Fossils, Palm Tress and Sufism

This past weekend, my classmates and I traveled south with our prof, Dr. John Shoup. Our destination? The second largest oasis in the world (the first being the Nile Valley): the Tafilalt Oasis.

My first trip to the South was a total shit show. We went with a travel agency but quickly realized that the agenda we received wasn’t at all correct. Nonetheless, that was the trip where I slept under the stars in the Sahara Desert, so I guess I can’t say too many bad things about it. Moreover, this trip was an absolute blast.


2 pm: We all arrived to see only one van waiting to take us a few hours south. Uh-oh! We began having flashbacks to being carsick in crowded taxis and buses while flying down some of the curviest roads that I have ever seen. Dr. Shoup quickly came to our rescue. He called a second grand taxi — one of the nicer ones — to take the other half of the group.

8 pm: Finally arrive at Hotel Salasil in Erfoud. The hotel was gorgeous. It had a huge open courtyard where we could see all the stars in the Heavens. We had a great three-course meal — it was included in the price of the rooms. We were are pretty much completely drained, so I went to bed pretty quickly after dinner.

The view for my bathroom window.
A little like paradise, right?


7:30 am: Breakfast time! As I filled my tummy with delicious, fresh off the stove msemen, this is when I first learned about the attacks on Paris. I am an early riser when traveling, so Dr. Shoup and I sat at breakfast and he filled me in with everything that I had missed. I am not nearly good enough to understand the Arabic spoken on the news, so he was my only source.

8:30 am: By this time, everyone was up and we were ready to start our day. Our first stop was to see an older form of irrigation. Basically, there were large-scale networks of underground tunnels that the water ran through. Occasionally, there is an opening to the surface that looks like a huge anthill or sorts. These tunnels have to be built on a certain grade because, as you can imagine, it is especially easy for rocks to break free and clog the entire system. In fact, it is someone’s job to crawl through them and clean out debris. I couldn’t imagine. I am not claustrophobic, but this would do it for me. We also learned that theses underground waterways were used by the Taliban because they’re extremely difficult to police.

Something interesting about these old forms of irrigation is that the people in the villages that used them, preferred them. When the government implemented a modern irrigation system, people began to break them so that they could still use the older form. I suppose this is a case of “if it is not broken, don’t fix it.”

Funny Fact: Not far from these pictures is a little village where Hillary Clinton donated money. The people thought, why would this white woman donate all this money to us. So they created the story that Hillary Clinton’s great grandmother is from their village. Why else would she have donated, right? HA! 

Also that morning we walked through Sadd Rasif on the Ziz River. We learned about village life, why people burn palm trees, and the distribution of water to people in the villages. Then, we went to Qasr al-Fidha. We toured the building and saw a gorgeous hammam.

To finish our morning, we toured the ruins of Sijilmasa. I had atteneded a discussion on this site a week or so prior, so it was a real treat to visit it. It dates backs to 756. Old is an understatement. Unfortunately, this site is in no way protected by the Moroccan governemtn, so before leaving their excavation site, researchers have reburied the site to protect it from vandalism–which is a huge problem for Sijilmasa.


4 pm: After our lunch back at the hotel and a cat nap, we headed out for our evening programming. Our first stop was to the only government recognized fossil museum in Morocco. The owner is completely self-taught and has even had different fossils named after him because he discovered them. Cool, huh? We walked through his museum, toured his workshop, and spent a lot of time looking at all the marvels in the gift shop. I bought some really great gifts for my friends and family here!

Fun fact: Fossils are among the most important export from the area and provide more than 1 million US dollars a year in taxes for the Moroccan government. 

After leaving there, it was dark. We stopped at the Rissani Suq where a friend of Dr. Shoup invited us to his carpet shop for tea. He had some gorgeous carpets and blankets at really good prices. I had to buy an extra suitcase for all the carpets that I have already bought, so I restrained myself from buying more here. However, a beautiful deep blue shirt caught my eye. I am sure you guys will see it when I get back. Dr. Shoup eneded up buying the first shirt I found. But I found another that fit better and had the matching pants with it. Dr. Shoup bought it for me as a gift for being invited to the Peace Corps! If I haven’t mentioned it already, Dr. Shoup is also from the Crow Tribe. So, I suppose that makes us cousins or something. ;p

Our final destination of the day was Zawiyat Sidi al-Ghazi. This is by far one of the coolest experiences I have had here in Morocco. We were invited to their homes for tea and dinner. They served us fresh dates, peanuts and cookies all evening until time for dinner. The coolest thing is that they were so happy to answer all of our questions about Sufism (a very spirital aspect of Islam) and Islam. They opened up to us about anything that we asked, all in the name of brotherhood and friendship. Moroccans have really made a big impression on my heart. I feel like these guys truly understand what humanity is and they were not shy to show it.

This was sorta like a calzone without sauce. Very delicious!
Clapping along with some songs.

After getting home from the long day away, I ordered some white wine, relaxed in the tub, and listened to the wind run through the palm trees. The bathtub was lined with deep blue tile, and I could feel the fresh night air come in through the window. Talk about relaxing… (:


10 am: After our breakfast and check out, we were headed back to Ifrane! We stopped in a town called Midelt for lunch. Midelt is where one of my best friends is from, so it was cool to be able to see his hometown.

On the way home, we stopped at an overlook of the entire oasis. So, here is the area where I spent my weekend.


As a side note, I have spent a lot of time this week thinking about the refugee crisis and what we can do. I have exhausted my list of delegates, governors and news stations to contact. It is my beleif that it would be the greatest shame to turn these refugees away. Nevertheless, I don’t want to use this blog as any sort of political outlet. I just would like to encourage you to call your delegates and encourage them to oppose Delegat Nelson of Boone Coutny’s open letter to Govenor Tomblin.

My professor recomended a journalist who is very good on these subejcts: Robin Wright. If you’re interested in reading more about this topic, look her up. (:


As always my friends, keep the love in your hearts and be kind to one another.

With much love,