• Donna

Lessons from our Workaway in the Moroccan Desert

Updated: Dec 31, 2018

Learning how to be low-maintenance, low-impact, and humble in the Moroccan desert.

Mud hut natural building in date palm grove
Workawayers have a lovely mud hut to sleep in.

We did something totally new different and exciting! We took a bus 11 hours into the middle of backcountry Morocco to a tiny town on the edge of the Sahara.

Here we exchanged stories, smokes, and wisdom with the male half of our host extraordinaire -- a settled nomad named Ibrahim. We broke Moroccan fluffy-flat bread (khobz) and laughed together with his wife and counterpart, Hadejia. We chased and quipped and giggled with their 4 lovely children.

Ibrahim packed up the camp of his previous existence for the last time 14 years ago, settled on an acre of dry cracked desert, and proceeded to transform that thirsty barren earth into an oasis.

making mud bricks for natural building in desert
Making mud bricks for the house

Two years of digging to reach water below, thousands of mud bricks formed by mixing said water and clay, and finally a house was born unto the landscape. A house of the same dirt it sits on. A young up-and-coming date-palm grove flourishes around the house, satiated by a simple but effective irrigation system of pipes, troths, and berms. A wall of the same mud bricks encircles the property.

After 14 years of work Ibrahim has made a lovely home for himself and his family where he invites travelers via Workaway.info to come and stay for however long they want. That was us; that was what we did! All they asked for was 5 euros per day to pay for the ingredients of the rich and savory homecooked meals that Hadejia cooked for us, with love 3 times a day.

ruins of kasbah in Tagounite, Morocco
The still functioning ruins of a 900 year old kasbah, parts of which are still home to families.

The working part of the #workaway status was pretty nonexistent during the time that we were there. Out of the total 5 days there, we spent about 4 hours making bricks. Because we like kids and think they’re cool we spent about 10 hours playing with theirs, though less kid-enthusiastic workawayers spent much less time in that endeavor. We spent about 1 hour doing the dishes after the meals (rotated dish duty with the other workawayers meant this didn’t add up to much).

We filled up the rest of our time with reading, writing, shooting the shit with the other workawayers, trips to the market, trips to the hammam, fetching water, playing with the cats who have adopted the farm as their own, watching movies, sunbathing, smoking hashish, and otherwise chilling.

One day Ibrahim led us on a lovely excursion to a 900 year old kasbah (fortress-type village) with ample stops in the desert along the way for shade, rest, tea, oranges, sandwiches, and turquoise hunting.

We also did a 3-day long excursion through the Sahara. Ibrahim set us up with his nomadic cousin. You can read more about that here.

Some of the challenges that we overcame during our workaway:

  • No running water. We filled up large buckets at the well and brought them inside throughout the day. No showers meant that we went to the local hammam about once every 5 days for washing. For 10 dirhams (about 1 euro) you get a bucket and access to some lovely heated rooms with hot and cold water. Time periods are split up by gender (only two recognized here). You can also take bucket showers at home of course.

  • No toilet paper. Moroccans wipe with hand and water. Its different from what we're used to. But, it’s way more efficient then wiping with toilet paper, just in terms of getting the job done. I’d wager it’s also better for the environment. After the wiping, hands are washed with soap and water, and all is as new.

  • The small town is much less open-minded than the bigger cities we were used to. More stares and possibly resentment from the men as a woman with head and hair exposed to the world, and much fewer English speakers. But they are still their big-hearted Moroccan selves and it’s still easy to share a smile with a stranger here.

Nomad making mint tea in the desert over fire

Staying with Ibrahim’s family was one of the most unique experiences of our travels thus far. It showed us how people can be content with only the most limited of resources. It gave us new friends and helped us to open up our hearts and minds to a totally different culture from our own. It makes us happy to think that even now, Ibrahim and family are hosting workawayers, bridging the cultural divide with a smile and a glass of warm tea.

Can’t wait to share with you our next workaway experience!

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