Sleeping with goats in the high Moroccan mountains.


We arrive late in the evening on 2nd of January to a small Berber village in the middle of the Atlas mountains. Our host, Mohamed, takes us to a dark hut that serves as a goat farm. We sit in a warm corner while Mohamed lights up a long pipe with hashish. I am wondering what we’re actually doing here… We are sitting there for an hour, petting goats and doing nothing more. That’s the way Berbers spend their time, because there is noting to do in the mountains after dark anyway and animals are the closest friends.

We are greeted with amazing enthusiasm by children in the village. I brought with me candies to bribe their sympathy but it was unnecessary. In the world of scarcity, the heart is full and open. Small Hadiża seems to be the most fond of me. She timidly sits next to me and will not move for the whole evening, during each we play instruments and vocalise winds from our hearts for hours. 

Next day in the morning, I play with the kids wondering why they are not in school. It’s because of us, because of the visitors. They have a full permission to stay with the strange wanderers. However they do their chores in the morning. Children in the village have a wooden plate that serves as a notebook. They dip their writing stick in a thick ink consisting of water mixed with ashes from burned goat’s hair. Once the wooden plate is full, they have to memorise a lesson. Once they do – they go down to the valley and clean their notebooks in the river. Every aspect of life is deeply entangled with nature to be one.

How does the valley smells like in there? What is the sound of winds rushing through the pristine mountains? I was just to find out that day. Mohamed, together with his brother Ibrahim, are leading us for a hike to their favourite peak. We take with us a bunch of vegetables, a clay tajine, a living chicken and a donkey that helps us caring it all. A dog came unintended. From its own will to swing by the familiar backyards of the Atlas hills. We are marching in this queer looking procession through the rocky and steep slopes. We are geared up with hiking boots and fancy backpacks, while they have flip-flops and sacks. I must say – every step their take is much more dexterous anyway. 

We reach the peak with a spectacular view on the snowy peaks. Donkey, chicken and the dog, the whole gang made it. – This is not a snow, this is not a winter – Mohamed responds to my comment – My father was saying that back in the days there was so much snow that it was flowing down through the slopes like a river – I believe he meant an avalanche, but he couldn’t find a word for it even in his native, Amazigh, language. – Our land is very dry because the peaks are naked. Snow gives us water. It should be all around now, after all it’s Yennayer – he says referring to January in Berber calendar.

Our host starts making a fire to cook the comfort food. They don’t understand why I am not fancy eating the chicken they brought, but there is no discussion about it, solely full respect and giving each other all the space we want. That’s the lesson from the infinite mountains around, I suppose. It is not easy for our sheep these days. – continues Mohamed while chopping vegetables on a stone. A kettle with warm Nana, traditional mint tea, is bubbling on the fire. – My father, as a shepherd in our village has to take the animals higher and higher. The temperature in the mountains is rising, leaving the slopes dry. We have to reach up to look for anything, that our sheep can chew on.

As we continue our talk, interrupted by gentle translation from Amazigh to English done kindly by my friend, we reach a conclusion of climate change in the surrounding of Atlas Mountains. Their language doesn’t recognise this term. It doesn’t know that it’s been a topic of political quarrels in some countries. Finally, it is not aware that it’s been a reason for millions of people to march through cities, while writing this term of their banners. For the Berbers the climate is changing and there is no doubt or uncertainty in the power of years of observation.

Two musicians that I travel with take their guitar and gimbri out. The latter one is a string instrument made from one piece of wood and camel’s skin. Strings from animals’ intestines are made to play groovy and sandy tunes of traditional gnawa. While the music is dripping on the hills, a sandy blanket of tunes is covering the silence around us…

The original story was recorded in a live broadcast here in Halo.Radio on 8th of January 2020.