Saturday, April 29, 2017


I arrived on a Dutch plane full of children, including four sets of twins-- improbable, but true. I sat between an elderly Berber couple who offered to share every bit of food they brought with me. They paid in coins for milky coffee, smelling of dust and sweat. As the plane landed, a herd of camels veered off into an argan grove. Bedraggled cypress stood at attention in rows, acting as wind screens for crops of oranges along the highway.

I arrived at the garden outside of Taroudant under a sliver of moon. Bread was baking in the heat of a clay oven's fire. Candlelight flickered over the faces of the French team on assignment from Cosmopolitan as we dined on poached pears and samosas. The Atlas Mountains stood in profile above the garden walls.

I awoke to the sounds of birds chirping, donkeys braying, and roosters crowing-- stray dogs barking a notable absence in the cacophony. The air smelled of pollen, smoke and sunlight. A tortoise stood in the shelter of a fig tree surrounded by purple jacaranda blossoms. Green toads leapt away from my shadow and dove under lily pads. Bees buzzed in the canopy of yellow flowers over my hammock. I swam lazily back and forth beside a profusion of cacti.

Soft music and a nearby call to prayer (which sounds more like a declared state of emergency or the blowing of a shofar to my unaccustomed ears) mix in the courtyard, buried deep in the heart of town. The dar is well insulated-- far from the concrete houses dotting the desert beyond the adobe walls of the fortress, empty structures that testify to supply outstripping demand. The riad's nondescript exterior yields to an interior world of climbing vines, lanterns, and the textures of wood, clay, wool and stone. Outside is a slurry of Arabic, Berber and French spoken by men on bicycles. Women glide by swathed in loose folds of cloth. Carts drawn by emaciated horses, motorcycles, and donkeys race to market piled high with red onions and herbs.

My plan while here is simple: Study, Eat, Walk, Swim, Walk, Study, Eat, Repeat.

As I walk, I wonder about the economics of latitude. There is a familiar dissonance between the wealthy and the rest here that reminds me of other deserts I have visited north of the equator. Encounters with material privilege and deprivation in Taroudant are giving me déjà vu.

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