Monday, October 06, 2008

Alive or living?

Eid break provided a phenomenal opportunity for Darbi and me to join a tour of the Moroccan Atlas mountains provided by the Intrepid organization. The tour was in the special "Intrepid Active" category which stimulated more than a little anxiety in me as I prepared for the trip. When our tour guide, Moha, informed me that I was the oldest participant in the active tours to date, I was more than a little relieved that I had completed the week of biking, hiking, and climbing without incident. Thus, the title of my post, "Alive or living?" I came to the realization that my work and personal life are more about living than I've ever had the chance to pursue. I'm not just alive. I am living a very active experience of exploring new cultures, new history, and new ways of being in the world - pretty amazing for this time in my life!

The Atlas mountains were a complete surprise. Having grown up in Colorado, I couldn't imagine mountains of any substance in Morocco. What I found was amazingly beautiful mountains and lush "oasis" valleys that are supporting a friendly and simple cultural group called Berberes. The Berbere people were originally distributed throughout North Africa prior to the colonial occupation by both Arab and French people at different times in history. The Berberes have been pushed more into the mountainous territories of Morocco, Algiers, Libya, and all the way over to Egypt. Moha was very clear that he was Berbere first, African second, and not at all Arab. There are many in Morocco who are actually of mixed cultural heritage but Moha was very proud of being Berbere and having grown up in a mountain village much like the scene to the left. Our exploration of the high Atlas included a 40 kilometer mountain biking excursion, a 16 kilometer hike/climb, and some of the most spectacular scenery I've seen for a while.

In addition to visiting the high Atlas, we visited the "little Sahara" which is a plateau valley between the high and "ante Atlas" range. This is where we found desert landscapes at the foot of the snow-capped Atlas range in the background. One particular village, Ait Binhaddou (pictured to lower right), was 700 years old and has been used as the backdrop movie set for many films including "Gladiator" and "Jesus of Nazareth."

It's hard to fully explain the insights I gained from this adventure to Morocco. I discovered, as is usual these days, that I'm missing much of the world's history and understanding of heritage and culture. Most of all, before trips like this, I've been afraid of other places that are strange, different, or have been in the news as politically troubled. Morocco has had its incidents but the people are very engaging and welcoming. I now understand that another culture, the Berberes, have a wonderful history that they seek to preserve and share with others. The Berberes are industrious, smart, and eager for the world to know of their contributions over centuries of productivity. And, they are attempting through tourism and new political activism to draw attention to their rights as people who inhabited this region of the world for thousands of years.

It appears in my posts that I've become a bit excessive in my travels - and, I probably have. But it is so fun and adds so much to my "living" to know about the world beyond the narrow North American perspective that I've had for so long.

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