Jeff Smith 6 p.m., Feb. 27
- Community Blog
Reflections Day 2
Morning comes and I get up and take a shower before the alarm sounds. I go to the dining area and have a breakfast of bread and crepes and jam and dark strong coffee, and orange juice. I load my coffee with lumps of sugar. I have always enjoyed breakfast in other parts of the world. It's a carb addict's dream!
We find out it is the first day of school after a break, so we will not travel to Akka until this afternoon. We file into the mini bus and drive to the village of Tata, weaving up and down streets to find a doorway. everything is the color of concrete. The ground is very coarse and rocky. Most homes have small openings to the outside for ventilation and a wood or metal door. some also have a pen for goats inside the walls, a special room. The door opens and several adults and children spill out into the alleyway, line up against the wall, and stare at us. I wave and make faces, the peace sign. one handsome young boy flashes a hand signal which i try to imitate. then i do the hang loose hand signal and one boy says diablo - which im assuming means devil. most of the boys are dressed in athletic type shirts. most of those we see this morning are boys. the villagers are very attractive features, warm welcoming eyes and smiles if you make eye contact.
We laugh. the group prepares to get out but it is too early and the mothers must get the children off to school so we will come back later. we back out and head to a large structure on the other side of the village. we get out and the sun is very hot, and the door is locked up tight. Jamila goes to the next door and a woman in colorful traditional dress appears with her baby and they talk and Fausto and Marzia take photos with her, while the rest of us wander around or huddle in the shade of the building, a awaiting the opening.
From the village we see three women, led by a girl of indeterminate age- im going to guess 30s-who is very tall and pretty with a big welcoming smile and large gestures for such a slender girl and they open up the agriculture cooperative. we enter and are given a tour of the date processing venture. The building is very clean and neat. The dates are picked, then brought in to be weighed and washed, and then refrigerated before being packed or pitted and processed into syrup, jam, and a puréed pate sort of spread. We buy dates, saffron threads , carrot or date conserve, tiny woven baskets from 3 ladies calculating on a phone, and entering our purchases in a point of sale monitor, or a computer. We eventually return to the mini bus.
The tall girl and a man join us and we drive to another part of the village to walk down a pathway next to the irrigation channel. Behind me a donkey begins urgent braying and I scurry back to try to capture the sound on my video camera. Fausto edges into the fenced area and tries to get the donkey to sing again, Keeping his distance from this feisty workhorse, and staying close to the gap in the wall for a quick retreat. I try making funny noises also from the path but the donkey refuses to make a sound, seems to understand , won't look at us, eyes down, shaking his head no,no, no. We continue on the narrow path. The tall girl is carrying a plastic chair for Henryane to rest on in the grove. It is approaching mid- day and is very hot. we try to stand in the shade. The tips of the palms are very sharp and I actually nail myself on the head. Once.
We are in a grove of date palms. the man and the girl are narrating our trek in French I think. I am watching my footing and looking around. After a while we return up the path and stand next to the building in a sliver of shade waiting for the group to gather. we drove again along the village roads, and got out in front of what appeared to be a sort of local shop. we followed a path over an area with channels of water.
I was near the head of the group and we stopped in front of a low open sided building filled with 5 or six men. We all crowded in and huddled around an urn of water with a smaller bowl floating in it. The bowl had a tiny hole in it, that when it filled, marked 30 minutes time. it also serves as a measuring cup. One man would tie a knot in a string as each half hour passed. Villagers has assigned times to pick up the pure water. One man kept a list of names. I am not sure how many cups of water are given out at one time. A man had a bucket with perhaps a quart of water in it, and was still waiting. perhaps it is only distributed a bowl at a time, until everyone has received their share. Someone said democratic. There was a tall young man who walked with a limp and appeared to have had a trauma to one of his eyes. He was helping the men with the water and showing our group something about the canals outside. I do not believe i heard him speak. He was very eager to assist us in any way.
Outside the shelter was an open area where the water had been channeled into concrete canals. It is my impression that they wait a certain time period before harvesting the water, perhaps for the sun to heat it on the earths surface. Some of our group soaked their scarves in it and splashed their faces, but that was a no no- this area for drinking water only, not for bathing. When we are finished, we walk out along the path, and a young girl stands shyly asking for a Bon Bon (candy) I give her a honey and lemon candy Burt's bees I brought from home.
We return to the women's coop from earlier in the morning where we smiled at the children. Now the door is opened by the mother - an older woman with smiling eyes, and we step through the entry into an open courtyard, and then into a room. Across the yard ladies sit against the wall in the shade on a red carpet watching us file in, and begin to get up for the process of preparing the meal.
On tables they have displayed djellebahs and table coverings, and at the other end a variety of packaged uncooked couscous, white and brown, fine and large. also dried onions. I buy a burgundy dress with a vaguely south seas design with silver trim. It is lightweight and very cool. I walk outside, and try to find a place to wash my hands.
