My name is Abd al-Hay. I am a twelve year old Moroccan Muslim boy, Al-Hamdulillah. Tafaddalu fee qaryatuna, as we say in Moroccan Arabic. "Welcome to our village." My village is called Ait Beni Korchi; it lies just beyond the last hillock.
I live in a beautiful village of many qasbahs or large, mudwalled, turreted compounds. So, my area of Morocco in the High Atlas Mountains is called Belad al-Qusour or "land of fortified villages". We are Berbers and the design of our buildings (wide at the bottom and narrower at the top) is said to have originated in the skyscraper desert towns of Shibam and Tarim in Southern Arabia (present-day Yemen).
When the Romans first came to North Africa 2,000 years ago, they discovered my ancestors here. We spoke then and still do, a unique language that resembles no other in the world. The Romans, therefore, called us "barbarians" or Berbers. In the Berber language, however, we call ourselves Imazighen, or "free men". At home we speak the Shluh Berber dialect. We do not write our mother tongue today, but on large rock faces in the Sahara Desert there are examples of very old Berber language inscriptions using a unique alphabet.
It is late summer, but the beautiful Atlas Mountains still have snow on them. These mountains provide Morocco with much of its water from fast flowing rivers which help us irrigate our fields of wheat and our date groves. We store most of our wheat in spectacular mud tower granaries called agadirs.
As you can see, we use red earth as a building material here in the mountains. In some areas, our houses seem to blend right in with the surroundings!
Here is my house in Ait Beni Korchi village. Its walls are constructed of chopped straw and mud: a supreme example of earth architecture. My father and uncle both learned how to build such houses when they were my age. The thick walls help keep our house cool in the long hot summer days and warm during the long cold wintry nights. The colour of our village changes from an orange-rust to a pinkish-red throughout the day. The heavy rains of spring can easily damage our houses, so earth buildings like ours must be repaired each autumn with a mixture of straw and mud.
A lot of cedar, cork and oak trees still grow in the Atlas Mountains. Village carpenters use this wood to design beautiful window frames, some with lattice screening called mashrabiyyah that let in cool breezes but flter out sunlight. Very few houses have any glass window panes.
The small white building at the top of the stairs is a marabout, the tomb of an extremely pious Muslim who died in our village more than three hundred years ago.
Delicious green and black olives are grown in the lower valleys. We use the oil-press in front of our house to make very tasty olive oil which we collect and store in large earthenware jars. In late summer, we harvest the large majdoul dates which we place in hand-woven baskets. These dates can be kept indefinitely in a cool, dry corner of our house.
The Barbary fig (prickly pear) cactus helps to keep any stray animals away from our vegetable garden. There is no fruit on the cactus plants because of my baby brother; he ate all the fruit yesterday!
Like everything in my country, Moroccan cooking is unique; it uses wonderful fresh fruits and vegetables in very interesting ways.
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