To the Village, Desert, and Back Again | An American Girl in Morocco | By SaraJane


Read SaraJane’s first post from Morocco, Salam from Essaouira, HERE.

This is long overdue, I’m sorry about that. I meant to write before I left the village but it just didn’t happen so here I am now playing catch up.

A week in the village (we arrived on Jan 30th) with Issmail, at his home, that his father and older brothers built, just down and around the hill from his grandfather’s house that is in ruins now but they keep food for the animals there. When we arrived the house was full with 4 of Emlaide and Baba Hamd’s children (Hamd is Issmail’s brother, Emlaide is his wife, I call her Lala as do their children, because when they were babies, they heard Issmail’s brothers calling them that, Lala and Baba, so that’s what they said too instead of Ma or Mama and Pa, just a sweet and fascinating result of such a huge shared family household). So the 4 of 6 children are Hassna, Abdu Sadek plus his wife Kiltum, Kadija and her 1 year old baby Aimron, and Fatima. Don’t worry, drawing a map of the family tree is on my to do list. Anyway, a lovely relaxing week was spent, I climbed the mountain across from the house behind the fields with Issmail and Abdu Sadek one day and thought I wasn’t going to make it, coming down was so brutal, I mean there’s no paths you’re just climbing rocks and sliding down huge sandy hills, but the view from the top was incredible, and I was proud to have hung in there with a couple of mountain Berbers, although when I got home the look on Kiltum’s face was pretty priceless, like this little white girl is off her damn rocker. Lots of walks were taken, sometimes with Lala or Fatima, everyday in the afternoon with Issmail to read the Alchemist and watch the sunset. Delicious amazing food prepared by Hassna and Kiltum, they were thankful for the huge amount of fresh produce we brought with us. Baba Hamd goes to the market once a week but we brought so much, more than he usually does because he has to get other things for his shop as well and there’s only so much room in a van that has 12 other Moroccan men in it too buying things for their households for a week.


Anyway, the week drifts slowly by and it is time for Issmail to leave to take a group of 14 to the desert for a week, and of course, there are no plans made ever, but the day before I finally bring it up, that I’d like to stay here in the village instead of returning to Marrakech, does he think I should get in touch with Ahmed at the kasbah (just up the hill, where we stayed on our volunteer trip in September) and book a room for a week? Right? Why? he says, you can stay here, I talked to them last night, they said it’s no problem, you are simple and nice, if you go to the kasbah you will be the only one, etc., etc. I can tell that he wants me to be there instead of at the kasbah alone so I just have to trust that he knows better than I, although staying there with his family without him was not on my radar at all, but if nothing else this journey is teaching me about the art of surrendering and going with the flow. So he leaves before dawn the next morning to walk the 3 miles to the main road to catch the bus to Marrakech and I am to spend 8 days there alone, with a Berber family… here goes nothing. And it was completely fine, to my delight and relief. Abdu Sadek and Kiltum had left on Friday before Issmail left, he and I walked them to the road and then rode the mule home through the winding village roads, remarking here and there about the landscape, trees, architecture, colors, but mostly just silently taking it in. Fatima left early Monday morning to return to school in Ouarzazate and Kadija returned to her home over on the other side of the kasbah with her husband and his family, but we see her often. After Fatima leaves it’s just Baba Hamd, Lala, Hassna and I. In September, Issmail gave us all a Berber name while we were in the village, mine was Hassna, so Hassna his niece and I were Hassna un and deux.

Our days were spent accomplishing daily tasks, the bread is freshly made every morning, usually by Hassna, sometimes by Lala. The animals are let out and fed. Baba Hamd leaves for the fields, cutting back apple trees maybe?, preparing for the spring. The house is cleaned, meals are prepped. I sit out front of he house in the sun and ponder what it is exactly that I’m doing here and what possessed me about this place to return. I also think about my qualities and skills, what my life’s work might look like, how to focus my energy, serve others, express my creativity, and what the foundation of values I want to rebuild my life upon are. You know, normal spiritual sabbatical things.


I learn many Techelhaid (Berber) words, cow, mule, goats and sheep, chicken, rooster, bread, water, oil, honey, all the essential cous cous vegetables, home, shoes, I’m stuffed, it’s good… I usually end up bringing Hassna to tears at least once a day, whether it’s with my pronunciation, (I can’t say “it’s hot”, instead I say sh*t, excuse my French) or getting spooked by the cow or the pressure cooker, we giggle the days away. And then get to relive it all when Baba Hamd gets home as they recount for him all the silly things I did. It’s precious. A couple nights before I leave as were sitting around the dinner table, Baba Hamd says that Amlaide and Hassna would cry/be sad when I left, Hassna saying “Baraka, Morocco”, no need to return to America basically. He said, in ways I can’t recall for you but involved really precious body language and broken french and english that we are all family, that his family is my family. You have to remember that there isn’t a ton of warmness between men and women here, but he had the biggest cutest most amazing grin on his face. The magic of this experience is not lost on my for a second, I feel so lucky to be surrounded by so many sweet and generous people who have made me feel so safe and welcome so far from home. Sometimes, when I reflect on the fact that I’ve been living in Morocco for 2 months, and that I stayed there with his family in the village or that I’m here now in Marrakech with his mom while she shells peas for the tagine while he’s at the office, it doesn’t feel real. It’s amazing how normal it feels, from the perspective of both parties, me and them, (I hope)  normal enough that we are all coexisting just fine despite the inability to communicate with a common language. Life is simple though, and Berber hospitality is something else…


