viernes, 8 de mayo de 2009

Rain and Harvest

This year it rained in Morocco; not just any rain, but flooding rain, torrential rain in many parts of the country. Rivers grew and snow weighed down adobe roofs in the high atlas. Many people couldn't believe their eyes. I couldn't believe my eyes. I saw my dirt, dry piece of land in front of the house grow morning glories that wrapped around one of the olive trees. I then saw green shoots coming out of the ground everywhere I looked. After 15 years of drought, Morocco saw real rain. My neighbors started planting a vegetable garden and women from all the house clusters in the valleys and mountains went out to plow the land with their donkeys. After some time I noticed the green shoots in the fields. Barley is what the berbers have been cultivating for centuries on these lands. When I first came here I noticed the terraced sides of mountains but it was evident nothing had grown there in a long time. Little by little the valley I live in was transformed. Everyone was saying it was "tamakhirt" a time of blessing and abundance. I had been waiting to see the rain ritual, 'belghonja', that had been passed down from ancestors for many generations in Morocco and other places in North Africa such as Algeria and Mauritania to ask for rain from the rain god, but now it has been changed to ask Allah for it instead. I asked the women the first time it rained if they had gone ahead and done the ritual without me and they laughed outloud and said- 'no, we wouldn't do it without you!!', the rain came on its own this year- now we don't have to do the ritual'. Dispite my dissapointment of not seen 'Belghonja', I did rejoice with the women when it rained. My host sister was distrought after one of the hard rains. She took 20 big buckets of water from the flooded stables. I am sure that the cows, sheep and chickens had no idea what was happening. A community nearby that lives across a river wasnt able to leave their mountain to get to the market and health clinic for two whole weeks. The river was too high for them to cross it and there is no bridge. The fields and terraced mountains were changing color into a bright green. Poppies started to grow among the barley in bright red. Some of the first times it rained there were no taxis or pickups to leave the mountains or any other sort of wheeled transport. It was as if there had been a snow storm in and people were afraid of the icy roads. After this short time without a way in or out, I did ride on those roads and noticed that in some places the road had been covered with gravel. It took a lot of imagination for me to see with my mind's eye, the water rushing so hard that it covered the roads and took gravel over top of it. I then understood why people had not been using their vehicles. I watched the barley grow and learned to peel it when it was still milky soft and juicy and eat it. I watched new white flowers bloom and the cactuses get much bigger. All of this has given me hope of large, sweet pommagranites this summer, flavorful watermelons and cantalopes. The Barley began to dry as all barley does and the fields and terraces began to grow yellow. People were talking about the harvest and how much work it would be. In April I started seeing women in the fields harvesting, bent over with white head coverings and many harvesting with bare hands, some with gloves and very few with sickles. Little by little the fields were bare with piles of barley stacked, getting ready for the next process of separating the hay and the grains. Not so long ago, people used their donkeys to grind down the barley. I've seen it done before; a donkey is taken in a circle around a pole he is tied to while he steps on the grains underfoot. I am told that with this much barley this year this process would take about two weeks for each family, all day, every day. I learned that most people rent the big makina (machine), that costs them 200 Dirhams an hour, but can do the barley-grinding in about three. 200 Dirhams is about 25 dollars.600 Dirhams is some people's monthly wages!! I was outraged that they would have to do this. I can't figure out how people can allow it to stay so expensive or who is earning this money beyond paying for the gasoline, making payments on the machine itself or paying the driver/worker. People work so hard, sowing and reaping and later making flower. The logic behind renting the machine is that it saves time, people's and their donkey's energy. Maybe in the future someone will start a payment on a machine and have the whole community help buy it; but no one knows if the rains will keep coming or if it was just a lucky year. I look forward to working with the women when they grind the barley by hand. It must be rewarding to them when they bite into that first loaf of bread baked in their outside mud oven. I was thinking the other day about the phrase "you will reap what you sow" and I think I have come to a deeper understanding. You will be rewarded for the work you put into something by the result it produces. Something that I have learned is that you don't just make a hole and plant a seed and then watch it grow and pick the fruit. Much labor must be put into sowing and much labor is required to reap what was sown. My host father is very protective of the family's barley piles outside the house, and I understand why. This is the labor of the whole family. He is afraid that someone's cigarette butt will be tossed into it by accident and burn all of their efforts, their time, their food and their money. I can hardly keep a garden growing in my yard. Weeds covered it. I said something to my neighbor about cutting them down but she said "let it be, they will die on their own". I let them grow... and they grew past my waist. I then took charge of what I had allowed to be sowed there by negligence. I bought a sickle and started cutting down what was creating homes for pests and wanted to avoid drawing more of them before the summer and scorpion season. In the other part of the yard which is shared by the neighbors and me, there were also weeds that took over. One morning I was walking back from staying with the host family for a couple of days. My host family's neihbor was also on her way to gather greens for the animals. We walked together and she walked me to my house. When she saw the yard her eyes grew large and she mentioned something about the weeds. I went into the house to get something and when I came out she was happily cutting the weeds and collecting them for her animals! She smiled sheepishly and said, "I hope I am not a thief", "your neighbor said I could have them". I laughed and said, "please! please take it all!". I let her use my new sickle and she went speedily on, humming to herlself. She took several basketfuls that day, went home and came back to continue. The baskets that they use to collect here are about two and half feet wide and three feet deep. They fill them so full though, that the greens stick out two feet more over the top. They tie it down with a rope over top and carry it on their backs with a strap around the forehead. After the weeds were cut down and taken from the yard, communal and my own fenced in area, I proceded to uproot the thick stems that were still there. I did my share of digging up and loosening part of the earth and planting some shoots that had been taken from other plants and sat in my kitchen in water until they grew roots.By the time I planted though, the heavy rains and cold weather were over and their growth and livelihood depended on manual watering by me. I am afraid I haven't done so well. Several plants have died. And because I fed a mother dog with her puppies one night, they have been sleeping on the plants that were actually doing ok. I went out a little while ago to take a look and now they have started digging holes in unlikely places, searching for 'only-they-know-what'. If I had a little gate, it might help keep them out. Even though the rains have come, and watered the 5 olive trees in our communal yard, they have flowered, but the flowers have dried instead of producing fruit. I am dissapointed, but hope that maybe next year they will give fruit. I had really hoped that I could cure my own olives in october with lemon juice, garlic, parsley and cilantro. We all reap what we sow and reap what we want to sow. Sometimes, the circumstances interfear, but if they don't, we are able to bite into that first barley loaf- the fruit of our labor.

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