My Moroccan Village (Part-2)

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To read the previous part of this story, click here.

The national dish of Morocco, for example, is couscous which my mother prepares for us each week after salat al-juma'. Couscous is steamed semolina wheat kernels cooked with oil, carrots, squash and sometimes big sweet quinces, all topped with stewed mutton or chicken.

Once the couscous is ready to eat, my mother places it and all the toppings in a large blue and white hand-painted ceramic bowl. Every family owns at least one such bowl that is used for serving specially prepared meals.

Another delicious Moroccan dish is tajin, a stew of meat and vegetables slowly cooked in earthenware pots with conical lids. Would you like to have lunch with us today? Insha Allah, you will like my mother's chicken tajin which she has cooked with apricots and almonds. My mother always makes dhikr when she works in the kitchen. Masha Allah I think her chicken tajin is the best in all of the Atlas Mountains!

During the long summer, when I am not busy with my studies at school, I look after our vegetable garden. I water and weed the plants daily. This morning I picked some fresh mint for our tea and some delicious ripe tomatoes. Did you know that the tomato was brought from South America to Spain by the Spaniards? It was then brought to Morocco from Al-Andalus by Muslim refugees fleeing from the Inquisition. We can wash our hands now. Lunch is ready!

My family and all other inhabitants of Ait Beni Korchi are no longer nomads. We now live in a settled village but still keep many of our old nomadic traditions alive.

Many Berber tribes, however, continue to travel twice yearly with their flocks of sheep and goats from the mild winter lowlands to the much cooler higher summer pastures. My mother, aunts and most women in Ait Beni Korchi practice to some degree the very, very old craft of weaving. This is truly an art perfected by nomads. The weaving of carpets, blankets, capes, tent bands, grain and market bags and other utility items have always had a very practical purpose for the nomad: they are all used by nomads in their daily lives whether on the move or in camp.

In the summer months, we can see Berber tribes camped at the foothills of the High Atlas Mountains, just outside our village. Their black goat hair tents dot the landscape. These Berbers all speak our dialect: Shluh. Each spring when these tribes begin their migration to the mountains, my mother and her sisters all want to buy wool from them. The best quality wool comes from sheep that are first washed in mountain streams and are shorn of their wool only once a year. My mother also gets some wonderful natural dyes to colour the wool. For example, a certain type of dried fig and pomegranate blended together produce a high quality black dye; almond leaves give a beautiful natural yellow.

The Berber villagers of the Atlas also weave a lot of spectacular carpets that can be found for sale in the weekly souq or market. My father and I, for example, bought the two carpets here in the souq al-sebt (Saturday market); they were both woven by the Ait Ouaouzguite tribe who live to the west of us. They cover the floor of our sitting room where guests are welcomed. Because Islam forbids the representation of animal or human form, all these carpets have wonderful, colourful geometric designs on them. I respect the art of carpet weaving because I know how difficult it is to make a carpet.

Weaving is yet another artistic expression of my country's rich Islamic cultural heritage.

Morocco is a very ancient land. Areas that were once sea beds are now high up in the Atlas Mountains. Ever since I was a small child, I have been collecting semiprecious stones like amethyst and many attractive fossils. I never knew what a fossil was until I started school but I collected them just the same because of their interesting designs and shapes.

Fossils like the ones here are commonly found all over the Atlas Mountains in exposed sedimentary rock deposits. When we find them, we carry them home; larger fossils are often cut out of the rock by older boys who use simple cutting tools like picks and chisels.

My teacher at school told us last year that the fossils in my collection are more than 300 million years old and date from a time when our mountain village was deep below the sea! Can we really believe this? The Holy Qur'an doesn't tell us precisely when Allah created the Earth, but as a Muslim, knowing the exact age of the Earth is not all that important. In Surah Luqman (XXXI, 10-11), Allah reminds us that "He set on the Earth mountains standing firm... such is the Creation of Allah". What is important is to credit the Creator for His masterful Creation.

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