My husband and I moved to Morocco three years ago where he now manages a large fruit farm, and we live in a village roughly an hour’s drive south of Agadir. The region is steeped in Berber culture and history and its people are fiercely proud of their roots. Moroccan Berbers were the first known inhabitants of the country and their numbers are still fairly significant today, with those claiming Berber identity making up 40% of the current population, and with perhaps many more having Berber ancestry.
It’s hard to say that there is anything particularly exciting about living in a village like Massa; it’s inhabitants take their Muslim faith very seriously, and people go quietly and slowly about their daily business, yet I find it is this that gives the place a certain sense of charm. Donkeys and mules are still the most prevalent form of transport, and many of its female residents do not leave their homes due to the constraints of their religion. Men sit passing the time of day in the cafés that line the main street, their eyes following my every move as they sip at their glasses of sweet and sugary mint tea. Children seem to be everywhere, groups of young boys call out to me in broken French, each one daring the other to be the first to get my attention, and the little girls chase after me to kiss my cheek or shake my hand.
The closest city is Agadir, only an hour’s bus journey away, yet many locals have either never been there, or simply do not wish to. Although donkeys and mules are as common a sight in the city as they are here, there are other, much more marked differences between the two. Tourists can be seen frequenting the beachfront cafés and restaurants or wandering around the Souk as they shop for souvenirs, and there are noticeably more Moroccan women, both out and about on the streets and driving, a rare sight in Massa that’s for sure! Some villagers say that those living in the cities have lost their neighbourly instincts and are not as friendly to each other, but I would say that is probably true of many cities in many countries around the world, where there are simply so many residents that it would be impossible to get to know everybody, let alone invite them all round to your Riad for tea and biscuits!
Often, to an outsider like myself, it can feel as if the modern world is passing this place by, and then I will catch sight of a young man bobbing up and down on a donkey, excitedly chattering away into a mobile phone, and I will be reminded that it is 2011 after all.
When we first came here it was a shock to both of our systems to be living in a place where supermarkets didn’t exist, the average home didn’t possess a fridge and I would no longer be going to Spinning classes twice a week; my beloved gym kit would be left to gather dust, and lots of it, for the dust in this country seems to settle in a thick layer on everything that it touches. Never before have we been at the centre of so much interest either, and from the looks and waves we receive when we drive through the village, you could have been mistaken for thinking we were royalty. That said, it can at times be all too easy to mistake their interest for hostility, as many people will stare without smiling and with most of the women that I come across, I can’t see whether they are smiling or not as their faces are invariably covered. But after three years of living here I’ve come to the conclusion that it is simply their curiosity, coupled with an uncontrollable urge to gawp at anything that looks a little different, and that they don’t for one second think this might be seen as rude or intimidating to the subject of their interest.
In fact I have often been left in awe of their hospitality, after having been invited into various peoples homes on more occasions than I can remember, and Moroccans are indeed reknowned for this.
The village itself doesn’t cater for tourists, in that aside from strolling along the main street and gazing into the little shop windows while the local men gaze steadily at you, there is nothing necessarily to attract them, yet hidden away up a side street there is a restaurant that twice a week becomes packed with holidaymakers from the city, shipped in on tour buses just as dusk is falling, and shipped back out again in the dead of night. Whenever we have visitors we always take them there as although the food on offer is by no means fine cuisine, it is delicious and traditional and the staff there put on a fantastic show for the onlookers. They dress in traditional white Berber robes and dance around a huge aromatic open fire, then play hypnotic music to the delight of the tourists. There are also traditional games that are played, many of which are adapted to suit the tourists I’m sure, and it is hugely entertaining, most notably because we are not tourists, to watch the women of a certain age swaying and gyrating alongside their Moroccan hosts.
Part of the charm of this village is the fact that it remains largely untouched by outsiders or tour companies, yet I can’t help but feel that if tourism was encouraged here, it could help bring some much needed revenue to this very poor region, and help to make its residents more aware of the wider world, in particular its ever growing youth population. I suppose only time will tell what the future has in store for this village and others like it, but I hope that its people remain as proud of it as they certainly are today.