By Mohamed Handour
By Mohamed Handour
Morocco World News
Beni Mellal, Morocco, August 23, 2012
Hiking has always been a favorite sport of mine for years. The main goals I have set for this physical exercise are twofold: to keep fit and explore a sheer amount of my land , especially the peripheral parts that require much time and effort to access .Those isolated areas that have been thrust into oblivion for years immemorial have been endowed with a natural beauty that is seldom found elsewhere, or thus things sound to be in the region of Guerisaffen. Here the air is clean, the sky is blue and factories with their fume and noise are simply non-existent.
I have been to different places where people speak either Tamazight or Arabic. I have also accidentally run across speakers of other languages that have come from the other side of the Mediterranean to enjoy a momentary stay in Morocco, the land of the evening star. However, the affinity that has tied me to Guerisaffen and its residents is so solid and a bit arcane to boot. I have been camping here for the entire week and still my insatiable thirst for the wonders of Binelouidane (henceforward Guerisaffen) has not been quenched yet; and maybe it will never.
Almost every inch of Guerisaffen, the Amazigh for Binelouidane, has not escaped my inquisitive gaze. I have enjoyed the sight of evergreen trees that have surrounded the lake of Guerisaffen; I have triumphed over the difficulty of climbing up and down rugged mountains, which proudly stand all around the lake, in quest of some hidden secret; I have met up with people that don tattered but clean garments and wear shoes whose soles are mere pieces of a discarded tire. Those are human beings that cannot help flickering a shy smile as you draw nigh. They talk to you in Tmazight even though they are dead sure that you are at a loss for any kind of response because it is the only language they know or love. Whenever I have come into contact with one of them, I feel that a sense of intimacy has soon developed among us. This is probably the reason why I have never turned down any sort of invitation that spontaneously issues from these dwellers of Guerisaffen. The taste of their mint tea is unique and their seasoned ‘Tajine’ with a mound of fresh vegetables that hide a paucity of palatable goat meat cooked in olive oil is tangible proof of their hospitality. Also their folklore, namely ‘Ahidous,’ has its own distinctive features.
The Binelouidane dam was set up when Morocco was still under the yoke of The French Protectorate. It was the outcome of the French Engineer’s prowess and the labor of the wretched Amazighs who were coerced into toiling for years, stirring their energy into action willingly or against their will, so that this prodigious project could see the light of day. Some of these laborers were destined to have a tragic accident, die and vanish forever at the workplace without any funeral rituals whatsoever. Others had to wrestle with some chronic physical handicap resulting from a mine used to blow up a huge rock or any other similar incident. Such were the callous practices of the colonizer and still worse are those of the neocolonialism when the subordinated and helpless population is the target.
One of those who was declared to disappear during the process of building the titanic dam was the husband of a paralyzed widow who have recently passed away according to a Berber acquaintance who have frequently visited me in my tent. Her name was Fttouma , a living witness to the atrocities of the colonial enterprise. Her sister had to shoulder the responsibility of catering for her basic needs feeding her, cleaning her clothes, giving her a bath and moving her from one corner of the home to the other since she was too frail to stand on her feet.
The source of all this information is Ali, a fisherman who spends a good part of the day aboard his tiny fishing boat. My tent is abreast of his fishing zone and when the sun is too hot for his emaciated body to tolerate, I invite him in and, without the least trace of formality, he helps himself to the cold tea in the black pot at hand. Mixing the tea with the smoke of ‘Casa’ (the cheapest home- made cigarettes) motivates Ali to let loose the content of his memory.
I have made his acquaintance for the last few days, but it seems our friendship is now steadily getting well-established. Neither of us no longer treats the other with reticence that has characterized the outset of our encounter. There is no problem of communication since both of us are native speakers of Tamazight. This fact alone is sufficient to encourage me inquire into further information about Guerisaffen.
I have come to realize that Guerisaffen , meaning ‘ between the two streams’ in Tamazight, has been translated into Binelouidane ( the Arabic word) for no obvious reason. Just then I remember that many other areas that initially bear Amazigh names are often mispronounced. For example ‘Ayyadir’, the Amazigh for ‘fortress’, is repeatedly misspelled and therefore mispronounced ‘ Agadir’ which is utter nonsense in Tamazight though it serves as a reminder of the original appellation above. Also, many a time ‘ Ifran’ (the caves) has been distorted and mispronounced ‘Ifrn’, which is also a meaningless sound. This being the case, it is less surprising that the fate of Guerisaffen is to celebrate the demise of its linguistic identity and become widely known as Binelouidane. I was on the brink of asking Ali this query, which I have ultimately decided to keep in my depth: Is there any harm or threat behind keeping the linguistic identity of such Amazigh areas as Guerisaffen intact?
Unfortunately , this question has triggered off a set of others that have almost taken me off the main course of this article . Some of these are: why Hmad Ahnsal, the Atlas national hero, is referred to as Ahmed Alhansali? And why ,only a few years ago, the Amazigh father was prevented from calling his beloved daughter ‘Titrit’ and his beloved son ‘Anir’? Why is ‘Faris’ a good name and ‘Amnay’,its exact equivalent in Tamazight (the English for knight), calls for suspicion and skepticism? It’s up to you, dear reader, to reflect upon these facts that have been raised without a whit of bias, though I am pretty sure that some of you would go so far as to unjustly berate me for ‘fanaticism’, which I have always openly denounced.
