village dans la région de Zemmour, entre Rabat et Meknès. Notre groupe de volontaires y a suivi une formation avant de recevoir nos affectations.

En regardant une vieille carte de l’Afrique du Nord, on voit partout des noms de lieu qui commencent par souk (ou zoco en espagnol). Bien des marchés étaient entièrement ruraux, mais avec le temps la plupart ont vu surgir de petits établissements autour d’eux.

Du bétail au souk à Missour, avant le Ramadan, 1970.
Marché de céréales au souk de Missour.
En 1968, le souk à Sefrou, tenu le jeudi, ne se trouvait pas sur la route touristique. Le vendeur dans la photo était content de montrer ses marchandises; ici un brasero à charbon.

Les moussems importants étaient de grands rassemblements, des événements où le gouvernement se plaisait à se faire voir. On y trouvait d’habitude des tentes pour des hauts fonctionnaires du gouvernement et des notables locaux, d’autres pour le divertissement comme la musique et des danseurs, et pour la nourriture. Étant donné la nature religieuse de l’événement, la danse me semblait incongrue. Des femmes qui dansent en public sont considérées comme des prostituées. Les tentes du gouvernement, par contre, se trouvaient loin du tombeau.

Les tentes du gouvernement à Moulay Bouchta.

Dans mon imagination, l’impression générale était celle d’une foire médiévale ou rurale même si je me rebute à comparer le Maroc moderne à l’Europe médiévale, sauf pour son caractère rural. Pensez au Maire de Casterbridge sans la beuverie.

Aux notables locaux on faisait de l’espace pour se détendre.
Pour d’autres, l’espace était limité.
Il vaut toujours mieux être riche et avoir des accointances.

Je ne me souviens plus comment je m’y suis rendu, mais étant donné que j’ai passé du temps des les tentes gouvernementales, j’étais sans doute avec d’autres personne du ministère. J’avais souvent à travailler dans la région au nord de Fès. Je n’ai aucun souvenir d’avoir mangé, mais on a dû me donner à manger. En ce qui me concerne, l’événement lui-même était un festin pour les yeux.

Un orchestre a fourni de la musique.
Les femmes dansaient. Ces femmes, venant en général de familles pauvres, étaient souvent des veuves ou des divorcées qu’on désignait pas le terme cheikat, soit vieilles femmes.
Des danseuses comme celles-ci venaient souvent du Moyen Atlas, où certains endroits étaient réputés pour leurs prostituées. Le fait de se produire en public les étiquetait comme des femmes de mœurs légères.
Au bord du Moyen Atlas, de jeunes hommes parlaient souvent d’ « aller voir les filles », et certaines villes étaient réputées pour ce commerce.

Je me souviens qu’il faisait beau ce jour-là et que j’ai passé le temps en circulant parmi les foules et en prenant des photos. Il me semble que j’étais le seul non-Marocain là-bas, mais personne ne m’a prêté beaucoup d’attention. J’ai pu photographier certains des événements qui honorent Moulau Bouchta, ainsi que les activités des commerçants et des spectateurs.

Qui était Moulay Bouchta? Ceux qui connaissent l’arabe marocain sauront que le nom signifie littéralement père de la pluie. Ses pouvoirs de saint comprenaient celui d’apporter de la pluie en temps de sécheresse. Dans un climat méditerranéen comme celui du Maroc, la pluie tombe de manière irrégulière. En une décennie, il peut y avoir quatre années de pluies moyennes, mais également six années où il en tombe trop, ou trop peu. Pour l’agriculteur marocain, la sécheresse est un souci majeur, spécialement pour les petits agriculteurs de lopins marginaux.

Des femmes qui ramassent des olives que l’on a descendues à l’aide de longues perches, pratique qu’on appelle gaulage. Comme cette pratique tend à endommager les branches et à restreindre la nouvelle croissance, on ne la trouve pas aux États-Unis.

Dans des régions vallonnées comme le pré-Rif, on trouve couramment les oliviers parce que leurs racines profondes permettent à ces arbres de survivre aux longs étés chauds et secs. Cependant, ce sont les céréales qui constituaient la culture de base de ces agriculteurs, et ces cultures dépendaient d’une bonne quantité de pluie au bon moment.

Moulay Bouchta était un descendant de Idrissid chorfa, les descendants du premier roi musulman du Maroc, Idriss I, qui, à son tour, descendait de la famille du prophète Mahomet.

Après avoir étudié à Marrakech, Moulay Bouchta a terminé son éducation à l’université Qaraouine à Fès. Natif de la tribu Ouled Saïd de la Chaouia, les plaines situées au sud de Casablanca, il a fini par s’établir parmi les Fechtala près d’Amergu où il a rendu l’âme le 20 novembre 1588.

Le moussem se célébrait autrefois au printemps, après la moisson, mais, pour une raison que j’ignore, se célèbre maintenant au début de l’automne. La célébration printanière est certes un moment plus opportun étant donné que les récoltes céréalières se font à ce moment-là.

Beaucoup de ce que je sais de Moulay Bouchta provient d’un article de tourisme écrit en 1931 par un militaire, Paul Oudinot, intitulé Moulay Abi Cheta ou Moulay Bouchta. Je l’ai repéré sur le blog À l’ombre de Zalagh. Zalagh es le nom de la montagne qui surplombe la ville de Fès et le blog réédite de vieux articles coloniaux, parfois enrichis de nouvelles photos sur Fès et de son arrière-pays. Je le recommande fortement à tous ceux qui s’intéressent à l’histoire marocaine et à la région de Fès.

Jbel Zalagh apparaît en arrière-plan. Une section de la muraille de la ville est visible, y-compris la porte occidentale appelée Bab el Mehrouk, où l’on pendait autrefois les têtes de bandits et d’ennemis de l’État.

La fondation de la zawiya de Moulay Bouchta semble remonter au 16e siècle auquel moment le saint s’est établi parmi la tribu Fechtala. Moulay Bouchta et ses disciples étaient engagés dans la lutte contre les Espagnols et les Portugais pour reprendre des enclaves sur la côte marocaine dans le but de chasser les pouvoirs ibériques hors de l’Afrique du Nord.

El Ksar es-Seghir, une forteresse tenue par les Portugais. Après avoir abandonné leur projet de procurer et de garder des terres au Maroc, les Portugais ont démantelé les fortifications et ont déversé les débris dans le port peu profond, ce qui le rendait inutilisable.

Aux temps modernes, les chasseurs et les cavaliers célèbrent Moulay Bouchta en tant que moudjahidin. Un autre exploit que l’on attribue à Moulay Bouchta est celui de débarrasser la campagne d’oiseaux qui dévoraient les céréales des agriculteurs. Un groupe local, les Heddawah, assistait le saint dans sa lutte contre les oiseaux, de sorte que le saint les a pris sous sa protection et est devenu le patron des Heddawah actuels, qui constituent une confrérie religieuse d’errants connus comme fumeurs de kif (cannabis). Moulay Bouchta est également un saint des musiciens qui, selon ses adeptes, ne sauraient perfectionner leur art sans la baraka du saint.

Des musiciens errants à Chaouen. On les voit ici qui vont de porte en porte.
Ces musiciens divertissaient les femmes du quartier et recueillaient des dons.

Il existe de nombreuses histoires au sujet de Moulay Bouchta, qui porte aussi le sobriquet flatteur de ivrogne, non pas parce qu’il consommait de l’alcool, mais parce qu’il était ivre de Dieu.

Jadis ses restes ont été volés par une autre tribu qui a établi une zawiya sur leurs terres, mais les Fechtala, après une lutte, ont pu rendre les restes du saint à leur propre zawiya. Il existe encore aujourd’hui un autre « petit » Moulay Bouchta tout près, mais le véritable Moulay Bouchta se trouve à Amergu. Ce lieu de pèlerinage attire des visiteurs de partout au Maroc.

L’histoire précédente me rappelle des cas en Europe de vols de reliques sacrées par des moines de monastères différents, une pratique courante en Europe médiévale. Dans l’histoire de France, de tels larcins ont eu lieu à Conques et à Vézelay.

Cette carte des tribus du nord du Maroc montre les Fechtala (numéro 28) qui accueillent le moussem de Moulay Bouchta.
Moulay Bouchta est situé à l’ombre d’Amergu. La forteresse almohade se voit clairement au centre droit de cette photo Google Earth.
Les visiteurs déambulaient le long du sentier principal menant au sanctuaire. C’est le matin. En bas, près de la route asphaltée, on peut voir les tentes du gouvernement au loin à l’extrême gauche.
Les artères principales du village de tentes étaient bondées de commerçants.
Ci-dessus un commerçant vend des bottes en caoutchouc, pratiques pour le temps frais et humide à venir.
L’artère principale menant à la porte du sanctuaire.
Ce cordonnier était là pour réparer les chaussures.
Le fast-food style moussem.
Ces messieurs confectionnent des vêtements féminins sur mesure.
À mesure que le jour avançait, la foule devenait de plus en plus dense.
Cette jeune fille s’accroche à son père…
…pendant que sa mère ou sa sœur marche à côté.
L’après-midi, les gens se rapprochent du sanctuaire où ils peuvent mieux regarder la procession.
Comme tout le monde, les Marocains aiment les friandises; ce vendeur offrait une bonne variété de bonbons et de biscuits.
Près du sanctuaire, les boutiquiers vendaient des chandelles en guise d’offrandes ou de souvenirs. Les messieurs à la droite ont trouvé bien amusant que je prenne cette photo.
Plus tard dans la journée, un mouton est amené pour être vendu ou mangé.
Les femmes rurales portaient souvent de grandes serviettes comme vêtement d’extérieur.
Ce vendeur de bonbons errait dans la foule, tranchant des morceaux à vendre.
La procession vers le sanctuaire a commencé au nord, en haut du village de tentes. Ensuite, on amènera un taureau en sacrifice. La structure qui ressemble à une tente est un nouvel emballage pour le tombeau de Moulay Bouchta.
La procession descend dans la zone des tentes…
….et le traverse en serpentant.
La procession se poursuit. Les hommes défilent avec leurs mousquets.
Ils poursuivent leur chemin le long de l’artère principale.
De temps en temps les hommes tirent leurs mousquets.
Des spectateurs se mettent le long de la route alors que les tirs créent des nuages de fumée.
En défilant, ils continuent de tirer.
Les spectateurs regardent d’en haut pendant que la procession entre dans un espace ouvert devant l’entrée du sanctuaire.
Rendus là, les hommes s’arrêtent pour montrer leurs mousquets.
…par un mouvement de va-et-vient….
…jetant leurs armes dans l’air et les attrapant…
…avant de tirer dans le sol. C’est l’équivalent de la fantasia (tbourida) qui comprend également des exploits d’équitation.
Le site se remplit de fumée de poudre à canon et les spectateurs se mettent à courir pour en sortir.
Tout en haut, des femmes regardent…
…à mesure que la procession arrive à l’entrée du sanctuaire. À l’apogée de la cérémonie la foule s’enthousiasme et des activités religieuses commencent à l’intérieur du sanctuaire.

Voici arrivée la fin de ma journée et la fin de mon récit. Les cérémonies se sont poursuivies dans la soirée, mais j’ai dû rebrousser chemin à Fès avec mes collègues. C’était la fin du spectacle pour moi.

Traduction : Jim Erickson

The King’s Birthday or Not Quite as High as the Moon

During my first year in the Peace Corps (1968), I worked in a government agricultural center (a Centre de Travaux or “CT”), supposedly as an extension agent. It was located in the country a few miles distant from the town of Sidi Kacem, in a relatively modern farming district that featured some tractors and irrigation along with peasants that worked their fields with horse-drawn plows.

The cover of a USIS publication on US space exploration. 1969.

Like others in my Morocco X Peace Corps group, I was somewhat handicapped. I could barely speak Arabic, I knew very little about farming, and the CT where I worked was itself dysfunctional. Even my Moroccan co-workers might go days without any assignment and occasionally without pay. The head of the center spoke to me on only one day—the day I arrived. There was absolutely nothing for me to do.

I was however industrious. Behind one building I found some metal plows, for use with a horse or camel. I gave these metal plows a coat of fresh paint and hauled them to the local souk for sale. I was a success. A well-off French resident bought one, put it in the trunk of his Mercedes, and drove away. I haggled with one worn-looking Moroccan peasant farmer, trying to persuade him that he needed one of my plows. “And what happens when it breaks? Who will repair it?”, he asked. I said I did not know. “You see!” he said with waving hands and a dismissive shrug.

The author as he was as a trainee in 1967.

Though I was a baffling curiosity – why was I there??—my co-workers treated me with kindness. Often with time on their hands, they engaged me in conversation. How old was I? Was I married? What was the United States like? What was my opinion on various political issues? The level of sophistication varied. Some had limited education and experience, others maturity and knowledge.

I lived in a small one-story dormitory with some of the other unmarried workers. Sometimes when I would be hanging out in my room, reading, one of the other dorm residents would come and sit down with me, thinking it would be unpleasant for me to be alone.

The most remarkable feature of my dorm was Aisha, the elderly woman who cooked for the dorm residents (we ate together) as well as cleaned. I was made to understand that paying Aisha was my responsibility, a duty I accepted. I got to know her well. Though she could not read, she was well-versed in Koranic lore, and we had interesting conversations. I remember her describing the cosmos—earth centered with the planets, sun, and stars revolving around it. I also remember her warning that demons would consume the astronauts who foolishly tried to reach the moon and her awe and amazement when they did (and maybe a little shaming of her and her country?). She told me the hard experiences of her life that had left her without a family and that required her to work at the CT. When I later moved to Rabat, I had her come and visit me. I remember her looking in the large mirror that was part of my clothing cabinet and pulling back in shock and exclamation at the aged face that greeted her— mirrors not having been part of her furnishings back at the CT.

