The Moroccan Village Co-operative Experience

todra gorge alley way door

I wearily entered a narrow orange alleyway, layered in dust and glowing in the hot African sun. The colour and atmosphere were a stark contrast from what I had just emerged from, an irrigated desert oasis; a jungle of green growth and life.

For the past forty minutes I had been hiking my way through the system of pathways and trails that makes up the oasis of Todra Gorge, Morocco.

From above (which I had witnessed myself, from a rocky crop, that morning) the oasis appears as nothing more than a lush uninhabited forest against a palette of dry reds and browns; one step inside introduces an entire city of farms and agricultural operations.

It’s a sort of public garden, where certain people have allocated specific plots of land, but everyone works together to cultivate the land.

There is a working irrigation system running through the length of the oasis, providing fresh water and constant flow.

Nothing goes to waste in the oasis, every plant is utilized and every palm tree is stripped down to the last date. Locals can make their livings here, or simply feed their families. It is a shared means of survival.

I crissed and crossed the pathways and made my way up and down the dirt hills through the trees. I skipped over holes and ditches and carefully stepped across rickety wooden bridges.

I ducked beneath thick vegetation forming arched hallways of greenery and held my balance along the eroding bank of the river.

Finally, I climbed a narrow outdoor staircase and found myself at the base of the crumbling village of Todra Gorge. Piles of what used to be walls were scattered at the sides of the path and pieces of foundation spired up toward the blazing sky.

Rounding a few more corners defective I stood at the radiant entrance to the Women’s Berber Carpet Cooperative.

Thanks to Lucy Harris for the photo

My group was greeted with open arms (and kisses on our cheeks) and lead to a small dark room. It was a dimly lit kitchen, complete with two shin-height round tables, each surrounded by foot stools for us to be seated on.

The group was then divided into chefs, tea-makers and vegetable cutters.

I was a vegetable cutter.

The chefs went to work at the stove-top, preparing well-seasoned soufflé dishes for the entire group. The tiny room was immediately filled with a deliciously-scented smoke as they cooked our now anticipated lunch.

The “tea-makers” basically received a lesson in preparing traditional Moroccan tea, while occasionally helping the Berber man by passing him a solid cone of raw sugar. We all watched this demonstration in wonder before sipping on our own personal teas.

The water was boiled over an open flame and then poured through the tea leaves several times before the flavour would be at the appropriate consistency without the presence of floating excess.

The finished product was poured into the glasses from high above and served individually around the room.

Along with tea, came the freshest bread I have ever tasted. Having literally just come out of the oven on the other side of the room, it was so hot that the home-made olive oil ran right off the side upon contact.

Soon, it was time to start slicing the vegetables for our eclectic Moroccan salad. There were green and yellow peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, oranges, olives and onions.

Oh, the onions.

Before long, the entire group was crying an onion-induced sob into each others shoulders, simultaneously laughing at our group-state.

Some of the vegetables that we chopped and diced came from the very oasis that we had just hiked through.

Eventually, the entire meal came together. There was a intricately decorated Moroccan salad, large enough for a group twice our size, and several circular steaming soufflés.

We took our meal upstairs to a brightly lit room divided it among the tables, placed with baskets of bread and glasses for water.

Sitting on the carpeted floor, I enjoyed every bite of my meal.

Once everyone was too full to move, we slowly turned ourselves around for a Berber carpet presentation.

Two ladies from the co-operative showed us how they made the carpets by hand. One woman explained each step from the time the wool comes off of the sheep, until it is carefully dyed with colour.

She told us that each colour of wool is created with different items from nature, such as saffron (yellow) and roses (red).

The other woman demonstrated how the carpets are weaved on a loom, and the amount of fine detail that goes into them.

She told us about the various meanings and symbols behind each design. Certain triangles represent the Atlas Mountains or the sea, and different patterns are used for specific Berber tribes.

Once we understood the carpet marking process, it was time to view the many carpets that called the co-operative home. One by one the Berber men placed the carpets on top of each other, creating an ever-growing pile of textile.

The carpets stacked up and up, toward the ceiling, until one pile was nearly as high as their knees, and then replaced with a new one.

Some were made with wool, silk, or a mixture of both. Silk carpets were fine and soft, wool carpets were thick and durable.

We oohed and aahed over each carpet, more impressed with each swoop.

The authentic hand-made carpets were being offered at an incredibly reasonable price (especially compared to the outrageous Marrakesh Souk prices), and all proceeds would go entirely to the Women’s co-operative. However, we were never pressured into purchasing anything.

We thanked our hosts for the incredible experience and delicious meal. They walked us out the door and waved to us as we made our way back through the glowing alleyway, and down the narrow outdoor staircase.

 —

This Marrakesh & Sahara trip was made possible by Busabout.
All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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5 Responses to “The Moroccan Village Co-operative Experience”

  1. Sanja
    December 5, 2012 at 4:12 pm #

    What a beautiful album! Very nice writing, as always 🙂

  2. Lindsey
    April 19, 2013 at 8:00 am #

    How did you plan this lunch and rug excursion? Would love to organise this for my upcoming trip!

    • Seattle
      April 23, 2013 at 7:05 pm #

      Hey, sorry I’ve been super busy travelling around Iceland, but will try to respond to your email tomorrow with some details! Hope it’s not too late 😀

  3. Olta
    November 6, 2013 at 11:59 pm #

    Hi,
    I would like to know how did you find about this co-operative and who organized the group trip.
    I would like to visit it.
    Thanks 🙂

    • Seattle Dredge
      November 9, 2013 at 8:52 pm #

      Check out busabout.com and their Morocco trips! That’s the company I went with :]

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