In a room opposite in the corner I see activity, and walk over. The dirt in the central patio area between the pathways is barren except for some hollyhocks and a strange looking plant with green fruit. The ladies, with infants , are preparing couscous squatting on low footstools on the ground and combing through the hot cereal with their hands. They make a motion telling me I can help and I shake my head no- I am too dusty, they smile and go back to work.
I return to the main room and take a seat at one of 3 vinyl covered tables on white plastic stacking chairs. the mother and her helpers bring in a silver basin , soap and the pitcher of water so we can wash our hands. they bring us bottled water and we all drink. then a basket of wonderful Moroccan bread is passed, and the ladies carry in the large platters of couscous with chicken and root vegetables, and squash.
I am sitting with our drivers, Zacharia and the tall village girl. It is delicious, we all eat until we can eat no more- grabbing pieces of chicken with the bread. there is also a sharp knife to cut pieces of chicken from the bones. The mother circulates with a pot of juices ladling it on to the couscous bed upon request. we all have our own large soup spoons, and eat directly from the platter, perhaps only putting pieces of meat and vegetables on a plate, but couscous from the platter directly in our mouths. Hassan is doing a good job of chewing all the meat off the chicken bones. all of the bare bones are put on one plate in front of him and he is teased for his appetite. we have a nice easy time. the mother collects all the sharp knives and takes them away to be washed.
Once we have finished the couscous they bring out the fruit platter with one sharp knife per table . Bananas, apples and very sweet oranges. In the heat this is a common and very welcome part of the meal, also the citrus is helpful for greasy fingers. we are all satisfied and begin moving around.
The ladies bring the basin and we wash our hands. eventually we move outside and cross over the courtyard to the red carpet, remove our shoes and join the ladies for tea. I sit next to the mother. a tray is set on the ground in front of her with all the tea cups. She pours hot tea into each glass and the back into the pot. After this, she begins to pour the tea raising the pot high above the glasses, creating bubbles on the top of each filled cup. The tea is served to us and we all enjoy it, including the lumps of sugar that add sweetness to the minty herbal liquid. when this is finished, we slowly rise, and head back for the mini bus to head for Akka and the high school workshops. I am learning how to hold the tea cup so it doesn't scald my fingers
it takes approximately an hour to drive to Akka from Tata. We pull up outside and are greeted by the director, parents and teachers. we file into a covered pathway with tables, and the students bring us chairs, and serve us fruit juice and cookies. the air is still. After this refreshment we move to a larger covered area with tables around the edges and we sit as the some of the students perform traditional Berber dances. other students crowd around the plaza, the performers are wonderful. one of the mail dancers leads Daniela onto the floor for a dance. the performances and the drums and chants and dancing go on for some time. it is very colorful and interesting and it is obvious they have spent hours practicing for this performance.
I have no idea what time it is, but now we break into groups for the formal program. I am going to the poetry workshop taught by Lisz from Vienna. The first room we are led to is the library and there is no whiteboard which Lisz had planned on for her presentation. after much discussion in french and arabic with teachers and parents we are led across the patio and an open area into a classroom.
we now have a whiteboard but no chalk. more discussion and consulting and eventually she ends up with two boxes of white chalk and an eraser. Lisz is German speaking, from Vienna, and also speaks French and no Arabic. she is apprehensive the students won't get what she is trying to convey- why they should care about poetry- why they should try- why it is important.
the kids are coming in and out of the classroom. boys and girls - girls with heads covered. many of the boys have cell phones. Normal teenagers, divide into cliques/ groups in the classroom. perhaps the students volunteered which workshop they would attend, and are not with their usual classmates.
Lisz writes a poem in French on the board. i can almost hear her thinking out loud. She stands on the platform in front and does a great job of getting their attention. I am sitting behind a desk on the side, but quickly realize this is not the best vantage point for photos so I move to the back for a while, then move the chair to ground level in front of several girls. The desks are numbered in chalk and one girl with a beautiful smile points this out to me so it won't get on my blouse. the colors of the girls clothing are beautiful. And the way they tie skirts is very arty.
They are listening to Lisz and watching me and the camera at the same time. She goes around the class and has each student read the poem on the board out loud. This breaks the ice. She pulls out some sheets of paper and begins tearing them in half, giving one half to each student. She asks if everyone has something to write with, and we pass out all the pens and pencils we can find. The kids are looking a little nervous. We were told the have 3 years of French studies but arabic is their native language. Lisz tells them they should write a poem about something that they are passionate about. She answers a few questions and then asks them to begin. I am not sure of the complete instructions since my literacy in French is limited.