My year at the CT was punctuated by the Islamic and Moroccan holidays, in which all of the CT workers took part and in which I was generously included. Celebrations were segregated by sex, with men in one tent sharing a meal and entertainment, and women in another location (or maybe cooking the meal!). I remember dancing girls (prostitutes?) visiting the men’s tent one evening although more often I just remember speeches from dignitaries that everyone dutifully listened to, followed by large meals.

One holiday however surpassed the others. Oddly, it was the King’s birthday. In the evening the men assembled in a large tent with bleachers around an open space. The evening started with the usual speeches from various dignitaries, followed by music from a Moroccan band. Cookies were passed around. The music went on and on, with drums and singing and eventually dancing. The hour grew late. Towards the end everyone left in the tent (except me) was down in the tent’s open space, jumping up and down, ecstatic, shouting “Allah, Allah, Allah”. I left not long after, walking the short distance from the tent back to my dorm, very slowly. The next day everyone kidded me about my slow pace. It turns out the cookies had been laced with hashish.

James A. Humphrey, Morocco X

Ramadan (version française)

Vagues d’un orage de fin de printemps sur la rive du lac Ontario. Mai 2020.

En regardant le coucher du soleil il y a quelques jours, j’ai pensé au Ramadan. Les musulmans ont actuellement terminé près de la moitié de leur mois de jeûne obligatoire. Des souvenirs me reviennent d’avoir été dans l’appartement de Don Brown à Rabat où nous avons entendu le tir de canon qui annonçait la fin du jeûne. Situé près de la kasbah des Oudayas, ou bien du cimetière voisin, le canon semblait tirer à travers la médina de Rabat directement vers le bureau du Corps de la Paix et je croyais vraiment entendre la balle passer, alors qu’en réalité il n’y avait pas de balle. Il doit y avoir une histoire associée à ce canon, mais une recherche superficielle sur Internet n’a rien donné.

La plupart des villes utilisaient des sirènes plutôt que de l’artillerie pour signaler la fin du jeûne. Les rues étaient souvent désertes alors que les familles prenaient place autour de leurs tables en attendant de rompre le jeûne. Il y avait du café et des friandises, suivis de harira, cette soupe épaisse, remplie de pois chiches ou de lentilles et consommée toujours dans de petits bols. De nos jours, on trouve la harira partout dans les restaurants d’hôtel à travers le monde arabe, mais je doute qu’elle soit aussi bonne que celle que je mangeais comme jeune volontaire au Maroc. Il y avait une grande variété de biscuits et je me souviens surtout de la chebbakia, ce délice couvert de graines de sésame et imbibé de miel et de sucre. À cette extravagance de gâteries on ajoutait des dattes dont le sucre servait à ranimer ceux dont l’énergie avait faibli, tout comme la cigarette pour ceux qui avaient cette habitude. Les musulmans pratiquants allaient ensuite prier à la mosquée ou peut-être à la maison.

En1968, quand notre cohorte du Corps de la Paix est arrivée au Maroc, le mois de Ramadan a commencé fin novembre. À mon départ en 1971, j’avais vécu trois Ramadans, mais tous en octobre, novembre et décembre. À Sefrou, c’étaient des mois froids où les journées étaient courtes et humides et les nuits dans une maison froide étaient bien longues. Les journées courtes et fraîches facilitaient le jeûne, mais se lever la nuit s’avérait plus difficile.

J’habitais la médina où tous mes voisins jeûnaient. Gaylord Barr, avec qui je partageais la maison, s’est accordé avec moi pour jeûner par sympathie et solidarité, mais je crois que nous l’avons fait aussi par curiosité. Nous étions naturellement curieux de connaître la vie musulmane et voulions nous mettre dans les souliers des Marocains. En tant qu’enfant catholique, j’avais grandi avec le jeûne et l’abstinence, mais c’était toujours pour de courtes périodes qui, pour un jeune enfant, ne semblaient pas nécessairement courtes. On jeûnait avant la communion et lors de certains jours saints, mangeait du poisson le vendredi et renonçait aux sucreries pendant le Carême.

Lors du premier Ramadan, Gaylord et moi avons peut-être fait un voyage ou deux à Rabat où nous pouvions manger. La plupart des restaurants dans le centre-ville étaient ouverts pour les touristes et la toujours importante population européenne. À l’époque, j’étais encore fumeur, donc Rabat me donnait aussi l’occasion de m’adorner à cette habitude.

Toujours lors de ce premier Ramadan, je me souviens d’avoir rompu le jeûne dans un restaurant ou dans un café de la médina de Sefrou, mais mon souvenir en est vraiment flou. À Sefrou, comme je me souviens, on ne mangeait qu’à la maison où chez des amis. Je ne me souviens même pas d’un restaurant dans la médina, mais j’ai le sentiment que c’était dans Derb el-Miter. Khadija préparait toujours un gros pot de harira que Gaylord et moi partagions. Lors des deux autres Ramadans, nous avons observé le jeûne sans tricher. Comme il faisait trop froid dans notre maison à Sefrou pour nous lever prendre un repas avant
l’aube, nous avons fini par manger avant l’heure du coucher, ce qui nous occasionnait un bien long délai avant de manger de nouveau. Ce n’était pas l’eau et la nourriture qui faisaient défaut à mes collègues de travail : certains étaient fumeurs et c’était la satisfaction de leur habitude qui constituait leur principal problème. Les collègues étaient fatigués et à l’occasion grognons, mais ils allaient au travail, quoiqu’au ralenti.

Un certain samedi après-midi de l’un des nos Ramadans, je me souviens d’avoir été voir un film à Fès avec Gaylord. Quittant le cinéma tout juste avant la fin du jeûne, nous sommes descendus dans des rues désertes qui me rappelaient des scènes du film Les derniers rivages. Aujourd’hui les rues désertes se trouvent dans les métropoles américaines en quarantaine. Nous nous sommes précipités au coin de la rue du côté sud de la ville nouvelle où nous pouvions prendre un autobus ou un grand taxi pour le retour à Sefrou.

Ces jours-ci, je jeûne deux jours par semaine pour perdre du poids et pendant ces jours je me permets de grignoter un peu et de boire autant d’eau que je veux, de sorte que mon jeûne ne ressemble en rien au jeûne du Ramadan. Pourtant, des petites fringales et le coucher du soleil rappellent de vieux souvenirs ainsi que les goûts et les odeurs de bonne chère. Quand je m’imagine assis autour des tables rondes et basses, les plaisirs partagés de convivialité et d’amitié me reviennent. À l’extérieur dans la rue illuminée, des boutiques rouvrent de nouveau et on entend les bruits des commerçants, d’autres qui vont à la mosquée, d’autres qui prennent simplement de l’air. Quelle chose toute simple que la nostalgie!

Gaylord est décédée il y a cinq ans et je n’ai pas visité le Maroc depuis les années 1970; maintenant ces mois de Ramadan me semblent bien lointains. Et pourtant, en quelque sorte, je peux encore savourer le goût de la harira et de la chebbakia.

Traduction : Jim Erickson


Waves from a late spring storm on the shore of Lake Ontario, May 2020.

I watched the sun set a few days ago, and thought of Ramadan. Muslims are now about halfway through their month of obligatory fasting. Memories returned of sitting in Don Brown’s apartment in Rabat, and hearing the cannon fire to announce the end of the fast. Located near the Oudaya casbah or nearby cemetery, the cannon seemed to fire across the Rabat medina directly toward the Peace Corps office, and I actually thought I could hear the shot fly by, though there was no shot. There must be a story about that cannon, but a lazy internet search did not find it.

Most cities had sirens, not artillery, to announce the moment the fast would end. The streets were often deserted, as families sat around their tables waiting to break the fast. There was coffee and sweets, followed by the thick, chickpea- filled Moroccan soup, hrira, always eaten from small bowls. Today one finds hrira served in hotel restaurants all across the Arab world, but I doubt that any taste better than those I ate as a young man. There were cookies of all sorts and I best remember the sugar- and honey-soaked, sesame seed-covered chebakia. There is a nice picture, the third photo, in an article on Ramadan under quarantine in France, of both a bowl of hrira and chebakia. Dates added to this riot of sugary things, and the sugar rejuvenated those whose energy had flagged as did the cigarettes for those who had that habit. Observant Muslims would then go to pray at the mosque, or perhaps at home.

When our Peace Corps group entered Morocco in 1968, Ramadan began in late November. When I left in 1971, I had experienced three months of Ramadan, but all were in October, November, and December. In Sefrou, those were cold months when the days were short and damp and often promised a long night in a cold house. The short cool days made the fasting easier, but getting up in the night more difficult.

I lived in the medina where all my neighbors were fasting. Gaylord Barr, with whom I shared the house, agreed with me that we would fast out of sympathy and solidarity, but I think we both did it out of curiosity as well. We were naturally curious about Muslim life and how it felt to be Moroccan. As a Catholic child, I had grown up with fasting and abstinence, but it was for short periods, which for a young child, did not necessarily seem short at all. One fasted before communion, and on certain holy days, ate fish on Fridays, and gave up sweets during Lent.

Gaylord and I may have made a trip to Rabat or two, where we could eat during that first Ramadan. Most restaurants in the city center were open for the still large European population and tourists. I smoked then, so Rabat was also an occasion to indulge that habit.

The first Ramadan, I remember breaking the fast in a medina restaurant or cafe in Sefrou, but my memory is really fuzzy. I have no clear recollection ever eating anywhere in Sefrou except at home or in the homes of friends. I can’t even remember a restaurant in the medina, except that I have this feeling that it was in Derb el-Miter. Khadija always made a big pot of hrira that Gaylord and I shared.

The second and third Ramadans we kept the fast without cheating. Too cold in the Sefrou house to get up and enjoy a pre-dawn meal, we ended up eating before bedtime and then going a long time before eating again. I worked in Fes, and sat in an office all day with colleagues who were smokers. Food and water was not what all of my co-workers craved: some were smokers and satisfying their habit was their major problem. People were tired, and occasionally grouchy, but went to work albeit at a slower pace.

In one Ramadan, I remember watching a Saturday afternoon movie in Fes with Gaylord. Leaving the theater just before the fast was to end, we stepped into deserted streets that reminded me of scenes from the movie, On the beach. Today the deserted streets are in big American cities in quarantine. We hurried to the street corner on the southern edge of the ville nouvelle where one could catch buses and grand taxis back to Sefrou.

These days I fast two days a week to lose weight, and on those days I can eat a bit and drink as much water as I like, so the fasting is nothing like the Ramadan fast. Still, little pangs of hunger and the setting sun brought back old memories, and the tastes and smells of the food. When I imagine sitting around the low round tables at which we ate all meals, the shared pleasure of conviviality and friendship returns. Outside, in the lighted street, some shops are reopening again and one hears people resuming business, going to the mosque, or just taking some evening air. What a simple thing nostalgia is!

Gaylord passed away five years ago, and I have not been to Morocco since the 1970s, and those Ramadans seem so far away. Still, somehow, I can taste the hrira and the chebakia.

Making hay while the sun shines (version française)

Cette vieille expression making hay while the sun shines (faire du foin pendant que le soleil brille), a plusieurs sens en anglais. Il y a d’abord l’idée d’agir au moment opportun ou d’exploiter une situation sans attendre, ce qui correspond à l’expression française battre le fer quand il est chaud. L’expression sous-entend aussi l’idée de racheter le temps, de ne pas gaspiller le temps qui, selon Benjamin Franklin « est l’étoffe dont la vie est faite ». Si j’ai choisi cette expression, c’est parce que je vieillis. Le soleil continuera de briller, mais je ne le verrai pas à six pieds sous terre où je m’attends à me trouver sous peu. Mon bon ami et réviseur me trouve lugubre, mais je parle simplement et de manière réaliste du passage du temps. Par convention et pour des raisons pratiques tout le monde mesure le temps de la même manière, mais sur le plan individuel nous tendons à le mesurer différemment. Ces jours-ci, je m’identifie au poète anglais Andrew Marvell (1621-1678) que j’ai lu à l’âge de 15 ans dans le cours d’anglais de M. Molloy :

Mais dans mon dos, j’entends sans cesse
Le char ailé du Temps qui presse
Devant nous gît l’inexploré
L’ample désert d’Éternité

En ce moment, j’essaie de faire le ménage dans ma bibliothèque personnelle, ce qui me met devant une évidence, à savoir que je ne pourrais jamais lire tous les volumes que j’ai collectionnés depuis des années. Je devrais penser à racheter le temps.

Au Maroc, du moins dans le Maroc que j’ai connu, les agriculteurs ne cultivaient pas le foin à la même échelle que leurs homologues américains. Seules les grandes fermes sur les plaines pouvaient produire du foin en grande quantité.

Sur la plaine du Saïs à l’extérieur de Fès, les parcelles de terre sont suffisamment grandes pour une mécanisation rentable. Les dernières neiges de la saison hivernale traînent sur le Bouiblane en mai.
Chargement de balles de foin pour le transport.

Ailleurs, c’était rare que l’hiver garde les troupeaux hors des champs, sauf aux grandes altitudes, de sorte qu’il n’y avait que peu de foin et donc peu d’ensilage. Le petit agriculteur, s’il avait du bétail, laissait les animaux brouter le chaume sur son champ et les environs. L’agriculture se pratiquait plus intensivement dans certaines régions, et plus extensivement dans d’autres. Il n’y avait pas de haies comme on voit couramment en Angleterre et en France et la transhumance traditionnelle était caractérisée par une grande extension de troupeaux à travers d’immenses régions en partant de la vallée de la Moulouya jusqu’aux vallées abritées au pied des pentes septentrionales des plateaux du Moyen Atlas. La puissance militaire et les enclosures avaient déjà brisé le pouvoir des grandes tribus du Moyen Atlas longtemps avant mon arrivée là-bas, mais les hautes terres servaient toujours aux pâturages estivaux.

Les maisons rurales marocaines étaient parfois entourées de figuiers de Barbarie et d’agaves, plantes importées des Amériques grâce à l’échange colombien. On voyait également des enclos de bétail entourés d’arbustes épineux, mais la campagne en général restait ouverte.

