Category Archives: Agriculture

Ants, Sheep and Edibles: March 16-20

Oleander seed dispersal.

Ewe shall not pass.

Pretty much the best thing ever - pumpkin, potato, garlic, green onion, and butter. Plus a flash.

Baby wheat.

Just under a month left!

The view from Helen Rose's stairwell.

Vitamine forks are a little weak.

At the water stop ~15km from my town.

Sheep housing.


I ate a ram’s “egg” and other 3id happenings

I’m home for a moment between visiting various members of my community – I am full to bursting, and I need a second to let everything settle down. Last year I learned that 3id Kbir (aka Tafaska) is a marathon rather than a sprint, and so at 24 hours in I’m taking a quick breather – there are still three more full days.  Here are a few of the events, starting yesterday (Arafa, or ‘3id Eve’):

  • I went souq shopping in Tinjdad on Sunday to buy my 3idwear – everyone has a new outfit on l’3id, so I got myself a sweater and a pajama set. I thought I’d get away with wearing my pajamas today and saving my sweater for cold nights, but it cooled off a lot here over the weekend and I had to wear everything I had to stay warm.
  • Because I went souq shopping, I didn’t eat lunch. I had a bit of a snack, but when ‘douez’ (stew, sort of) was served to a male member of my family after I’d been hanging out a few hours, I decided to have a little. When we got down to the meat, I couldn’t really figure it out – it sort of looked like there was a tumor on what I’d been served, or maybe a big thing of fat. I was told to go ahead and eat it, so I did.. you eat things here with bread, and when I prodded it with my bread a lot of stuff with about the same shape as ramyeon and size of angel hair pasta came out. I went ahead and ate it (it tasted pretty mild, completely inoffensive), and then asked what it was.. an egg, they tell me – a popular euphemism here for testicle. I thought this was a dish only male PCVs would get to eat; I have a new winner for strangest food I’ve eaten (although, really, the sheep cheek doesn’t fall far behind).
  • I got to witness the slaughter of the sheep from beginning to when we were eating the insides on skewers. The guy that did the slaughtering and gutting wasn’t in my host family, so I didn’t want to take too many pictures of him.. here’s a few that just contain the sheep (and one with me)

Freshly slaughtered ram.

A hole is made in the skin of the leg, through which a man blows up the ram like a balloon. The skinning is easier this way.

With the gutted ram. Note a few unusable portions of intestines still on the ground, and the way it's hanging by its own feet looped together.

  • A polite way to greet someone clearly doing a task around here is to ask for confirmation of what they’re doing.. ‘are you carrying water?’ or ‘are you cutting alfalfa?’ or ‘are you picking olives?’, to name a few. So as I walk by a ditch on my way home I see a woman I know, and I call down to her ‘are you washing something?’ She replies in the affirmative, and lifts the object out of the water – half a ram’s head. So I ask if it’s for dinner tonight or lunch tomorrow, continue with a little more small talk, and go on my way. It occurred to me that felt way more normal than maybe it should have.
  • I am absolutely impressed with the ability of my neighbors to pack this food away. My diet in the last 24 hours has been nearly all ram, bread, cookies, and tea – I did have a little fruit with dinner and a little coffee with breakfast for variety. And there’s been a lot of it. The thing that still totally boggles my mind is that after eating enough kebab meat to satisfy a lion, a tajine or plate of meat is served and eaten up voraciously with bread. I normally try to at least look like I’m eating it, but today at lunch I reached my limit early, and begged off the last few rounds of kebabs and sitting for the ‘meal’ altogether.
  • To be kept in mind: this intensity, although with focus on other parts (e.g. head and feet tomorrow), will last for three more days.

Little Life Updates

I’ve been remiss in posting – here’s a little of what I’ve been up to in the last month:

