The morning started early, and we soon entered air-conditioned vans and began the series of rural escapades. After about an hour, we pulled off to the side of the dirt road. Across the street stood a large villa belonging to the Berber Family, a culture native to North Africa and said to be related to Ancient Egyptians. We were told it would be a while before lunch, so they would be hosting us for bread and tea.
Their home was not a Moroccan palace, in fact a striking contrast from such; stripped entirely from elaborate decoration and modern conveniences, a spacious yet rudimentary structure of dirt and clay. However, as I crossed their expansive terrace, before me lay their opulence.
While we waited for tea, we were encouraged to explore the lower levels of the villa where the family held cheap souvenirs; a collection of ceramics and long, beaded necklaces and figurines which sold for significantly less than those in the city. As our group poured over the jewelry, rushing to the native man on the stool, with their hands overflowing with the perfect gifts-for-people-you-really-have-no-idea-what-to-get-but-this-is-cheap-and-from-Africa-so-fuck it, it became quite clear this is how this Berber family made their living.
The eldest woman sat at a small round table, mixing and pouring very sweet tea into little cups sprawled out across a silver tray. Piping hot and doused with blocks of cane sugar, it’s one of the only teas I’ve ever liked, complimented by warm bread and honey of which I couldn’t get enough. The elder was surrounded by other women whom I assumed were her daughters, and grandchildren. I don’t think they spoke English, but they were all very sweet and surprisingly a curious friend of my camera. As I tried to rearrange the hijab (the veil that covers the head and chest) I’d bought from a kind man the day before, one of the older daughters smiled and pulled me forward, thoughtfully wrapping my hijab like the way she wore her own. Unlike the women at the markets, she didn’t do it for money. I gave her a few Durham anyway.
Likely over staying our welcome, we said thank you and returned to the vans. We couldn’t have made it far before I noticed the vans in front of us slowing up. This is where we’re camel riding? Suddenly all hopes and dreams of riding off into the Sahara desert on camel-back turned to dust. Instead, we continued to explore the Ourika Valley; a green, blissful region placed at the foothills of the High Atlas Mountains. We waited in groups to ride the camels along a short path—an “adventure” which only lasted a mere 20 minutes each at most, but gratefully so. The whole thing broke my heart. It was so hard to ignore their sad lives; like a scene from the circus, 8 or so of them tied together in a pathetic caravan, repeating the same back-and-forth route over and over and over again for the momentary pleasure of tourists. It really was a beautiful place, somewhere I’d gladly return, but not to ride camels—not like that.