Un douar du Moyen Atlas entouré d’un nombre impressionnant de figuiers de Barbarie. Parfois en été, les gens de la campagne vendaient leur fruit le long de la route. Le goût était sucré mais quelque peu fade. Les agriculteurs pouvaient également nourrir leur bétail avec les feuilles.
Vue à partir d’une butte connue sous le nom de Jbel Binna, juste à l’extérieur de Sefrou, en direction de Immouzer du Kandar, à travers le paysage valloné des plateaux. Dans cette photo prise au début du printemps, on voit clairement la mosaïque de petites exploitations agricoles.

Bien sûr, ce qui couvre les champs après la moisson n’est pas du foin, mais de la paille. Je ne me souviens pas d’avoir vu beaucoup de paille en balles, sauf là où l’agriculture avait été mécanisée.

Moisson du blé au sud-est de Sefrou.

Certains agriculteurs ramassaient de la paille, et j’en achetais à mettre dans la litière des chats sur la terrasse, mais je ne crois qu’on s’en servait comme rembourrage. Ceux qui en avaient les moyens achetaient de la laine qui était plus chaude, plus moelleuse et qui servait également à se constituer un petit pécule.

Marché de la laine au souk de Sefrou. Ce souk hebdomadaire avait lieu tous les jeudis.

Pour les pauvres, ou pour les résidents à court terme comme moi, l’alfa, trouvé localement, constituait un meilleur choix que la laine qui coûtait cher.

L’alfa (Stipa tenissima) dans le bassin de la Moulouya.

Dans un billet antérieur où je réfléchissais sur des décisions imprudentes, j’ai mentionné mon arrivée à Torla, un village espagnol haut dans les Pyrénées, et mon projet de traverser un col de 2 750 mètres sur la frontière franco-espagnole pour ensuite descendre au village de Gavarnie en France. En route pour Torla, comme j’avais été malade, j’ai passé une journée au lit à Madrid.

Peut-être sous l’effet de la fatigue, j’avais oublié mes bottes de randonnée dans la chambre du vieil Hôtel Atocha au moment de partir pour le nord. Elles étaient des godasses usagées, mais je les aimais bien. En révisant ce billet, je pense à la vieille chanson du chansonnier canadien-français, Félix LeClerc, Moi, mes souliers. Comme pour le chansonnier, mes souliers m’accompagnaient partout.

Les remplacer allait s’avérer difficile, et j’ajouterais qu’à cause de mes pieds qui sont longs et très étroits, acheter des bottes où que ce soit n’a jamais été facile et à ce jour continue de me poser des problèmes. Il n’y avait pas de magasin d’articles de sport à Torla qui à l’époque était si petit qu’il y avait à peine de magasins du tout. J’ai donc fait du stop jusqu’à Broto dans la vallée en bas.

Broto, juste au sud de Torla.

Comme il n’y avait pas de bottes de randonnée à Broto non plus, j’ai décidé de voir si je pouvais porter une paire de bottes de ski bon marché. Comme toute personne normale devrait le savoir, et j’avais déjà fait du ski à l’université, quoi que l’on fasse, les bottes de ski ne peuvent aucunement servir à la randonnée car les semelles n’ont aucune flexibilité. Après le premier jour, j’avais de grosses ampoules sur chaque talon et je boitais péniblement. Donc, retour à Broto où j’ai acheté une paire de souliers en toile bon marché. Les semelles intérieures étaient en corde tissée et l’extérieur du soulier était vulcanisé. La toile était brun foncé et les souliers ressemblaient beaucoup aux baskets américains qui à l’époque étaient plus simples qu’aujourd’hui. Quant aux bottes de ski, je les ai rapportées à Sefrou, où Khadija les a vendues le jour du souq.

Faisant l’essai de mes nouveaux souliers en toile aux semelles en corde et tentative de guérir mes ampoules. Dans le canyon du parc national d’Ordesa, maintenant site du patrimoine mondial de l’UNESCO. Photo de Gaylord Barr.
Les souliers en toile

Les semelles en corde de mes souliers en toile étaient sans doute faites de jute, une fibre importée, mais l’Espagne possède une longue histoire de souliers et de sandales aux semelles en cordes, une tradition qui remonte à la préhistoire. Appelés espadrilles en français, le style a été et continue d’être en vogue, mais aux yeux des Espagnols contemporains, ces souliers, appelés alpargatas et espartenas en espagnol, étaient traditionnellement portés par des gens de la campagne. Fait intéressant, le mot français espadrille provient de l’occitan, la vieille langue de la France méridionale par l’intermédiaire du mot catalan espardenya, soit alfa. Ainsi que le prétend Wikipédia. De nos jours, le mot alfa se réfère en réalité à deux plantes herbacées natives de la Méditerranée occidentale.

Malgré des chutes de neige exceptionnellement importantes, j’ai réussi à me rendre à Gavarnie. Mes souliers en toile était trempés, j’avais froid aux pieds et je craignais de perdre pied sur les abruptes pentes enneigées, mais une fois sain et sauf dans une chambre d’hôtel français, j’ai bien dormi et le lendemain matin mes souliers était secs et prêts à me ramener au Maroc.

Départ de la cabane de Goriz en route vers Gavarnie. Photo : Gaylord Barr

À mesure que la neige s’accumulait, mes souliers se trempaient de plus en plus. Nous aurions dû prévoir des piolets, mais nous n’avions pas anticipé la quantité de neige.

Incidemment, l’Hôtel Atocha avait conservé mes vieilles bottes et j’ai pu les récupérer lors de mon voyage de retour au Maroc. L’Atocha, hôtel vieux et vétuste, était situé face à la station ferroviaire où les trains arrivaient en provenance du sud. L’hôtel était bon marché et populaire chez les voyageurs à petit budget.

Au Maroc, l’alfa (ou sparte) s’appelle halfa, dont le nom scientifique est Stipa tenissima. Cette herbe robuste couvre de vastes régions du Maroc dans les bassins de la Haute et Moyenne Moulouya. Il pousse en touffes largement espacées et sert comme rembourrage de lits et de coussins, ainsi que dans la fabrication de paniers et de tapis de plancher.

L’alfa pousse en touffes largement espacées

Un tapis tissé d’alfa.

Dans certains endroits, les gens font du papier à partir de l’alfa, un matériau véritablement polyvalent.

Chez moi, les matelas et les coussins des banquettes étaient rembourrés d’alfa et j’avais aussi une natte d’alfa.

Les matelas et les banquettes étaient rembourrés d’alfa; ils étaient durs mais les gens s’en servaient rarement comme lit. Ci-dessus, la chambre de Gaylord Barr dans la partie antérieure de la maison dont les fenêtres donnaient sur la rue en bas. On prenait souvent nos repas sur la table en roseau. Je parlerai des meubles en roseau dans un prochain billet.

L’autre côté de la chambre où Gaylord avait son lit. Ma chambre se trouvait de l’autre côté de la maison et n’avait pas de fenêtre donnant sur l’extérieur. À noter la photo du président Kennedy sur le mur et la bota suspendue, un souvenir du Nord de l’Espagne. Les volontaires dans les grandes villes vivaient d’habitude dans des édifices plus récents de style européen. Ma maison, par exemple, n’avait pas de cuisine et la pièce qui servait de cuisine n’avait pas d’eau. On a réussi à s’en sortir parfaitement, surtout grâce au travail acharné de Khadija.

Les Marocains bien nantis tendaient à avoir de la laine dans leurs coussins et des tapis plutôt que des nattes. Comme rembourrage pour les coussins, l’alfa séché était dur. Comme mes banquettes ne servaient pas à dormir, ce défaut n’avait pas d’importance, mais dans une vraie maison marocaine, les chambres étaient multifonctionnelles et les gens dormaient souvent sur les banquettes sur lesquelles ils s’assoyaient durant la journée. La laine, plus moelleuse et plus chaude, faisait sans contredit de meilleurs matelas. L’alfa dégageait une odeur d’herbe séchée que l’on ne pourrait pas qualifier de fragrance, mais je m’y faisais sans problème.

Au printemps 1970, Gaylord Barr et Mark Miller étaient partis pour Aïn Kerma juste au sud d’Oujda pour visiter le père d’Ali Aseriah. Ali était étudiant au lycée Sidi Lahcen El-Youssi où Gaylord enseignait et Ali avait invité ce dernier chez eux pendant la semaine de relâche. Mark était volontaire à Casablanca où il travaillait dans les pêcheries, et comme il avait connu de graves problèmes de santé, il voulait s’éloigner de la vie des grandes villes.

Je me suis joint à Louden Kiracofe et à l’administrateur Don Brown pour encore une autre escalade du Djebel Ayachi. Louden et moi en avions fait l’ascension l’été précédent, mais nous étions déçus d’avoir choisi le plus bas des deux sommets et, comme il faisait alors tard dans la journée, nous étions trop fatigués pour traverser la crête jusqu’à l’autre sommet. Nous voulions toujours nous tenir sur le sommet le plus élevé, pensant que tout serait plus pittoresque sous la neige, que l’ascension serait également plus facile, et nous avions convaincu Don Brown à nous accompagner.

C’est en route vers Jbel Ayachi au printemps 1970, ou bien sur le chemin de retour, que nous avons remarqué des fabricants de corde, sans doute près de Missour et nous avons pris des photos de leur façon de travailler. Comme les synthétiques et les plastique ont de nos jours remplacé les cordes de fibre, leur petite usine est un rappel d’une industrie traditionnelle et durable.

L’alfa pousse en touffes sur des sols secs et est commun dans la vallée de la Moyenne et Haute Moulouya.
Dans cette photo, l’herbe a été brûlée à ras le sol. Je présume que cette pratique faisait partie de la moisson, mais il se peut qu’il y ait une autre raison. Est-ce qu’un lecteur peut répondre à cette question?
L’alfa est ramassé en bottes où il sera filé pour fabriquer de la corde.

Les brins initiaux sont alors entrelacés pour former une corde pratique.

Le poteau tient les brins en place.

Préparation du tressage final.

On se prépare à tordre les brins

Les brins tordus sur le poteau où l’on va les nouer.

En dernier lieu, les brins tressés sont coupés et noués aux extrémités.

Aujourd’hui, l’alfa continue sans doute de couvrir la haute Moulouya qui se trouve dans l’ombre pluviale du Moyen Atlas. À cause de la nature du sol et du climat sec, les terres arables sont très rares, sauf là où l’irrigation est possible. Cependant, des températures de plus en plus chaudes peuvent représenter une menace à l’écosystème existant, et encore plus aux terres agricoles de cette région.

À l’âge de 75 ans, je me souviens toujours des grandes plaines couvertes d’herbes et des pauvres gens qui gagnaient un peu d’argent en fabriquant de la corde. Je n’avais pas demandé d’où venaient ces cordiers. Ils étaient peut-être venus de la région de Marmoucha vers le nord, ou bien d’Aït Ayash vers le sud.

Incidemment, à Sefrou, on m’a dit que les meilleures djellabas en laine venaient d’Imouzzer des Marmoucha, même si j’avais également entendu dire que de belles djellabas venaient aussi de la région de Khénifra. La plupart du temps le tissu comportait des motifs géometriques en noir et blanc que j’admirais beaucoup. Ma propre djellaba, que je portais toujours à Sefrou quand il pleuvait ou faisait très froid, était d’un brun bien ordinaire. Je l’aimais quand même!

Ma djellaba était plutôt rustique et lourde, surtout quand elle était trempée, mais elle était toujours chaude. Parfois les gens utilisaient les capuchons pour transporter des objets. Dans la photo, j’avais 22 ans.

Traduction: Jim Erickson

The Rain Man and the Drunkard

The migrant labor camp in Hemet, California, November 1967. I don’t think any of us, even those posted to the remotest areas, lived as badly in Morocco as we did in this camp.

When our Peace Corps group trained in Hemet, California, we watched a black and white documentary film about Islam entitled, if my memory serves me correctly, In the Name of God. The film was produced for television, and though I have tried hard to track it down, I have had no success. I can’t remember whether Morocco was the setting or whether just a few scenes were shot there, though I think it was the former, but some of the scenes took place at the annual moussem at Moulay Bouchta.

A moussem is a Moroccan festival, often centered on the annual celebration of a saint. This term saint, in Christian minds, may conjure up a concept that is not quite right. I usually cringe at religious analogies as they can carry over a host of accompanying information from their contexts that is inapplicable or misleading. I suppose it is human to take the unfamiliar, and fit it into a context that gives it sense, but things are not always what they seem. Christian saints act as intermediaries between the faithful and God. Islam, at least in orthodox Sunni Islam, the tradition followed in Morocco, has no place for intermediaries. A Muslim’s connection to God is direct.

Furthermore, saints, in the Western Christian religious context, are canonized, that is to say vetted, by the ultimate religious authorities. Saints in the Moroccan context are largely popular and rural, and gain followings outside of the influence of urban religious authorities. As in most of the Islamic world, it is urbanites in Morocco who control what defines Islam, and they may provide legitimacy to rural saints. Articles of belief are well defined, but there is usually debate and tolerance about the practice of Islam.

The colonial French used an additional term to describe Muslim saints: marabout. This term can also apply to the physical structure where the holy man is buried. The French word may have an associated meaning of sage or wise man.

There is a long-established French publishing house, Editions Marabout, though its symbol is the marabout stork, chosen as a trademark on the model of the Penguin one. If you know your birds, you will know that this is not the elegant bird that nests in Morocco, but a large sub-Saharan predator and scavenger, rather formidable in appearance.

A European stork on its nest atop a building in Azrou. 1968.

Marabout publishes how-to-do-it and leisure time books in a small square format.

How to be a champion at the “national” sport of southern France.

