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Friday 22 May 2009

an amazing weekend

I was lucky enough to spend last weekend in the Atlas Mountains visiting some of the girls at their homes in the mountain villages. On Saturday, Latifa, a couple of the girls- Hayat and Saida, Latifa Maatalla (our beloved cook at Dar Asni), and I marched down to the Souk to grab the next van headed to the mountains. We ended up sharing a Mercedes van with about 10 other people, a couple of dead goats and a chicken. A bit of a tight squeeze, as were some of the roads we had to navigate, but we all made it unscathed. After a couple of hours and lots of stops, we were the only ones left in the van, and we finally arrived at Saida and Zahra’s village, where we met Zahra.

It is a really incredibly beautiful village. Both their families were so warm and welcoming; mothers, sisters, brothers, aunts, grandparents and all. I had a hard time trying not to kidnap some younger siblings. We were fed fresh bread and butter and honey and mint tea til we couldn’t handle any more. Their houses sit just above the valley which is beautiful and green this time of year, and look onto the still snow-capped tops of the mountains. But it was amazing to see how they actually live at home, without things that I take so much for granted- enough beds for everyone living in the house, fridges, ovens, showers, toilets… And I was surprised to see that Zahra’s kitchen is in fact a 5 minute walk from the rest of her house, on a path fit perhaps for mountain goats (which we did actually share the path with). It was very humbling to see that people with so little could share so much, and it really puts into perspective what Dar Asni means to the girls; not only access to an education but the opportunity to live and learn about a different way of life, and a home away from home.

We spent the afternoon walking around the countryside, where the girls showed off their new handstand and cart-wheeling skills, and watched the sun set over the Atlas Mountains; not something I do everyday. After a delicious tajine for dinner and a bit of Arabic television (hmmm), 5 of us were made very cosy in a little bedroom overlooking the valley.

The next day, after 3 generous helpings of breakfasts, the Latifas, Hayat, Zahra and I (Saida stayed with her family), embarked on a 2 hour hike through the mountains to Fatiha’s village. More amazing views, singing and laughter. Soon Fatiha’s village emerged out of the valley. There was lots of shouting across the valley before we got that close, as Fatiha saw us coming from her house a mile away. When we were nearer we scrambled (scrambled; fell, tumbled, whichever) down the side of the mountain from the road to meet her. We were fed more bread and honey, and then Latifa, Fatiha and I went for a wander down through the valley. We were much lower down than in Saida and Zahra’s village so everything was very green, and there were ladybeetles everywhere! Back to Fatiha’s for lunch, then on the road again…

It was another couple of hours walk to Khadija Aitmed’s village, but on the way we passed some cherry trees, and stocked up. More amazing views, including one of Okeimden, pretty cool. And as the sun was setting we came to Khadija's village. More honey and bread, as well as fresh milk from their cow, and we got to meet the newest member of the family, little Hind, a very cute little sister for Khadija.

Through each village, Latifa and I had the opportunity to meet new applicants for Dar Asni for the next school year, which included some of the girls’ younger sisters, and students of the local primary schools. It’s fantastic to see that Dar Asni will be growing and filling up in the next school year, with more girls from rural Morocco receiving a secondary education.
We had an early last night, and got up early the next morning to get back in time for school. A bit more walking (my legs were pretty sore the next day), but once we got to the main road there was a Peugeot station wagon waiting for us to take us the rest of the way back to Dar Asni. We, 6 of us, shared it with 3 other passengers and picked up another couple on the way. But we managed to arrive each in one piece. It was really an amazing weekend that bought to light a whole new way of life… Thank you so much to Latifa and the girls for such a wonderful experience.

Posted by Zoe (not Linda)

Friday 15 May 2009

An exciting week at Dar Asni

I’m now into my second week at Dar Asni, and every day has been just as exciting as my first! Last week I was treated to a trip to the school, where there was an exhibition of the students' artwork on display as part of their ‘culture week’. There were lots of beautiful paintings, sketches, comics and collages, including one intricate design in classical Arabic by our very own Nezha.

On the weekend the girls and I were lucky enough to have an art lesson here at the house with artist Lori Park. The girls drew what the feeling ‘happy’ was to them, and it was interesting to see all their drawings incorporated aspects of nature and lots of blue skies. With the amazing lush green environment surrounding Dar Asni, it’s no wonder nature makes such a good impact on the girls.

On Sunday afternoon the girls took me up to the meadow- a bit of a hike, but I enjoyed every minute of it. There was lots of singing, and picking of mint leaves and flowers, and some green, sour fruit which I haven’t found out the name of yet. And they showed me the Henna plant, which grows bountifully by the side of the road, and decorated my hands with it. Time passed very quickly and we had to run all the way back to the house in time for the call to prayer as the sky was getting dark.

The skipping rope I bought with me has been getting a very good workout. When the girls get home from school in the afternoon the games begin- skipping, cartwheels, handstands, ball games, and lots of singing and shouting. It’s great to see them having fun and keeping fit, and it keeps us warm on the cooler afternoons… yes it’s not quite summer yet.

Yesterday saw my very first visit to the local hammam!- a very new and interesting experience for me... It was quite nerve-racking at first, but the heat has a way of taking your mind off everything, and in a way it was relaxing. I was scrubbed raw and pretty much sweated my insides out, but I don’t think I’ve ever been cleaner in my life.

Now I’m looking forward to this weekend and a trip into the Atlas mountains with some of the girls!

Wednesday 13 May 2009

First days at Dar Asni

Salaam, Bonjour, Hello! My name is Zoe and I am carrying on in Linda’s position at Dar Asni; big shoes to fill! I found out about the project when I stayed at the Kasbah du Toubkal with my parents at the beginning of the year (when everything was covered in snow) and it sounded like a great way to get involved in making a difference for the girls and at the same time get another chance to visit beautiful Morocco and learn all about the Moroccan lifestyle from the girls and Latifa (in a more Australian-friendly season - everything is lovely and green now!). Believe it or not, Linda and I come from the same city in Australia- Brisbane, and live less than 10 minutes apart - yet we came to find Dar Asni through totally different paths, and we have never even met! Before long the girls will be speaking English with an Australian accent! I spent a couple of days in Marrakech where I met Maryk who made me feel very welcome and at home here in Morocco and told me all about Latifa and the girls - it sounds like the project has already made such a difference for the girls. Now this is my second day at the house, and it has been a wonderful experience. On arriving I was treated to mint tea and delicious home-made sweets, and then a succession of hugs and kisses as the girls trouped in from School for lunch. I’m still getting the hang of pronouncing their names, especially making the Kh sound which I am constantly being pulled up on! Lunch was delicious and I started to learn how to eat with my hands from the communal dish in the middle of the table without making a complete mess of myself. In our first English lessons I think I learnt more Arabic than they did English! But now the girls are well on their way to telling you the time and date. Halfway through dinner after our first lesson while everyone was chatting away in Arabic and Berber and I was only catching tiny snippets of conversation, suddenly I hear one of the girls say, ¨it is half past eight!¨ and then there is a chorus of girls saying "it is half past eight!", "it is twenty to nine!". It was a great thing to hear! Today I experienced the cleaning of the house, a fun and lively event where everything gets wet! I was in the kitchen and was surrounded by girls singing along to the radio as they sloshed water all around! So that was my first 24 hours of life at Dar Asni. I can already see what a great opportunity it is for the girls and I am so grateful to be a part of it!

Welcome Zoe

Hello everyone! A quick hello from London (where it is raining!)...

Zoe is the new volunteer in the house - also from Australia!

We welcome you Zoe and are so grateful you are there for the girls!