Gaining Perspective through Moroccan Village Life

by Kelsey Lawler, Dialogue of Civilizations

In the High Atlas Mountains, a two hour bus ride outside Marrakech, a group of Northeastern students prepared to hike six hours to the tiny village of Tidli. We were on the Economic and Cultural Dynamics of Muslim Immigration program traversing Morocco, the Netherlands, and France for four weeks, and were about to take a three-day pause from our host-families in Marrakech to immerse ourselves in the local village life of Tidli.

While the scenic display through the High Atlas Mountains to Tidli was truly incredible, it was the warm welcome our group received from the village families that I remember most. Soon after we were placed in an empty house available for trekkers, I quickly took it upon myself to explore the small, mountainous town, where I was soon greeted with many smiling faces, young men leading mules, and children intrigued with my poor Moroccan Arabic.  As the sun set over the mountains, I ventured back to the house for dinner. Over tagine, a traditional Moroccan dish, our guide explained our plan for the next day: to work with the local villagers to get a small feel for their day-to-day working reality.

The next morning, I woke to the most beautiful sunrise over the mountains and prepared for the day ahead. Our program was split into four groups, each tasked with helping a local with their days’ work. I and two others were soon brought by an old man to a small patch of garden in the village. Through his demonstrations, we realized that we were to peel a kind of root vegetable with dull knives. After a few hours, my hands were caked with brown dirt and bits of root were lodged under my nails.

As the sun continued to beat down, we helped the old man pack up his vegetables, and followed him up a nearby hill. From there, the man led us inside a beautifully tiled cool home which I took to be his own. Soon, the man motioned me to follow him to another house. There, he took out a stack of keys and unlocked the house’s door to reveal a secret of the small village: inside the room, walls and tables were lined with products found in bustling Marrakech. Notebooks, chewing gum, cleaning products, food—it was Tidli’s general store. It was clear from this minor experience that much more was going on in Tidli than my initial impressions.

In Marrakech, we had witnessed the increased investment into industrial infrastructure which had propelled the city into an economic center in Africa. We had also been exposed to Morocco’s market-oriented economy by walking through the bustling souks selling various crafts: from textiles and wood carvings to antique jewels. Through program speakers, we learned that Morocco has also been capitalizing on the country’s close proximity to Europe, which was cemented with the income of family remittances. But it was not until we ventured into Tidli, that we were able to understand a fuller picture of the Moroccan economy. The investments and increased globalization we had seen in Morocco were a trickling into the villages as well.

From the outset, it appeared that Tidli’s economy was based largely on agriculture — cash crops to be sold for profit and sustainable produce to feed the village. Tourism also appeared to be a growing industry, as the village received income from trekkers staying overnight. However, as I witnessed alongside the older man, there was also a local business within Tidli, and a form of long-haul transportation that had to be available to transport these products. From further discussions with our local guide, we learned that, like in Marrakesh, remittances also played a huge role in Tidli’s economy. It was common for a family member of a villager to move to another village or city due to marriage or even move out of the country in order to send money back to their family.

The opportunity to experience life in Tidili allowed us to gain a new perspective on Moroccan, in addition to coming to understand more fully the economics of village life. In Tidili, it became clear that Morocco was quickly becoming growing economic force in the region — not only in the bustling cities, but in the tiny mountainous villages as well.