The Arabic root of marabout has the meaning to be tied or to be bound, and is found in the name of Morocco’s modern capital, Rabat. The Berber dynasty, the Almohads, who founded the modern city, called it Ribat al-Fatah. A word for fortress, other derivations from the root appear in family names such as Morabit, and, in Spain and Portugal, Morabito. The meaning in the verb root includes the tethering of horses in a fort, and murabit can mean a soldier or cavalryman. In a more metaphorical context, the word may mean binding in a spiritual sense. Disciples of the saint are tied to their master through beliefs, practices, and devotion.

The Oudaya Kasbah gate in Rabat. The massive entryway is more ornamental than defensive, and the arch is surrounded by a Kufic inscription of a verse from the Quran encouraging jihad. Built at the height of Almohad power, it dates from the end of the 12th century.

In North and West Africa, the French term marabout commonly refers to holy personnages, known in their lifetime for their piety, special religious knowledge, and often miracles.

There is another common term associated with Muslim holy men: sufism. Sufism often involves claims to a personal knowledge of God through esoteric practices. In practice, it covers a vast range of activities from simple prayers to enhanced states of conciousness. Usually tolerated, sufism, when taken to extremes, has resulted in conflict with the authorities and even capital punishment for heresy. Some Moroccan saints were sufis, some were not. There is a wide overlap between sufism and sainthood in Morocco.

A group of the Aissawa brotherhood at the Cherry Festival in Sefrou. 1968. More to follow about the Aissawa in a later post about saints and brotherhoods.

Saints are addressed as sidi or, if they are chorfa, descendants of the Prophet’s family, moulay, both terms analogous to “my lord,” but the latter, indicating a heritage back to the Prophet Mohammed, and used for the king of Morocco and any descendant of the Prophet, whether a saint or not. That said, the royal pedigree of the Alaouite Dynasty, which has ruled Morocco since the seventeenth century, traditionally includes having a claim to baraka, too.

In Morocco, a saint may be a sufi, or not, but he definitely has a claim to baraka, a holy and spiritual force, that works in this world. People will come to the saint’s tomb, often called a qubba, bringing offerings, and asking for favors from the saint, cures for illnesses, a pregnancy, etc. Baraka is transferable, and may flow from one person to another. A saint with baraka is able, even after death, to share it with followers. Baraka may even be sapped or stolen under certain conditions. Baraka represents Morocco for me, the spiritual and the good, under the surface everywhere.

You can quickly gain an idea of the prevelance of saints by looking at a map of North Africa, where toponyms containing “Sidi” or “Moulay” are scattered all over the map. The home of the French Foreign Legion was Sidi Bel Abbes in Algeria.

Tombs of saints, qubba, show a great variety of appearance, and may not have the visible dome the Arabic word suggests. I have always disliked how Geertz describes them dismissively in Islam Observed, an otherwise wonderful comparison of Islam in Morocco and Indonesia. A saint’s resting place may come in many different sizes and shapes. Some have domes, some have wooden roofs, some have green tiles, the religious color associated with the Prophet, some are caves, and some are not much more than simple graves marked by a cairn or stones.

A much photographed group of tombs on the way to Beni Mellal.
A more remote group of tombs near Imouzzer des Marmoucha in the Middle Atlas.
The tomb of Sidi Chamrouch, on the trail from the town of Imelil to valley below Jbel Toubkal. 1969. The tomb is under the large rock, to the left center of the photo. Tourism and population growth have favored this saint. Recent pictures depict a much more visited place.
The tomb of Sidi Ali Bouseghrine, overlooking Sefrou. 1969.
The tomb of Chérif Sidi Moulay Lahcene in the Algerian Sahara in 1971. Recent photos seem to show it in ruins, perhaps the work of fundamentalists who see saint worship as unorthodox and contrary to their understanding of Islam.

If the saint has a large following, he may have a lodge, called a zawiya, where adherents to his teachings or way, tariqah, worship together. The lodges are kept up by the descendants of the saint, who receive gifts from visitors as well as offerings during major pilgrimages.

The shrine complex of Idriss I, the first Islamic ruler of Morocco, in the town of Moulay Idriss du Zerhoun. In former times non-Muslims were not allowed to spend the night there.

Many lodges are supported by religious trusts, and some are also favored with donations from the government from time to time. Moulay Bouchta is among the latter. My visit to it in September 1969 or 1970 is documented in the photos that follow in this post.

Moulay Bouchta, circa 1970. There is a story surrounding the saint that, because of an offense in the past, locals may not whitewash their homes as is common in urban areas. I wondered about this since the houses in these picture are typical of the region and gain nothing by being whitewashed, but today new construction is usually whitewashed in the northern Morocco.

At that time, I worked for the Ministry of Agriculture in Fes and the zawiya of Moulay Bouchta was in the territory of Fes Province. It’s about 45 miles (60 kilometers) north of Fes. Today it is in a more recently created province, Taounate. I often refer to the area north of Fes using the geographical term, pre-Rif, but the area of hills and mountains at the very western end of the Rif is commonly referred to as the Jbala. The route from Fes to Tangier and Tetouan passes through it, and, in the past it was an important connection to Andalusia for the city of Fes.

Mr. Mernissi and Mr. Martinez. Two of my co-workers. I am proud to say I taught darkroom skills to Mernissi.

The moussem at Moulay Bouchta was an annual affair, and locally quite a big event, drawing many local people who celebrate it regularly as well as pilgrims from more distant parts of Morocco.

Two of my co-workers and our driver, center, lunching near Moulay Bouchta in the spring sun.

Visitors pitched tents and camped on the open land around the zawiya and created a cross between a village and a suq (market). Goods and services were sold and traded by merchants and locals, and the main streets of the tent city resembled a rural market, or suq, common in all of Morocco. Visitors to the moussem needed food, services, souvenirs, and, perhaps, offerings. The difference is that the vendors in a suq are usually grouped in a central area, whereas here they lined thoroughfares that cut through the visitors’ tents.

A small part of the tent village around Moulay Bouchta. I stayed in a tent like one of these where I went on a pilgrimage to another saint, Moulay Abdesslam Ben Mechich, on top of Jbel Alam. That’s for another post.

For those unfamiliar with the term, a suq is a market. The term in urban areas means an area where certain goods were sold, and westerners often refer to them as bazaars. In traditional Morocco, suqs were often rural, periodic markets, and bear the name of the day the market is held. Where towns grew up around these periodic markets, they often are named for the day, for example Souq el Khamis (Thursday market). Again, because these markets were so common, there is usually an additional place-name designating location, for example Souq el-Arba’a (Wednesday) du Gharb is a major town in the Gharb region.

A diagram from J.-F. Troin who studied rural markets. In his diagram, he indicates the day of the market with a number. Sunday is 1, Monday is 2, et cetera. These suqs are centered in Tiflet, a town in Zemmour country, between Rabat and Meknes. Our Peace Corps group did a training session there before being posted to our sites.

Look at an old map of North Africa again, and you will see place-names starting with souq (or zoco, in Spanish) everywhere. Many markets used to be completely rural, but over time most have had small settlements grow up beside them.

Livestock at the suq in Missour, before Ramadan, 1970.
Grain market at the Missour suq.
The suq in Sefrou (Thursday) was not on the tourist route in 1968, This vendor was happy to show off his wares, in this case, a charcoal brazier.

Important moussems were big gatherings, and places where the government liked to show the flag, so to speak. There were usually tents for government officials and local notables, entertainment such as music and dancers, and food. The dancing struck me as incongruous given the religious nature of the spectacle. Women who dance in public are viewed as prostitutes. But the government tents were far from the shrine.

The government tents at Moulay Bouchta.

The overall impression was, in my imagination, of a medieval or more modern rural fair, though I cringe at comparing modern Morocco to medieval Europe. The biggest part of the comparison lies in the rural character of the gathering. Think The Mayor of Casterbridge, without the drinking.

Local notables got some room to lounge.
For others, the space was limited.
It is always better to be wealthy and have connections.

I no longer remember how I got there, but since I spent some time in the government tents, I was probably with others from the Ministry. I often worked in the area north of Fes. I have no memory of eating, but I must have been fed. As far as I was concerned, the event was a feast for the eyes.

An orchestra provided music.
The women danced. These women, generally from poor country families, were often widows or divorcees, and they are referred to as cheikhat.
Dancers such as these women often came from the Middle Atlas, where certain places were famed for their prostitutes. Performing in public labeled them as loose women.
Along the edge of the Middle Atlas, young men often talked about going “to see the girls,” and some towns were notorious for the trade.

I do remember that it was a beautiful day and that I spent all of it wandering through the crowds, and taking photos. I seem to have been the only non-Moroccan there, but no one paid much attention to me. I was able to shoot some of the events associated with honoring Moulay Bouchta, as well as the activities of tradesmen and spectators.

Who was Moulay Bouchta? If you know Moroccan Arabic, you will recognize that the name means literally the father of rain. His saintly powers included bringing rains in a time of drought. In a Mediterranean climate such as Morocco’s, rain falls irregularly. In a decade, there may be four years of average rains, but also six others with too little or too much. Drought is a major concern to Moroccan farmers, especially small farmers on marginal plots.

Women picking up olives. The olives were knocked down with long poles, a process called gaulage in French. It is not practiced in the U.S. as it causes damage to branches and restricts new growth.

In hilly regions such as the pre-Rif, olives are common since their deep roots allow the trees to survive long, hot and dry summers. Still, the basis of small farmers’ cultures was cereals, and those crops depended on the correct amount of rain at the right time.

Moulay Bouchta was a descendant of Idrissid chorfa, descendants of the first the first Muslim king of Morocco, Idriss I, who was a descendant of the Prophet Mohammed’s family.

Having studied in Marrakech, Moulay Bouchta finished his education at the Qaraouyine University in Fes. A native of the Ouled Saïd tribe from the Chaouia, the plains south of Casablanca, he finally settled among the Fechtala in the vicinity of Amergu, where he died on November 20, 1588.

The moussem used to be celebrated in the spring, after the harvest, but now seems to be in the early autumn. I don’t know why the timing changed. The spring celebration is certainly a more timely harvest festival since the cereal crops are harvested then.

Much of what I know about the Moulay Bouchta comes from a tourism article, written in 1931, by a military man, Paul Oudinot, entitled Moulay Abi Cheta ou Moulay Bouchta. I found it on a blog, A l’ombre de Zalagh. Zalagh is the mountain that overlooks Fes, and the blog site republishes old colonial articles, sometimes with new photos added, on the city of Fes and its hinterland. I strongly recommend it for anyone interested in Moroccan history and the region of Fes.

Jbel Zalagh looms in the background. Part of the city wall is visible, including the western gate called Bab el Mahrouk, where the heads of bandits and enemies of state used to hang.

The foundation of Moulay Bouchta’s zawiya seems to go back to the sixteenth century, when the holy man settled among the Fechtala tribe. Moulay Bouchta and followers were involved in the struggle against the Spanish and Portuguese to take back enclaves on the Moroccan coast and push the Iberian powers out of North Africa.

El Ksar es-Seghir, a fortress held by the Portuguese. When they abandoned it, having given up their attempts to secure and keep land in Morocco, the Portuguese dismantled the fortifications and dumped the debris in the shallow harbor, making it unusable.

In modern times Moulay Bouchta is celebrated by hunters and cavalrymen as a moudjahidin. Another claim to fame involves ridding the countryside of the birds that once devoured farmers’ grain. The Heddawah, a local group, assisted the saint in his fight against the birds, so he has looked over them, and became a patron of the modern Heddawah, a religious brotherhood of wanderers, known for smoking kif (marijuana.). Moulay Bouchta is also a saint of musicians, who, according to the saint’s followers, cannot perfect their art without the saint’s baraka.

Traveling musicians in Chauen. Going from door to door.
They entertained the neighborhood women and collected donations.

There are many interesting stories about Moulay Bouchta, who also bears the flattering sobriquet, the Drunk ( مولاي بوشتى الخمار ), not because he drank alcohol, but because he was intoxicated with God.

His remains were once stolen by another tribe, which set up a zawiya in their land, but the Fechtala, after a struggle, were able to return the saint’s remains to their own zawiya. There is to this day, I think, another “little” Moulay Bouchta not far away. The true Moulay Bouchta lies near Amergu. It is a substantial shrine, and he draws visitors widely in Morocco.

That story reminds me of European cases involving the theft of sacred relics by monks of different monasteries, a common practice in medieval Europe. Conques and Vézelay are examples of this in French history.

This tribal map of northern Morocco shows the group, the Fechtala (numbered 28), who host Moulay Bouchta.
Moulay Bouchta lies in the shadow of Amergu. The Almohad fortress is clearly visible in the center right of this Google Earth view.
Visitors walked up and down the main pathway to the shrine. Here it is morning. Down below, closer to the paved road, the government tents can be seen in the distance on the extreme left.
The major thoroughfares of the tent village were filled with merchants.
Here a merchant sells rubber boots, handy for the cool wet weather to come.
The main thoroughfare to the shrine gate.
This cobbler was there to repair footwear.
Fast food moussem style.
These gentlemen tailor women’s dress garments made to measure.
As the day went on, the crowds got thicker.
This young girl hangs on to her father…
…while her mother or sister walks alongside.
In the afternoon, people gather closer to the shrine where they can get a decent view of the procession.
Near the shrine, shops sold candles as offerings or souvenirs. The guys on the right got a kick out me shooting this photo.
Moroccans love sweets as much as anyone, and this vendor offered a variety of candy and cookies.
Later in the day, a sheep is carried to be sold or eaten.
Country women often wore large towels as an outer garment with which to cover themselves.
This vendor of candy wandered through the crowds, slicing off pieces to sell.
The procession to the shrine began to the north and above the tent village. A bull will be led to be sacrificed. The tent-like structure is a new wrapping for Moulay Bouchta’s tomb.
The procession descends into the tent area…
…winding through it.
The procession continues. The men parade their muskets.
They continue down the main thoroughfare.
The men occasionally fire their muskets.
Spectators now line the route, and the gunfire creates clouds of dust.
They continue firing as they march past.
Spectators watch from above as the procession marches into an open space before the shrine entrance.
There the men stop to display their weapons.
Moving back and forth…
…throwing their weapons into the air and catching them…
…before discharging them into the ground. This is the equivalent of fantasia, which also involves horsemanship.
The area becomes filled with powder smoke and dust, and spectators run to get out of it.
High above, women watch…
…as the procession reaches the shrine entrance. The crowd is enthralled as the ceremony climaxes, and religious activities begin inside the shrine.