The two streams, previously mentioned, are the Oued Ahnsal to the East and The Oued Laabid to The West. Guerisaffen (located in the province of Azilal) stretches over an area of about 10 miles long and three miles wide on the average. My informant told me that the fishing boats that are afloat here and there pertain to fishermen like him. They are daily preoccupied with catching different sorts of fish that will hopefully get entangled in their nets and released for the market every early morning. Each fisherman moves freely in his zone and no one ever ventures to invade his colleague’s private territory. The bond of the lake is what has brought these fishermen together. Here is Ali with his assistant, Oulmoumn, there is Saaid wearing a hat and a pair of shorts and over there, within the confines of that small island, stands Zaid’s tent. Occasionally, especially at night, when their fishing nets are at the bottom of the water, these neighbors meet together. They sip the tea and exchange a pipe as they expect Oulmoumn, a gifted story-teller indeed, to start spinning a never-ending yarn.
Another secret I have managed to get out of Ali is that all the population that borders the lake, from all sides, has a number of points in common. The majority are impoverished, illiterate, and without water and electricity. They are seasonal farmers who subsist on their agriculture and the little money they earn from selling their sheep and goats. Their children have to walk miles to reach a secluded and dilapidated school somewhere in the mountain , and get locked in a ‘room’ where the teacher may or may not be present – a sadist teacher who looks forward to the end of the ‘session’ to commute to the nearby town to sip a drink, watch a match on TV and gossip at the café because the Douar cannot afford all these little ‘luxuries’.
On this side of Guerisaffen, where I am still camping after a long walk of discovery to the surrounding mountains, Ali is my frequent visitor and faithful informer. Last night when I was yawning under the weight of sleep, Ali deftly managed to prevent me from immediately wrapping up myself in my sleeping bag when he brought up the topic of some strange person named Contarayn (this is how Ali pronounced or mispronounced this seemingly non-Moroccan name).
The story of ‘Contarayn’ was preceded by a deep sigh on the part of Ali. “This man, Ali said, usurped my ancestors’ land long time ago and he is now exploiting their grandchildren in the cruelest possible way to build up his villas by the side of the lake”. By this time Ali’s finger had been pointed Westward. “Look over there !” he added, “can you see that string of cozy villas ?” no wait time was offered for the answer, “they belong to none of us; all that property belongs to a French tycoon named Contarayn.” Ali fetched another deep sigh, more of grief than relief, took a piece of cloth out of his pocket that smelt of fish and wiped the perspiration that had been ceaselessly gushing out of the pores of his bony countenance.
I took the opportunity of this fleeting break to raise a comment. I strove to eschew being a passive listener and a mere consumer of Ali’s knowledge. I couldn’t believe what Ali was saying. A guy who traces his origins to a democratic country like France, where people have long enjoyed the ideals of the French Revolution that broke out as early as 1789, could not divest a people of the best they have ever possessed and establish himself a fiefdom at the cost of their suffering.
I had to put what Ali had said to the test. It’s high time I destabilized him with a question. After all , an intellectual should learn to think critically and avoid being a gullible yes-man.
“Did you mean Contarayn purchased the land and started the project?” , I inquired.
“Yes, but he did it for a few dirhams per meter square. Now he sells the same meter square for thousands of dirhams,” Ali tenaciously defended himself.
“This is how business operates!”, trying to convince Ali that what he had talked about had nothing to do with dispossessing the Natives of Gueresaffen.
Nonetheless, Ali was confident that he was saying the truth. He candidly swore that Contarayn and later other Moroccan tycoons from big cities have exploited the land and the people. Oulmoumn joined in his support reiterating that Ali was right and that he had himself once taken part in helping construct Contarayn’s villas for only sixty dirhams a day before he had decided to work for the kind fisherman.
I no longer proceeded with this hot debate. It was past midnight and the bright moon was steadily crawling westward ready to leave us in the dark. I took refuge in my sleeping bag not to shun the stinging cold, for it was comfortably cool, but to evade mosquito bites. With all courtesy, Ali wished me good night and went down to the shore where he lay beside his boat that gently rocked to and fro in the waves like a baby in its mother’s arms.
Two days later, my camping experience by the lake came to an end. I had to pack my few belongings into my backpack and bade a temporary farewell to Gueriseffan, a natural beauty that bewitches the eye and stimulates the heart. A few meters away from my camping site, I bumped into Ali along with Zaid and Saayed. The latter confirmed what the former had told me about Contarayn, who was helped by a tyrant local Sheik to dispossess some inhabitants of Guerisaffen of stretches of land that skirt part of the lake where I had been camping. With a broad smile on their faces , all the three fishermen took leave of me and wished me a good trip. I took a picture with a fifteen kilogram carp Ali had just got out of the water as a souvenir and walked on.
My next destination is a mountainous area often swarmed with tourists from different parts of the globe. I will be exploring new things and exulting in the sight of monkeys that screech as they climb up steep cliffs and mock a throng of tourists as they fix their cameras on them. The place I am heading for is ‘Tilggit’; I will have to lace up my shoes.