October 29, 2014

My Week in the Atlas Mountains

View from Bensmim Guesthouse in Morocco

View from Bensmim Guesthouse

We are greeted as we step out into the crisp, cool mountain air – finally, a taste of autumn. Our hosts bring out mint tea and cookies. We snack and find our rooms. The Bensmim Guesthouse is a cozy little place with just enough space to fit our group of 22. Mountains and small tracts of farmland surround us. As darkness falls, we are serenaded by a group of Berber or Amazir performers. They sing folk songs and play clapping, clattering instruments combined with a guitar-like instrument. One of the performers guides us in a shuffling dance – crouching low, kicking out his legs, swinging, and swaying, clapping his instruments in each hand all the while.

Sunset at the Guesthouse in  in Morocco

Sunset at the Guesthouse

We ate dinner in a small, outdoor tent in front of the guesthouse. Afterwards, I followed friends up to the roof for some stargazing. I never had seen so many stars, let alone shooting stars! This became our nightly tradition. Talking to one another, laughing about the events of the day, reminiscing about our time in San Francisco. Is it possible that we have reached the halfway point?

This trip has inspired me to think about the type of person I want to be, the type of career I want, the people I want to surround myself with, the experiences I want to have post-graduation, and how I can make the most of my three remaining semesters at Lafayette. Through all of our guest lectures and site visits (people, places, and resources I never imagined I could access), I developed the skill to speak up and ask the right questions – thought provoking questions, questions that would articulate what my brain was searching for, questions to find a missing link.

The Atlas Mountains, Ifrane, and Bensmim became our classroom for that week. We toured the Parc National D’Ifrane, the Ras Elma Fish Culture station, the Allal Al Fassi hydropower plant, Fes’ controlled landfill, women’s healing herb and honey cooperatives, and the Bensmim water bottling plant that has been a major source of controversy in the region. Before touring the plant we listened to the perspective of an activist who worked against the opening of this plant – the father of the guesthouse’s owner.

Leachate Pools at Fes Landfill in  in Morocco

Leachate Pools at Fes Landfill

After visiting the water bottling plant and hearing the perspective of a resident in Bensmim, the disconnect between this company and the community became obvious. Not only does this plant take water away from the community, but workers at the plant also claimed that the plant has had positive impacts on the community. The manager we spoke with stated that the plant has contributed to the wealth of the community and has no negative environmental impact, neglecting to address the reality of unemployment and water scarcity in the region. The manager of the plant cited the communal tax on bottled water that supports the community. In truth, this tax is very small (10 Moroccan cents per bottle) and it is split among different tribes.

Another interesting aspect of the water scarcity issues in Bensmim is the current construction of a golf course in the the area. Golf courses require large amounts of water and chemical inputs. While taking in the beauty of the mountains, it was clear to see that decision-makers are not taking environmental and social impacts into account.

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