The two girls sitting next to me ask for my help getting started, a subject, an idea. Their pencils used to whip the air, a nervous gesture. I told them to write about something they love, that makes them smile that makes them laugh. I also manage to communicate that I may very well be giving them the wrong instructions because of the language so not to blame me if Lisz tells them I was wrong. We all laugh. They say they understand.
Lisz is moving around the classroom coaching groups of 1 , 2 or 3 students at a time. as the workshop goes on, it appears that some of the students must leave- perhaps to work for their families but I am not sure. about 20 remain - several lost in their writing, others waving for her attention. There is lots of excitement in the room, even from those who haven't started.
As she reviews what each student has written, she lets them choose a sticker to put on the poems. some of the girls want to put it on the notebooks, but she insists. A man, a teacher or a parent who looks remarkably like Eddie Murphy barges into the class and interrupts her conversation with a group of students. He hands her a piece of paper and says I wrote this when I was young, this is all I can remember. Lisz looks at it solemnly, thanks him for sharing, and gives him a thumbs up sticker for his efforts. he leaves the room with a smile
Finally time is up and she asks for volunteers to come to the front and read the Poems they have written. Hands wave, several very enthusiastic, some need coaxing but all the students who remain eventually take their place on the platform at the front of the room, and she gives encouragement to them all. They respect her- and she celebrates their efforts,
She packs up her stuff, we talk about how great it was, and head back for the plaza where everyone is gathering again. Three round tables have been lined up on one side with a chair for each of us in our group along the wall and the chairs for students lined up auditorium style facing us. Some books and prizes are stacked on the center table. And tea is set up on the left. A student serves us cookies and then tea is pored and passed.
The official ceremonies commence- the director, other officials and the teachers come up and speak, then Jamila speaks to the group, and one by one they call the names of the winning students who come up and receive their prizes from our group teachers.
The boys from the dance this morning start chanting and playing their music with drums and metal objects and each of the takes a turn in freestyle dancing in a small circle. They are very wound up and the air is charged with their energy. The girls are laughing and taking pictures of the boys showing off, and we all smile and watch enthusiastically.
We stand around for a while talking to groups of students. The festivities over, we return to the small covered hallway area where we had juice earlier and there were books set up over the entire surface with kids standing around leafing through them. one of the teachers offered me a seat and I watch one of the boys from Lisz class as he read, mouthing the words, of the entire back jacket cover- which in Arabic is the front cover. When he finished and met my eyes I clapped and we laughed. NThe two boys who wanted to be in the video from the classroom were sanding near by. I tried to get them to sing on the video "chant, chant' but they just looked at each other shyly and laughed. the Eddie Murphy guy however did a little doo wah for me and that made all of us happy.
It was time to go and many of the students stuck around as we packed up the books and got ready to leave. Several of the kids wanted pictures with us, many wanted our names and email addresses. as we left the village we saw many of the students on the street, and they all smiled and waved. it appeared that everyone in the village knew who we were because we had smiles and waves from everyone.
It had been a long day already. The trip back to the hotel in Tata took about an hour, and then we had just 10 minutes to run to our rooms, wash our faces, and climb back in the mini bus to return to the women's cooperative where we had been this morning. We arrived and entered the coop and did a bit more shopping while we waited for a man and some boys to put up lights outside in the street. Jamila had just plugged in her iPhone to charge it and they needed the outlet for the lights so I grabbed it for safekeeping.
It was now dark. And we went out into the street carrying our white plastic stacking chairs. It took several tries and re orienting so that we would be able to see the village boys perform the traditional Berber dances they prepared to do for us this morning, but we had run out of time. everyone in the village at least the boys ended up crowding around the street as the performance grew to include all of us on our feet and imitating the mens movements.
One of the singers came to me and draped his sword over my head on a cord like a sash, which was his way of asking me to dance. I did my best to remain upright as the song went on and on. when it ended, wondering what now? I pretended to thank him for giving me his sword as a souvenir and he made it clear, very nicely, that it was time to give it back. We got it off me and I gave him the greeting I'd learned from the ladies, the kiss on both cheks, which was probably totally inappropriate for a woman thanking a man. When I was doing this, the smell of mint was so strong I resisted the urge to see if he tasted like mint by kissing him. Naughty!
after the dancing we were served tea and a wafer like cookie treat. I think it was now about 1030 and we piled back into the mini bus to return to the hotel for dinner. Again a soup, then a tagine , and a dessert. I think I had a beer tonite- a Dutch beer- I had seen Flora and others order one last night, and it sounded good. after dinner, we were off to bed, breakfast at 700 tomorrow.
I went to my room and it looks like the outlets are turned off after a certain hour and I was a little concerned I would not wake up, but I set the alarm on my iPhone and took my sleeping pill. I also opened both windows in the room and took a brief shower, washing my hair so I wouldn't have to do it in the morning.