On Friday, I rushed out of work, ran to grab a few bottles of wine, and hurried home. Due to a last minute change of plans, I all of a sudden found myself with an obligation-free weekend and decided to join my roommate and a few friends on a trip into the Rif Mountains.
We left Rabat a few minutes before 7 pm and headed out towards Chefchaouen, where we stayed at a friend-of-a-friend’s house in the old blue city. About an hour into the trip we had to turn off the northbound highway and follow a winding country towards the mountains. As night fell we found ourselves in bumper-to-bumper traffic alongside a field filled with huge white tents and tractors ascending onto the road carrying trailers filled with families. We presumed it must have been the end of a Fantasia, which is a traditional Moroccan festival where men perform historic military reenactments on horseback. Interestingly, Fantasia performers are still allowed to use rifles even though guns are illegal for civilians to own in Morocco, unless if you have a hunting license.
After escaping the Fantasia traffic, we decided to pull over at a hanoot, or small corner store, to pick up a few snacks for the road and for the evening ahead. Using our best darija, we attempted to ask the man behind the counter for a few simple items (chips, soda, etc.), but he didn’t seem to understand. We pointed and named every brand we could think of and finally were able to reach an understanding through pantomiming. The experience was humbling. I hadn’t found myself in a situation like that in a while, and I forgot how powerless you feel when you aren’t even able to successfully express that you want a bottle of water without flailing your arms about to get your point across. It wasn’t until another man asked for aghrome that I realized why there had been so much confusion: he spoke Tamazight. Tamazight is a language (with several regional dialects) spoken by the Amazigh population in Morocco. In my very limited understanding of Tamazight, I knew that aghrome meant bread, and immediately was relieved to realize that the reason we were unable to communicate with the shopkeeper was not because he didn’t understand our darija, but because he didn’t speak darija at all.
We drove through rain storms and dark winding mountain roads until we finally arrived in Chefchaouen a little after 10 pm. The house was beautiful and had a two-level terrace that looked out over the river and was framed by the tall looming mountains surrounding us. The rain had cleared the skies of all clouds so that the moon was in full view hanging above us like a pendant. We spent the majority of the night up on the terrace teaching each other French and English/American games and enjoying our wine. The next morning we packed up the cars, bought a few loaves of bread, two fresh chickens, and coffee, and set off to the even more rural setting of Akara; a small mountain village about twenty minutes outside of Chefchaouen.