Over the Easter weekend, I attended and spoke breifly at a conference for interfaith dialogue. It was put on in Erfoud, about 6 hours south of Ifrane, by a friend who works on cross-cultural projects. An hour of the conference was for a round table discussion that consisted of a few Moroccans and Americans speaking about the importance of interfaith dialoge to world peace. I was invited to tag along last minute, happy to explore a region of Morocco so different from the Middle Atlas.
Nothing groundbreaking, really, but as this conference was the first annual, it will hopefully serve as a foundation for actual interfaith dialogue in the future. The rest of our time was devoted to visiting cultural and historical sites in small towns located between Erfoud and Rissani.
In Rissani, we visited the mausoleum of Moulay Ali Cherif, the founder of the current Alaouite Dynasty. The walls mausolem are covered in beautiful moroccan tile, carved plaster, and woodwork, and surround a lush inner courtyard garden. That same day it rained heavily, temporarily flooding the streets. It was strange to experience such extreme rain in the desert, though apparently storms like that aren’t completely uncommon.
Geographically, Erfoud is dramatically different from Ifrane and other towns in the Middle Atlas and is located in the dry Tafilalt region. The Tafilalt is best known for its large, beautiful oasis.
In a small oasis town outside of Erfoud, we visited a women’s co-op that produces a coffee-like drink made from roasting and grinding the pits of dates, which grow in abundance. I would never mistake it for coffee, but it had a great earthy, gritty texture.We walked through the town’s qasar, or old fortified city completely surrounded by walls and was traditionally heavily gaurded and patrolled. These days, people still live in the qasar, though since the townspeople don’t have to worry about raids, the doors are no longer locked and guarded.
I was happy to receive a tour and explaination of the town’s irrigation system. Water runs from underground wells called Khatanas and flow down irrigation ditches. The mud walls of the ditch are shoveled out to allow for the water to run into individual tracks of land, then patched back up to re-divert the water. People are allotted a specific number of usage hours to irrigate their land.
Just outside the lush plots of land is the Saharan desert. Anti-sand sheilds, built from palm fronds, are used to prevent the sand from encroaching on arable land, however, desertification is still a problem.
In a second small town between Erfoud and Rissani, we visited a second qasar, the ruins of a king’s palace and popped in to observe a class at the local grade school.