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It is two o’clock and we just finished with lunch, delicious tajine with loads of home-made bread, which one of the women in the house bakes every day (women in the house alternate their daily chores and so when one woman is taking care of cooking, the other is in charge of cleaning). It’s siesta (istiraha) now for a few hours or so until the whole ksar awakens and shops open again.

I arrived to Ksar Taddert*, my final destination and my fieldsite, four days ago. I’m living with a family of 8 people whom I met and stayed with last year during my work/internship with an USAID-sponsored agency. There’s grandma, whose husband died a long time ago, and whose house this is. She has 6 children, of whom 2 live in the house her unmarried daughter (Shumisa*) and married son (Mhammed). One daughter lives in the same ksar with her husband’s family, and another daughter recently got married and lives in Casablanca. As for sons, one moved with his wife and their son to a city near Agadir because of work a few months ago, and the oldest one died at the beginning of the 90s due to heart failure. His widow (Zahra) still lives in the house with her two teenage boys (Ahmed and Karim). Mhammed is married to Rouqiya and they have a beautiful two-year-old son whom I like to call Habib.

I often tell people that the region between Ouarzazate and Errachidiya, which is where Ksar Taddert is situated, is my favourite region in Morocco. It is mostly Berber I try to be careful with such descriptions as even a common Moroccan saying says that in Morocco if you scratch an Arab you get a Berber and thus a clear-cut distinction is almost impossible to make. However, people here do call themselves Berber and speak a Berber dialect called Shilha. The region is, I would say, semi-arid (though some parts especially at this time of the year seem arid… dry and inhospitable) dotted with oases and palmeries, which provide sustenance to ksour (plural of ksar. The word denotes a mud-brick village typical for the desert region. You can find similar villages in Mali, Tunisia, and other Saharan countries. New houses, at least in my ksar, are not built with mud-bricks anymore as they can literally melt over time and especially after heavy rain) and their inhabitants. The land is cultivable and thus majority of people (both women and men) are filaha (peasants). Ksar Taddert is only one such ksar, which together with more than 20 other ksour fall under the jurisdiction of Oued El-Ouliya. Oued El-Ouliya is thus a small municipality (baladiya), rather unimportant in relation to Rabat and for Rabat.

In the last decade Morocco has become a flourishing ‘market’ for various NGOs and local associations, of which only some are funded by the government while the others depend on foreign aid. The government has vested interest in allowing such associations to be present in places like Oued El-Ouliya (and within big cities as well) as they’ve taken on the burden (and primary task) of the government to alleviate poverty and thus help people improve their lives. Morocco wasn’t a rich country to begin with but in the mid-1980s the government agreed to implement IMF’s Structural adjustment policies (SAPs). What followed was a common scenario – deterioration of living conditions for the people and creation of new social problems on top of the old ones. Some experts report that since the initiation of SAPs, feminization of unemployment and poverty occurred as on the one hand women were the first to lose jobs due to privatization and the fact that men remain as the main (and in many cases the only) breadwinners of the family; and on the other, many men were forced to look for jobs abroad, either in other Arab countries or in Europe, where some of them found new wives and/or stopped supporting their families at home for various reasons. Thus, female-run households are not a rare sight though to be quite frank, even where there are men in the house, providing financially for the family, it is the women who do the bulk (if not all!) of the domestic work (which includes upbringing of children). In my opinion women indeed support 3 and a half walls in the house if not all 4. Such situation, coupled with freezing of social and health-care transfers as another consequence of SAPs, contributed in a negative way to the already dire living conditions of the lower-strata people (if not of majority of Moroccans).

In such conditions it is not surprising that local associations act as blood transfusions needed for the village to survive or at least to function better. They provide jobs for local people as they’re usually run solely by locals; and they educate and support locals in various ways satisfying individual needs of their locality. The association I’m working with is called Oued El-Ouliya and has branches in about 15 ksour. They offer free classes (think of them as a sort of substitute school) to those who never went to school or dropped out of school educating children, teenagers and adult illiterates -, they organize, in addition to such classes, various activities for girls who never went to school such as cooking, baking pastry (happening this week so I’m partaking as well!!!), learning how to use the computer, how to sow, etc. Furthermore, they organize lectures on topics such as women’s and family health, women’s rights, environmental issues, etc. Last but not least, they help peasants with seasonal works and providing seeds. In short, the people in the association really are trying to improve the lives of their co-villagers.

So this is where my ‘home’ will be for the next 10 months or so under unrelenting sunshine and among palm trees, ksour, welcoming people and their syrupy mint green tea.

* All proper names referring to my fieldsite and people are pseudonyms. I’m only using names to simplify things and avoid confusion :) which could arise if using such descriptions as ‘this daughter,’ ‘the oldest sister,’ ‘her son,’ etc. constantly. But I will call grandma ‘grandma’ as I don’t know her name and I usually just call her by that (jidda).

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28.10.2009 18:35

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