the desert isn’t brown

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On your first visit to the desert of southern Morocco you might notice a lot of brown. On first glance your gaze may be filled with it. The mountains, filling the horizon. The ground, littered in sand and rocks. The houses, built out of the clay they stand on. Even the camels, if you are lucky enough to happen upon a herd, are brown.

But if you take the time to look, to really see the landscape around you, you wouldn’t describe it as brown.

Here’s what I see:

In the early hours of the morning, when the mountains are tinged with soft blues and purples,

The blue scarves, wrapped carefully atop men’s heads, protecting themselves from the harsh Saharan sun beating down,

The radiant purple flowers shooting up over the mountains after the torrential floods, signaling the beginning of spring,

The vibrant red of a freshly picked pomegranate from a tree in the oasis, its small fruits spilling across the ground as you crack its outer core,

The way the stars shine on a clear night, and seeing a shooting star is more of a when than an if,

The joy in little children’s eyes as we run and play and duck and hide, their happiness and inner light exuding carefree bliss, to which no passerby cannot mirror,

These are the things that I see. This is the desert that I love.

It’s anything but just brown.

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How To Stay Cool in the Sahara

These days I just can’t seem to stay cool. I don’t mean that in the sense that I’m not a “hip” person anymore, although that’s certainly true. Admittedly I’m actually pretty strange these days. Peace Corps does that to you after a while. I talk to myself a lot, and try to make friends with the cats that live on my stairs, and my personal hygiene habits leave a lot to be desired. I looked up the Billboard Top 10 songs playing in the USA right now and I’ve only heard of one artist. I wear the same outfit for several days in a row, and my clothes are usually dirty and already have holes in them. I spend most of my time with old ladies who feel bad for me that I’m not married and playing kids in never-ending rounds of UNO. My hobbies are finding new ways to eat chickpeas and reading as many books as I can get my hands on.

But I digress. Being “cool” in this sense doesn’t matter to me anymore. What really matters is staying “cool” in the temperature sense, which has become the biggest struggle I face each day. Last week the temperature gauge in town flashed an alarming 53° C, and while I’ve always been inclined to believe this sign overstates things a bit… we’re still talking in the vicinity of 127° F.

Here are my tips for staying cool in the Sahara (when you don’t have A/C, are fasting for Ramadan, and don’t have a freezer):

1. Buy a fan(s)

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And lay on the tile in the darkest room in your house.

2. Buy a mumu

The rule of thumb with clothes around here is loose and long. I used to tease my grandma a lot about how unfashionable mumus are, but like I said… these days I don’t care.

3. Hydrate

This is a lot easier if you aren’t fasting 16 hours a day for Ramadan. I’m drinking five liters of water a day (during break fast time), minimum.

4. Take a shower

Soap optional.

5. Reconcile with the fact that you are going to get nothing done during the day

6. Flip your schedule

Save all of your important work for the evening, when you’ve had something to eat and the temperatures have cooled off. These days I go to sleep around 4am, after the first call to prayer, and sleep until the afternoon.

7. Wear a wet scarf around your head outside

This isn’t just a fashion trend in the Middle East and North Africa.

8. Sleep on the roof

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9. Dream about cold things

10. Make curtains

And by curtains I mean I hung up a towel over my window that faces the sun, but that’s the same thing right?

11. Go to some place with A/C

I like to hang out at the post office. They think I like to check my mail a lot.

12. Use a cold cloth on your face

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(And drink a smoothie.)

13. Sleep with wet sheets

They’ll be dry again before you wake up.

14. Embrace the fact that you are sweating uncontrollably (and so is everyone else)

15. Remember that tomorrow is one day closer to the end of summer

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Thanks to my friend Alina, for the photos I used in this post! (Obviously not the selfies…)

the first desert rain

Something happened this week that I never expected.

It rained.

The day had been just like any other — unbearably hot. I had woken up early that morning to go on a walk with my sitemate before our town stirred from its sleep and the sun’s blazing rays forced us inside. I spent the rest of the day reading Catch-22 and planning a lesson, watching as sweat inevitably rolled off of my face and onto the page I was working on.

“It’s only May,” I told myself repeatedly. “It’s not even that hot yet,” I said non-convincingly, but trying to steel my body for the continued temperature hikes in the months to come.

In the two years the former Peace Corps Volunteer served here she’s only seen rain twice. When I asked my students when the last time was that they’d seen rain they couldn’t even remember. “Maybe last June”? Abdelali offered. “We might have had some in November, but only for a few minutes,” Ayoub confided.

Unknowingly, the night of the rain was the night my host sister and I decided we had had enough with the heat and vowed to sleep on the roof. We carried our pillows and sheets up the stairs and started laying out our spots when it happened.

Thunder.

We cocked our heads and looked at each other. We continued laying out our spots and suddenly the roof was illuminated by lightning. I wasn’t convinced. “Makayshfsh bHal shta…” I said to her. It really didn’t look like rain.

Fatima Zahra lifted her hands to the sky as if to check my statement and, almost by cue, it began to rain. We both squealed with delight and looked curiously at the cold, wet things falling from the sky. We let our hair down and danced, so happy were we to be relieved of the heat.

Despite the late hour (it was nearing 1:45am), the sounds of thunder and rain rose the majority of our street from their beds and they joined us outside. Little kids ran through the streets and their parents didn’t scold them, even though they had to wake up for school the next day. The men sat on the curb and listened to the pitter patter of the rain hitting the pavement. It was everything I had imagined my first rain in the desert to be.

And just like that it was gone.

After a mere twenty minutes the clouds and the thunder rolled away. The sun rose the next morning just as hot as always, as if our beautiful midnight miracle hadn’t happened. But you could see it in people’s eyes, those who had experienced it — the joy that simple act of nature brought.

My only regret is that I haven’t lived here long enough to truly understand its beauty.