Glimpses of Morocco, COP22, and the Atlas Mountains


By Tomas Ayuso

November 22, 2016

Also published by Instagram

Follow all of Tomas Ayuso's work on Instagram @tomas_ayuso and on Twitter @tayuso

Views from Marrakech regarding last night's calamity: "how come they voted for him?" "He is going to rape the country!" "The king was friends with Clinton, you know?" "There will be war now, it is inevitable" "I don't care as long as The París accords are not touched. If he does we lose our planet" "I can't believe this. I'm not going back. I'm staying here. I can't believe this." "Bernie could have beat him." "Its incredible. Do you think it's true what they say about him?" "It's like a bomb went off, everyone looks so stunned." "What's going to happen now?" #cop22 #irpfellows

Tassalmant, Berber Sahara. Under the shadow of the Atlas Mountains, Five families have lived in an oasis rich with date-bearing palm groves. A massive solar energy project, in fact the largest on the planet nearly the size of Barcelona, is rising next to the Tassalmant berbers. The elders welcome the aid from the Saudi corporation, but the youth remain insulated from the wealth windfall leading many to migrate to the cities. #irpfellows

I met this lady at the edge of the Sahara and as much as we tried we weren't able to communicate. My pidgin French and horrifying Arabic couldn't make sense of her breathless Darija or songs in Amazingh. I defaulted to Spanish to ask her to move to a spot in front of her clay home for the light, and she started to repeat everything I said. It was clear she didn't understand what I was saying, but was able to repeat it perfectly. I laughed, obviously it was hilarious; was she having fun at my expense? it's not everyday a Granma makes fun of you in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains. I tried again: "Muevase un tantito para acá mama" "muevase un tantito para acá mama" " me está remedando!" "Me está remedando!" "Jajaja" "jajaja" I asked her to look at my hand, by rising my hand above my camera lens, she not only looked at my hand but also raised hers and broke out into laughter. That's when I knew my jimmies were being rustled by the sweetest meema in the Maghreb.

The Atlas Mountains from above

Higher snow melt and rainfall has lead to more flash floods (one coincided with the the start of #cop22, devastating the countryside) and a move towards different crops for the Berbers living on the High Atlas Mountains. Up until the 2000s, the people who dwell in 1000 year old homes had remained in total isolation until the national road system caught up with them. The far flung communities sidled up to the peaks are unfamiliar with climate change but have perceived and recognized the higher temperatures and wild weather events as Gods will. Some leaders have plans to abandon these mountains for the rough industrial agriculture capital of Agadir if life on the mountains continues to deteriorate.

Women shuck corn and crack walnuts for storage in their clan's granary high a top the "new" Ville de Magdaz. I emphasize new as it was raised at some point in the Middle Ages. Old Magdaz was abandoned due to poor access to sunlight several hundreds of years ago. Temperatures in the High Atlas can dip below zero in the shade of the mountains tops, turning unbearably frigid at night time. The rising temperatures and unpredictable floods have lead families in Magdaz to grow more and more walnut trees to survive. What once was a crop for revenue is turning into a direct source of food for the millennia-old, recondite community. #irpfellows #cop22

The valleys of the Atlas Mountains are unforgivably harsh, where mountain sized jagged rocks buckle whatever flat lands settled between the snowy peaks. Yet the people make do. Some 6 hours over in Marrakech, Dread has settled over #cop22. Rumors of President-elect Trump's imminent decision to scuttle the US pledge to the Paris agreement is feared as inevitable. To the people of the Atlas valleys they hadn't heard of that horrible election, or Donald Trump's bile, or the specter of climate change. What they have noticed is that their winters as children don't look like their winters as elders. Now they wonder about the winters their children will have as parents. #irpfellows #cop22

In the deep communities of the Atlas, the men barter, sell, negotiate and manage village resources with neighboring clans at the souk. Not too long ago when times were scarce the men raided rival villages' granaries. The days of pillaging are over. When times are scarce in the 2010s they leave the mountains that raised them for the shanty towns that ring Agadir, Morocco's agricultural hub, for work.

The women of the Atlas carry, harvest, sheer, store and work the communities' resources. Once they're able to carry a basket of firewood or crops, women are expected to shoulder the burden of feeding, both at times of harvest and times of supper, the families living in the ochre kasbas that dot the snaking cliff side concrete highways of Inner Morocco.

Mohamed el Mady stands on what was his family's ancestral farmlands. Here he raised barley, wheat, pumpkin and tomatoes. A flash flood, which coincided with #cop22 's inauguration, swept away his crops and ruined the lands he plans on giving his children when he passes. He'll stay in Touffrine and start again, he's been victim of floods before; nothing a hardy Berber worth ethic can't fix. This flood was different though: Sudden and out of season. His son Hassan is already readying to leave the Atlas valleys towards the connected cities. The new road networks were meant to bring the Berber villages closer to Morocco, many are using them to leave. #irpfellows

#IRPFellows in the Atlas Mountains

Lunchtime in the Atlas Mountains

The trees atop the barren hill is the site of a Sufi saint's burial ground. He was interred in the early days of Islam in Morocco. The people from the village below make the pilgrimage to the top when in need of a holy man's intervention in their own personal penuries.

Idris, the Amazigh guide through the vertical angles of the Atlas, explained that this woman—given her faded tattoos on her arms and face—was a holy woman in her community; most likely as a midwife. She had with her 5000 goats under her command when we met her. I asked Idris to ask her where she was going to. He said he couldn't, her tongue had been removed making her speech unintelligible. She gestured goodbye in the Amazigh way (tapping her flat palm on puckered lips) and ascended up a steep incline; army of goats in tow.

Shepherds on the ridge minding their kids. Photographing the Amazighs of the inner Atlas Mountains was was difficult. Seeing as they were cut off from the rest of the country up until the early 2010s, they believed that by taking their picture I was taking something from them. They hid or cursed me more often than not, making my job a bit more difficult. Along with Idris and my own persuasion skills performed in the wild hand gestures of a Dadaist sign language we found ways to engage the guarded families. Mint Tea was the cap to our process of photographing and getting to know each other. We will see each other again soon, in shallah.

Cat 1: ayo my mans, that that new Tribe ?
Man 1: n'aam, 'Ajbani! Wakha! Cest doux, petit chats, astamae. Cest trop bon mashallah.
Cats [collectively in French]: super!

Maghrebi retro future blues