  • English Classes: I’m on my third week of teaching at the middle school this semester, and overall classes are going really well. I asked for more class time and fewer students per class this year, so I’ve ended up with 6 classes, 4-9 students per class.  I have a basic framework for the lesson plans, and the classes are all going through it at vastly different paces.  The important part, though, is that with the small class sizes I actually get relatively attentive students vs. the chaos of 30 students in one room I had last year. Hooray!
  • Basketball Hoops: We’ve got the metal for the basketball hoops, and I watched sodering equipment get loaded up into a car to get taken to the school yesterday afternoon. Insha’allah, the metal will be cut and sodered, starting today.
  • Wheat: Ok, so this isn’t a project, but I’m still really excited about it. I’ve been trying to buy wheat for a really long time, but when I ask most people respond with some variation of, “‘oh, I’ll give you a bunch of wheat for free, ask me about it sometime later.” I’ve been given small amounts of wheat flour a few times this way, but I never return and press the issue because my conscience won’t let me just barge in on someone’s house and demand that they give me a lot of flour for free. But I found a seller! I am now the proud owner of what is probably 10+ kilos of wheat grain, cleaned but unsorted, for 65Dh. I lugged it from the seller’s house to my host family’s house yesterday on my back with a very bright purple wrap skirt I got in Mexico (12 years ago now?); normally the lugging is done with a black shawl with bright embroidery, but I’ve yet to obtain one. I’m going to go over to my host family’s today to sort it after I teach, and then I’ll take it to the mill and have a reasonable amount of wheat flour for the first time in my service! I’m overwhelmed with the possibilities – wheat pasta, pancakes, bagels, baguettes, pizza, tortillas, foccacia… yay!
  • It’s shucking season! Being social at this time of year often involves sitting down around a large pile of drying corn and shucking for the length of the visit. Yesterday, while waiting for the wheat (and around eating lunch) I managed to get a solid four hours of shucking in. I’m a pro now; it’s one of the few activities that I can do every bit as fast (if not faster) than the locals around me. It’s repetitive, but there’s something a little satisfying about watching the big wicker basket repeatedly fill with corn that will one day turn into corn couscous or harsha. As a bonus, the corn that’s still juicy gets thrown on a nearby burner until it’s appropriately blackened – corn on the cob! Yum.
  • Fes! I went to Fes to see my very talented friend Socorra perform at Cafe Clock, as well as to hang out with some friends I hadn’t seen in a while. I managed to spend much longer in the Fes medina than I had on previous visits; Helen Rose and Donna and I window shopped with vigor. We were all present shopping; I made out with some nice gifts for my favorite ladies back at site.
As always, there are some project ideas lurking in my head and in conversation with different community members – notably, I got approached and told about an association in my town that I’d never heard of yesterday, so it’ll be interesting to see if that lead goes anywhere.  For now, I’m going to go make my best approximation of creole grits with soft-boiled eggs for breakfast (I’m perfecting this) and clean house a little before heading off to teach. Have a good one!

Je suis allée en France

For the last two weeks of Ramadan this year, I left the country for the first time since I arrived in March 2010. I had a direct flight from Marrakesh to Paris. I took the Paris Metro (beautiful thing, that) to Montmartre, where I met my father, sister, and brother.  We proceeded to play tourist in Paris like nobody’s business – I do believe I have never gone sightseeing like that before in my life, and possibly will never again. Touristing is exhausting work! We of course hit the Arch de Triomphe, Tour Eiffel, Notre Dame, Sacre Cour, (outside of the) Moulin Rouge, Catacombs, Louvre, Orsay, Pompidou, Vincennes, Versailles… and more. I think my top three favorites were the Musee d’Orsay, Vincennes, and the Catacombs. Vincennes I loved for the crazy historical stories and also for the dog that rescue workers pulled out of the (dry) moat (how the heck did he get in there?).  The Musee d’Orsay I loved for its impressionists, particularly Camille Pissarro and Jean-Francois Millet (not to say that the Centre Pompidou and the Louvre didn’t also have incredible art). As for the Catacombs, we were incredibly lucky to make it in! We were among the last to be let in on our last day in Paris, and a staff member was behind us with a flashlight keeping us moving so that they could close up. Even so, we could not fail to be impressed by the sheer number of bones under the city, thrown into haphazard piles slowly growing stalagmites behind carefully crafted femur and skull decorated barriers. Neither here nor there, but the street musicians/artists/dancers were exactly as you would expect them to be (read: glorious), and I’m not quite yet over the way salads seem to come with little bits of toasted bread with cheese on top. Divine.

Paris had been a lovely addition to what the holiday was originally planned to be – my dad and I had started talking about the possibility of a walking tour in Europe somewhere, and had settled on a walking tour of the Cantal volcanic uplands region through The Enlightened Traveller. So after a week in Paris, my siblings went back to their obligations in the states and my dad and I headed down to Murat by train.  We had an absolutely beautiful first day climbing up to the Plomb du Cantal and experiencing our first of many somewhat cautious forays through a herd of Salers cattle (Salers and Aubrac are the two main local breeds of the region – and they make some mighty fine cheese).  Unfortunately, the remaining three days of walking were spent largely in the rain. The first day unnerved me a bit, as there was lightning and we were doing a ridge run with hiking poles, but the second day I just found astoundingly picturesque as we were crossing moors every bit as misty as if we had been placed in Wuthering Heights.  I may have even been disappointed if all of our moor crossing had been done in the sun. Unfortunately, the weather got really nasty as we started to ridge run towards Puy Mary, the high point of the region, and we were forced to turn around (a good call, as I couldn’t feel/use my fingers until I got in the hot shower a few hours later, and the weather never did clear up).  Overall, I loved the fact that there was local food (with generous applications of cheese) everywhere we went in the region, the mountains were gorgeous (and GREEN, something I’m missing a bit where I am), the ubiquitous cow bells, and (mostly) getting by with the French I’d put some effort into studying the past few months. It was also nice getting to spend some time with my dad, who is not a habitual hiker but put up with the less-than-stellar weather like a champ.  Someday I’ll have to return to see the view from Puy Mary – and perhaps eat a little more cheese.