Ok, so I spend the week in Tighza and then take a cab to Ouarzazate early Sunday morning where Issmail meets me at the taxi station before dropping the last of his group at the airport. We spend a few hours walking through the souk (market) and having lunch before he leaves to catch the bus to Marrakech to get the materials ready for the next trip with the French family. The plan is for him to meet them at the airport Monday night and then pick me up on the way heading back south towards the Draa valley on Tuesday, but it snowed heavily on Sunday night and the roads are closed and they have to take another route. He tells me this late Monday night, that they can’t get to Ouarzazate and I need to take a taxi to Agdz where they can get me. Um… ok. Not thrilled, but feeding off of his nonchalant energy because well, it is what it is, and I’m a big girl and can take care of myself. So I wake up Tuesday morning, and set my intention for the day to be patient and brave, and put my backpack on and set out. And just like that I catch a cab to the taxi station, and then easily found the cabs for Agdz. I made it there no problem, hung out in a cafe for a couple hours, sat in the sun and chatted with a barber who was sharing the bench with me, a mixture of english and French and Arabic being exchanged, as well as oranges. He calls at one point, while I am in the cab on the way, and has 20 questions, did I get to the taxi station ok? Did I find the cabs for Agdz ok? Did they ask me if I wanted to take he whole cab myself? How much did I pay? Am I sitting in the middle? Am I carsick? And I played it off so easily, Isma, I am a big girl, I’m totally fine, despite starting the day unsettled and unsure of myself.


So they pass through Agdz and scoop me up and into he desert we head. We finally arrive at a campsite after dark, the poor family had been on the road since 8 am, a long journey, but we pitched the tents, had an amazing meal prepared by Mohamed our cook, and hit the hay. I awoke the next morning freezing and to the most insane noises coming from what sounded like right outside the tent. Crazy gurgling and really load groaning and moaning. Basically, camels are super gnarly, you want to think they’re cute but they’re just gnarly haha. Anyway, we set out. And we walked, and walked and walked and walked like we did everyday for the next 5 days. Through date groves at first, and then through pebbled terrain, and then finally to sand dunes. We would stop for breaks to take our shoes off for a few moments and eat trail mix and refill our water bottles. We would later stop for lunch in a shady place, it’s amazing the meals Mohamed whipped up in no time in the middle of nowhere. It was always the most incredible feeling to reach our final destination for the day. To pitch the tent, take off our shoes, and have amazing tea at sunset. Some nights the camel drivers would build a fire and they would all sing together, playing plastic tub percussions and the tea pot with spoons, some nights we’d all be so exhausted we’d turn in after dinner although in true moroccan fashion dinner is eaten late, and some nights we would just sit out in the dark under the biggest sky and Issmail would point out constellations.


The French family was very sweet and pleasant to be with. The camel drivers and cook were also so nice, and more often then not I hung out in the big kitchen tent with them, lounging and laughing and napping. Issmail is such a delightful guide, so good at what he does. He is attentive, engaging, knowledgable, funny, and just downright charming. A delight to be around. So a lovely week was had by all, and we made it back to Marrakech after a night in Ouarzazate to break up the long drive and dropped them at the airport in perfect time.


The first day back in M’hamid (his neighborhood in Marrakech) was spent doing SO much sandy laundry, (in buckets, both squatting on little stools in the bathroom, listening to Alison Krauss and Otis Redding) and then cleaning the house. Putting everything away, mopping the floors, buying groceries etc. A nap of course after we finally finish, a visit to see family. Asia, his 3 year old niece had been asking where the French Hassna was, and was delighted with bracelet and headband I brought her for her belated 3rd birthday. We take a couple cabs the next day about an hour outside of Marrakech to a little ski town to enjoy the snowy covered mountains and take in the view. There was some sort of strike, so people weren’t working and it was busy but we didn’t ski, just climbed the hill to take in the views. It’s so fascinating how one can be in such close proximity to the sea, the desert, and majestic snow capped mountains in just a matter of hours. Everyday is a new adventure that I am still in awe to be on. Will head back to the village next week and will most likely stay for another couple weeks, the city isn’t bad, but I prefer the country. I will do some weaving, and soak in this last month. Life is good.



SaraJane is from Myrtle Beach, SC, spent the last 9 years in Charleston, SC and is currently traveling in Morocco. She holds a degree in Philosophy and Studio Art with a focus in Photography from College of Charleston. She loves travel, vintage treasures and olives. Follow her on Instagram.

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Lauren {LAC} James is a Sr. Designer of Product Graphics for an international manufacturing company by day and a creativity crusader, designer, planner extraordinaire, artist and blogger in her “free” time. Follow her and The Olive Shoe on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram! Please subscribe to receive emails, of course, come back and visit again soon!

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  1. This sounds like an amazing adventure! I’m so glad you had the courage and opportunity to experience it. I expect a video sit upon your return!


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