Thursday, April 10, 2008


Alright so let’s get you guys caught up on life in Morocco…

I am infinitely grateful for the site change. Things seem to be moving with much more purpose here, people are more to the point where dissatisfaction with one’s situation has been built up to the extent that spurs action. The events of the last week have also served to push that even further to critical mass.

So here is out water situation. As long as people can remember, they have gotten their water from the river Oum Rbie that flows through the village. Then a couple of years ago along came the French, Chinese, and Taiwanese construction companies with their bid to build a series of dams, tunnels, and reservoirs from here to my old site in order to generate hydroelectricity. Now electricity is a good thing, but it is coming at the cost of this village’s drinking water. The company solved this problem for their workers by building wells. The community, however, doesn’t have the resources to get to the water 80m below the surface so for a while the company has been letting them occasionally take water from the well. All of that changed last weekend while I was waiting in line to get water from the well.

Apparently the company decided they were tired of sharing their water so they shut the pump off from general consumption. Now at the time everyone was telling me that they had shut it off for good and I was nervous because that was my only source of relatively clean water. I ended up washing my dishes, clothes, and cooking with “segia” water (muddy water from the irrigation ditch) for a couple of days until the pump magically came back on. Now I’ve gotten used to hyperbole being used in every day conversation, but when it came to something as necessary as water I jumped right in on the fear bandwagon.

When they went back to letting people use the well a few days later I felt like a bit of an idiot for freaking out, but then I thought further on the matter and realized that this is the very real fear and uncertainty in which this community constantly lives. They no longer have a clean source of water that they can control and so their access to the most precious resource is dependent on the whims of a foreign construction company. Imagine this… you’re sitting in your home and are thirsty so you think to yourself that you’ll go get a drink of water. When you turn on the faucet, nothing comes out. No biggie, you’ll check again later. Three days later still nothing. You find out that the company building something in your area was mixing a lot of cement and needed the water and that after all it is their water. They’ll let you use it when they no longer need it. In the mean time you’ve gone three days without a drink. How does that make you feel?

During the time the water was shut off, my neighbor came banging on my door in the morning while I was enjoying a cup of coffee (I decided to have an emergency supply of bottled water in my house) and listening to some Old Crow Medicine Show to get the day started. Frantically she told me to go get my water containers; that the water was flowing in the irrigation ditch. At first I thought to myself that there was no way that I was going to use that nasty water, and then I remembered that I no longer had any idea where else I was going to get it. I found myself crouched down by this little canal with all the women filling bottles with brown water and washing clothes and dishes all the while not knowing how long it would last or when it would be back.

I talked to my landlord later that week about the irrigation. He teaches middle school Arabic in Mrirt, but owns a lot of the olive groves in my area. He informed me that there is an “amghar” about 8 kilometers up the road who controls the water. Now I’ve always understood the word “amghar” to mean an old man, but apparently that’s just common usage today and it used to be a title for a man in a position that is no longer in use throughout most of the country. It is the Arabic equivalent of “lamin” which from his explanation I understood as a sort of adjudicator who mediates disputes and dispenses resources considered public. My Moroccan Arabic dictionary says it’s either a “guild master” or a “hired water carrier”. Much of that role is now taken care of by the government, but I live in an area where the government isn’t quite omnipresent so we are still under the “amghar’s” regime. All of this is to say that the “amghar” assigns the times when various communities/farms will receive their allotment of water and the landowners know their times, but the people in my area are mostly not landowners. The ones who actually own the fields live in France, Spain, Rabat, Casablanca, etc. The people who live here have no idea when the water comes; they just have to be on the lookout and ready to take advantage when it does come.

Now this year… just in January… they finished building a water tower in the middle of town. It has several water taps centrally located so that everyone can partake of the water, the only problem is that there is no water yet. The only thing it is lacking is a pump to bring the water up to the filter and into the tower. I’m still trying to find out how to move that process along and have a meeting on Thursday at the Commune with the president. What I have gathered thus far is that the money they collected for the pump when into paving the road from Mrirt, but that because there are so many large trucks constantly on the road because of the construction they can’t finish until the dam building project is finished. So no pump until there’s a road, and no road until there’s a dam… the dam is 6 months behind schedule and counting. The beautiful, finished water tower is just sitting there in the center mocking everyone… at least that’s how it seems to me, and old ladies sit around telling me they are tired of carrying their 60 year old bodies the long distances to the river or the irrigation ditch to collect water and then haul it back home, and the old men continue to feel the anger of broken promises.

I’m 23 years old with very little to say for myself and almost no health experience. My very presence here, however, brings with it an immediate respect and with that great expectations. I live with a fear that I won’t be able to accomplish anything of note to justify the access I have been granted simply for being a foreigner invited by the King. My constant prayer is that somehow I will be able to help out in a meaningful way.

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