29 March 2011

Driving to Ouezzane

I’m riding in the front of the van. It’s spring in Morocco, which so far has meant mostly that the sun’s warmth has gone from “wow, nice, I’m glad the sun has come out to keep me warm” to “ouch, that’s hot! where’s the nearest shade.” We’re on my favorite part of a trip right now, the morning ride into the countryside.

We leave Rabat and head north on the autoroute. It’s fascinating to me every time we’re on this autoroute that this is the ONE highway in Morocco. A country the size of California has just one north-south highway that goes up from Marrakech, and then splits off somewhere north of Rabat, one branch going up to Tangier, and the other branch going East to Oujda. That’s it. There are not interchanges, no interstate 794 and 494 that merge into being just 94. Just one long road that runs along the coast. But I digress.

Now we’ve left the highway and are on what they call here “the national route” meaning the free road, the normal road that you don’t have to pay to use. And we come back to the Morocco that I knew as a volunteer. But greener, because we are in the North, where it actually rains more than once a season.

There are long stretches of flat, bright green fields, where I see a mix of yellow flowers and what I think could be lettuce, soy, or some low growing plant. Women walking on the side of the road wear brightly colored baseball caps and full hijabs that they pull over their face to keep the pesticides out of their mouth, nose, and even their eyes. Men and women leading small herds of sheep and cows walk with, against, and in front of the traffic. My students “awww” over the lambs that really do frolic.

We drive past high fields of sugar cane irrigated by raised concrete irrigation “canals” that also serve the purpose of providing shade for the occasional stray dog. There is a place where the road is lined on one side by a row of fat squat palm trees that always surprises me, especially after we have just driven through a small eucalyptus tree forest. And there are always the ubiquitous rows of cactus and blackberry bushes separating one farmer’s land from another.

The smell is different too. Gone is the vague smell of cigarette smoke and smog and ocean that saturates Rabat. Through the cracked window, I can smell slightly damp earth, fresh plants, dust from the wagon paths, and the diesel of tractors. We pass vegetable stands that if we drive by slowly enough, you can catch the smell of tomatoes or even oranges.

I try to point these things out to my students, I try to capture the feel of the Moroccan countryside in writing, but I often feel like I fail to explain why a scene you could find in much of the rest of the world’s countysides, captures me so much. Maybe it’s because it is so different than the world in which I grew up; maybe it’s because I realize more and more everyday that this world turned me into an adult; maybe it’s because I truly fell in love with humanity and specific people in this kind of place; maybe it’s because of the famous Moroccan hospitality. I don’t know. All I know is that in the 3arobiya, the countryside, I’m content.

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