This was the end of my day. The ceremonies continued into the evening, but I had to return with my co-workers to Fes. The spectacle was over for me.

Voie de la mort

Chris, le facteur, que Dieu le bénisse, livre un colis, chose qu’il fait plus fréquemment dans ces jours de ventes en ligne. Chris est super consciencieux et livre directement à la maison. Je trouve qu’il fait parfaitement honneur à la devise officieuse des services postaux USPS :

« Même la neige, la pluie, la chaleur ou la noirceur ne sauront entraver ces messagers dans la poursuite rapide de leurs objectifs. »

Je croyais que c’était vraiment une devise, mais en fait il s’agit d’une citation au sujet des courriers de l’ancien Empire perse, il y a 2 500 ans, et provient de Les guerres médiques d’Hérodote. Dans Wikipédia, où j’ai déniché ces informations, on trouve un article intéressant portant sur ce dicton.

Je ne pensais pas beaucoup au service postal quand j’étais jeune. C’était quelque chose que l’on tenait pour acquis. Le courrier arrivait tous les jours sauf le dimanche. Quand je suis allé en France en 1965, j’ai été impressionné par le système français qui garantissait qu’une lettre postée où que ce soit en France serait livrée le lendemain. Par contre, le système téléphonique, géré également par les Postes Télégraphes et Téléphones (PTT) était archaïque. Dans les années 1980, les Français avaient instauré Minitel, un système de messagerie électronique intégré au téléphone qui surclassait tout ce les États-Unis avaient à l’époque. Hélas, l’Internet a sonné le glas de Minitel et a largement supplanté la lettre traditionnelle partout dans le monde. Comme volontaire, j’ai envoyé des centaines d’aérogrammes, ces lettres d’une seule page utilisées en France, au Maroc et ailleurs. Le courrier par avion coûtait encore cher à l’époque et les aérogrammes étaient relativement bon marché. Les aérogrammes étaient petits, de sorte qu’on écrivait aussi petit que possible et sur chaque partie de la feuille. Une fois terminé, on le pliait et on le mettait à la poste. Pas besoin de timbre.

Un aérogramme envoyé des États-Unis par un ancien professeur d’université. Arthur Wilson m’enseignait l’histoire de la science politique. Son champ d’expertise était le siècle des Lumières et l’œuvre principale de sa vie était une biographie définitive de Diderot.
À l’intérieur de l’aérogramme, on avait une page complète. Bob Wood avait été volontaire en Thaïlande et m’a écrit cette lettre après son retour aux États-Unis.
S’il fallait plus d’espace, on écrivait sur les deux plis.

Cependant, quand Chris n’a pas de colis à livrer, je dois faire toute la longueur de notre entrée à pied pour aller chercher le courrier dans la boîte aux lettres au bord du chemin.

Après des pluies récentes, l’entrée est jonchée de corps de vers de terre qui ont fui leurs galeries inondées pour ensuite périr sur l’asphalte. Ce n’est là qu’un des dangers auxquels doivent faire face les vers de terre et, même si je fais attention pour ne pas les écraser, leur sort inéluctable ne me trouble guère. Si j’en vois un qui dépérit, j’arrête pour l’aider, mais la plupart se noient avant l’arrivée de mon assistance.

Ce qui, par contre, me trouble pour de vrai, c’est la rangée double de frênes morts, victime de l’un des ambassadeurs de la mondialisation, l’agrile du frêne asiatique. Ce parasite, qui serait arrivé de Chine dans des caisses d’emballage, creuse des galeries et se loge sous l’écorce de l’arbre, consomme le cambium et tue l’arbre en le cernant. Le frêne européen et d’autres arbres de la même espèce ont développé des résistances contre ce parasite. Le frêne d’Amérique, par contre, n’a rien pour résister et est pratiquement voué à l’extinction sous peu. Le frêne, en plus de sa valeur commerciale, constitue un pourcentage important des arbres des forêts indigènes d’Amérique, peut-être jusqu’à 50 % dans certaines régions.

Ce frêne est presque mort. À noter, les trous minuscules par lesquels l’agrile du frêne entre.

Mes arbres sont adultes et mesurent entre 15 et 25 mètres de hauteur. Les enlever va me coûter cher, de l’argent dont j’ai besoin ailleurs, mais ma plainte n’est pas fondée sur l’argent. Ces arbres, hauts et majestueux, nous constituaient une véritable allée. De mon vivant, rien ne peut les remplacer, tout comme personne ne saurait remplacer ses amis disparus.

L’allée de frênes le long de notre entrée.

Le dépérissement du frêne évoque la COVID-19 qui traverse le paysage actuellement par l’intermédiaire des courriers humains. Ce virus n’entraînera pas l’extinction, mais pourrait s’avérer un précurseur de ce qui s’en vient. Le prochain virus, et c’est certain qu’il y en aura d’autres, pourrait être bien plus mortel. Au 21e siècle, les humains ont créé l’environnement idéal pour la propagation de ces minuscules ennemis : les vastes zones de taudis frappées par la pauvreté et un véhicule parfait pour les répandre, un réseau aérien planétaire. Depuis des années, les gouvernements ont été avertis qu’il y aurait des pandémies. Peu ont pris les mesures nécessaires.

Chaque jour, de plus en plus de cas font leur apparition et chaque jour ces cas se rapprochent de plus en plus de nous. Ma femme et moi suivons les progrès de la pandémie à de multiples services de nouvelles. La BBC et la CBC, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (et son pendant francophone Radio-Canada) semblent fournir le plus d’informations, et certainement la meilleure perspective mondiale.

Les progrès quotidiens du virus me font penser au grand acteur suédois, Max Von Sydow, décédé dernièrement, qui était une vedette dans l’un des premiers films d’Ingmar Bergman, Le septième sceau. En rentrant chez lui des croisades, il essaie d’échapper à la peste quand la Mort l’accoste. Essayant de déjouer la Mort, le chevalier l’engage dans un jeu d’échecs, mais la Mort triche—et la Mort, comme nous le savons tous, ne peut pas être déjouée. Pour le chevalier, c’était comme un coup de dés, mais où les dés étaient pipés. Le chevalier réussit tout de même à faire du bien.

Quant à nous, il s’agit de rester à l’intérieur. Tout déplacement, même local, signifie un risque d’exposition. Quand le virus ne trouve pas d’hôte, il meurt. Quand plus de la moitié de la population aura développé une immunité, le virus s’éteindra lentement.

La Mort choisit le blanc ou le noir.

Lorsque je grandissais, j’avais peu de contact avec la mort. Les premiers décès dont je me souviens sont ceux de mes grands-parents, mais ces souvenirs sont flous et incomplets. La première veillée à laquelle j’ai assisté était celle de mon grand-père Francisco. Encore adolescent, j’étais choqué par la légèreté de certains membres de la famille qui étaient présents. Depuis cette époque, mes idées ont évolué et maintenant je me sens plus proche de la représentation de la mort de Georges Brassens, que celle de Bergman.

Brassens, dans une de ses premières chansons, dépeint la mort comme une prostituée qui convainc l’oncle Archibald que son accolade n’est pas si mauvaise :

“Si tu te couches dans mes bras
Alors la vie te semblera
Plus facile
Tu y seras hors de portée
Des chiens, des loups, des hommes et des

Et la chanson prend fin en répétant la première strophe :

Ô vous, les arracheurs de dents
Tous les cafards, les charlatans
Les prophètes
Comptez plus sur oncle Archibald
Pour payer les violons du bal
À vos fêtes

Bref, l’oncle Archibald ne dépensera plus son argent chez le dentiste, ni paiera d’autres services douteux. Il sera éternellement à l’abri de chiens, de loups, d’hommes et d’imbéciles. Or, pour moi, c’est une pensée réconfortante, bien que, à vrai dire, j’aime les chiens et ils me manqueront.

Peu de temps après le décès de mon grand-père, je suis parti pour le Maroc où la mort était omniprésente. Le système de santé était encore sous-développé et les pauvres n’y avaient qu’un accès limité.

Les volontaires du Corps de la Paix, jeunes et en partie sélectionnés pour leur bonne santé, ne tombaient gravement malades que très rarement, même si quelques-uns de mes bons amis figuraient parmi les exceptions. Quelques volontaires sont morts au Maroc, mais toujours dus à des accidents. Les routes étaient souvent dangereuses et les chauffe-eau à gaz dont certains volontaires disposaient ont parfois produit des quantités mortelles de monoxyde de carbone. Plus d’un volontaire a perdu la vie tragiquement, asphyxié en prenant une douche.

À titre de contraste, les Marocains que nous connaissions n’étaient pas, règle générale, bien nantis. À l’école primaire où je travaillais, j’ai vu le directeur mourir d’une crise cardiaque. Il aurait peut-être survécu s’il avait eu accès à une chirurgie de pontage ou à des thérapies modernes comme les stents. Un jour, Khadija, qui s’occupait de notre maison, est arrivée avec un bébé malade. Je lui ai offert de l’argent pour aller voir un médecin, mais elle a refusé mon offre. Le bébé, a-t-elle dit, n’allait pas guérir et, de toute façon, n’était qu’une fille. Un autre collègue du centre de travail qui avait une plainte médicale mineure est allé se faire traiter à la clinique publique locale. L’infirmière a oublié de lui demander s’il était allergique à la pénicilline et lui a oublié de le lui faire savoir. Il est mort d’un choc médical presque instantanément. Les Marocains, à l’instar de tous les peuples, chérissent leurs proches, mais se montraient parfois fatalistes. Après tout, tout était entre les mains de Dieu. S’ils étaient jeunes et innocents, ou s’ils étaient de bons musulmans, le ciel les attendait.

Khadija et un jeune enfant qu’elle gardait pendant qu’elle étendait le linge sur la terrasse.

Les meurtres étaient rares. Le seul meurtre à Sefrou dont je me souviens était celui du fils d’un commerçant soussi bien connu, tué à la hache lors d’un vol. La police a procédé rapidement à l’arrestation des coupables. À l’époque, Sefrou était petit et bien peu de choses arrivaient sans que la police le sache rapidement.

Par coutume et par religion, les musulmans enterrent leurs morts immédiatement, et les cimetières sont des endroits simples où l’on trouve peu de pierres tombales. En fait, les cimetières offrent souvent un lieu de repos pour les vivants. On voit des groupes de femmes qui y font des pique-niques, histoire d’échapper aux médinas surpeuplées où l’intimité n’existe pas. Les enfants peuvent aussi y trouver un terrain de jeu. Dans les villes traditionnelles, à part les rues et les mosquées, on ne trouvait pas d’espaces ouverts.

Femmes qui font une promenade au printemps le long du vieux cimetière juif. Sefrou
Le vieux cimetière derrière la Kasbah des Oudayas à Rabat. À gauche, de l’autre côté du Bouregreg, on voit Salé.
Entre les Oudayas et la mer, tard dans l’après-midi. Au bord du cimetière, on aperçoit des terrains de football de fortune. Rabat.

Je ne me sentais jamais en danger où que ce soit, et même si les grandes villes avaient des quartiers plus rudes qu’à Sefrou, je n’avais pas peur de sortir la nuit. À plusieurs reprises, je me promenais de nuit jusqu’à l’extrémité du brise-lames à l’embouchure du Bouregreg à Rabat pour écouter les vagues et prendre de l’air.

Au loin, le brise-lames à l’embouchure du Bouregreg. Photo : Gaylord Barr.
C’était une longue promenade jusqu’à l’extrémité du brise-lames souvent mouillé par les vagues. Photo : Gaylord Barr
Quand les vagues étaient fortes, on risquait de se mouiller en marchant. Au loin, on voit les Oudayas.
La vue des houles océaniques valait bien le déplacement. Rabat

Les volontaires qui tombaient gravement malades allaient à l’hôpital de la base navale américaine à Kénitra. Un ami volontaire, Marc Miller, qui a contracté la méningite, y a été traité.

Marc et moi à l’extérieur de sa chambre à l’hôpital de la base à Kénitra. Photo : Gaylord Barr.

Gaylord Barr et moi lui avons rendu visite peu après qu’il est sorti d’un coma. Ironie du sort, en 1971 quand Gaylord revenait de Tunisie en train, il est tombé malade de typhoïde. Quand il n’a pas répondu au traitement, on l’a évacué à l’ancienne base de l’armée de l’air américaine à Torrejón, près de Madrid où il a passé deux mois en convalescence.

Gaylord à l’extérieur du même hôpital, peu avant d’être envoyé en Espagne pour des soins plus poussés.

Ce qui est exceptionnel dans ces deux cas, c’est que les volontaires auraient pu mourir. Les volontaires ont reçu de bons soins de la part du médecin du Corps de la Paix et pour la plupart des maladies dont ils souffraient, la trousse médicale personnelle que le Corps de la Paix leur fournissait ou la pharmacie locale, s’ils vivaient dans une grande ville, suffisait.

Au moment d’écrire ces lignes, ma femme et moi restons en quarantaine auto-imposée alors que la COVID-19 se répand rapidement à travers les États-Unis et le Canada voisin. Tout comme l’agrile du frêne, le virus est arrivé par l’intermédiaire du commerce et du voyage planétaire,. Dans les années 1990, j’enseignais le concept de la mondialisation à mes étudiants d’école secondaire, ce qui aujourd’hui semble curieusement démodé.

Aujourd’hui, ce n’est pas la sécurité de ma femme et moi qui me préoccupe. Nous sommes bien isolés du virus tant que nous restons confinés chez nous. C’est plutôt à celle de mes proches parents âgés qui restent dans des établissements de soins infirmiers ou qui souffrent de maladies chez eux. Eux sont des cibles faciles de ce virus.