(Particularly slow internet is preventing transfer of pictures. I’ll add some later, insha’allah)

Top Searches

nb:  I thought I posted this a month ago… clearly I’m not as tech savvy as I’d like to believe. Today’s post is on it’s way!

“Top Searches” is a rather self explanatory wordpress feature – it tells you what people typed into a search engine to find your blog. This is a great tool for the procrastinator or the exceedingly bored.

Along with the normal searches of words like Tinghir, Wedding Festival, Imilchil, and Tamazight, I have learned that people reach my blog in quite unexpected ways. Owing to my description of L’3id Amzant last year,  I regularly get guests with a slightly more colorful line of inquiry. Two of today’s top searches that ended with people finding my blog, for example, are “slaughtering off chicken’s head with knife” and “chicken slaughter lady.”

I can’t help but find this a bit amusing. 5 years ago, who would have guessed that googling ‘chicken slaughter lady’ would lead you to me?

Back to the Fields!

I had the opportunity to go to the Peace Corps office in Rabat a few weeks ago, and while I was there I picked up some Vetiver to try out in my town. Vetiver is a non-invasive grass species native to India which my program manager (and NRCS, as it happens) likes to use for erosion control, owing to their humongous roots (up to ~3m).  I asked my host family if I could plant it in their fields, and they said yes (picture deleted).

Since I was already there, I spent the rest of the afternoon helping to harvest some alfalfa for the animals. While it may seem silly, I love my time in the fields – on top of being great mentally (and good exercise), it’s also good for my community image. How does one harvest alfalfa here, you may ask? With a sickle! It’s called a ‘tamughurt’ in my dialect of Tamazight, and it looks like this:


I would give you a picture of Moroccan women using it, as they have a slightly different stance from me, but if you’ve been here before you know by now that I don’t put up pictures of adults on my blog – so you’ll get a picture of me that my host sister Selma took yesterday, when I returned to harvest a pretty puny crop of alfalfa and weeds:

Food for cows, chickens, and sheep!

Selma and Ikram took turns carrying my bag, which I have to carry around now in order to have a 5 liter plastic jug with me with which to water the Vetiver – it needs to be watered frequently at first, and it turns out the ditches are nearly always dry in the part of the fields we planted it in! So every day or two I haul water a few kilometers out to the Vetiver. (picture deleted, sorry)

I had a very dull Tamughurt yesterday, which means I had to pull extra hard to cut anything. I have several blisters on my fingers, strengthening my resolve to buy one of my own soon. The hope there is that then I can go around helping random people with field work, an idea I never got around to implementing last year. I spent the night with my host family last night, and then on my way home today I saw someone I didn’t know handpicking weeds from a wheat field.  After the initial greeting I was continuing on home, and then I saw a path leading down to her field about 20 feet in front of me. I decided to go and offer help and see if she would accept – which she did, although she said I was a little crazy for working in the fields for free. I’m slower picking through wheat for weeds than I am at clear cutting alfalfa, but I still managed to help out a bit in the half hour before she decided she had enough to bring back to her livestock.  Success!

I’m going to leave you with a picture of a sheep I found the other day, contentedly munching grass while tied to an Alily bush:

We'll be baa-ack!

The “Two Hour” Hike

There’s a hike that people in my town do quite regularly – they have family over the mountain; there’s a livestock souq over the mountain, etc. As to get over the mountain by any sort of regular motorized transportation you need to go from my site to my souqtown, over to the next big city, and then back up into the mountains (total time if speeding: at least 3 1/2 hours), the clear choice for the physically able is to hoof it – either by foot or by livestock.  For the last nine months, I have been told that it’s a wicked tough hike, but it only takes two hours – maybe four. I now have a theory that either all of the men in my village are secretly marathon runners in their spare time – either that or pretty much everyone rides a mule and therefore no one has any idea how long a path it really is.

