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9/10/09 ...Rain's Gonna Come...

I had this one fragment of song - "...rain's gonna come..." echoing in my head for long enough that I finally put some serious effort into chasing it down. The result? More on that in a bit...

So why was this running over and over on my mental "Repeat 1"? Because for the past days and weeks, Morocco has been getting endless rains. Sometimes heavy, sometimes light, sometimes shaking the mountains with thunder and lightning, other times just a faint drizzle, rain has been falling in my valley pretty much since I left.

The clay-rich soil has little tolerance for heavy rains; most of the water slides over the surface and finds the nearest creek, then pours down into a stream and thence into the rivers that carved these mountain valleys over the past millenia.

When the shallow rivers get hit with this massive influx of rainwater and runoff, they have nowhere to go but up. And so they rise.

And rise.

Last year, the flooding caused millions of dollars of damage in lost crops, flooded homes, and washed-away roads, not to mention the damage to the economy caused by folks getting stranded for days and weeks at a time, as the rivers poured across Morocco's roads.

This year, the flooding is starting even earlier.

I spent all day today trying to get home. I got up at 6:45 (after going to sleep after my 2am saHor) to catch the 7:30 transit from Souqtown to Berberville. I got to the transit station at 7:25, and found out it had already left. I reserved a seat on the 9:00 transit, then went back to sleep. I returned to the transit station at 8:45 and found that not only was it not about to leave, but that the 7:30 transit had returned.

Floodwaters covered the road deeply enough that these many-ton, 16-passenger-vans (weighed down by 20-30 passengers and their belongings, usually) were afraid to try to cross, lest they wash away in the torrent.

So I settled down, out of the ceaseless rain, to wait.

And wait.

10am came and went.

So did noon.

Since we're still in Ramadan, nobody ate lunch; I would have loved a cup of tea or cocoa to fight the bitter chill of the endless cold rain, but Ramadan prohibits drinking as well as eating, so I just huddled in my summer-weight clothes. (I'd packed warmer sweaters and jackets in my luggage, but said luggage had been lost by the airlines the day before. Sigh.)

By 2pm, we'd found enough people willing to attempt a rather desperate work-around. Since the 140-km "direct" road from Souqtown to Berberville was washed out, and since the floodwaters showed no signs of abating, the transit owner offered an alternative to those of us who didn't want to wait another day or three to wait out the flooding, as most folks seemed willing to do.

He proposed a detour. A very, very long detour. I haven't sat down with a map to calculate the mileage, but it was probably twice as long as the usual route. But it *should* bypass all the flooded roads and get us safely home. Inshallah.

So we sent up prayers, crossed our fingers, and trusted ourselves to the road, the fates, God, or whatever else we believed in.

An hour later, we skirted a partially-flooded section of road. The passable section was less than the width of a single car, so the tires got wet, but we made it through otherwise unscathed.

Only a few minutes later, we turned around.

Lhumdullah, we only had to backtrack a short distance before finding a detour around the detour.

Two hours later, we slowed to a crawl as we inched over rubble, gravel, cobbles, and assorted chunks of rock from a nearby rain-induced landslide.

Another hour after that, we bounced over pavement that was more pothole than surface; I was thrown out of my seat, but landed unharmed, and held on tightly after that. (Seatbelts? What are these 'seatbelts' you speak of?)

By this time, we were approaching lftor, the sunset fast-breaking meal. We pulled into the only decent-sized town within 100km, about 45 minutes before the moghreb call to prayer. We rolled to a stop, and I wondered if we would wait in this little town until lftor. None of us had eaten in at least 15 hours - I hadn't eaten in 17, since I ate saHor early - so it wouldn't have surprised me to know that yes, we'd wait.

Lhumdullah, most of us prioritized getting to our homes and families over getting a sit-down meal, so we stopped just long enough to buy some food and then continued on our journey.

The sun quickly dropped behind the mountains, but no one was sure when the sun would drop below the true horizon, and we were dozens of miles out of earshot of the nearest mosque. As twilight dimmed, folks broke out their food, but kept it in hand, waiting. Waiting. One impetuous soul stood up and called out, "Allahu akbar!", but he wasn't fooling anybody.

I kept an eye on my watch, since I knew what time lftor had begun the night before, in SouqTown. That time came and went, but my fellow passengers were conservative. We waited another few minutes, and then another few, and finally a tacit consensus was reached, and folks began tearing into their food.

One man had bought a 1-kg box of dates. Depending on the quality of the dates and the quality of his haggling, this cost him between 30 and 75 dirhams. He unhesitatingly passed it around the entire transit, urging everyone to take dates - the traditional first, fast-breaking bite of food. I took one, got a disgusted glance, and had a handful shaken into my palm. I thanked him profusely, and dug in. Moments later, another man offered me a section of his baguette. I showed him that I had my own bread, brought from SouqTown. A minute later, another man urged me to take a 1/2-liter container of a popular yogurt drink. I turned him down, and he re-offered. We went through the ritual three offers, and I kept saying no. He offered it, I think, 5 times, unable to believe that I wouldn't actually take it. (I didn't want to explain that I reeeeally didn't want to add any more liquid to a bladder already feeling the strain of the six-hour road trip after the five-hour wait at the transit stand.)

As we sat, munching on our respective - and shared - foods, I felt a powerful sense of community, a deep sense of the rightness of sharing both the fasting and the eating of Ramadan with my Moroccan friends and neighbors, and even an echo of every meal I've shared with loved ones over the past decades.

We finished our meal, some quicker than others, and full darkness approached. No longer able to read, and with nothing left to eat, all I could do was watch out the window at the mountainous landscape. It occurred to me that in all the times I've eaten in front of the TV or attended dinner theater, I've never seen anything quite so glorious during a meal as the gloaming of the twilight on the jagged mountains and sere valleys of the High Atlas.

As darkness descended, I began noticing distant lightning flashes. We'd driven mostly under dry skies, but these regular bursts of light reminded me why we were taking the long cut around. I also remembered why I've watched thunderstorms ever since childhood. The awesome power that lights half the sky, the roiling thunder that shakes the earth and heavens... These lightning bolts, shooting half a range away, back-lit the mountains around us. With a silent flash, a mountain would spring from the invisibility of a moonless night into vivid relief, and then just as quickly vanish away again, fading back into the endless dark around us. A moment later, another flash would light a different quadrant of sky, and another mountain would appear from nowhere, before flickering back into the waiting shadows.

I almost didn't believe it when I saw the shimmering of my lake out the window. We'd made it! Despite the length of the road, and the flood-induced detours, and the dinner-shopping-stop, we'd made the huge long detour in just under six hours, little more than half again the length of the usual run. (Of course, if it weren't for the countless passenger drop-offs and pick-ups slowing every "usual run", the trip from SouqTown to Berberville would take 2.5 hours instead of 4...)

I climbed out of the transit two blocks from home, grateful beyond measure to be back in my beloved Berberville for the first time in two weeks. I unlocked my door, mounted my stairs, and released my burdens with a hearty sigh. It was 55 degrees, inside and out, so I wasted no time before crawling into the blankets of my mountain home.

PS: Sometime overnight, the rains started up again, and continued, off and on, for the next 24 hours. The rains are indeed a-gonna come. And come, and come, and come. But after four hours of digging, on my own and with help from friends, I finally unearthed the origin of that fragment of a song.

It turns out it sounds like rain's gonna come, but it's actually the immortal "Change is gonna come," first written by Sam Cooke, and then covered by dozens of artists, from Bob Dylan to American Idol finalists. My very favorite performance, of the dozen or so I've downloaded tonight, is by Playing for Change. Enjoy.

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