Ils sont prisonniers comme des centaines de millions de pauvres et de personnes déplacées autour du globe. En tant qu’Américain, j’ai honte d’énumérer les variétés de confinement de ces populations, étant donné que la politique étrangère des États-Unis y joue un rôle direct. Il y a des camps de réfugiés en Turquie, en Syrie, en Jordanie, au Liban, en Iran, en Afghanistan, au Pakistan et en Inde. Il y a Gaza. Il y en a qui sont prisonniers de guerres interminables comme au Yémen et en Syrie, en Afghanistan et en Irak. Il y a des centres de détention tout le long de la frontière avec le Mexique. Il y a d’énormes bidonvilles insalubres entourant toutes les métropoles des pays en développement. Il y a de vastes régions assaillies par la sécheresse, la pauvreté et la violence, comme les pays du Sahel. Pire encore, ces populations vivent dans des pays qui n’ont pas les moyens de les secourir. C’est déjà horrible de constater le nombre croissant de morts en Europe, dans les endroits que j’aime et où j’ai de la parenté et des amis, là où les gouvernements sont compétents et où les systèmes de santés sont excellents et ont les ressources pour combattre la COVID-19. La propagation de ce virus autour du globe va entraîner des effets terribles sur les plus faibles et les plus innocents.

J’hésite un instant, mais je ne peux m’empêcher de citer le passage bien connu du poète anglais John Donne, sa méditation no. 17, tirée de Devotions upon Divergent Occasions. Peu d’écrivains l’ont mieux dit :

Aucun homme n’est une île,
Un tout, complet en soi;
Tout homme est un fragment du continent,
Une partie de l’ensemble;
Si la mer emporte une motte de terre,
L’Europe en est amoindrie,
Comme si les flots avaient emporté un promontoire,
Le manoir de tes amis ou le tien;
La mort de tout homme me diminue,
Parce que j’appartiens au genre humain;
Aussi n’envoie jamais demander pour qui sonne le glas:
C’est pour toi qu’il sonne.”

Le coronavirus devrait nous rappeler que nous faisons tous partie de la famille humaine. En ces temps périlleux, je souhaite à tous mes lecteurs et à leurs proches une excellente santé. Que Dieu vous protège tous.

Auteur : David Brooks

Traduction : Jim Erickson

Driveway of death

Chris, the mailman, God bless him, is delivering a package, which he does more frequently in these days of online sales. Chris is great about delivering to the house. I think that he fits the unofficial motto of USPS perfectly:

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.

I thought that this was really a motto, but in fact it is a quote about the Persian Empire’s mail carriers, 2,500 years ago, from Herodotus’ The Persian Wars. Wikipedia, where I found this information, has an interesting article about the saying.

I never thought much about postal delivery when I was younger. It was something one simply took for granted. The mail came everyday save Sundays. When I went to France as a student in 1965, I was impressed by the French system, where a letter mailed anywhere in France was delivered the next day. On the other hand, the phone system, also managed by the Postes Télégraphes et Téléphones ( PTT), was antiquated. By the nineteen-eighties the French had MiniTel, an electronic messaging system tied to the phone, and had leapfrogged anything in the U.S. Alas, the internet sounded the death knoll for Minitel, and has largely replaced letter writing throughout the world. As a volunteer, I sent hundreds of aérogrammes, the single-sheet airmail letters used in France and Morocco. Airmail was still expensive then, and aérogrammes were relatively cheap. The aérogrammes were small, so one wrote as tiny a script as one could manage, and often on every part of the sheet. When done, you folded it up, and mailed it. No stamp was needed.

An aérogramme from the United States, sent by a former college professor. Arthur Wilson taught me the history of political science. His field was the Enlightenment, and his life’s work was a definitive biography of Diderot.
Inside the aérogramme one had a full page. Bob Wood had been a volunteer in Thailand, and wrote this after returning to the States.
If one needed more space, there were areas on the folds.

When Chris does not have to deliver a package, however, I must walk down my driveway to retrieve the mail from the box on the highway.

After recent rains, the road has been littered with the bodies of the earthworms that have fled their flooded burrows, only to perish on the asphalt. This is just one of the hazards of being an earthworm, and, though I am careful not to step on them, I am not troubled much by their inescapable plight. If I see one withering, I will stop to help it, but most drown before my help arrives.

What is troubling is the double line of dead ash trees, victim of one of the ambassadors of globalization, the Asian Emerald Ash Borer. This pest, thought to have been introduced from China in packing crates, bores into the ash trees, eats the cambium, and kills the trees by girdling them. The European Ash and its relatives have evolved protection against the pest. The American Ash, on the other hand, has none and is doomed to virtual extinction shortly. Not only is the ash commercially valuable, it constitutes an important percentage of the trees in native American forests, perhaps as high as 50% in some areas.

This ash is almost dead. Note the tiny holes through which the ash borer enters.

My trees are mature, 50 to 80 feet tall. Removing them will cost me plenty of money, money that I really could spend better elsewhere, but money is not behind my complaint. The trees, tall and graceful, made up a de facto allée. Nothing can replace them in my lifetime. Just as no one can ever replace their lost friends.

The allée of ashes along my drive.

The ash die-off brings to mind Covid-19, now traveling across the landscape on human carriers. The virus will not bring extinction, but it may be a harbinger of things to come. The next virus, and another will surely appear, may be much deadlier. In the twenty-first century, humans have created the perfect place to breed these tiny enemies: the vast, poverty-stricken slums of the world, and the perfect means to spread them, a global air network. Governments have been advised for years that there would be pandemics. Few have prepared.

Each day more local cases appear, and each day those cases appear closer and closer. My wife and I follow the pandemic’s progress on multiple news services, but the BBC, and the CBC, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, seem to provide the most news, and certainly the best global perspective.

The daily progress of the virus makes me think of the recently deceased, great Swedish actor Max Von Sydow, a star in the early Ingmar Bergman movie, The Seventh Seal. Returning home from the Crusades, he is trying to to outrun the plague when he is accosted by Death. Trying to outwit Death, the knight engages him in a game of chess, but Death cheats—and Death, as we all know, cannot himself be cheated. For the knight, it was like a crooked coin toss—heads I win, tails you lose, but he accomplishes some good just the same. In our case, it is just a case of staying indoors. Travel, even local travel, means exposure. But if the virus cannot find a host, it dies. When more than half of the population has immunity, the virus will slowly die out.

Death chooses for white or black.

I had little contact with death as I grew up. The first deaths that I can remember are those of my grandparents, and those memories are hazy and incomplete. The first wake I attended was for my grandfather, Francesco. Still a teen, I was shocked at the levity of some of my relatives who attended. Since then, my views have evolved, and now I feel closer to Georges Brassens’ portrayal of Death, than to Bergman’s.

Brassens, in an early song, portrays death as a streetwalker, assuring Oncle Archibald that her embrace is not so bad:

“Si tu te couches dans mes bras
Alors la vie te semblera
Plus facile
Tu y seras hors de portée
Des chiens, des loups, des hommes et des

And the song concludes by repeating the opening stanza:

Ô vous, les arracheurs de dents
Tous les cafards, les charlatans
Les prophètes
Comptez plus sur oncle Archibald
Pour payer les violons du bal
A vos fêtes

In short, Uncle Archibald won’t be spending his money at the dentist’s anymore, nor paying for more dubious services. He will be forever safe from dogs, wolves, men, and imbeciles. Now that is a comforting thought for me, though I do like dogs and will miss them.

Not long in the decade after my grandfather died, I left for Morocco, where death was ever present. The health care system was still underdeveloped, and the poor had limited access to it.

Peace Corps volunteers, young and partly selected for their health, seldom became seriously ill, though a couple of my close friends proved to be the exceptions. A few volunteers have died in Morocco, but always due to accidents. The roads were often dangerous, and the gas hot water heaters that some volunteers used sometimes produced lethal quantities of carbon monoxide. More than one volunteer was tragically asphyxiated taking a shower.

By way of contrast, the Moroccans we knew were usually not well off. I saw the director of the primary school where I worked die of a heart attack. He might have survived had he had access to bypass surgery or more modern therapies such as stents. Khadija, who kept house for me, had a sick baby with her one day. I offered money to take the baby to the doctor, but Khadija turned it down. The baby would not get better, she said, and, in any case, was just a girl. Another fellow, a CT worker who had a minor medical complaint, went for treatment at the local public clinic. The nurse forgot to ask if he was allergic to penicillin, and he forgot to let the nurse know. He died almost instantly of shock. Moroccans care about the people whom they love just as much as anyone elsewhere in the world, but were sometimes fatalistic. Everything, after all, was in the hands of God. If they were young and innocent, or if they were good Muslims, heaven awaited them.

Khadija and a young child, whom she was watching while hanging the laundry on the terrace.

Death by murder was rare. The only murder I can recall in Sefrou was that of the son of a prominent Soussi shopkeeper, killed with an ax as part of a robbery. The police quickly apprehended the culprits. Sefrou was then a small place, and little took place without the police knowing about or finding out quickly.

By custom and religion, Muslims bury their dead immediately, and cemeteries are often plain affairs. Headstones are minimal. In fact, cemeteries often provide a place for repose for the living. Groups of women often picnic in them, escaping from the crowded medina, where privacy is nonexistent, and kids play in them. There was no common open space in a traditional city, apart from the streets and mosques.

Women out for a stroll in the springtime, walking along the old Jewish cemetery. Sefrou.
The old cemetery behind the Kasbah of the Oudayas, Rabat. Sale, across the Bou Regreg, is visible on the left.
Between the Oudayas and the sea, late in the afternoon. There are makeshift football fields on the edge of the cemetery. Rabat.

I never felt insecure anywhere, and though the big cities were much rougher places than Sefrou, I was not afraid to venture out late. I walked to the end of the long breakwater at the mouth of the Bou Regreg in Rabat several different times at night, to listen to the surf or take some fresh air.

The breakwater at the mouth of the Bou Regreg in the distance. Photo by Gaylord Barr, taken near the Chella.
It was a long walk out to the end of the breakwater, and often wet from the surf. Photo by Gaylord Barr.
When the surf was strong, the walk could be a wet one. the Oudayas in the distance.
The view of the ocean swells was well worth the journey. Rabat.

For volunteers who became seriously ill, there was the base hospital at the U.S. Naval base at Kenitra. One volunteer and friend, Marc Miller, contracted meningitis and was treated there.

Marc and me outside his room at the base hospital in Kenitra. Photo by Gaylord Barr.

Gaylord Barr and myself visited him shortly after he awoke from a coma. Ironically, in 1971, Gaylord, returning from Tunisia by train, fell ill with typhoid, and, not responding to treatment, was evacuated to the then U.S. Air Force base at Torrejón, just outside of Madrid, where he spent two months recovering.

Gaylord outside the same hospital unit, just before being sent to Spain for more serious attention.

These cases were exceptional in that both volunteers might have died. Volunteers got good care from the Peace Corps doctor, and seldom suffered any illness beyond the curative properties of their personal Peace Corps medical kit or the local pharmacy if they lived in a larger city.

As I write this, my wife and I sit in self-imposed quarantine, as Covid-19 quickly spreads throughout the States and nearby Canada. The virus comes through the same process of global trade and travel that brought the ash borer. I had to teach the concept of globalization to high school students in the 1990s. Today that seems quaint.

Today my thoughts are not of safety for my wife and me. We are well insulated from the virus as long as we stay home. Rather I am concerned for my elderly local relatives, in nursing facilities or at home with illnesses. They are sitting ducks so to speak.

They are trapped like the hundreds of millions of poor and displaced people around the world. As an American, I am ashamed to enumerate the varieties of confinement of these populations, since U.S. foreign policy plays a direct role in it. There are the refugee camps of Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. There is Gaza. There are those trapped in areas with never-ending warfare, such as Yemen and Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. There are migrant holding centers all along the U.S. border with Mexico. There are huge, insalubrious shantytowns surrounding every metropolis in the developing world. There are vast regions beset by drought, poverty, and violence such as the countries of the Sahel. And to make everything worse, these people live in countries without the resources to help them. It is horrible enough to see the mounting toll in Europe, in places that I love and have relatives and friends, where the governments are competent, and where the medical systems are excellent and have some resources to fight Covid-19. Its progress around the world will take a horrendous toll on the weakest and the most innocent.

I hesitate for a moment, but I cannot help but quote the well-known passage in John Donne’s Meditation No. 17, from Devotions upon Divergent Occasions. Few writers have ever said it better:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

The coronavirus should remind us that we all are part of the family of man. I wish all my readers and those close to them the best of health in these dangerous times. May God protect you all.

Amergu (version française)

Quand je travaillais au ministère de l’Agriculture, la province de Fès s’étendait vers le Nord dans ce que les géographes appellent le pré-Rif, et comprenait une région qui fait actuellement partie de la province de Taounate. La rivière Ouergha, un tributaire majeur du Sebou, avait à l’époque une plaine inondable.

Ce tronçon de la Ouergha est devenu un réservoir.

En 1988, le barrage Al Wahda, deuxième barrage en importance en Afrique, a inondé la vallée fluviale créant ainsi un énorme réservoir. Le barrage a grandement facilité le contrôle des inondations et l’irrigation, mais accuse une accumulation rapide de limon. Il en est résulté une réduction de la sédimentation à l’embouchure du Sebou qui, à son tour, a entraîné une érosion des côtes.

Dans un contexte de changement climatique, ce problème et d’autres effets négatifs connexes, risquent de s’intensifier au fur et à mesure que le Maroc se réchauffe.

Le paysage a été profondément modifie depuis ma dernière visite à Amergu. Source : Google Maps.

Cependant, quand j’étais dans la vingtaine, le barrage n’existait pas de sorte qu’on ne vantait pas la beauté des panoramas d’un lac qui n’existait pas.