The hike finally came to be after my landlord’s brother started on a little hiking kick – he started walking with the village doctor to random springs out of town, and he invited me to do this hike. Not about to do a hike alone with a Moroccan man for both safety/security and town reputation reasons, even one as respected as this guy (he’s the ambulance driver), I invited Molly and we set a date.  On Saturday morning we set out with the idea that we’d hike up and over two mountains, eat lunch, and then head back to town and arrive, exhausted, before the sun set and we were eaten alive by wild dogs.  As with most things in my service, upon pursuing this activity we found that the plan was utterly ridiculous and to be scrapped, but the day ended with a lot of new sights seen and a couscous dinner (complete with a freshly slaughtered chicken in our honor!).

At 8am, we set out to conquer the mountains. Around 9:30, we stopped to admire some “zwak,” which is also the word used to describe henna designs on people’s hands:

I'm really not quite sure what's going on here, geologically. Anyone?

Around that time, the rosemary poaching  started become really obvious – aside from the fact that there were dropped bits of poached rosemary on the trail lower down, as we climbed further up the mountain the rosemary clumps got larger and were almost all in bloom:

Still not over the winter flowers - these were gorgeous!



Somewhere around 3 hours into the hike, we reached the top of the mountain behind my house. I’ve been told it only takes an hour to do this – again, either they run, they’ve never done it, or they’re talking about the small crest in front of the big mountain (that does take about an hour to summit). If you squint, you can sort of see Molly’s town on the left side of this picture, and the outskirts of my town a bit to the right.

Looking down into my valley.

About a half an hour after that (3 1/2 hours in), we ran into our first tree – which we took wonderful pictures next to, but lamentably on Molly’s camera. I’ll get those pictures later. After our first tree, we realized that there was a whole hillside of trees – mostly dead, but a few were still hanging on. Interestingly, I learned that the hillsides were covered in trees down to my town (and populated with Barbary Sheep) within the memory of our guide – and he’s not that old. Discussing this with my host family later, I learned that one of my favorite host family members has fond memories of coming up to this area with friends and bringing down wood from the branches. Why there are some remaining is difficult to say – there was a little more vegetation in general on that side, possibly owing to the north facing slope, but it’s possible there are some trees remaining just because you’d have to walk uphill from there to lug the wood back to my town. Anyhow, here’s the picture:

"Tawelt" in Tashelheet. Not sure on the English/Latin.

Shortly after, we started running into a plant called “Azzazer,” which sort of reminds me of something in the heath family. I was thinking it was only on this side of the mountain due to the north facing slope, but i saw it later on lots of south facing ones… a puzzle. Maybe, like the trees, people hacked all the azzazer to death on my side of the mountain?

Molly admiring the azzazer.

From there we kept descending until we hit the valley floor and a teeny tiny town called Itto Fezzou. Naturally, this town being named after me (my name here is Itto), it was filled to the brim with baby goats.

This is where baby goats go to be adorable.

As an aside, goats and sheep here are one of the main environmental problems – all the mountains here are heavily overgrazed. A fellow environmental volunteer offered that rather than posing, it would have been more helpful to bash all their little brains in with a rock. While I disapprove of their damage to the local ecosystem, I cannot support baby goat brain bashing. This is my official stance on the subject.

Another interesting thing about Itto Fezzou is that it was considerably higher than my town.  As I have no GPS system, I judge elevation in trees. Eric and Tim’s site are filled with date palms (and delicious dates), which are simply decoration when they exist at all in my site. My site is mainly olives, almonds, and figs – slightly colder than dates, but still warm weather plants. Itto Fezzou only had two kinds of trees that I saw – walnut and apple. Apple is more heat tolerant, so not much of an indicator, but walnuts here require a substantially colder winter than my site can offer – walnuts are hard to find and expensive where I am.  Without technology to tell me temperatures or elevations, I’m really enjoying learning about the climate of a site through it’s agriculture.  This can be done to a lesser degree through the plants on the mountains, but since they’re so overgrazed the plants that remain tend to be relatively homogenous.

After Itto Fezzou, we crested another ridge and got a great view of Ait Haini – home of the livestock souq and one home of the Ait Hadidou tribe, a very famous, strong tribe among the Amazigh people that speaks a slightly different dialect than I know (g’s change to j’s, everything sounds mumbled to me, and simple questions (are you cold?) change completely). They also have a salt mine – if you’re eating rock salt in Morocco, it may come from there! Here’s the picture of Ait Haini from the pass in between it and Itto Fezzou:

Woohoo! Those clouds snowed on us not long after this picture - my first snow of the season!

Other notable events in the last week have included meeting the head of an association with Molly, experiencing an earthquake, Valentine’s Day, and L’3id n l’Mulud – but those are all for a different entry. Ar tikklt yadn, insha’allah! (Until next time, God willing!)