3 cups of {Saharan} tea

Today my daughter made this interesting remark “I don’t really like tea, I just drink it to be Moroccan”.  Indeed it’s very much an entrenched tradition and to refuse tea would be antisocial.  The tea itself varies by region, and I can’t believe that until a couple of months ago, I’d never had Saharan tea (from the Sahara that is).  I’d heard that in the desert teatime can last for several hours,  hot water being poured over the same tea leaves and reboiled at least 3 times, the hours whiled away in talk and socializing.  I was lucky enough to witness this ceremony in Rabat of all places.  My sister’s in-laws are from the South and I was at her house when they came for a visit.  Almost the first thing they did after the long car ride was set up the tea stuff in the living room.  They explained to me that it’s a “3 cup tradition”, the first cup or brew being the strongest and most bitter, then more water is added on to the tea leaves for the next two brews .  They said that a gathering is only complete after all 3 cups have been shared.  I mentioned that there is a famous book that refers to a similar tradition in Afghanistan.  They said that Afghans must have Bedouin roots in that case…

My hosts were excited to test me out and see if I could stomach the infamously bitter and strong “1st cup”.  I couldn’t.  I had the second cup.  The portions are very small but so potent.  The tea is poured from cup to cup to cup, creating an impressive layer of foam.

I’m digging the butane bottle in the middle of my sister’s recently redone living room:

This innocent looking cup made me lose 6 hours of sleep, no joke:

Today’s Saharan woman: traditional sari-type clothes (melhfa), tea, cellphone and laptop open to Facebook.  University educated.  This whole tea experience was like travelling to a new place for me.  I’m not much of a tea drinker but the company made it worth it.  I agree with my daughter on that.

Beyond blue jeans and plastic, journeys into traditional Morocco

I don’t blog often enough.  I’d like to.  I write a lot of things…in my head.  They are perfect little morsels, full of wit and truth, that seem to disintegrate by the time I am sitting at the computer.  I get bloggers block often.  Blogger’s blahs.  Since I write with my real name and make only very weak attempts at veiling my identity, blogging makes me vulnerable.  I think about all the people I know from the different spheres of my life reading this, good golly!  Instead of throwing caution to the wind, I wrap it closely around me.  The more people subscribe here or stop by, the more nervous I get about the next thing I am going to write.   (Then again, as my friend aptly pointed out, I’m not exactly Oprah Winfrey, when it comes to audience size).

What makes blogging even possible, sustainable and enjoyable is the feeling that the more I write, the more my true voice emerges.  (sounds so self-indulgent it makes me cringe).  It’s great practice anyway, even if “the voice” doesn’t always show up.  People respond well to true voice, it resonates with all of us.  I may not have a huge readership, but I always feel like you all who are reading this really engage with it and respond in ways that are deep, appreciative and real.  Just take a look at the comments you all leave.

I like to read a variety of blogs.   Some are witty, self-deprecating and sardonic.  Others are excellently word-crafted, obviously written by someone with actual literary ability.  Some contain spiritual writings.  Others are gorgeously designed and well-photographed.  Some blogs have all the bells and whistles, twitter feeds, giveaways, buttons.  I didn’t use to get blogging.   Why would we put so much loving labor into something that, for the most part, we are not paid to do?  But I get it now, it’s about taking a little extra time to savor life and share it with all those who might resonate with our way of seeing.

Now I’ll show you what I actually came on here to blog about.  Believe it or not it wasn’t about blogger’s block.  It was about travelling in Morocco, and how every time I travel I really appreciate this country.  There’s so much I haven’t seen, there is a lot of natural beauty and there are people living the old traditional ways.  Blue jeans and plastic haven’t yet taken over every inch of this planet, and we need to witness as much of the old ways as we can, in my opinion.   A recent road trip took our family to Tafraout (about 5 hours south of Marrakesh).  It’s located right where the mountains meet the desert, and it contains elements of both.

In Tafraout, the houses are built on, under or around boulders.

The landscape is both desert and mountain. The color palette is pretty much earthy brown and sky blue.  The houses tend to blend into the rocks.

A couple of doors.  When I was a kid I remember a lot of doors being made of corrugated metal like this.

See the windows in this house?  We were told how in these type of houses, the two larger windows symbolize parents, while the smaller one underneath is the child.

More doors and windows, the textures are so gorgeous.

On our boulder climbing adventures we found a totally fun mushroom shaped rock.

And managed to climb into it and get a peak of the village below.

There’s not much green in the landscape, the Argane trees are the only prolific shrub.  We saw thousands of them.

Inside one of the houses, the passageways were dark and sinuous…the one below struck me as especially symbolic, full of portent.

Every house had its own storage room for secret stashes of argane nuts.

Waiting to be transformed into liquid gold.  Each family has claims to a certain number of the wild Argane trees on the hillside.  The villagers all respect this code, and the families go out and harvest the Argane seeds when they are ready.  I’d always heard that Argane seeds are collected after goats have eaten them and left them in their droppings.  It turns out that this is somewhat of an urban legend.  The locals we asked assured us that that they harvest the seeds themselves.  The goat way leaves a certain “smell” to the oil and a real connoisseur can tell by one sniff if the Argane has been through a goat or not.

This window is just beautiful.

Funny story about the owner of this shop.  Even though we were 5 hours from Marrakesh in this remote village, the shop owner recognized me, we’d been to the same junior high in Marrakesh.  It turned out to be a serendipitous encounter as he was a big help to us.  He showed us around the area and took us to see the traditional mosque he was in the process of restoring at his own expense.

At sunset we went out to see the famous Tafraout painted rocks.  It turned out that “painted rocks” wasn’t meant figuratively, like Arizona’s painted desert.  No, these were huge boulders painted garish blue and pink.  It hurt to look at them, and I refused to photograph them, except for whatever showed up in this photo.  Apparently some Belgian artist came along a while back and went out to the middle of nowhere and started this massive endeavor of painting boulders, you know, like a huge ugly art installation in the middle of God’s glorious creation.  This had the effect of drawing tourists to the area, and since that time, the locals have kept up the tradition by repainting the rocks when they fade.  My husband and I were speechless with dismay.  The rest of the landscape was really open, sandy, quiet, expansive, much like hubby’s native New Mexico.

After spending a few days in Tafraout, we went somewhere very different, Merlift beach.  Since it wasn’t tourist season, we had the town and the beach practically to ourselves.

Oh, and by the way, for those of you who read the Beirut post and this one, do you prefer to look at photos in a slideshow or just like this?