La forteresse à Amergu. Un rare exemple d’architecture militaire médiévale qui a survécu au Maroc.

La terre avait sans doute l’apparence de celle de l’époque où les armées de la dynastie des Almoravides se battaient dans une cause perdue contre leurs successeurs, tout aussi fondamentalistes, les Almohades, il y a presque un millénaire.

Aujourd’hui cette vallée est devenu un lac. Au fond le massif du Rif.

Dans leur quête de maintenir la maîtrise du nord marocain, les Almoravides ont construit une petite forteresse près du village actuel d’Amergu. Au sommet d’un promontoire qui permettait une vue dans toutes les directions, la forteresse assurait un contrôle sur les routes menant de Fès vers le Nord jusqu’à la côte.

Un douar pres d’Amergu à la fin des années 1960. Les toits typiques dans cette région sont recouvertes de chaume.

Amergu est situé près du site du principal sanctuaire de Moulay Bouchta où un impressionnant moussem a lieu chaque année. J’y ai assisté en ce temps-là, et j’en prévois un billet dans un avenir proche.

Moulay Bouchta. Source : Google Maps.
Très haut au-dessus du village. Vue vers le sud-est.

Je ne me souviens pas comment j’ai fini par visiter la vieille forteresse. Elle n’était pas très éloignée de la route principale, mais exigeait quand même une petite escalade.

Les touristes la visitaient rarement. Le guide bleu de Hachette, toujours fiable et complet, la mentionnait comme quelque chose à voir, mais elle se trouvait dans une région peu courue et encore moins visitée par les touristes. Certains habitants du coin m’ont dit que la forteresse était portugaise, mais je savais même à l’époque que les Portugais n’avait jamais tenu des villes ou des forts ailleurs que sur la côte, de sorte que Amergu n’était sûrement pas portugais.

Vue aérienne de la forteresse. Source : Google Maps.

Il me semble que je devais être seul, ou bien en déplacement pour mon travail dans la région de Taounate. Après avoir stationné ma Jeep, je suis monté aux ruines par un sentier accidenté. Aujourd’hui, à bien y penser, je vois dans cette forteresse ce que les Français appellent les citadelles du vertige, soit des forteresses comme celles que les Cathares et plus tard les Français ont édifiées dans les Pyrénées, perchées sur des rochers excessivement abruptes et presque inaccessibles. Les Occitans et les Français les ont construites comme refuges ou pour des guerres de frontière.

À cet automne de 1970, pendant que l’après-midi glissait vers le crépuscule, je contemplais les gens qui avaient gardé ces ruines et pourquoi c’était si important de construire un château d’une telle hauteur. À part les vieux remparts et les portes de ses villes, le Maroc offre peu d’exemples d’architecture militaire médiévale, de sorte que Amergu est unique, et pour moi, sa solitude avait quelque chose de spécial.

Très haut au-dessus de la Ouergha, les ombres s’allongent. Au nord-est, on aperçoit le Rif.

Devant mes yeux s’étendait une mosaïque de fermes et de collines innombrables. Au nord, les montagnes du Rif étaient à moitié cachées par la brume et les nuages. Le temps automnal était encore clément. Malgré un vent, je n’avais pas froid, mais il y avait une tranquillité qui était perceptible. Qui étaient les Almoravides qui ne sont plus qu’un lointain souvenir? Qui étaient les hommes qui occupaient ce nid d’aigle? À quoi ressemblait leur monde? Si j’avais eu le temps, je serais resté plus longtemps pour voir le coucher du soleil et voir la noirceur descendre sur la scène, là où la noirceur des siècles était déjà tombée.

Je suis redescendu à ma Jeep. Un long voyage de retour à Fès et à Sefrou m’attendait.

Traduction: Jim Erickson

Across the desert to West Africa by truck

Part 1 – The Trans-Saharan Highway

The Sahara desert from space. NASA

Part of a band of deserts that cross both Africa and Asia, the Sahara is the largest single desert in the world, stretching over 3,000 miles across the continent of Africa, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea. Wider than the continental United States, the Sahara separates North Africa from the rest of the continent. Still, despite being a formidable physical barrier, the Sahara has never totally isolated sub-Saharan Africa from the north. Travelers made the trip in medieval times, and, in the 20th century, mechanized transport and roads have made it easier for traders and tourists alike. I was one of the latter, eager to visit parts of Africa I had not seen before, and not afraid to engage in what might be an adventure.

A few years ago, my younger daughter, a photojournalist, had the idea of retracing my journey across the Sahara. A little investigation on her part soon dissuaded her. With warfare waged almost daily across the Sahel by Islamic insurgencies, the trip presented far too much danger.

Now, Kate is no stranger to danger. She entered Afghanistan with the first U.S. troops, lived in Baghdad after the U.S. invasion, and made her home in Beirut, watching as the Israelis systematically bombed south Beirut while the Lebanese occasionally bombed themselves. She gave up on her idea of a footsteps-of-her-father article as much too risky.

Though I am relieved, the article would have been a timely one. The world has evolved greatly since I was in my twenties. Today the roads linking sub-Saharan Africa have become major routes for migrants fleeing warfare and poverty in hopes of finding a new home in Europe. These migrants take great risks for uncertain futures, and their trials remind me of another, totally involuntary migration across the desert, that of slaves traded to North Africa.

Note the crossroads position of Agadez in central Niger. Figure: Luiza Bialasiewicz, Frontex.

The early nineteen-seventies was a more peaceful and innocent time. Before the Green March in 1975, there wasn’t much desert within the borders of the Kingdom of Morocco. Most of what was then Morocco had a Mediterranean climate, as the Kingdom, once a French protectorate, did not yet include the Spanish Sahara. Only far south of the Atlas Mountains did one encounter true desert, although there is no denying that all of Morocco’s south is very dry.

Seen from space, northern Morocco and the Moroccan south are clearly different places. In this photo, where North is at the bottom right, one can make out the eastern High Atlas (where Jbel Ayachi is), the eastern Middle Atlas (where Bouiblane is), the Taza gap (where the Rif and the Middle Atlas come together), the entire length of the Moulouya River, and the dry plains stretching east to the frontier with Algeria (lower left). NASA photo.

Tensions along the contested eastern border led to military skirmishes with Algeria in the early sixties, and Algeria was closed to volunteers, not by the Algerians, but by Peace Corps rules set by the U.S. State Department. We were not allowed to visit Algeria. That was a great shame, as the country was safe, similar to Morocco but different in distinct ways, and had many things to see. The United States had been sympathetic the Algerians’s demands for independence, but that independence had come with much more struggle and violence than Morocco’s, and the government in Algiers was nonaligned. Sadly, the Cold War was playing in theaters everywhere then, and Washington had decided Algeria was just much too dangerous for Americans. Peace Corps volunteers did sometimes ignore travel restrictions, but stamps in a passport could be incriminating: Algeria required a visa for Americans.

A visa and a Moroccan re-entry stamp would document where you had been.

By 1971, however, the Peace Corps was willing to let volunteers at least transit Algeria. Gaylord Barr, a PC English teacher in Sefrou, returned to Morocco by train from Tunisia in where he had studied Modern Standard Arabic during the summer.

South of the Moroccan Atlas, high plateaus and foothills descend toward the edges of the vastness that defines the Sahara. There are few true oases in the Morocco That Was. Most of the southern settlements of Morocco lay along rivers that flow when winter snows blanket the mountain ranges collectively known as the Atlas. There are tall dunes at Merzouga and smaller ones at MHammid, both of which tourists may visit without too much trouble, and this is probably as much of the desert as most tourists want to see. Not everyone wants to cross the Empty Quarter by camel as Wilfred Thesiger did.

Southern Morocco is wonderful, a landscape of ksour (large fortified earth dwellings), palm groves, spectacular canyons, and gleaming mountains.

Ksar of Aït-Ben-Haddou, Ouarzazate.
À ksar on the road to Ouarzazate.

David Lean filmed part of Lawrence of Arabia at the Aït-Ben-Haddou ksar near Ouarzazate, and his crew stayed at the Glaoui palace nearby.

The Glaoui palace at Telouet. 1969

Today the latter is falling into ruin, a symbol of a modern political dynasty brought to an end by a failed joint effort with the French to remove King Mohammed V from the throne and the consequent demise of tribal power in a modern centralized nation state.

A window at Telouet. This view appears on the original cover jacket of Lords of the Atlas, Gavin Maxwell’s history of Moroccan tribal politics before 1956.

Beautiful as it is, Southern Morocco was not quite the Sahara; what might have been Morocco’s Sahara had been annexed to French Algeria, though few Moroccan sultans had exercised any real control over it. Indeed, in recent Moroccan history, sultans controlled relatively little outside of the royal capitals of their land.

On the road near Tinerhir. 1969.

As volunteers, we heard stories of a volunteer or two who had succeeded in crossing the Sahara by overland routes, so we knew it could be done, but the crossing and return required more vacation time than volunteers were allotted. TEFL volunteers, who taught English, had loads of time, but that time was in the summer— not an ideal time to cross a wide desert in the northern hemisphere. And, of course, it required gumption and an appetite for adventure.

If a volunteer wanted to make the crossing in another season, he had to set aside some vacation time and then hurry back. I had wanted to see a bit of West Africa as well as experience the desert, and so I did not seriously consider the trip until my volunteer service was nearing an end. I would not have done it then, but, fortunately, I found someone else who also wanted to do it. Adventurous though I am, I would not have undertaken that trip by myself.

My Peace Corps service was finishing up in early 1971. Another volunteer, Anne McLaughlin, who had already left Peace Corps service in 1970, also wanted to make the trip. She had worked in rural women’s centers in the pre-Rif and Rif, and spoke Arabic well. By that time, we were close friends.

We discussed going through Algeria to Niger, which seemed to be the most interesting route. Anne had been to Algeria recently and toured edges of the desert in a Volkswagen bus. Both of us spoke North African dialects and French, so we did not consider the culture and language a real problem. After living poor in the Peace Corps, traveling on a bare budget would not trouble us either.

We were fearless. We foresaw no real difficulty other than obtaining rides. So in the autumn of 1970, we made plans to leave Sefrou in March of 1971, and return to Casablanca by French steamship in late May. Two months would leave enough time for sightseeing and travel in West Africa, though much time consuming long-distance travel was required. In retrospect, more time would have offered a more leisurely trip, some interesting side visits, and possibly even an attempt to go east across the continent. However, we both intended to return to the States that summer, so a long trip seemed out of the question. I had applied to graduate school for studies that autumn, and was waiting to hear about my applications. And our funds were limited.

We needed visas, but most were easily obtained through the French consulate in Fes, and the rest could be obtained along the route.

Some of the many visas required.
France handled the consular affairs of many former colonies, and some of the visas were available in nearby Fes.

We chose the right season to leave, and the weather turned out to be perfect for crossing the Sahara. The desert was comfortable that early spring, neither too hot nor too cold. The Sahel, the zone immediately south of the desert was another matter, as we were to find out.

At that time, there were two or three practical routes across the Sahara for anyone living in Morocco. All were traditional routes that had been used by camel caravans for hundreds of years, and adapted for wheeled vehicles in the 20th century. The western route went through the Spanish Sahara, a colonial possession of Spain at that time, then through Mauritania to Senegal. I think that it was the most level and the quickest, but one ended up in Senegal, the farthest corner of West Africa. The central one went south of Béchar, eventually arriving in Gao, Mali, from where one could travel upstream along the Niger River to Timbuktu, or downstream to Niamey, in Niger. The least traveled of the routes, one could leave it at two points in the northern Sahara and connect to the route that we followed, the most easterly one, which went through Algeria, from Algiers, on the Mediterranean coast to Algeria’s southern border with Niger, and then on to Agadez. The road was regularly traveled as far as Tamanrasset, and even had occasional tourist vehicles on it, as it went through some interesting and classic desert scenery.

The first motorized traffic that connected the oases along the route with Tamanrasset occurred about 50 years before our trip, but the road was still not paved beyond El Golea in the nineteen-sixties. I do not recall seeing any private cars crossing the desert while we traveled, though there might have been a few; there were a few abandoned wrecks. The truck traffic was light. There were also scheduled buses as far as Tamanrasset, but not every day. As I write, the names of the places and countries come easily, but countries such as Algeria, Mali and Niger were immense and remote, something a simple and short name cannot convey.

We decided on the central Algerian route, where we thought that we would visit more interesting desert towns and regions, and, more importantly, find more traffic. The continuation of that route across Niger would take us to Nigeria, and through that country to the coast. I was interested in visiting the Cameroun, too, having had worked in a Peace Corps training program in La Pocatière, Quebec for English teachers going to that country.

Casablanca. 1968.

Hence, we went to the Nigerian Consulate in Casablanca for the necessary visa. As it turned out, Nigeria, smarting from its civil war, did not welcome us. International oil companies, Christian groups, and most Western Europeans had supported Biafra in its attempted breakaway from Nigeria. By January 1971, the war had been over for a year, and American sympathy for Biafra still preoccupied Nigerian officialdom. When we applied in advance for a visa at the Nigerian consulate in Casablanca, an interview with the consular officer began with the startling question, “You Americans don’t like Nigeria very much, do you?” He put it to us with a sardonic smile, and signaled that the rest of the meeting would be a waste of time. We were caught up in the politics of the time, and he would not grant us a visa. In retrospect, perhaps we should have tried a bribe. Could he have been fishing for one? We gave up with his refusal. Maybe it would have been possible to get visas for Nigeria in Niger, but we had given up in Casablanca and did not try.

We could continue the Algiers-Tamanrasset-Agadez route southward to Zinder, in central Niger, and make our way overland west to Niger’s capital, Niamey, then proceed to Ouagadougou a little further west, in what was then Upper Volta, but is now Burkina Faso, before finally turning south again and making our way through Ghana. It was a long detour and added hundreds of miles of travel over unpaved washboard roads. Had we been able to enter Nigeria, we would have been on paved roads very quickly. In 1971, Niger, by way of contrast with Nigeria, had about 20 miles (or 30 km) of paved highway, all or almost all, in the capital city, Niamey. Niger is twice as large as Texas, more than twice the size of France, almost three times the size of Morocco, and four times bigger than the U.K.

The continental U.S. compared to the Sahara. Source: C.I.H.A. Blog.
Niamey, Niger. 1971.

Today the route through Algeria is paved only to the border of Niger. Niger itself has far more paved roads than it had 50 years ago, and the route nowadays would be easier on drivers and passengers alike.

The main route is now paved to the border with Niger, but unpaved to and from Agadez. From: I, Rexparry sydney [CC BY-SA] Wiki Commons.
Much of the road across Niger is now paved. I, Rexparry sydney [CC BY-SA] Wiki Commons.

In our case, the Zinder to Niamey trip was a grueling ordeal, far more so than travel across the Algerian Sahara itself.

Our preparation included getting our vaccinations updated, and prescriptions for an antimalarial drug. Malaria was not common in Morocco, and volunteers did not worry about it, but the risk would grow as we pushed south. Elsie Honkala, the Peace Corps nurse, helped us.

The Peace Corp Offices, Rabat. 1971.

At some point, Washington decided to replace Peace Corps doctors in Morocco with nurses. The last Peace Corps doctor, Louden Kiracofe, was a good friend, and I missed him when he returned home.

Louden on Tichoukt. Morocco, 1969 or 1970.

The logic was that Peace Corps volunteers were mostly young and very healthy, and local doctors and the U.S. Naval base at Kenitra could handle emergencies. Elsie had served in the Navy, I think, and, in my first encounters with her, I found her demeanor gruff and military. As it turned out, that was a bit of a facade, and I will always remember her kindness in setting us up for the trip, with vaccinations and appropriate antimalarial drugs.

The Romans used milestones along their ancient roads, and the very name comes from the Latin word for one thousand, when the markers marked off a thousand paces. The French roads built in Morocco were in the same tradition and marked off distances. Our journey began here, the center of Sefrou.

With visas in hand and vaccinations in various other parts of the body, Anne and I prepared to set off in March of 1971. Sefrou was cold and wet at the time. Bouiblane lay hidden in the clouds, and the drizzle kept the medina streets muddy. I don’t remember if there had been some snow in town, but there was snow across higher elevations.

Sefrou in the winter. Snow is unusual and melts quickly, but the rain is cold.

There was certainly plenty of cold rain, and my house was clammy. March is often cold and damp in northern Morocco. I remember waiting in Sefrou for the rain to break, listening to records of Simon and Garfunkel and the greatest hits of Serge Reggiani, which Anne had brought back from her travels.

Rain was falling in Fes, too. Inside the Boujouloud Gate.

Our intention was to hitchhike, but hitching was relatively difficult in Morocco, and as it continued to pour rain, we began our trip by taking a bus from Fes to Oujda, on the eastern border of Morocco.

We entered Algeria through the Zoudj-El-Beghal crossing, and took the train to Tlemcen, where we stayed the night.

The train station at Zoudj-El-Beghal, Algeria, on the Algerian border with eastern Morocco
The train route to Tlemcen. Note the snow on the hills. Sunday, March 21, 1971.
Tlemcen is about the same altitude as Sefrou, about 2,700 feet. Cold weather brings snow there occasionally. These mountains, seen from the train to Tlemcen, had plenty of snow’

In Tlemcen, heavy snow had fallen and a visiting circus tent had collapsed when the main mast broke. We didn’t really sightsee there, though I would have liked to have explored the city. Tlemcen, the only Algerian city closely connected to Moroccan history, had substantial historical ruins.

Our practical goal, however, required getting out of the cold north and crossing the desert before the weather became too hot for comfort. We worried, uncertain about how long the desert crossing might take, so delay did not seem prudent. Anne had already seen her share of northern Algeria from travel in a VW bus just months earlier. Getting to West Africa was the main objective so we pushed on.

The center of Tlemcen.

The French had only left Algeria eight years earlier. Tlemcen, and everywhere else in Algeria looked French. There were the same bandstands in parks for summer concerts that you might see in France. Indeed, Algeria had been ruled for over a century as part of Metropolitan France. Street life, however, was not French. Most of the people on the streets were men, many in djellabas, and women were not prominent in public and many wore haïks.

The center of Tlemcen. The signs are still monolingual in French.

Algeria was my first exposure to harissa, a hot sauce used extensively in Algerian and Tunisian cooking, but less common in Morocco, where people eschewed hot pepper for a wide range of spices. I still miss Moroccan cooking as I write this.

As we planned to connect with the Algiers-Tamanrasset road, we needed to travel southeast. We continued by train to Sidi Bel Abbes, which had been the home of the French Foreign Legion until Algerian independence. In the 1920s, there was a story that the ladies temperance league of France had put up posters with a skull and crossbones and the message, “Alcohol kills,” on the walls of the Legionnaire barracks. On every one, the legionnaires had added: “But the Legionnaire does not fear Death!” The Legion is a legendary and romantic part of the Sahara for many people, but, in fact, legionnaires did little fighting there, and were often used in construction projects. The French Army in Africa itself conquered the Sahara, and, to do it, took initiatives that were not always popular among the politicians in Paris, and often even contrary to the army’s orders.

We did not really know our way around, and decided to continue by public transport to smaller towns where hitchhiking might be easier. We took a bus to Bou Hanifia and Hamamet, then hitched to Mascara, spending the night. The hotel there has twenty-foot high depictions of Mickey and Minnie Mouse, as well as other Disney characters. The next day we continued on through Frenda to Tiaret where we spent another night.

The Grand Hotel de l’Orient. Tiaret.

From Tiaret we traveled by bus to Ghardaïa, where we stretched our legs and took some photos. On March 24, we were in the desert at last, and the local architecture hinted at what we might see in West Africa.

Ghardaïa in foreground.

Located in an area named the M’Zab, Ghardaïa is one of five oasis towns inhabited by a refugee population of Ibadi Muslims, who follow a heretical sect and were forced to flee into the wilderness early in the history of Algeria. The French gave the Mzabis considerable autonomy when they ruled Algeria.

The cities of the M’Zab. The satellite photo shows green as red. RN1, the main north-south route is clearly visible. NASA.

A similar group of Ibadis live on the isle of Djerba, in Tunisia. By way of contrast, Morocco has been free of heresies for centuries, though many modern fundamentalist Muslims consider saint worship and superstitions heretical. I heard this more than once in Saudi Arabia, where Moroccans were also criticized for indulging in black magic and, somewhat ingenuously, speaking French better than Arabic, an unfair criticism, as many Saudis could surely be accused of speaking better English than Arabic! A Saudi newspaper editor in Jeddah said this to me in fluent and unaccented English. I wish I had been able to test his speaking knowledge of Modern Standard Arabic.

A closeup of the fives cities of the M’Zab. One can see the road north of Ghardaïa. The angle of the sun seems to reverse the relief. NASA.
The unique shape of the minaret echoes that of minarets that one sees in the Sahel, on the desert’s southern edge.

The M’Zabis were a group known in Algeria for their migration to the north, and M’Zabi men ran small grocery shops and other businesses, leaving their families at home in the M’Zab, much as did the Swassa, Moroccan Berbers from the Sous Valley in southwestern Morocco, and also the Djerbans, in Tunisia.

The market place, Ghardaïa.

The three groups are all known for their probity. When I lived briefly in a shared apartment in Sale in 1973, we left the apartment key at the shop of the Soussi around the corner, rather than invest in many sets of keys. In Sefrou, I did much of my daily shopping at the store of the late Miloud Soussi.

A classic guidebook view, the market place in Ghardaïa.
Another view of Ghardaïa’s main market.
UNESCO has designated the cities of the M’Zab a World Heritage Center.
Built on hills, Ghardaïa’s streets wind up and down.

From Ghardaïa we were able to get a shared taxi to El Golea, also known as El Menia. The shared taxi was a Peugeot station wagon, and the ride was comfortable as the road was paved.

The Peugeot taxi and passengers.
The paved road was flat and level.
A rest stop for driver and passengers, as well as a chance for the car to cool down.
The driver shows a lizard he has just caught to Anne. It looks like a skink. One of the passengers caught it at the stop. They joked about eating it, but I’m not sure if anyone did.

El Golea marked the end of the paved road, and we remained there for a week, waiting for a truck to take us farther. The wait gave us a bit of respite from travel, and a chance to explore the oasis.

On one side of town, a field of dunes was burying plantations of date palms. In this picture and the next, if you look closely, you may notice the wind blowing sand over the crest of the dunes.
Anne posing in the dunes at El Golea
A view from the crumbling ruins of an old fortified ksar.

The weather was warm and pleasant, and the stress of travel disappeared. A lemon tree bloomed in the courtyard of the hotel where we stayed.

The hotel in Ghardaïa.

The oasis was large, and had an important airport, but very little traffic at that time.

A number of Algerians befriended us and one Palestinian. One day the Algerians took us out to the airport, and a fellow who worked there inflated and launched a weather balloon just to amuse us. The younger people we met were mostly from the north, bored, and homesick.

Anne, a Palestinian, and an Algerian that we met.

One evening we were invited to a party, where the Algerian kids smoked marijuana in the paranoid way that young Americans did in those days. It was illegal of course. We ate lunch with them, too, during the day. At one lunch, we discussed the trip and talked about what West Africa must be like. There was a local fellow eating with us. He had a very dark skin, and the others kept looking at him to confirm their comments about West Africa. Somewhat frustrated, he finally interjected “ Wait a minute, I was born here in Algeria just like you guys.”

A street in El Golea.
A saint’s tomb on the edge of town.

With a lengthy stay, we had an opportunity to wander the oasis, and observe life there. The weather was mild, and walking was pleasant.

A view from the old fort, overlooking the oasis.
The fort. The oasis gardens were often enclosed by mud walls.
There were thousands of date palms, the life blood of the economy before oil and gas.
The wind filled this fellow’s garment.
On the outskirts, the dunes encroached on the settlement.

On April 2, after eight days in El Golea, when we were beginning to wonder when, if ever, we would proceed in our journey, a truck making the Algiers to Tamanrasset run agreed to take us. After a time the dusty road and the windy top of the truck proved too much for Anne and when the driver offered her a spot in the cabin, she wasted no time taking up the offer, leaving me alone. At the time I was angry, but, in retrospect, I really couldn’t blame her. The bumps, the cold, and the constant buffeting by the wind, ranged from uncomfortable to almost unbearable. I settled down, attempting to read La Chartreuse de Parme, but at some point the book flew out of my hands and was gone. I have tried to read this novel again several times, both in English and in French, but I have never finished it. I hope someone found it and read it. Today the novel is on my iPad, but

Just south of El Golea, a view of the RN1, the road to In Salah. ESA satellite image. The large dune field is east and south of El Golea.
Not far south of El Golea, the RN1 and the RN51 roads crossed, and this sign gave the traveler an idea where he was. Aïn Guezzam is near Algeria’s southern border with Niger. Timimoun is to the west in the Adrar district.

The first night we simply stopped on the Tademaït plateau, an absolutely flat, featureless, stony desertscape. The rock was dark and sharp, and reminded me of the highest mountain tops in the Atlas. We ate with the driver and his helper, and slept under the stars.

Featureless, with nothing but black, barren rock, and cold. Tadmaït.
Descending from the Tadmaït plateau. Our backpacks are visible on top of the truck.

We did not stop in In Salah, the next major oasis, where a sandstorm blew, but at a small roadside hut near Tadjmout, farther south.

The drivers must have stopped there regularly. They knew the owner and brought him sugar.

His name was Bou Baggara, as I recall. Perhaps he had a cow, though there wasn’t much grass around. Bou Baggara fancied himself a poet, and improvised for us. Since we had come from Morocco, one of his improvisations honored the Moroccan king, Hassan II. I don’t remember much from that night, other than the lamplight inside the small dwelling, the convivial conversation, and the cool desert air outside. We fell asleep in our sleeping bags under a bright star-filled sky.

The next day, these low mountains, rising from a sea of acacia, were a relief for the eyes.

We stopped shortly after this photo.
The tomb of Chérif Sidi Moulay Lahcene. The truck is parked. There was no one there but us.

Between Aïn Salah and Tamanrasset, there was the tomb of a saint, a marabout, Chérif Sidi Moulay Lahcene, a descendant of the Prophet, who died there while making his hadj to Mecca from the Touat.

The truck and the tomb.

The Touat is a large group of oases and ksour in western Algeria, to the west of our route. The route from Béchar passes through them. Ibn Battuta crossed through the region on his way to Timbuctoo in the 14th century, remarking that the people’s diet consisted of dates and locusts. So did Leo Africanus, a Muslim refugee from Granada in Spain, who ended up as a Christian slave in the Vatican, given the family name Medici by the pope. Leo Africanus was a major source of information for European geographers. Amin Malouf, a Lebanese author who writes in French has written a wonderful fictionalized biography, Leon L’Africain, which has been translated into English.

Graves beside the tomb. I think that the tomb has since been destroyed, as I was not able to find any modern pictures of it.

Though the Touat was conquered by a Moroccan sultan, the French occupied the region in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when Moroccan control was only nominal, and annexed it to Algeria, then a part of France. Today the area is a major producer of natural gas.

Our driver and his mechanic. They were from the north.

Alongside the road, at the base of a huge group of rocks, lay the tomb. Those who traveled on the road customarily drove around it three times, and stopped to ask the saint for his blessing. Circling the tomb was thought to bring good luck, and we stopped there for a long break while our driver and his assistant prayed and rested.

Widely spaced acacia trees, in bloom, covered the plain at the base of the mountain, and I remember it as one of the prettiest spots in the desert. Today the paved road skirts the site, and a detour is necessary to visit it. The little marabout no longer seems to exist, and the spot is marked by piles of rock.

The trees were widely spaced…
…but in bloom, and a living contrast to the stone and sand.